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3 Things I Learned From My Baby’s Sleep

I always say that our children can be our BEST teachers if we are open to seeing all of the gifts of introspection and reflection they carry with them. Here are a few of the learnings I had as a result of living with two challenging sleepers. I hope you can enjoy, or at the least, relate.

1. Baby sleep is not linear

While it is true that baby sleep does improve in a linear trend over the first 5 years of a child’s life, that first 18 months is incredibly variable. I remember thinking.. Okay! I will work on my baby’s sleep when they are 6 months old, and then I will have a good sleeper for LIFE! This is not true. Our babies are firing more neurons per second in their brains at any given moment than there exists websites on the internet. We are talking millions of neurons per second. That is a lot of tabs to have open at once! As a result, their sleep is disrupted. Developmental changes present our babies with advanced gross motor skills, advanced cognitive skills. They have to work through this stuff! 

How this knowledge can help you: Know that your baby’s sleep pattern worsening is likely not a reflection you have done anything wrong. If your child was previously sleeping pretty well, in a developmentally appropriate way for their age, then their most recent sleep slide likely means something is happening for them. We can greet this sleep regression with patience and empathy, knowing seeing them is normal.  

2. Sleep time is not the only place parenting happens 

When my children were not sleeping well, I was 100% lazer focused on their sleep. I became so obsessed with tracking night wakings, and analyzing nap timing that I sort of lost sight of the big picture. We are in a relationship with our children for a lifetime. There is so much parenting that happens outside of those hours at night. I remember beating myself up over whether or not my nighttime responses were empathic enough, loving enough, engaged enough…. But what I forgot about was all the loving, empathic, engaged, awesome stuff that was happening during the day. That stuff counts too! The time where your child does not sleep well will be but a tiny blip on the timeline that is their life. We are talking about these kiddos growing to be 80 – 100 years old! You’ve got a lifetime to imprint what you’re hoping to. It’s not all about the sleep. 

How this knowledge can help: My hope is that you will give yourself some grace in knowing that you are showing your kiddo BIG love around the clock, and this counts for something! 

3. Learning to validate big feelings at sleep times has helped my parenting 

I used to be scared of my children’s cries… I’m not going to lie. I used to want to quite literally be as far away as possible from them! It made me feel so uncomfortable to hear them upset, and if I couldn’t “fix it” right away, I felt like a totally incapable caregiver. Shouldn’t I know what my baby needs? But the truth is; we cannot possibly know what our kids need 100% of the time and sleep times can be met with big feelings and unpredictability. But being there as their rock, being a reliable and predictable caregiver, that is super important! Responsive and respectful caregiving means that we accept our children’s emotions (no matter how ugly), we get curious about what is going on for them, and then we offer them empathy. The more that I learned to sit with my kiddo’s big emotions, the better I got at it! The more I offered myself empathy in knowing it was okay to just BE with them rather than FIX it for them, the more comfortable and confident I became as a mother. 

How this knowledge can help: Being with our kids through their big emotions is something that is likely to happen all of their lives! When you can be with your child through their feelings, you will increase your threshold for it. 

XO 

Lara 

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Why I don’t practice controlled crying…

This blog was previously written and shared in February of 2017. But it is important, and central to the decisions we have made, and what we chose to do as a company. For that reason, we are re-sharing with a few updates. Enjoy.

I want to start this article off by saying both of my children have been “sleep trained”. Both of my children have experienced “controlled crying” to some degree. And really. They both seem relatively normal. Ish. 😉

It is not my mission in writing this blog to guilt anyone for the choices they have made in how they have gotten their children to sleep. Because I believe every parent is inherently good. We’re all trying our best. We make choices every day for our children and hope in our heart of hearts we are making the right ones.

But sometimes to know more is to do better. Right now I know more, and I am choosing to do better. In my own parenting at home, and with every client who trusts me to guide them in my sleep work.

I did not get to where I am today holding back. If you know me, you know I’m an open book. As honest as they come. I’ve made decisions I’m proud of, and some that bring me guilt, shame, and yes, even regret. And while this writing may make you feel a lot of “feels”, this was a story I felt I needed to tell to continue on in my business and propel it forward in a direction I feel most proud of, and confident in.

I remember the first time I questioned controlled crying. Like really questioned it. I believed it to be a good method to use to get a child to sleep when I had an infant. That’s because I REALLY needed to sleep. It worked. And I was grateful. I got my life back. A little piece of me I was really longing for.. lost in the abyss that is postpartum life. I began to feel like me again. I was also convinced that I had given myself and my child the “gift of sleep”, and that I had done a good thing by teaching my baby to “self-soothe”.

But then that little baby became a toddler. More advanced than their peers in the language department, they would love to talk your ear off. And when he turned two, he decided bedtime was the place to share all of his wildest dreams and deepest secrets.

My usual methods in getting him to sleep weren’t working. I could close the door, but immediately he screamed. And not just a little cry or whimper. A bloody murder scream. The kind I remembered from when he was a baby and we sleep trained him using the Ferber approach. But this time, he didn’t quiet down. She added another element to his plea. A “mama mama mama mama please don’t go!”.

That night I laid on his floor. Closed my eyes. And sang until he was asleep. I wondered what I had done wrong. What had happened. And why our sleep strategy was no longer working. The Ferber approach is supposed to be a 3 – 5 nights and you’re “done forever and for always” approach. What was happening?

And in true Lara form, this brought me to the library. Where I then checked out every toddler sleep book that exists, and began to dive a little deeper.

Had I been prepared for what to expect, I would have been ready. There is a sleep “regression” at age two with the burst of language development, the evolution of true fears, and some residual separation anxiety. A normal, healthy, and natural part of my toddler’s childhood that I was trying to close the door, separate myself from, and ignore. And this strong-willed (and highly sensitive) kid was having none of it.

I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it. And it made me question everything. Why was it appropriate for me to walk out of the room on my crying baby when he was but 7 months of age and barely had object permanence? But, as soon as he had words it felt wrong? Had he not always been trying to communicate something to me?

Of course he had. That’s biology. Human infants communicate to their caregivers through tears. This is the only way they can get their needs met. Sometimes this is a cry for a diaper change, a tummy to be filled, or pain from an ear infection. And at other times a cry may mean; please stay with me, I need you near. Our children communicate both physical and emotional needs.

Now I am not an advocate for NOT allowing our children to cry. In fact, I encourage quite the opposite. I believe that we should meet all of our children’s needs, and then if there are some tears to be had – fine. They should have them. This is part of a normal, healthy emotional release, and you can read more of my thoughts on crying here. But, I believe tears can be in the arms of a loving caregiver, or the presence of a parent sitting beside, hand on chest, telling their child they are there for them. Or in my case that night, singing “on top of spaghetti” at the top of my lungs because I really had no other way to get that child to sleep.

I’ve learned a lot in my work with families. I’ve always attracted a “gentler” crowd, and through families asking for something totally different, I learned a lot. People wanted to move slower. They wanted to connect more deeply with their child. And they wanted options. Caring as much as I do about the clients I serve, I tried to find these for everyone who asked. And in doing so, I found myself a whole new repertoire of skills.

But still, I offered controlled crying as an option. Since no concrete research based articles on sleep training proved it was bad, or harmful to infants (or so I thought), I carried on.. business as usual. Doing what 90% of other child sleep consultants do. Convincing families that their children NEED to sleep. And that I would be the one to get them some.

But then came along baby #2. And damnit. He was more difficult than the first in the sleep department.

I promised myself I wouldn’t worry. I wouldn’t stress. “You’ve got all the tools to fix this Lara” were words I repeated often, and as a result I relaxed.

I relaxed a lot. I gave myself a chance to just “be” with my youngest. To listen to him. To feed him more than I thought I should in the middle of the night. To respond to him with pick ups, cuddles, love and contact at any hour of the day – with far less restrictions than Ferber would ever allow. And dog gone it, the child began to sleep. In his own time. In the comfort of my presence. Without “negative sleep props or associations”, with room for “healthy tears and emotional release” in the presence of his loving caregivers – he began to sleep.

Now to say I got to this place on my own would be a complete lie. I confided in the sleep coaches I was most curious about.. and they taught me a lot. One of my good friends suggested I take Bebo.Mia’s Infant sleep Educator course and I signed up almost instantly. I felt drawn to the promise of seeing sleep through a lens different than the one I was used to viewing it from. And I was excited to see what this new education would do to my practice.

Some of the learning was hard for me. These people actually had the science. The science the greater half of the sleep training community chooses to ignore. And the science I needed to give me my “why”. The reasons why I personally no longer practice controlled crying forms of sleep training in my home, or with my client’s babies.

This isn’t to say I won’t get you more sleep. I absolutely will do that. But I hope you will find a pace that feels right. A pace that feels more natural. Good, and supportive for everyone involved. With permission to touch, stroke, make eye contact, and feed at times where these things are necessary.

I learned t