At My Connected Motherhood, we support families to get more sleep without using ANY form of sleep training. We define sleep training as anything that goes against your instincts as a parent or uses separation (whether physical or emotional) to modify your child’s behaviour. Today, we want to talk through our top 10 reasons why we do not use sleep training so here we go!
Reason #1: Babies and toddlers cannot self-soothe
Probably one of the top things we hear in favour of sleep training is that you need to “teach” your baby to self-soothe. But here’s the thing, it’s not physically possible for a baby or toddler to soothe themselves. The part of the brain that controls regulation is simply not developed in babyhood or toddlerhood. When families choose to sleep train (either by physically separating or emotionally separating), as babies or toddlers get more and more worked up, their bodies erect defences to preserve energy and help them to fall asleep as a last mechanism of defence.
Reason #2: Babies and toddlers need parental presence to down regulate
Since they cannot self-soothe, how do babies and toddlers come back down safely from a heightened state of stress? They co-regulate with those who they’re attached to. We all have mirror neurons that help us to pick up on the emotions and feelings of those around us, and babies and toddlers are the experts in this. They feel everything we’re feeling and need our calm and loving support to help them come down from a heightened state of stress. When they’re responded to and supported through their upset, they are able to down-regulate back to calm as long as the parent or caregiver who is supporting them is calm as well.
Reason # 3: Attachment needs are just as valid as physical needs
We’ve all heard before that as long as their physical needs are met (not hungry, dry diaper, etc.), then it’s okay to leave babies and toddlers to work it out on their own. We believe that this is a huge oversight on their attachment needs. Their need for comfort, contact, and proximity to us is not only valid but it’s just as important as their need for food and physical comfort. We cannot overlook this critical piece of the parenting puzzle and want families to stay close and connected with their children.
Reason #4: It goes against parents’ instincts
We don’t think we’ve ever heard someone say they sleep trained and felt great about it in the moment. We commonly hear things like “it’s a few really hard nights but then worth it in the end” or “I couldn’t bare the tears so I left the house while my partner did it” or “it took so everything in me not to go back in/pick her up/respond how I wanted to”. It just simply does not feel right to us as parents not to respond to our children’s cries. Our instincts are one of the most powerful parenting tools we have and sleep training advocates are telling us to ignore those instincts. We believe instead, we should be following those instincts because they’re there to guide us and help us to know exactly what our children need from moment to moment.
Reason #5: It can negatively impact your breastfeeding relationship
If you’re a breastfeeding mom, an extreme sleep training approach where you pull feeds very quickly can negatively impact your supply. Many lactation consultants have cited sleep training or rigid schedules as main reasons why a mom’s supply may suddenly drop in the first year. Breastfed babies need to be fed frequently throughout the first year of life, anywhere from 6-8 times in 24 hours (or more) depending on the age of your baby.
Reason #6: It removes the signal but not the underlying cause of the wake
Behavioural methods like many commonly known and widely used sleep training methods often boast the fact that they get results fast. There are even some sleep consultants that guarantee sleep in a certain number of nights. One of the issues with these methods is that they are just looking at the behaviour that is presenting itself, which in this case is night-wakings and signaling (crying), and addressing it with behaviour modification methods, but not addressing the root cause of the wakings.
What are some of these possible root causes of night wakings? There could be food sensitivities, sensory processing differences, iron deficiencies, undiagnosed tongue ties, a child could be feeling disconnected, hunger, thirst, discomfort, the list goes on. If we sleep train and stop the signal, they continue to wake up through the night, they simply stop signaling because we have extinguished the crying. When we instead address the root of the problem, we often see sleep start to improve on its own because the barrier to sleep has been removed.
Reason #7: It can fail to take into consideration the unique needs of the child
If we look at sleep as a behavioural thing that needs to be trained, we can also get stuck trying to fit our child into a predetermined box of sleep needs. We may expect more sleep than they need, which leads to more upset simply because they’re not tired when we’re asking them to sleep. We might create a really calm and soothing bedtime routine, when they may need a little more rough and tumble play to calm their bodies. Babies are unique and they need to be treated as such!
Reason #8: Emotion should be supported, not extinguished
Tears and emotion are a fundamental part of early childhood. Babies and toddlers have a lot to cry about in the first 5 years of life. It’s a form of communication and a way to release stress and toxins. Tears are a good sign that a child feels safe and a way for them to feel better when they’re sad. When we support and hold space for the tears, our children adapt and grow to become well-adjusted adults who can process their emotions. Failure to let the frustration and sadness come out in tears generally results in increased frustration and aggressive behaviour because those emotions have not been released in tears. As big people, it’s our job to support those tears and hold space for them, not to extinguish the tears through the behaviour modification of sleep training.
Reason #9: It puts conditions on our relationship with our children
If you’ve read a sleep plan or a sleep training book before, you will see a lot of step by step directions on how to respond to and interact with your child. Things like not responding unless a certain amount of time has elapsed, responding in a very methodical way (i.e., pat for 2 mins then stop, or touch but don’t look at or talk to), or repeating the same script over in a very neutral voice. All these things put conditions on our relationship with our children. We instead want to follow our instincts and put our relationship first. We want to respond how we feel our children need us to respond to them in the moment and trust that by building that fundamental and critical attachment relationship that they can depend on they can then relax and go to sleep knowing that all their needs have been met.
Reason #10: You can get more sleep without sleep training
Now the final, and one of the most important reasons we don’t use sleep training is that you CAN get more sleep, WITHOUT using any sleep training. We get it and we’ve been there. We know how exhausting it is to be up every 2 hours all night long. We understand rocking a baby when you feel like your arms are about to give in or pacing the halls when you feel like you may fall asleep at any moment. We are not by any means advocating that you just deal with the sleepless nights forever.
We want you to know that it does NOT have to be cry it out or wait it out. You can maintain a close and connected relationship with your child AND get more sleep, and we can help you.
If you’re ready to get more sleep without sleep training, click here to book your free discovery call today to get started.