By Alexis Schrader
Again and again the articles pop up in parenting magazines and blogs- sleep training your baby is fine, they say, because there is no proven medical harm. While you can point to studies’ failed methodology (http://evolutionaryparenting.com/no-stress-in-sleep-training-a-response/), and argue that other studies (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/moral-landscapes/201112/dangers-crying-it-out) and medical associations (https://www.aaimhi.org/key-issues/position-statements-and-guidelines/AAIMHI-Position-paper-1-Controlled-crying.pdf) say otherwise, I don’t bother. The truth is, there are so many articles out there, parents will always find something that says sleep training isn’t harmful if that’s what they want to do.
While I disagree that there’s no risk of harm, frankly I don’t care whether there is or not. Sleep training could be the safest thing in the world, but it’s still not how you treat a person. Especially a person you love, who is completely helpless without you, who didn’t ask for you to bring her into this world.
To quote my pediatrician friend, “if it’s not acceptable parenting during the day, it’s not acceptable parenting at night.” Crying is how babies communicate distress. We know that during the day. I don’t know a single person who thinks it’s ok to let a newborn cry for hours on end in the afternoon because the caregiver is tired. But parents proudly recount sleep training tales of babies crying for 3 hours straight like they are swapping war stories. In an article where a mother recounts locking her child in her room overnight (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/07/well/family/our-sleep-training-nightmare.html), she seems surprised that the locksmith showed no concern for the fact that he was installing a lock on the outside of a child’s bedroom. I worked with foster kids long enough to agree with the author- that should definitely raise alarm bells. But somehow it’s ok, because she was only going to use it at night.
The way you respond to your baby sets the tone for your relationship with your child. Ignoring their night time cries says to your child that your threshold for meeting their emotional needs is proven medical harm. Rather, be the type of parent who responds to your child’s distress, even when it would be easier not to. We create secure attachment when we show our babies that–even in the absence of quantifiable harm–they are our priority.