The number one question I get asked on a daily basis is “Will you just tell me to leave my baby to cry?”. I always find that it is a complicated question to answer. My initial response is always “No. There are lots of other approaches and techniques that we will be able to use”. But I always feel like I want to say more. That a ‘but’ is needed. Not because I am actually saying yes but because I want to elaborate further. So here goes.
I hate the term ‘sleep training’. I hate the language; I hate the concept…just urghhh. But as I haven’t been able to come up with anything better I (reluctantly) use it. I have yet to come across a case where how a baby gets to sleep isn’t part of the problem or the solution. So what is sleep training? Essentially it is teaching babies to go to sleep and resettle to sleep without your intervention. In my opinion, for young babies sleep training is simply about encouraging positive sleep habits and teaching them to sleep alone. For older babies who have developed sleep dependencies like rocking to sleep, sleep training is used to change how they go to sleep.
Controlled crying is one such method. So often confused with cry it out (I’ll get to this later); it’s loathed, it’s loved, it’s effective, it’s unnecessary, it’s damaging, it’s healthy – and this is what you want to know. Will this be what I suggest? Is this the only way to get your baby to sleep?
- Crying isn’t bad. A lot of parents are terrified of crying, they associate crying with pain, upset and sadness but for babies this isn’t always the case. Crying can be positive, informative and helpful. Crying is the only way your baby is able to communicate with you. They are talking to you, telling you “I’m hungry”, “I’m tired” and most likely “I’ve pooped”. If you listen to your baby’s cries, you can learn a lot. But if each time your baby cries you rush straight to her side and stick a bottle or boob in her mouth then you won’t be able to listen to what she is saying. So don’t be afraid to let your baby cry, not abandoned and alone in a dark room but while you are there, listening, learning and getting to know her a bit more.
- Crying is inevitable when changing sleep habits. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but when you are teaching babies to settle to sleep on their own or changing sleep habits you’ve got to be prepared for a protest! Picture this: you’re a 9-month-old baby who for her entire life has been cuddled and rocked to sleep by mummy. It’s warm, it’s cozy and you like it. You know how to get to sleep. You wake in the night, she is there to cuddle you and get you back to sleep. One day she stops cuddling you to go to sleep at naptime or bedtime. Now she puts you in your bed and you lay there thinking “I’m tired. How do I get to sleep now?” So however you approach changing sleep habits or solving sleep habits be prepared that there will be tears but the important thing to remember is that he won’t be left alone to cry. You will be there to reassure him, calm him and teach him. You are listening and responding to his cries.
- Misunderstanding of sleep training methods. So many opinions, what are the facts? Google it. I did. And the first two links said ‘Controlled crying: safe for babies Says NHS’ and ‘Controlled Crying causes brain damage’. Hands up if you are confused? Yeah me too. There is so much discussion and debate over ‘sleep training’ that it seems that the lines between sleep training methods have been blurred. Many simply assume that when you talk about controlled crying you are essentially putting a baby in a room, shutting the door and leaving them to cry until they sleep. This is NOT Controlled crying. This is crying it out. The clue is in the name, it is controlled. You are controlling it. You allow a baby to try to settle to sleep without you for a controlled time before returning to offer comfort, reassurance or intervention. You are involved in the process and you don’t leave them to cry indefinitely. You are listening, not ignoring their cries.
- It’s not often executed properly. Almost all of my clients have attempted some form of crying it out/controlled-crying technique before they come to see me. It is usually out of sheer desperation because they are so sleep deprived that they are willing to try anything to change it. But they are scarred by the experience and decide that it doesn’t work. However it is likely that the reason it didn’t work was because it wasn’t carried out correctly. The conditions were so wrong that it had no chance of working. If your baby is waking at night because they are hungry then leaving them to cry isn’t going to get them to sleep.
- It works. It’s not for everyone and that’s ok but for others it is and that’s ok too. If the conditions are right, if it’s something you want to do; it can work. It isn’t the only answer but it is certainly an answer. Suggesting controlled crying first and in isolation is something that I would never do. It would be pretty lazy of me to do so; there are a hundred other things that I do to change sleep habits and help babies sleep through the night. Some parents want to do it, some need to do it and due to the intensity and consistency of this approach it generally achieves results much quicker than other approaches.
- It’s about YOU and YOUR baby. I have seen such fierce debate and shaming of mums over the years for choosing a controlled crying approach. Everyone’s got an opinion on the subject and there are numerous studies for and against including the long term damaging psychological impact of leaving your baby to cry (ok there was a lot more detail in these studies but that is pretty much the gist). I have always wondered how they tested this? I mean seriously, how do they know this? I don’t think anyone knows. At the end of the day, no one can tell you what is right or wrong for your baby. Own your choices, be confident in your approach and sod what they think.
- The lesser of two evils? There have been several studies into the impact of long term sleep deprivation on mothers and the link with depression and anxiety. Sleep deprivation affects babies too; long term sleep deprivation has an impact on a baby’s mood (more fussy, distressed and unpredictable), a baby’s growth and their development. My job is to get everyone some sleep; I help parents to achieve this when they have deemed it impossible. For some of my clients, a few nights of crying are preferable over months and even years (yes some of my clients have gone for YEARS without a long stretch of sleep) of sleepless nights.
So if you are considering signing up with me there is your extended answer! No it is not the first and only thing that I would suggest to help your child’s sleep. BUT I will always present it as an option for your consideration so you can decide what is right for you. If you hate the idea of it, that’s ok, I have lots of alternatives for you. If you want to try it, I can help you do it right. No judgment. Every parent deserves this…and a good night’s sleep!
Gemma at Baby Tech Support
19th March 2016