As a baby sleep consultant I hear comments from time to time from parents and usually mothers, that sleep training a baby is cruel. As for all discussions on babies and sleep, there is no right or wrong way of doing things, just different ways. I get very disheartened when parents who choose to feed their babies to sleep and are happy to co-sleep and bed share criticize other parents for not sharing the same philosophies on baby sleep as theirs. It is also a two way street that the opposite views also need to be respected. Parents are getting through and managing their baby’s sleep the best way they know how to and feel comfortable with.
I didn’t have a choice when it came to teaching my son how to sleep. I would have happily breast fed him to sleep but he refused to get sleepy at my breast and fall asleep. I also tried to calm and settle him I my bed but it only seemed to further agitate him. To settle him in his cot wasn’t a choice, it was a necessity. I had a child that didn’t want help to go to sleep. It was hard for other parents who had children who would feed to sleep or settle in their bed to accept that mine gained no comfort from this. As parents we should not be criticising other parents for their sleep choices, but supporting the individuality of other parents and babies. For parents who choose to engage a Baby Sleep Consultant, it is their choice. We see so many struggling families with very unhappy and wakeful babies. Their feeding is often not optimal and the knock on effect from poor sleep ripples through the whole family. These babies are clearly not happy or coping with the current arrangements. They are not at their rested best to mange to grow and learn as they might otherwise be able to if they were obtaining adequate sleep. This is where we argue do we nurture the baby with feeding/assisting them to sleep and ignore their sleep, feed and learning requirements? Or address the lack of sleep issues and engage assistance if the family is not able to solve this often mystifying puzzle of how to get a baby to sleep and keep it asleep for a reasonable length of time, in the name of benefitting the baby? Which is more cruel? By engaging help, this is not a cop out, nor are the parents too lazy to address their baby’s sleep issues, quite the opposite. It is most commonly a parent who has tried everything that they can think of, read or hear with no success. We are meeting parents who can see that their baby is not doing well with minimal and broken sleep. The parents are surviving on a few hours of broken sleep per night over many months and possibly years. That this lack of sleep is not only dangerous to the adults in the house but not great for the baby or other children in the home. Parents are going to work exhausted, if they make it to work at all. Absenteeism and lack of productivity his high. They are driving cars with their child in the car and on the roads with you, when perhaps they shouldn’t be. A study revealed that being awake for 18 hours is the equivalent of a 0.05 blood alcohol reading. 24 hours awake equals a 0.10 blood alcohol level – 0.08 is considered legally drunk. ( Jackson ML, Croft RJ, Kennedy GA, Owens K, Howard ME. Cognitive Components Of Simulated Drinking Performance: Sleep Loss, effects and predictor, 2012) When lack of sleep is interpreted as an blood alcohol reading, there are many reasons to address the source of the family’s lack of sleep. As well as being a danger on little sleep, parents often report to me ongoing grumpiness and lashing out at partners, other children and friends, when they don’t mean to but find it hard to contain their tiredness. They tell me how unhappy and frustrated they are, and that they don’t like this version of them self, “This is not the real me.”
As well as the choice to engage help. There is also a choice of how to address babies sleep. I think in general the industry of Baby Sleep Consultants get a bad wrap, as immediately people conjure up traumatic controlled crying scenarios that there is going to be a lot of crying and abrupt extinction methods required in order to ‘sleep train’ a baby. That for us to do our job, that we are heartless and uncaring people. We want to get the word out that this doesn’t have to be that way. Each baby will respond to change differently and the level of change required also alters dependent on the baby’s age, what it currently expects as part of a settling routine and pure individuality. For some babies there is no crying at all in the change process, for others there is a lot. The trick is to make subtle but steady change, to allow your baby to adapt to one small alteration at a time. They will cope much better than a lot of change at once, and usually so will you! You will be more likely to weather the storm of change and see your plans through that going in hard and fast, be overwhelmed and challenged and give up in defeat despite all your best efforts and intentions.
I look forward to a future where parents support other parents’ sleep choices and even if it is not something that we are comfortable with ourselves, that we can respect difference. Drop off a meal, hang out some washing or hold the baby to free a parent to shower or take a small rest. They feel bad enough without criticism or unsolicited advice on what or not what to do. That a global parenting village grows to offer the best for our babies and the families and carers who treasure them.