Updated: Dec 15, 2020
Sleep training and the crying that can sometimes occupy it tends to be a very controversial subject, with lots of opinions and judgements made without fully understanding the details.
The perception is that 'sleep training' is cruel, wrong and involves lots of crying. The reality is that the term 'sleep training' refers to a method you choose that teaches your little one to sleep. Specifically to self settle, which means falling asleep without any associations and by themselves but does not mean you abandon them.
If you don't want to get up several times throughout the night (aside from night feeds) and aid your little one back to sleep when they wake, then you will have to use a sleep training method to teach them to do this on their own. This does not have to mean leaving a little one to cry endlessly alone by themselves. The method of 'controlled crying' requires you to go to the baby / toddler as soon as two minutes after they start crying. There are also more gentle methods that allow you to stay with the baby / toddler, but it is important to know that these will also involve some tears as your little one protests the changes you try to make.
It is normal as a parent to not feel comfortable with listening to your baby or toddler crying. We are all human and both mums and dads can get quite anxious and upset at even the thought of their little one crying.
What's important to remember is that we are the parents and therefore we know what is best for them, even more than they do. A good example is vaccinations or their first day at nursery. For many of us this is an uncomfortable but necessary procedure that is in their best interest, despite the fact you know they are going to get quite upset about it. It is important to remember that sleep is a biological need for us all and not just a luxury for those that do not have children.
When talking about crying it is useful to think about the three types of stress responses. This is described by the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) from a report entitled ‘The lifelong effects of early childhood adversity and toxic stress’. This report looked at Cortisol levels, the hormone that humans release when we become stressed and the thing most parents are worried about with regards to sleep training methods like 'cry it out' and 'extinction'.
The first type discussed in the report is a positive stress response; for example things like vaccinations, being in a new environment or the first day at nursery. Because there is a supportive parent throughout these instances it is seen as a growth promoting element of normal behaviour.
The second type is called a tolerable stress response, examples of this are more extreme, like a bereavement but again, a supportive parent will help the child to cope.
The third one is called a toxic stress response and that one is more long term and can affect the brain and long term development, examples of these are child abuse and neglect where a supportive parent is absent.
With all that in mind, it is obvious to see that sleep training with the presence of a loving and supportive parent would not result in a tolerable or toxic stress response. Whilst there are studies with people saying they have found elevated cortisol levels when using 'cry it out', to date there has not been any concrete proof that 'cry it out' or 'extinction' damages the child.
On the flip side there have been reports that sleep training actually improves infant sleep and can reduce maternal depression in the long term. No one really talks about these and so I challenge anyone with negative opinions on sleep training to understand the long term effects of sleep deprivation on babies development and growth, as well as parent's mental health. It is a major factor to postnatal depression and as a sleep deprived driver you are actually as dangerous as a drunk driver!
Tired babies are grumpy, cry often, eat less, fight sleep and are generally more hard work. Similarly with toddlers and young children, they will tantrum, have behavioural issues, suffer from early wake ups, struggle at school and appear like they are naughty or hyperactive. Many of these can be eliminated by ensuring they get a good night's sleep. We all know how rubbish we feel when we have a bad night's sleep and they are the same.
Finally, I would like to touch on the myths around sleep consultants. I think the perception can sometimes be that we are very harsh, regimented women that just tell you to leave the baby alone and they will soon go to sleep. In actual fact we look at things much more holistically and I work with clients on all their baby's needs including feeding, sleep environment, nap schedules, back up plans for when things go wrong and even the science behind sleep and why your little one is struggling. There is also the huge amount of support you get on a daily basis to troubleshoot when issues arise and just generally to tell you that you're doing an awesome job when you're tired and doubting yourself.
Please remember most of us are human first but also parents. I myself have two young children and I find it hard to listen to them cry or get upset but I also recognise my own need to sleep and the difference in them when they aren't sleep deprived.
There are lots of times when I have made them upset; telling them off for doing something wrong and disciplining them, telling my daughter she was no longer allowed to suck her thumb because it was causing her teeth to buck and getting them vaccinated. Hell even washing their hair sometimes makes them act like I am torturing them! But I remember that I know best. I am a good loving parent and they have a stable loving home, something not everybody is fortunate enough to have. So if I have to listen to them cry for a period of time because I am teaching them a valuable life skill that's in their best interests, then so be it.
Sometimes you just have to have some perspective, we are all different in how we parent and what we choose to do but I would urge you from the bottom of my heart if you're exhausted and struggling then reach out and invest in a package with me. For a one off price I can help you to remove that daily struggle for good so that you can get on with your life and do so with energy.
Share this to help other mums who need it and if you would like to explore working with me then book a call https://calendly.com/asleepatlast. Join my Facebook tribe here for lots of sleep advice and support.