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Can you train a baby to sleep? Should you?

I always like to dive into topics that are constantly on my mind, but might be a bit controversial too. Maybe I’m bored. Ha! Not trying to stir the pot. But, if no one talks about this stuff… how will we ever make change? Am I right?

In the mom world we know the question is always – to sleep train, or not to sleep train?

Sleep is a normal biological function. We are all born with the ability to fall asleep, and stay asleep. Although when it comes to babies, it doesn’t always feel this way. And truthfully, sometimes in an attempt to “help” our babies sleep, we take away some of this natural ability from them. Oops!

Sleep is something that DOES mature over time. An adult’s sleep cycles are different from that of a newborn baby. And a newborn baby’s sleep cycles will differ from their 6 month old little buddy.

Newborn babies sleep very lightly, and very erratically, for good reason. They have to be able to come out of sleep quickly and easily. They are designed to survive the first year of their lives at all costs, and for this reason, nature made their sleep super eventful, and far less peaceful than an older child’s will be.

With every week that passes, every month that passes, a child’s sleep matures. Sleep IS largely a developmental milestone. Sure, there are things we can do to hurry it along. And sleep training is one of those things. Heck! The sleep coaching I do is also one of those things and I would not consider it sleep training. But for the most part, every family will have a child who sleeps through the night before their 5th birthday, regardless of any sleep training, coaching, or shaping that is done.

And even then – if you take one baby of one particular age, and compare it to a baby of the exact same developmental age and stage, their sleep would be much like comparing apples to watermelons. Sure, they’re both fruit! But, in my mind, they are entirely different. And no two babies will ever sleep the exact same. Sleep training or not.

So.. if sleep is a normal biological function.. Can you train a baby to sleep?

I suppose the answer to this question is… yes. Sleep is the outcome of most traditional forms of “sleep training”, but what exactly was achieved through that training process is highly debated.

When you “sleep train” a baby, you are often asked to do things that feel pretty unnatural. Ignore your baby’s cry, don’t touch them, or pick them up, or offer them a sip of water. You are training them for a half marathon after-all! Oh no wait.. Sorry.. We are training them to sleep in their beds, without physical human contact or connection, for 11 – 12 hours. Are they actually sleeping that whole time? Good question! Studies have actually shown that babies who are “sleep trained” wake up the same number of times per night as their non sleep trained counterparts, but they no longer signal for attention. This might be because they have learned to put themselves back to sleep, or it might be because they have learned no one is coming. It really depends what was done or not done in achieving the returning to sleep part of the sleep training. 

I think of us as in a relationship with our children for a lifetime – 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. So I do worry about what happens to that relationship when a child’s physical and emotional needs are largely ignored overnight.

Now, I will say.. I am not “anti” sleep training. I personally do not subscribe to any kind of controlled crying or ferber sleep training. You can read my personal story of why I don’t use controlled crying here, if you are curious. I will say I definitely used to “dabble” in these methods – but realized they were not for me a little more than a year ago.

But I think the more important question here is; should you sleep train your baby?

I do believe it is important, as parents.. That we always put the “oxygen mask” on ourselves first. If you are suffering so greatly from sleep deprivation – perhaps sleep training is the right answer for you. But, I would ask you to explore a few other options as well.

Might there be another way to reach your goals, without changing the way your child sleeps? Might there be another way to change the way your child sleeps, without any formal sleep training?

  • Is your partner helping you with the responsibility of putting baby to bed?
  • Do you have support during the day?
  • Are you chatting with a diverse group of parents each day? Not just those who sleep train, OR those who don’t?
  • Have you spoken to your doctor about your sleep concerns?
  • Are you trading off with your partner in the middle of the night to both get some rest?

In a previous blog post I talked a bit about sleep personalities. Just like you and your partner likely have different sleep habits, and personalities, our babies do as well. And if you’re interested in reading more about sleep personalities, check that one out here.

But I think the thing I find the MOST interesting about baby sleep is… how impatient we can be in waiting for our children to sleep through the night.

You wouldn’t be upset with your baby if they didn’t crawl by the time they were 9 months, would you? Would you be frustrated if your child took til 17 months to walk? What if they hadn’t babbled their first word before age 1?

We are SO patient as parents in waiting for all of these other developmental milestones to occur.

We know our children need to put the building blocks of these skills together. Their little brains are firing so many synapses! Their muscles are growing and strengthening, and eventually they will get there. But with sleep – we just can’t wait! And I know it might sound contrary to what I do for a living that I am proposing that we wait to see this milestone happen too.

Aren’t you a sleep trainer, Lara?

No. Actually I am not. Have I wrote a blog post on that one yet? Haha. I feel like I did once upon a time. 

I want families to know that there are alternatives to sleep training. That sometimes the resolution to your child’s very sleep “issue” is within you to discover, and it might be very unique. If you’d like some examples of things I might do to help a family achieve more sleep, check this post out here. 

But, sometimes the answer truly is – more time. And please, no sleep training of babies younger than 6 months of age at the very least. They are just not ready for the “push” that will accompany any form of sleep training, shaping, or coaching. 

If you want help to explore the other options that exist – book a discovery call with me. It is an opportunity for us to get to know each other better, and see if I am part of the solution you are seeking. 

Ultimately, please know you are doing the best you can with the tools you’ve got at this particular time. And really, that is okay! This post is not meant to guilt or shame anyone – just hoping we might all take a little look and see things a bit differently than perhaps we normally do. 

XO

Lara

Thank you as always to Stacie-Lynn Photography for this beautiful photo… interestingly, the mama here, Karly, is a talented mama and the owner of Mully’s Handcrafted. 🙂 

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Sleep Training Regrets and Mom Guilt Mantras

I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on my business… Recently I was feeling very overwhelmed by it all. And truth be told, I even considered throwing in the towel! Don’t worry.. I’m not going anywhere. I’ve been meeting with a fabulous business coach, getting my head on straight, and figuring out just how I want this all to work for me! But it certainly hasn’t been without low moments. The entrepreneur life is tough.

As a sleep consultant I become extremely emotionally invested in the families I work with, and sometimes that can all feel like too much on top of my own, already emotional spirit, and my own family whom I care very deeply for.

When I started Heavy Eyes Happy Hearts Sleep Consulting 3 years ago my mission was pretty simple. I wanted to help families get more sleep. I wanted to see more people enjoy their time with their new baby, feel less stress and anxiety, and explore parenting as a well-rested, family. And I wanted to give those families a choice in how to do this. Always, a choice. And I believe for the most part I have been able to do this.

It is no secret that I worked with a sleep consultant when I had my first child, and this experience did change everything for me. It moved me beyond the cloud of depression and anxiety I was under, and I began to really love my daughter. Wholeheartedly. Excitedly. Love her. After a full night’s rest I would greet her in the morning happy to see her. And at the time I believed the decisions I had made to sleep train her were absolutely the best decisions I could have made for my family. And I told myself I would have no regrets. But alas, I do.

Something about that decision never felt quite right to me. I was so incredibly desperate for sleep in that moment that I literally would have done ANYTHING for it. I felt like I had tried everything in the process, and if this person had of told me that in order to get more sleep I needed to tap dance up and down, on the roof of a car, dressed like a monkey in a clown suit.. I would have done it! As ridiculous as that sounds. I truly would have done it.

So I “ferberized” my baby. Yup. I put her down to sleep, I walked out of the room listening to her cry from down the hall, and returned at set intervals. 5 minutes. 10 minutes. Even extending to 20 minutes. It broke my heart, but I did it. I was told that this was the only way I could have a sleeping baby, and so I followed through as best I could.

There were no other options presented to me at the time. Nothing. No SLS, no camping out, no gradual retreat, no pick-up put down, no parenting to sleep. Nothing. I did not even know other options to get your baby to sleep existed beyond rocking her for 1.5 hours, or controlled crying to teach her to “self soothe”.

The problem for me now is that I know so much more than I did then. Every day I am learning more. Every day I am a better sleep coach than I was the week before. And so, I look back on that time and I really do regret some of the parenting choices I made around my daughter’s sleep. If only babies came with a manual! Argh.

Mom guilt is the real deal. 

We all experience it. If I didn’t experience it as a result of sleep training my child, I would have just experienced it in another form. I also have guilt over banging her head on the car door while getting her into her car seat. Forcing her to use the potty before she was 100% ready, and leaving her to cry in the night only to find out the next day that she had a double ear infection. UGH. I am no perfect mom, that is for sure. And I certainly wouldn’t feel right portraying myself as such.

But one of the things I have had to do is come to terms with the mom guilt. Come to terms with the decisions I have made in parenting; including the way I sleep-trained my daughter. And I know I am probably not alone. So here are some of the things that have helped me.

Some Mom Guilt is Good

Guilt doesn’t feel good. It is an emotion that is hard to sit with. It causes us to look inward, to self-reflect, and to right our wrongs. I can tell you if controlled crying sleep training felt great to me, I would have never had a reason to look elsewhere! I would have never had a reason to learn what other sleep methodologies exist, and I would have never found bebo.mia., who offers a highly scientific, research based, approach to infant sleep.

I’ve always liked self-reflection. I have always found it has propelled my business forward. I have felt it has propelled me as a human forward, and without these gross feelings I would never have a reason to look at what’s not working, and why this is so.

I have learned from all my “mama guilt moments”. I have become a better parent as a result of these moments. And in the process, I believe, a better sleep coach as well.

Parenting is a Journey

To know more is to do better. I know more than I did in 2013, and so I choose now to do more with that knowledge I have. If I can parent in a more instinctive, more connected, more conscious way – I am going to do it! And by golly. I am doing it. I love the way I am parenting this little girl now. I look in her eyes each day and know we are in this together. I know my heart is at the focus of all of the decisions I am making now, and I know I am strengthening our bond each day as a result of the knowledge I have now.

Exercises To Help Move Beyond

One of the things I have done is written a letter to my daughter. I have apologized (specifically for the time I let her cry then found out about the double ear infection). I have written this as an apology to her. But also as a promise that from here on forward I will always come when she asks, and she can trust that I will be there for every difficult conversation. I haven’t given her this letter yet. But perhaps some day I will.

Positive Affirmations

One thing I do is set reminders to tell myself the following few things every time these regrets pop into my head.

All of the parenting decisions I have made to this point were done with the best of intention.

All of the parenting decisions I have made to this point were made out of love, with hopes of doing what was right for my family, with the knowledge I had at that point in time.

I can never be a perfect parent. But I will have perfect parenting moments.

Every day is an opportunity for increased connection with my child.

I can’t go back and change what I did when I sleep trained my own child – but I can help other parents make decisions that they feel more comfortable and confident about.

I hope that this blog may be helpful to someone out there. If only for you to know I am not a perfect parent, I have regrets too, and some days the guilt gets the best of me. But I know now that this is just all part of the journey. I am a good mom. My family loves me. And I know I am parenting with heart.

XO

Lara

PS – In case you are unaware, I no longer practice controlled crying forms of sleep training. I made this shift over the past 6 months, and I am very happy supporting families using other methodologies. This post is not meant to place any blame or shame on any one. I trust that those who have decided to sleep train their child with a controlled crying approach have come at this decision in a way similar to the way I did 4 years ago. You are the expert on your child, and I know for some families this may actually be the best fit.

Thank you to Astrid Miller Photography for capturing me and my daughter so well.