If I could boil down parents concerns about addressing sleep struggles into just one, it would be that we don’t want our baby or child to cry. I am asked this question quite often and want to answer it here for any parent who is suffering through chronic sleep deprivation for this very reason.
First let’s touch on the subject of sleep “training”. I am not a fan of the term as it evokes so much negativity and is equated with leaving a baby to cry alone. What we are talking about is embarking on a process of sleep learning. A process where you as a parent learn new ways to help baby fall asleep and baby learns to fall asleep more independently. That does not require putting baby down to cry alone. Will it, however, involve crying?
Here’s the deal. Change is hard. And most of us don’t welcome it. Our initial reaction is to balk at change and try to cling to what is familiar. So, even if you are making very tiny changes over a long period of time, your baby has just one way to tell you, “Hey! I noticed that you’ve changed something. This is new and hard and I want to go back to doing what we were doing before!” And that one way is crying. Let’s say for example that you’ve been nursing baby to sleep and that is no longer working to get him to sleep. Or maybe it is working to get him to sleep but he is now popping awake as soon as you try to put him down and every 45 minutes overnight wanting to nurse again. Even if you take the most hands on gradual approach to change and choose to rock him to sleep or back to sleep, from baby’s perspective, that is still a big change. And he will likely let you know. Yes, you are still helping him to sleep but not in the way he is used to or the way he prefers. As a result, there may be some crying as he communicates this to you.
Once we interpret crying as communication the question then becomes, not how to prevent it, but how you feel most comfortable responding to the crying and supporting baby through the tears and the adjustment. For many of us crying in arms or with a parent present for support is entirely different than leaving baby to cry alone. And many babies can adjust to change just as well, if not better, using an approach that allows you to be present and gradually offer less and less support. Sleep is a learned skill, much like walking or riding a bike, and learning something new can be stressful! Experiencing that stress in a supportive, loving environment though leads to learning. Much like learning to ride a bike we can help baby along for much of the ride, letting go once they have the skill to coast on their own.
So, if you’ve been hesitant to address your baby’s sleep struggles for fear he would need to cry it out alone, take solace in the fact that there are other options! Yes, change is hard on all of us but the way change is presented and the support baby receives to cope with the adjustment can make a world of difference. If you’d like more information about changing sleep habits using a gentler approach contact me today!