Thinking about sleep training? Rest easy, mama.
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 by guilt?
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 them.
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 feelings sometimes.
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. Many 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 many stressors.
2. Tolerable Stress. This type of stress is more intense and prolonged. For adults, this might include the loss of a loved one, for example. Sleep training is likely to fall in this category. Tolerable 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 adult.
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 and there!
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!