*Warning, this post is a bit contentious – and I’m firmly in the attachment parenting camp.*
It seems like I have two choices: sleep train using the cry it out method or co-sleep. Parents who have tried it all claim that those are the only two options that work.
I’m a new mom, so maybe in six more months, I’ll also be trumpeting the “those are the only things that work” mantra – but surely they can’t be the only things that work? Right? (*cue cricket chirp*)
Right now DK is 6 months old and he sleeps in his own crib a few feet from our bed in our room. I like it this way. He’s close enough to see and I think we both feel more secure this way. It’s not exactly co-sleeping (I love my pillow and blankets too much to co-sleep safely), but he’s also not alone in his own room.
We have a bedtime routine, ending most nights with me snuggling him until he’s asleep, at which time I transfer him to his crib. He sleeps from about 6:30 pm to 11:30 pm, gets up to breastfeed and then most nights he goes back to sleep until 5:30 am. It works for me, I can’t complain. And yet I have this nagging feeling that I need to teach him how to put himself to sleep and self-soothe and if I don’t, bad sleep regressions will happen. Maybe it’s because all of my friends sleep train their kids, so I feel like I need to follow the crowd and do it too…but I just want to take a moment to stand up and say NO. I don’t want to let my baby cry it out. And here’s why:
- DK is just now discovering the joys of peek-a-boo. He doesn’t understand that when I cover my face with a towel that I am just behind the towel. He doesn’t understand that when I leave the room, I’m just next door and will come back. He sees me gone and thinks I am gone. Letting him cry it out alone in his crib isn’t teaching him to self-soothe. It’s teaching him that no one is coming for him. That he is all alone. What a heartbreaking thing for anyone, not just a baby, to learn.
- Neuroscience research has taught us that infant brains have very few neural connections but that by age two they have thousands of neural connections (Narvaez, 2011). I love taking Devon out to experience the world, see new things. I want to raise a child who is curious about the world. Even though he won’t remember the trip we took to the aquarium, his brain is growing and making connections and I believe the experience at the aquarium is a formative experience that will impact how he interacts with the world. Sleep training is the same – sure the sleep training gurus say that he won’t remember being sleep trained, but the experience of being left alone in a room, crying with no one coming to help him or comfort him is a formative experience that impacts how DK will interact and trust others throughout his life. If I said “no, sleep training is fine, it’s not a formative experience”, then I might as well also say that going outside, playing with toys or seeing my smile are also non-formative experiences for DK and that therefore I shouldn’t bother since he won’t remember. The logic just doesn’t follow.
- There’s a reason that it is so difficult to hear your child cry and not respond…it’s not part of our innate human biology. When you think that for most of human history we lived in the bushes and had to worry about predators, it makes no survival sense to let an infant cry, alerting all the lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) to the location of a delicious meal.
- Remember when we thought second-hand smoke was just fine? Now we know better but that can’t undo the damage second-hand smoke caused. That’s how I feel about sleep training. The studies that have been done aren’t very scientifically reliable (Narvaez, 2014). We don’t know enough yet about the long term effects of sleep training, but the experience can’t be undone. It may be long-term pain for short-term gain and I’m not willing to take that chance with my son’s mental health. I’m by no means a perfect mom, and I’m sure there are a lot of ways I will unintentionally traumatize my child…but I’m not going to do it intentionally through sleep training.
- Why do we have kids? I had DK for many reasons but one is to put a responsible, caring, curious human being on this planet. Sometimes the world is so dark, I wonder why bring a perfect little light into it only to have it extinguished by greed, hatred, violence etc. But maybe my little light is going to be the light that solves poverty. Or brings peace. Or finds a cure. I want DK to grow up feeling that he matters. That his actions influence others and that others influence him. I don’t want him to ever feel like he can only count on himself, that he can’t rely on the support of his family, his friends, his community. But I worry that sleep training teaches him that he is alone and he can only rely on himself. That no one out there will comfort him. What a terrible and unnecessary lesson to learn.
- I look to the example set by the parents of adults I admire. They didn’t sleep train and their kids turned out to be wonderful, kind, caring, generous, ambitious, independent, curious, loving adults. Case closed.
As I mentioned above, a lot of my friends believe in the power of sleep training. And they have been in the trenches a lot longer than me. I do not mean for this blog post to upset them. These women are wonderful mothers and I respect them a lot for all the love they give their kids. Motherhood is not easy and we each know our kids best. I just know that sleep training is not for me and it’s not for Devon. And if any other mothers out there feel similarly, reach out to me. We can encourage one another and together find workable solutions that don’t involve crying it out.