Spring Mini Series Installment #2 – Baby Training and Sleep

My dad always used to say “dead man don’t need no sleep” and we would all laugh. We would laugh because we did not yet understand the depth of those words. Parenting is not a literal death but it is definitely dying to oneself in a whole new way and in hardly any other way is this more evident or more felt than in the sleep arena.

Sleep is a very hotly debated topic among parents and understandably so since of all the things in life after baby sleep is in short supply and emotions and exhaustion are running high. There is a line of thought that babies need to be trained to sleep that they are born with messed up sleep patterns that must be set straight by their parents so that they learn “healthy” sleeping habits. To sleep-deprived parental minds and bodies, nothing makes more sense than that. I mean how can it possibly be that waking every few hours is healthy? How can it be that someone can’t wait to eat until later? How can it be that day is a better time to sleep than night? And doesn’t it make sense that a baby must learn what is healthy and right? How else do they know to sleep when it is dark? Plus every other internal signal doesn’t seem to line up with ours and it has to some time, right?

Following this line of thought leads right to many well-meaning parents letting their infants “cry it out” under the instruction of well-meaning doctors and so-called baby experts as well as hundreds of articles and books telling a parent that if they do not “teach” their children to have “healthy” sleep patterns then their children never will, and it will because the parent(s) did not stick with the short term emotional consequences of crying it out. What many people do not understand is that attachment with an infant begins with not only his or her physical needs being met but their emotional needs also being fulfilled. When an infant cries, it is because it is the only way they have to communicate their needs and wants.  Many times for an infant, needs and wants are one and the same, like the need/desire to be close to a parent. Infants have absolutely no concept of time, meaning that when that infant has “only been crying for 5 minutes and if it goes longer than that then I will go comfort him/her” it means nothing to them.  They do not feel the difference of being left for 5 minutes or being left altogether, as the feeling is the same; they feel abandoned and afraid that their needs will not be met.

Baby trainers often state that it is important for an infant learn to pacify itself, but an infant, like stated before, has no way of understanding that they are supposed to comfort themselves.   They have no tools to do that.   Leaving an infant to himself will in fact do just that; it will teach him to take his emotions and, instead of expressing them,  it will teach the infant to internalize all that anger need and fear. The infant will come to an understanding that their wants/needs will not be met and that they must fend for themselves. When this happens in an infant, many people believe that the sleep battle has been won and that the parent has been victorious. What they do not understand is that they may have won the battle but they have lost the war for trust.

sleeping babysleeping baby

I firmly believe that someday as a parent I will want my teenage son to talk to me about serious things in his life. I will want him to feel confident that I am there to listen even if all he needs to do is cry.  I will want him to explain to me what is going on in his life and I want to be the kind of parent who responds with empathy. I also believe that trusts starts in an infant. My son’s trust started from the first several nights after his birth when he cried all night long. Not once did his father or I put him down. We walked, we soothed, I nursed him, and then we did it all over again. My son woke of 5+ times a night until he was almost a year old. Don’t get me wrong, I felt like a zombie, I wanted sleep so bad some days I thought I was going to throw up. But here I sit. My son is almost 2, he has been asleep since a quarter to 8. He may join me later tonight in my bed or he may sleep through the night, it depends on what his needs are tonight. It is possible to survive those infant days, and really in the long run, they don’t last long.


Jasmine is a co-housing, home birthing, missions minded, community living mama with a passion for fierce writing. She blogs.

Photo used from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/peasap/2561252071/

Author: Jasmine Carlson

Jasmine is a community living mama with a passion for fierce writing and fitness. She her way on Team USA by fitness coaching. Shaping Her. (www.shapingher.com) Join the conversation at (www.facebook.com/ShapingHer)

14 thoughts on “Spring Mini Series Installment #2 – Baby Training and Sleep”

  1. Co-sleeping and staying at home with Baby have made it so much easier for me. I barely wake up to nurse Baby, and don’t lose much sleep from it. On nights when he’s teething etc. and I do lose sleep, it’s nice that I can take naps with him during the day to catch up on sleep.
    I think it’s important to remember that tiny bodies have tiny tummies, so they literally can’t store enough food to last the night for quite a while. I think I read that at first it takes just 90 minutes to digest breastmilk, so any longer than 90 minutes of sleeping and they’d be burning calories instead of getting extras to grow!

  2. I think there’s a gray area that doesn’t get talked about enough in Attachment Parenting conversations. And that is what to do with your older baby who actually DOES need more sleep than she’s getting. There’s so much talk about how we shouldn’t “sleep train” our babies in order to satisfy our own needs for sleep. And I agree with that. I signed on to parenting and all the nitty-gritty that comes with it. I also agree that infants, especially those who are breastfed (and of those, especially ones with working-out-of-the-home mothers), may need to wake up often to eat throughout the night.

    But a 12+-month-old very well may have different needs. A toddler who sleeps no longer than two or three hours at a time has a problem. It’s called sleep deprivation. Think about how hard it is to go about our daily lives on low-quality sleep. Sometimes we’re groggy, we’re grouchy, we’re sloppy. Most of the time, it’s not that big a deal. You can grocery shop on auto-pilot. But what if you’re learning to walk? And what if you’re learning your first language? These are some TOUGH things to learn, and being groggy, grouchy and sloppy HAS to make it harder.

    I believe that the intensive nighttime parenting we did for our daughter was the right thing to do. We co-slept when it made sense; we never left her to cry. I believe it laid a strong foundation for her to know that sleep is good and safe, and that her parents are nearby when she needs them. I also believe, however, that the time had come for a change. Sure, I’ll admit the prospect of getting to sleep through the night sounded awesome for myself. It also felt like something my daughter truly needed. More than she needed hourly check-ins with her dad or me.

    I’ve been practicing Attachment Parenting in all the ways that it fits my family since before my daughter was born. And it’s a great fit for us. But I think there’s a danger in black-and-white-only thinking: you either go along with your baby’s sleep routine, no matter the consequences; or you leave her to cry for hours at a time causing her to lose her trust in you completely. Again, I completely agree that sleep training is potentially harmful to a newborn or infant. And that eventually, pretty much everybody learns to sleep through the night, one way or another. But why isn’t anybody talking about the in-between?

    After recognizing that my daughter’s needs had shifted—from needing to nurse frequently through the night to needing a full night’s sleep—I was able to see that what we’d created was a habit of waking that was no longer healthy for her. I also realized what I already knew—she’s older now and CAN understand the concept of lying herself back down and going to sleep.

    You say:

    “Baby trainers often state that it is important for an infant learn to pacify itself, but an infant, like stated before, has no way of understanding that they are supposed to comfort themselves. They have no tools to do that. Leaving an infant to himself will in fact do just that; it will teach him to take his emotions and, instead of expressing them, it will teach the infant to internalize all that anger need and fear. The infant will come to an understanding that their wants/needs will not be met and that they must fend for themselves. When this happens in an infant, many people believe that the sleep battle has been won and that the parent has been victorious. What they do not understand is that they may have won the battle but they have lost the war for trust.”

    But, again, what about toddlers? Who haven’t “naturally” found their way to getting a healthy night’s sleep? I honestly believe that an AP-raised toddler is capable of putting herself to sleep—and staying asleep. And I do believe that for some, like my daughter, the presence of a parent throughout the night can become an interference. A hindrance to learning to sleep well.

    Why does it have to be all battles and wars? I’m not saying what we did would work for anybody else, but it is disheartening to now feel like we’re not “AP” enough because we decided that our daughter was old enough to put herself to sleep with a minimal (no more than five minutes) amount of (non-distressed) crying. We tried it. It worked. And I am 100 percent confident that my daughter gets the sleep she needs to fuel her days of learning and growing and that she continues to trust in her parents.

    I guess what I’m saying is, there’s a gray area, and we’re sleeping in it.

  3. Oh, and what I left out (can you believe it?) is this: had we not been willing to put our AP-ness aside and given our daughter five minutes to figure out how to put herself to sleep, who knows how much longer she’d have gone without getting a healthy amount of sleep?

  4. Yeah, my son is almost 2 years old and wakes up every hour . No end in sight. If it were a couple times a night it wouldn’t matter. But waiting for him to grow out of it hasn’t been showing much promise. This is also killing my love life, pretty hard to make love on a schedule when all you’ve got us the HOPE of 45 minutes. No one ever told me it would be Like this for years.

  5. I am with you Brooke. Like I said this article is just about infants as I am aiming for the babywise program specifically as it applies to newborns. I do think there is a very large difference with toddlers and I am with you that is hardly discussed. It can be difficult for me to discuss it because I have actually been “censored” on an AP board because my ideas didn’t align with AP even though I do practice AP… it was quite an odd moment actually.
    There is a time with a toddler that certain types of crying become demands instead of an actual need it seems to me and that means that we have to approach it in a different manner. It would be good to get down to the nitty gritty and discuss toddlers!

    1. I totally agree with changing tactics when children become toddlers. Leaving an infant alone and putting a toddler to bed are two totally different things. Around 2 boundaries must begin to be established but in the most loving and caring manner possible. Sometimes it’s in the packaging for kids. Act like it’s the best thing since sliced bread to sleep in a new bed with new sheets and maybe a favorite stuffed animal and then have a predictable bedtime routine. Snack, teeth brushed, sip of water, potty, story then sleep. Pat them on the back if need be or just sit in the room but don’t talk. This will work and it is not cruel and unusual. It’s just good parenting. It takes effort and the distance between rooms does not mean you are not attached. You are.
      Also, our door is always (well almost!) open to our children and they know it. When they awaken in the night and are scared or lonely they are welcome to climb in our bed. When my bed gets too full, I go to one of theirs! Relax ladies, and remember “to thine own self be true.”

  6. As to the toddler question: My sister in law and brother would not call themselves AP. Actually I look up to my sister in law because she doesn’t even look at parenting books but just follows her instincts and what does a mom get when she follows her instincts… AP! Anyway, they now have a 2 year old who has pretty much slept with them since birth. But at about 10 months, they put him in his own room to sleep, once being rocked to sleep… come to find out, he was waking at night mainly because they were in the room… hard to sleep with snoring and the smell of breastmilk right next to you. There are many nights that he still sleeps with them, especially if they’ve been apart all day.
    Personally I think once you can reason with a child, there can be different sleeping arrangements. Remember AP is about following your instincts and doing what is best for the whole family. Sometimes it’s best to just forget the books and what others advise you do and look at your situation with the wisdom you’ve gained about your child and do what you think is best.

  7. Sleep coaching can be very beneficial. Dr. Harvey Karp’s book “The Happiest Baby on the Block” is excellent and he by no means suggests “crying it out.” Sleep deprivation is not a good thing either for mom or baby!

  8. I think that toddlers are certainly in a different category than newborns. There is nothing wrong with creating boundaries for toddlers. This goes for sleep, breastfeeding, table manners… I don’t believe AP means “what the child wants, all the time”.

    Take breastfeeding, for instance. There is nothing wrong with asking a toddler to wait until mommy is done cutting the carrots, or out of the washroom and still respect demand breastfeeding when it’s possible to! We can set boundaries around biting, pulling, and tandem nursing. And the same goes for sleep – there are ways to honor the child’s need while still having some firm boundaries around how and when… without letting them cry alone. I think that is another difference – between crying alone and crying with support. Children get angry, frustrated, and don’t always know how to sort it out. And it’s not always our job to sort it out – but it is our job to be there and support them while they are very capable of figuring it out. The same goes for sleep… Empowering them to sleep using gentle routine can work!! It might take a few months and not just a few days like the CIO method, but it works in that very grey in-between when your babe isn’t quite a baby anymore…

    We have a twin mattress beside our bed. It’s great – if our 21 month needs space, she can get out of our bed and sleep there. She is transitioning herself and all of our children have done the same. Sometimes the almost 3 year old dd leaves her room to sleep in the floor bed in mommy’s room…. the point is that it is there for them if they need it. We can’t fit all 5 of us in our bed, so we have set a boundary and have offered a peaceful solution… the floor bed.

    Every fam needs to find their own solution to the toddler who can’t sleep well, but I truly believe that it doesn’t have to be stressful crying without anyone there to support them. Even at 2 years old, I believe that that does send the same message.

  9. I forgot to add/warn – Dr Harvey Karp’s book IS contraindicated to good and successful breastfeeding. It is old information, and does not work well for most babies in regards to protecting long-term milk supplies. Many women who follow it are good for about 3 months, and then “dry up”. The sad bit is that they believe it is just their bodies failing, and not the method of parenting that interferes with good breastfeeding.

    Of course that doesn’t mean that you can’t breastfeed and follow its suggestions, but it does mean that many babies don’t respond well to the swaddling and shushing. We see MANY parents at the breastfeeding clinic (nbci.ca) think that their babies are well-fed and just need to be soothed when they are not very well-fed at all. They are still hungry. It can lead to low supply, poor latching, and poor weight gain. And again, some babies could be parented any way and breastfeed like champs – it’s a risk ratio and not an a = b issue, but an important piece to know about when deciding to follow a book’s advice or not, I believe.

  10. do the parents with older children having “sleep problems” practice EC. I mean it seems many only take into concideration baby’s need to intake or soothe but what about elimination? I have found that often my eight month old will wake in the night not too long after nursing and just need to pee… sure sometimes her sleep is deep and she will pee w/o waking… or perhaps its my sleep that is deep and I dont wake intime to take her to pee but never the less she often seems totally awake, sometimes cries, sometimes just seems like shes done for the night, sometimes there is an uneasy nurse and then I offer her to pee in a potty and mostly I hardly have time to place her back in bed before she falls right back to sleep. I think that a toddler may be aware of their elimination needs and therefor be confused that they are not meet and not know by this point how to cope. are the parents that wrote here practicing EC (elimination communication) or perhaps even have potty “trained” toddlers and still find they have issues of sleep deprivation?

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