I recently had a great conversation with a mom about attachment parenting; about how her views on attachment parenting – what it means, and how to embrace it – changed dramatically between the time she learned she was pregnant and the time her baby was 10 months old. She said something that I initially found very amusing but, upon further reflection, realized was actually one of the most pragmatic analogies of any motherhood activity I had ever heard:
“Deciding to be an attachment parent when you haven’t yet given birth is kind of like dating someone when you’re fourteen and expecting that to be the person you marry. Life changes and so do expectations, especially as you go through real events and challenges. You can’t assume everything will go the way you planned.”
After months of co-sleeping (first successfully and then – once her baby got bigger, more alert, and squirmier – not-so-successfully), this mom had had enough. She still wanted to embrace many elements of the attachment parenting ideal, but also felt that she was not being responsive to her child’s obvious need for proper rest, and felt she could not be the patient, present parent that she wanted to be while utterly deprived of sleep. She wanted to seek help in teaching her baby healthy sleep habits, but struggled internally about what sleep coaching would really mean for her little one. This led me to take a close look at the top four worries holding parents back from getting healthy sleep for their whole family:
Worry # 1: Sleep coaching will be bad for confidence, mood and development:
Many of my clients report to me that, prior to sleep coaching, their exhausted baby cried often, and for great lengths of time, during the night or at naptime, while mom or dad desperately walked, rocked, and fed in an attempt to coax their little one into slumber.
When managed in a loving, gentle, and supportive way, sleep coaching is likely to actually improve your child’s mood, because he will no longer be experiencing the adverse effects of sleep deprivation. There is a drastic difference between a few nights of protest as your baby adjusts to a new routine, and weeks or months of misery for the entire family as everyone in the house struggles with lack of sleep.
Further, research illustrates that there is no developmental difference between children who were sleep-coached and those who were not. However, there are many detrimental effects related to long-term sleep deprivation, which include compromised immune systems, difficulties concentrating, anxiety, depression, and impaired judgement.
Sleep is simply a vital necessity for a happy, healthy life.
Worry # 2: Sleep coaching will mean crying-it-out
While it is very common for babies to cry while learning new skills (be it rolling, crawling, taking their first solids, sleeping independently, or taking their first steps!), a good sleep consultant will not follow a traditional “cry it out” approach. Rather, he or she will understand and shape their program around the (very correct) notion that babies learn best when they feel loved, supported, and guided by their parents. Sleep coaching methods should be gentle, and involve parents seeing, touching, speaking to, and picking up their children to reassure and provide support while their child is learning healthy sleep skills.
Worry # 3: My baby and my family do not fit into a one-size-fits-all sleep coaching strategy
It is 2016. Parenting has evolved. There is no one-size-fits-all parenting strategy, nor is there solely one method that could or should be used by to teach babies and children proper sleep habits.
Every child is different, as is every family – this is why a holistic approach to sleep coaching is so important, taking into account your child’s personality, your family’s lifestyle, your parenting style, and your living situation.
Worry # 4: This is not the “right” time to sleep coach my baby
As parents, we often look to any possible cause for nap difficulties or nighttime wakes (teething, slight cough, growth spurt, etc.), other than the simple fact that our baby may not have healthy sleep habits. This, combined with fears about sleep coaching (see: every other worry mentioned in this blog!), often leads parents to delay or avoid gaining sleep help for their children. The problem is, if we are always blaming something other than improper sleep habits (teething goes on for more than two years, people!!), we may never discover the root of our babies’ sleep challenges.
The “right time” to sleep coach your baby is when you – mom and dad – are unhappy with the way things are; whether that is because you are concerned about your baby’s lack of sleep (which is usually the case!); you are frustrated with and concerned about your own lack of sleep; or all of the above.
As with the mom of the 10-month-old cute-but-sleepy-bed-hog, I often see parents pushing aside their own sleep needs and continuing unhealthy sleep habits because of their concerns about sleep coaching. The bottom line, though, is this: Well-rested parents are more positive, present, and patient. Teaching your baby proper sleep habits means you are not only responding to their developmental needs, but that you are also responding to your child’s need for the level of patience, calmness, and positivity from you that is gained by being a well-rested adult.