Just some of the guilt-inducing gems likely to pop up on google as you scour parenting forums at, say, 2am, desperate for answers following the fourth night wakening…so far this week. What horrendous parenting crime could you be fervently researching to throw up results like these? Welcome to the wonderful, polarised and sometimes hysterical world of...the Sleep Training debate.
If you already spend much of your time obsessing over your baby’s seeming intention to sleep in mere 40 minutes bursts forever more, then you may have already done some internet trawling on the matter of sleep-training.
For the uninitiated, sleep training is just the latest descriptor for the age-old battle new parents have faced since the beginning of time: trying to get your little one to go to sleep and to remain in that state for what we like to call ‘night-time’. Many babies, however, seem to consider this to be ‘party-time’ ‘feeding-time’, ‘mooching-time’ or just general ‘giving-out’ time.
Sleep-training draws strong opinions from various camps. To be fair, the term itself casts a wide net. It pulls in Ferber’s sometimes controversial ‘Cry it Out’ (CIO) method, which says that it's okay to let a baby cry for a specified period of time before offering comfort until they eventually learn to fall asleep without any intervention. Advocates of CIO might add that this manner of sleep-training affords your baby the opportunity to ‘self-soothe’ and thus to send themselves to sleep, and promptly back to sleep again each time they rouse until daybreak, when everyone awakes refreshed and ready to tackle another day. Lovely.
Those opposed to this method might say things along the lines of what you have read at the top of this piece; that sleep-training goes against natural parenting instincts and has the potential to do untold damage to the bond between baby and their caregiver. Those who promote a no-tears approach such as Elizabeth Pantley (author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution), believes that CIO techniques can give your child negative associations with sleep that could last a lifetime. Pantley offers, amongst other tools, the use of reliable routine bedtime behaviour to encourage your little one to nod off without causing stress. Sounds ideal? Or perhaps just idealistic?
In between these extremes are plenty of other practices and the middle ground is exactly where I believe I found myself about six months ago, when I turned to the ‘Baby Whisperer’ Tracy Hogg and, using her ‘Pick-up, Put Down’ method. The result? I eliminated sleep-time drama and saved my own sanity.
Things had been going well in our house and we seemed to be cruising towards the New Parent Holy Grail aka ‘Sleeping through the Night’ (six hours would do) - when a growth spurt put the kibosh on it. Feeding went from once a night to several times and ultimately, we found ourselves in a sort of all-you-can-eat buffet scenario where my other half was banished to the spare room and I spent nights feeding around the clock and through the darkest hours, only to surface at dawn feeling ….whatever the exact opposite of rested is. Shattered. The growth spurt came and went but the waking habit hung on. After weeks of wicked sleep deprivation, the sort that has you crying over things like your pen running out of ink, I decided that enough was enough. There was no respite; naps entailed either long walks pushing the buggy in what was now cold, windy sleet or driving around aimlessly for a couple of hours at a time. My resultant discovery on that one? Ireland doesn’t have drive-through healthy cafés or coffee shops and it bloody well should. Bedtime didn’t offer much more chance for rest as it was usually just a few hours until we were all awake again. Everyone was exhausted. Everyone was emotional. Something had to change.
And so in stepped the Baby Whisperer and her widely-endorsed ways. With a cult following of thousands of parents worldwide and some strong recommendations from friends, I downloaded her book, ripped through it in a few hours and steeled myself to put her plan into practice the following morning for nap-time.
Briefly, Hogg suggests a consistent routine before each nap or bedtime and then a singular repeated action. Each time your baby cries when placed in their cot/basket etc, you pick them up until they calm and then lay them back down with the same words of reassurance.
It is hard. Extremely hard. As is it upsetting. I think I may have done 50 or more pick-up/put-down repetitions on that first occasion. But, after months of living in a fog of exhaustion and a panicky fear that this might be our lot for years if I didn’t do something, I was entirely convinced that there was no Plan B on this one. It was baby whispering or nothing at all.
By the end of the week, our little guy was going into his cot and napping without tears for anything up to two hours. TWO Houuurrrs! By the following week, we found ourselves in Sleeping Through the Night Nirvana. It all seemed too good to be true. At least, that’s how I recall it now, at a distance of six months. In reality, those days of picking up and putting down and doubting and questioning were extraordinarily tough. No parent wants their child to cry. Ever. If you feel that you can take away their distress by putting them into the car and driving around or by feeding them or rocking them or by any other means, the primal urge to do just that, can be almost overwhelming.
However, if you feel, like I did, that underneath it all your baby is overtired and literally crying out to sleep uninterrupted for a good stretch of time, (and I could identify with that!) then you may decide to ‘sleep-train’ too. And that’s okay. Maybe instead, you are happy to continue to assist your baby to sleep and that’s perfectly fine as well. In fact, whatever you decide to do is fine because it’s your baby and your life and no-one else should have a say. Telling someone that they’re getting parenting all wrong? It’s downright cruel.
Mommy aka Céire Duggan
Have advice to share or questions to ask? Tweet me @lifestylerte