When One Parent Wants to Sleep Train

Do you feel confident in your decision not to sleep train? We know we’ve spoken to many many parents who are 100% confident in their decision and feel really great about it, except for one thing: their partner disagrees. When one parent wants to sleep train while the other does not, it can cause some stress and frustration from both parents. Today we want to take the time to talk you through some practical advice if you find yourself in the situation where your partner wants to sleep train but you definitely don’t. Our hope is that by doing so, you will feel empowered to have a deeper conversation with your partner and more confident in your decision not to sleep train. 

To start things off, we want to get to the root of your partner’s desire to sleep train. Understanding this will help you to determine how to best communicate with them in your discussion around whether or not to sleep train. We want to understand what their underlying motivation is for wanting to sleep train, because it’s often deeper than just thinking that’s what needs to be done. Here are some of the reasons we typically see partners advocating for sleep training:

  1. They need more sleep and feel like that’s the only option. This is probably one of the most common reasons we see families choosing to sleep train, and we totally get it. When you’re exhausted and feel like you’ll never sleep again, it’s easy to fall into this “solution” that you keep hearing from everyone. From your family and friends, to your pediatrician, sleep training is one of the only widely discussed options for addressing your baby’s sleep. We know that it’s not the only solution, and in fact, we want to address sleep challenges at their root instead of extinguishing the wakes, but that’s not a very common idea in our society. Do your best to meet your partner where they’re at in this thought and we’ll talk about presenting alternative options shortly! 
  2. Their expectations around infant sleep are skewed. One of the biggest disconnects in infant sleep in the western world is the difference between what is biologically normal for an infant and what we expect of them. We’ve seen over and over again that expectations are being set for parents that by 4-6 months their babies should be sleeping through the night, but research shows that only 16% of babies are sleeping through the night by 6 months of age. No one is alone in feeling like they’re getting it wrong when our expectations are only met 16% of the time. 
  3. They feel the societal pressures and feel like that’s what you “have to do”. Sleep training has become almost ingrained in our parenting culture. If you take a more responsive approach to parenting you’re often seen as going against the grain and a little more extreme in your approach to parenting. When sleep training becomes the “default” it’s more difficult to see why you wouldn’t do so, especially when you can see “how much better” your friends are sleeping who chose to sleep train. They can also feel like they need to because they need to teach their baby to self soothe or the skill of sleep. We know that these things are not taught through sleep training, but they tend to be perpetuated in today’s culture.
  4. They can see you’re struggling and want to help, but don’t know how else to support you. This reason can be especially true if you’re the primary caregiver when it comes to your baby’s sleep. You’re the one putting your baby to sleep and waking with them all night, so it can be particularly frustrating to hear your partner suggest sleep training when they seem to be getting all the sleep they need. In most cases though, this is their attempt to provide you with some relief and more sleep. They want to step in to help you and have learned that sleep training is the widely available solution, so it becomes their recommendation. 

Of course, there can be other reasons than these that a parent wants to sleep train, but whatever the reason is, we encourage you to find out so that you can address your partner’s core reason or concerns for wanting to sleep train. Just like we aim to get to the root of a baby’s wake ups, we want to get to the root of your partner’s concerns, so we can address them there. 

Once you understand their reason for wanting to sleep train, we can move on to a peaceful discussion about it. We encourage you to find time where the two of you can speak uninterrupted and at a time when you are both calm and rested, so you can be your best selves. Here are some things you may want to bring up when you do: 

Normal Infant Sleep. Our expectations are so skewed from reality so we always start here. We encourage you to remind your partner that wakings are not only normal but also a protective mechanism for your baby. If you’re unsure what normal infant sleep looks like, you can check out our blog on normal infant sleep here. Now you may find that you and your partner determine your baby is waking way more than normal and then feel like maybe you really do need to sleep train. If you find that your baby is falling into the more wakeful side of these normal infant sleep routines, we encourage you to take a look at our free red flags guide because it will outline the medical reasons many babies will be waking up at night, beyond what we would typically expect. This is especially important to address at the root because if you were to sleep train, those medical reasons for the wakings would still exist, your baby would just stop signalling to you. 

Importance of Attachment. One of the main reasons we do not sleep train is because the attachment relationship with our children is one of the best indicators of how they will turn out as adults. If their attachment is secure, research indicates that they will go on to see success in their adult relationships and in many aspects of their lives. Dan Seigel and Tina Payne Bryson suggest that the way to achieve secure attachment is to ensure your child is safe, seen, and soothed and that there is great power in simply showing up for our children. This is not to say that you cannot sleep train and achieve a secure attachment, but when we look at things from this lens, we want to understand the importance of responding to our children.

Sleep Training Doesn't Teach What We Think it Does. So many families feel like the need to sleep train to teach their babies how to self soothe. The truth is that sleep training does not teach babies to self soothe, but rather that their bodies help them to go to sleep when they're expending too much energy. They also do tend to still wake at night, they still go through teething, illness, and sleep progressions that all babies do, they just stop signalling to us because they've learned that no one will come. 

Alternatives to Sleep Training. If you have adjusted expectations and discussed the importance of attachment, and you still feel like you need to make a change somewhere, then we want to take a moment to talk through some alternatives to sleep training. 

Safely bed share if you feel safe to do so. This is one of the most common tools families turn to in order to get more sleep without sleep training. If you choose to bed share, It’s really important that you set up a safe sleep space and we highly recommend the work of Dr. James McKenna as a starting point on how to do so. Simply keeping your baby close will help you to respond more promptly to their cues and it will help them to settle into sleep as they attach through the senses in their first year of life.

Other Ways Your Partner Can Support You. If your partner is looking for a way to get you a little more rest, could you suggest alternative ways they can support you? Could they take the first half of the night with baby so you could get some uninterrupted sleep? Could they wake up with baby in the morning while you get an extra hour or two of sleep? Perhaps they really cannot respond at nighttime, so could they care for baby in the evening while you rest or for a couple hours on the weekend for you to get a little caught up on sleep? Alternatively, could they take over a responsibility or two around your home so that you can sleep during the day while baby does? There are many ways your partner can support you to get more sleep, sometimes you just need to draw their attention to them!

Optimize the fundamentals of sleep. The fundamentals of sleep are the daytime sleep foundations that affect your baby’s night. They are different for every baby but understanding your baby’s unique needs in the day can lead to more sleep for everyone at night. They can include your baby’s sleep environment, rhythm of their day, timing of naps and bedtime, the type of play they’re getting throughout the day, what they’re eating, how you’re doing as their parent, and so much more. We’ve seen over and over again what an impact these fundamentals can have on sleep, so we cannot emphasize enough that you go through them! 

Make a Change While Staying Close and Connected. If you have gone through everything already and feel like you just need to make a change to something that is no longer working for everyone in your family, you absolutely can do this without sleep training. At My Connected Motherhood, we are not advocating for waiting it out, but rather we encourage families to make the changes they need to make in order for everyone to thrive. We just know that this can be done while staying close and connected. You can use the same attuned relationship you have with your baby during the day to help drive changes at night, you just have to continue to listen to your instincts while you do so, instead of listening to a plan that tells you when and how to respond. We have seen families shift things that are no longer working while staying right there with their babies, holding them, talking to them, and touching them as much as they feel they need to in those moments. 

Now that we have taken you through the common reasons for wanting to sleep train as well as the ways we can adjust expectations and make changes without sleep training, we hope that this serves you as a great point of reference for having those conversations with your partner. If you find you need to make a change and you need support to do so, The Baby Sleep Course will give you everything you need to get more sleep without the use of sleep training. You are doing great things for your baby by meeting all their needs. Keep up the great work!

Categories: : Advocating, Attachment, Normal Infant & Toddler Sleep, Parenting, Sleep Support, Sleep Without Sleep Training