As most of you know, I don't believe in any separation-based sleep training (CIO, Ferber etc). I am against making new parents fearful of their new baby. I'm against making new parents second guess their gut instincts about their baby. I don't believe that society should put so much pressure on parents to sleep train and make their baby "independent". Parents should be informed and educated about all their options when it comes to baby sleep. Parents should be comfortable with the decisions they make and not let others influence or pressure them into making a decision that they don't feel comfortable with.
My goal as a baby-led sleep and wellness specialist is to support all families and to show new parents that all babies are different and unique. I'm here to educate new parents about infant sleep and that it's normal for a baby to be attached their mother. I'm here to show exhausted parents that there IS an alternative to separation-based sleep training and you don't need to sacrifice your attachment to your baby to do so.
So follow along and join my email subscription to keep up to date with my blogs and for when I will be launching my services as a Baby-led Sleep Specialist in Spring 2021.
Now, let's talk about the sleep training world and how it is based solely on fear and let's debunk 4 of the most popular sleep training myths.
Sleep training has become so popular in western society and it is all about creating fear and anxiety in new parents.
Fear that you will never sleep again as a parent, if you don’t train your baby to sleep through the night. Fear that your baby will “control” your life, if you don’t make them become independent by 6 months. Fear that you are creating a “rod“ in your back for letting your baby be rocked, nursed or cuddled sleep. Fear that you will suffocate your baby, if you let them sleep in your bed.
It‘s so hard to be a new parent and we should not be putting so much fear into parents. We should be supporting parents and educate them about babies biological needs and sleep. Mothers should be told to follow their maternal instinct and trust their gut when it comes to their baby. Parents should be told the truth about all the myths that circulate in the sleep training world.
I’m here to debunk 4 of the most common baby sleep myths that as a parent, you will hear all of the time, whether it's from your paediatrician, friend or google. Now let's go through those myths.
Myth 1: Your baby needs to learn how to self-soothe.
First of, self-soothe does not exist, it's a term that was made by Dr. Thomas Anders in the 70s and it was suppose to mean the opposite of signalling, it was NEVER intended to be used as the idea that a baby can calm themselves down from a state of distress to fall asleep peacefully.
It's not possible for a baby to self-soothe, because they need parental contact/support to help them down regulate to a calm state. Babies have 6 arousal states; being asleep, drowsy, hypo-aroused, calmly focused and alert, hyperaroused, then flooded. When a baby reaches to the point of hyperaroused or flooded, they are burning a lot of energy and the only way to help them down-regulate is with parental support. When you leave a baby alone during the hyperaroused or flooded state, the baby will burn so much energy that they may fall asleep - it's not because they were able to self soothe; it's because they passed out from sheer exhaustion.
"It's the brain's last mechanism for protecting itself from severe energy depletion" - Dr. Stuart Shanker
When babies are left alone in a room to cry it out, they aren't learning to self-soothe, they are learning to stop signalling to their caregiver. We are telling that baby, that we aren't going to help you when you are in distress, so you have to figure it out on your own. The baby may eventually stop crying, but their cortisol (stress) levels are still very high.
"What all parents need to know is that 'cry it out' and all modified forms of it are based on early behaviours it beliefs that if you stop the crying, you stop the distress. But what we now know is that this is not at all close to the truth. Infants and children often have a behaviour-physiological mismatch. For example, a child that is upset, but is being held and comforted by an attached caregiver, may not show physiological signs of distress. Whereas,a child that is silent can be experiencing huge internal distress." - Tracy Cassels, PhD
Myth 2: Babies can be trained to sleep
Sleep is not something that can be taught. It's a biological function, like eating and eliminating. You can not teach a baby to sleep. It's the same as trying to force an adult to sleep when they aren't tired, it just won't happen.
Babies have slept perfectly fine in the mothers womb for 9 months, so they already know how to sleep and don't need to be trained. Babies want to be close to their mother to feel the security and warmth, they most certainly do not want to be left alone in a dark room to sleep. As discussed earlier, when a baby becomes too stressed, their brain will just shut down because of sheer exhaustion, NOT because you taught them to how to sleep.
All humans fall asleep from the sleep pressure that is built up throughout the day and then by night time the pressure is so high that you fall asleep. If you want your baby to adjust their circadian clock, so they will have enough sleep pressure for night, then have the baby exposed to the light during their naps in the day and then in a dark room at night. If babies are feeding well and being supported by their caregiver, they will sleep just fine.
As parents, we should teach the baby to have a healthy attitude about sleep and create a sleep environment that is a calm place to be and that sleep is a relaxing and enjoyable state.
Myth 3: It is important for our babies to sleep independently.
In order for a child to become independent, they must first be dependent on a caregiver. The child must first form a deep secured attachment with at least one caregiver, in order for them to become an strong independent individual when they grow up.
Babies should never be independent, they don't understand what independence is. Babies are born to be dependent on the mother to feed them and comfort them.
"When young children are pushed towards Independence too quickly, it can make them cling to us out of insecurity. In our pursuit to have them take on a mature form earlier than nature intended, we can diminsh, confine, and crush the spirit of childhood. Yet our pushing continues despite decades of developmental science demonstrating that the principles governing growth do not change." Deborah MacNamara
"Children can't be too attached, they can only be not deeply attached. Attachment is meant to make our kids dependent on us so that we can lead them. It is our invitation for relationship that frees them to stop looking for love and to start focusing on growing." Deborah MacNamara
So, hold onto your babies for as long as they want, it will help them grow into Independence when they are ready to.
Myth 4: Sleep training works
You've been told, 'in 3 days, your baby will be sleeping through the night!' Just let them cry it out and ta-da it worked!
But, how does it work? and is it really worth it?
I've already mentioned how when a baby is left to cry it out, they are in a hyperaroused state and their brain just goes into survival mode and shuts down. "In a recent
study of 411 babies, ages 6-12 months, who had been ‘sleep trained’ using cry-it-out or some form of this (some up to 4 times), it was discovered that leaving the baby to cry only reduced the crying by 14%. It reduced night wakings significantly for 24% of babies but 42% of the time, sleep training had no effect on night waking at all" (Gordon, et al.)
Most of the time, babies will have to "re-train" to sleep, whenever they go through a sleep progression, teething, growth spurt, illness or anything that disrupts their sleep.
Sleep training is not a long lasting solution, it just looks at sleep as a behaviour that needs to be fixed and not the root of the sleep challenge (mouth breathing, tongue ties, allergie, etc). "Babies who have been sleep trained still go through all of the normal sleep challenges that others do, but if they have been taught not to signal, many will lay awake in bed and not call out. For others, every time they hit a regression or a new developmental milestone, they will need support and if a parent goes in, the parent will need to re-train again once the baby has passed this ‘tricky time’ with sleep. Know that sleep training often happens several times in the first two years - thinking that it is three short nights is just not the case." - Isla Grace Sleep
Remember, if some one recommends you to sleep train your baby, whether it's your paedritrician, friend or sleep trainer, you do NOT have to follow this recommendation.
Always make an informed and educated decision when it comes to your baby.
Always trust your maternal instincts and gut, only you know your family and baby best.