A sleep expert’s words of wisdom on feeling confident about sleep training.
As soon as you are pregnant, it will probably hit you with a sledgehammer.
There is no way around
it. As soon as you are connected to your offspring, (even if it is only the idea
of conceiving), you're toast.
The glass of wine you drank…
will it lower his IQ? Did you breastfeed long enough
(or too long, or at all)? Will
your decision to sleep train end all hopes for attachment security?
As a sleep coach, I hear
this last question a lot. So, what
can we do to make confident decisions about baby's sleep without being crushed
Very often I hear from
mothers who have drifted into a life with their tired child that doesn't resemble
what they originally envisioned. They are often facing challenges with the very
aspects of parenthood (and sleep) that they thought would come naturally to
For instance, a family may
want to bed-share but may need to re-evaluate their sleeping arrangement
because their baby is too loud or squirmy at night, leading to poor sleep
quality for the whole family.
Often we feel guilty
about these decisions because we are sympathizing too intensely with our
children's feelings. Although it is admirable to relate to our children, it is
not always the best course of action.
A child's prefrontal cortex, the
part of the brain responsible for reasoning, is not entirely developed, which
makes it difficult for children to regulate (or even understand) their own
A temper-tantrum at bedtime may be just as surprising and
overwhelming to your child as it is to you, mama! That's why our children need
us to take charge as the “adult in the room."
That is exactly what is
happening when we decide to take a more active approach to sleep training.
parents feel anxious just thinking about hearing their little ones cry…let
alone choosing not to respond. It
doesn't help when parents are bombarded with unsupported claims about the
traumatizing effects of sleep training on our children.
My goal as a sleep
coach is to help relieve some of your guilt in order to foster healthy
sleeping habits for your child.
These 3 helpful hints will get you started on the right track.
There is more than one type of stress…and they aren't all bad.
According to Harvard
University's Center on the Developing Child, there are 3 forms of stress.
1. Positive Stress. Think a trip to the doctor, the first
day at school, or, for adults, a first date or public speaking. This form
of stress is normal and important for learning how to cope with life's
2. Tolerable Stress. This type of stress is more intense
and prolonged. For adults, this might include the loss of a loved one, for
Sleep training is likely to fall in this category.
stress is surmountable for children as long as they are given the chance
to adapt to the situation with some form of support and guidance from an
3. Toxic Stress. Chronic toxic stress has been studied
extensively in Romanian orphans, who were virtually deprived of any and all
support and stimulation in their first months of life.
When this form of
stress is experienced chronically in childhood, perhaps through extreme
neglect or abuse, there is an increased risk for mental and physical
impairment. Of course, we are not talking about 10 minutes of crying here
If you are concerned enough about your child to be reading this article, there is a strong chance that you are doing everything you can to help your child adapt to everyday stressors…even if that means a few tears shed at bedtime.
Do what's right for your child's unique needs.
It doesn't matter how
many times we hear we are good parents, we may not always believe it. Even if
your brain knows that sleep training
will not harm your child's development, you may still have a tough time believing it.
Fortunately, there are
different types of sleep training to suit every family's needs.
1. Tweak just a few aspects of baby's
bedtime rhythm, routine, or environment. For instance, firm mattresses are
best for baby's sleep, but it isn't necessary for baby to sleep on a
concrete block. Is a new mattress possible? Or, try a little baby massage or yoga after baby's bath and before reading time.
Make sure the temperature and lighting suits baby's preferences (through daily experimentation) and try a few different kinds of pajamas to
see if baby tends to sleep more soundly in some than others.
2. Controlled comforting is a
modified form of sleep training in which you stay with your little one
while he falls asleep, gradually moving further and further out of the
room each night. Or, work in intervals. Allow your child a few minutes to
self-soothe and respond only after this time has passed. Gradually
increase these intervals as time goes on. This technique will eventually
help your child learn to calm down on his own, as well as learn how to
cope with stress and fall asleep independently.
3. If you think that your child
becomes even more agitated by your coming and going, and cries even harder
when you leave the room with each interval, consider letting your child
cry it out. Truthfully, checking on your child for brief intervals may be
more of a coping mechanism for you than your little one.
Go with your gut.
There is no point in doing anything that every fiber of your being is
rebelling against. If your heart is telling you that sleep training isn't right
for your child, listen to your instinct, mama!
Just remember that the most up-to-date
research is on your side if you choose to actively sleep train your tot.
Whatever you decide to do for your child, just remember that your intentions
are ultimately to promote your child's health and happiness…and there's no
reason to feel guilty about that!