HERE IS OUR DIRTY LITTLE SECRET

Napping peacefully.

We are sleep training our baby.

There. I said it.

Now please feel free to tell me how we’ve psychologically damaged our kid for life; how he’s going to have “issues” with sleep once he is old enough to control the process himself; that in two short weeks we have all but ruined any bonding we’ve done since birth, creating a distant and distrustful baby. This is what the foremost attachment parenting experts will have us believe.

We aren’t sleep training because, as Dr. Sears puts it, we want a “convenient” baby. If we wanted convenience in our lives, we would never have had a baby in the first place! 🙂 We are sleep training because we believe that a consistent, predictable routine and a full night’s sleep are important building blocks in the foundation of Oliver’s intellectual, physical, emotional and social development.

Dr. Sears calls sleep training, “a short-term gain for a long-term loss.” I call it, “short-term pain for long-term gain,” because after a few really rough nights, all of us were — and still are — sleeping better.

As a result of being properly rested, Oliver is a completely different baby: happier and more easygoing. He is absolutely thriving. Oliver loves his sleep, and seems genuinely grateful when we’ve accurately read his tiredness cues and put him into his crib. He is regularly achieving 11 to 12 hour overnight sleeps, with only a single (parent-led) dream feed at 11:00 P.M., which helps to to stave off early morning wakings.

J and I have been going to bed earlier, waking earlier, and generally being much more productive with our days. We also have our evenings back. Once Oliver is safely tucked into bed, we can enjoy each other’s company (and a glass of wine), uninterrupted. This is important to the health of our relationship.

I do not believe that sleep training is incompatible with responsive, nurturing parenting. I think of attachment as a continuum, and as such, there isn’t one act or omission that on its own will make or break attachment; it is an ongoing process.

For us, having a solid night of uninterrupted sleep makes us better parents. Now that we are not in a constant state of exhaustion-induced stress, we are more patient, more enthusiastic and more organized. Oliver receives no shortage of loving attention during his waking hours, and out of love, we have also given him the gift of good sleep habits.

Did you do any formal sleep training with your child? Why or why not?

36 responses to “HERE IS OUR DIRTY LITTLE SECRET

  1. I am a fan of you do what works. When putting out anything in parenting comes judgement but only you know what works for your child.
    My little one is almost a year and many people have told me to stop nursing to sleep. I will stop when it stops working for us! Nice post.

    • I agree. I know several parents who don’t sleep train, simply because the night wakings do not bother them. They accept night wakings as a normal part of parenthood, and they carry on. While it is easy to pass judgement because their pre-schoolers don’t sleep through the night, the fact of the matter is that if it works for them, it’s really nobody else’s concern!

  2. Zzzzactly. I totally agree. You do what works. My girl had been sleeping on her own for 12hrs straight since she was 7mo old. I firmly believe it is thanks to our reading her cues, and putting her to bed immediately upon seeing them, since she was two months. Eat. Play. Sleep. Repeat. We did this from 6 wks until ….well…today! This consistency “trained” her to fall asleep on her own. She walks herself to her crib, puts her hands up to be put in, I lay her down and walk out. Done. We are blessed.

    • That is AWESOME! I really hope Oliver learns to do that 🙂 Right now he “asks” by getting fussy and rubbing his eyes, but maybe once he has some communication skills (sign language or verbal) he will be able to consciously articulate his need/desire for sleep.

  3. I have to ask about the origin of this post….have you heard judgment from other parents??? If so, umm, cut them from your playdates. You don’t need ’em!!

    • No, no judgement from any of the parents I hang out with. They are a really open-minded group, and we learn a lot from each other.

      It’s more the attachment parenting websites (Dr. Sears et. al.) that sometimes come across as judgy/preachy when it comes to any sort of parenting that actually factors in the needs of the parent as well as the child. For example, “If your current daytime or nighttime routine is not working for you, think about what changes you can make in yourself and your lifestyle that will make it easier for you to meet your baby’s needs.” Just read the subtext of that statement.

  4. That’s great news. Our daughter is 21 mos old now and she has been sleeping through the night since she was 8 weeks old. My sister in law gave me a book ” save our sleep” by Tizzie Hall and it’s one of the best present I received. Its pretty much getting babies into routine as young as new born.

    Our daughter has always been great ever since. Happier and very content. I would highly recommend having routines for little Ones it would make mum and dads life lot easier.

    • We never came across that book in our pre-baby sleep book reading frenzy, but now I’m really curious about it. Having a baby that sleeps through the night at eight weeks old is amazing, and virtually unheard of in North America. I’m going to have to see if it’s available at the library.

      • http://www.saveoursleep.com.au/ here is a website that you can read about her and her work.

        I found her book very helpful and she also has ” Save our Sleep for Toddlers” bought it when my daughter was 15 months. I know of some friends back here in Australia who uses the book and it worked for them, for some it doesnt. At the end of the day if we find what we work for our bubs will stick to it.

        Cheers and Good luck.

  5. I’m a big fan of Dr. Sears. His writing about high needs babies was a huge help for me in the first year with my son.

    We didn’t do CIO and I am doubtful our high needs colicky baby would have responded to it. He’s still, at 2.5, struggling to string good nights of sleep together. There is a good chance some of it is due to sleep apnea and he’s having surgery next week that should help.

    I will admit that in my first year as a mom I thought parents that did CIO or sleep training were cruel. I was sad for their babies. I’m a little wiser now. Every family has to find what works for them. Good to hear that you have found something that works for your family and your baby.

    Also, as you get out of the infant stage there are fewer of these topics to have differences over. When your kids are coming up on three you don’t really talk about who formula fed, who co-slept and who got an epidural. It’s nice. 🙂

    PS. Enjoy that glass of wine with J! I could never have imagined how fantastic a quiet date night at home could be before children. My husband arrived home from a work trip last night and we sat on the couch chatting, no music or tv on, for over an hour. It felt like going for a three Michelin star meal and a Broadway show.

    • I probably shouldn’t rag on Dr. Sears so much, huh? 🙂 I really do like his philosophies in most cases; I just find his stance against sleep training to be particularly hardline — and for me, somewhat guilt-inducing. But in your case, his insistence on ruling out medical issues (and probably to a large extent the co-sleeping you did!) probably helped to detect Henry’s sleep apnea at an early age.

      I’m going to write a more detailed post about our process, but basically we allowed Oliver to settle himself when his crying leaned towards the “fussing” end of the spectrum, and intervened when he was crying harder. This led to a few rough nights of J having to jump out of bed and run across the apartment several times during the wee hours, but I think the work has paid off very quickly.

      It is amazing how parenting changes our perspective. The first night I went out for dinner with a friend and J stayed home with Oliver, I was so excited because I could finally wear one particular belted sweater dress that I can’t wear with Oliver around because it is completely incompatible with breastfeeding. It’s the little things, I guess 🙂

  6. I am glad you shared this, especially since you associate with the attachment parenting philosophy! There can be so much guilt (and pointing fingers) associated with not following a method of parenting 100%, and over the past year since I became a mother my views have shifted dramatically and I am SO much less judgmental of myself and others. Parenting is SUCH hard work and I don’t blame others for making whatever healthy decision makes them the best parent they can be. We bedshare with my 12.5 month old, but about one month ago I night weaned her (there is a method for cosleeping and night weaning you can find if you google those terms and Jay Gordon.) At first I was so upset and felt so guilty–why couldn’t *I* continue to meet my daughter’s (constant!!) night time needs, like some of my friends? Now I am so happy I did it. She sleeps better, we sleep better, and momma is happier and more sane. 😉 Good for you going with your gut!

    • I love the attachment parenting approach, except insofar as I sometimes feel that moms are expected to become martyrs, which is not necessarily the healthiest way to exist. And you’re right – there can be a lot of guilt and finger-pointing when part of an approach does not work and you decide to try something different.

      That’s really amazing that you were able to night wean while co-sleeping! Seems like it would be a lot trickier to accomplish, since baby can always smell mom. For us, one of the keys to getting Oliver to sleep through the night was that J had to deal with all of the middle of the night wakings so that there would be no mom=feeding association.

  7. Well said! We started out just feeding on demand and it did not work! At 4 weeks I had so many meltdowns from no sleep. We did babywise for 5 weeks and he started sleeping thru the night at 9 weeks. He was the happiest baby! Everyone complimented, etc. he’s almost 2 now. We have a floor bed (Montessori) and since he’s been walking, he pretty much puts himself to bed when we start talking about it.

    • I’ve heard Babywise mentioned a few times, always in a very positive context, but I know nothing about it. I think that’s another one we’re going to have to make sure to read before baby #2.

      I have become curious about the Montessori floor beds. How do you address night or early morning wakings?

  8. I’m due in 6 weeks and barring anything unusual or abnormally challenging that may arise with our “Little One”, we have full intentions of embracing sleep training just as you have and for exactly the same reasons. Congratulations! I can only hope our experience will be just as successful as yours appears to have been.

    • We are definitely loving the newfound freedom of scheduling (ironic, isn’t it?). Now that Oliver sleeps (and eats) for predictable intervals at predictable times, we can actually enjoy activities, without the constant worry about when the next meltdown might occur.

      Best of luck with the rest of your pregnancy! Six more weeks – how exciting 🙂

  9. I’ve been thinking about this post a lot lately and the expectations that mothers think they should be following regarding current trends. Sleep training is “out,” bed sharing is “in,” baby-led weaning is “in,” spoon feeding is “out,” rice cereal as the first food is “out,” steaks are “in.” What our parents did is clearly “out” (because we all turned out so dysfunctional!). That you “sleep trained” is something you’re supposed to feel guilty for, or have as a secret in the mom groups is, well, a sign of the times. We are so bombarded with information about what is right and wrong that it seems difficult to walk that fine line and stay awake. If we all had to survive with one style of parenting, and only that style worked, human kind would have evaporated long ago. Trust that you are not the first to have “sleep trained” and nor will you be the last. It’s like potty training and and all other training you do with your child and however you do it to suit your family is how you do it! One foot forward at a time.

    My first nursed to sleep until she was nearly four. Did I want to pull my hair out at times? Yes. Did it end? Yes. Does she sleep through the night easily now? Yes. Does she still nurse to sleep? No. Somehow we made it through. My second is a “sleep-trainable” kind of of person. She is easy going, nurses efficiently and pops off when she’s done to go to sleep. At 8 weeks, she’s mostly sleeping through the night in our bed. This time around, we’re doing elimination communication, so sometimes she stirs to pee and I wake up, hold her over the potty, she goes and then goes back to sleep.

    How one parents a child to sleep depends on the child, the family situation, and a whole slew of other factors. No one “right way” will work for everyone. My parents certainly didn’t coddle me to sleep every night as a baby. They plunked me in my crib and I went to sleep. That’s just how it was. They didn’t call it anything harsh like “Cry-it-out” or some other guilt inducing term. It was simply, put the baby to bed and nothing more. We often read too much these days and let experts make us question the most basic biological needs:-). We’re animals. We sleep at night. Most babies will not stay awake 24 hours straight.

    • You always have such wise and insightful comments! 🙂

      Everything you said is true. It’s as if there is an ongoing competition to make sure we are “______ enough” (insert whatever currently popular parenting philosophy you subscribe to). There was a great series of blog posts I found the other day, where natural parenting followers confessed, “I’m a natural parent, but…” (…I let my kids watch TV, I give my kids McDonalds, I use disposable diapers, etc.). It was funny, and it came as a bit of a relief to discover that everyone else is imperfect too 😉

      I find it interesting that, like you, my parents didn’t “sleep train” us, nor did they coddle us to sleep. There was just an expectation that babies would sleep through the night — and we all did. Perhaps with the sheer amount of information we have at our disposal, we sometimes cause more problems by over-analyzing everything than we would if we just went with the flow.

      • Just a little word from your mother……you are correct in that we put you & your brothers to bed without coddling but we did have a routine in which we bathed you, put you to sleep, fed you again before we went to sleep and then you slept 10 -12 hours. We slowly moved the late feeding earlier in increments until it wasn’t needed anymore. In a way, we did sleep train but we didn’t know it!! We were merely trying to find a way to make our lives less stressful and there is nothing wrong with that. As a matter of fact we often altered the routine and never used it as an excuse not to go out somewhere and stay a little late. Babies are adaptable and actually quite flexible if you allow for it.

  10. We had to sleep train my daughter too. It is a tough couple of nights, but I agree- it is the best thing for everyone involved. It is really important that babies learn that they can put themselves to sleep.

    It only took my daughter about 3 nights and then she went to bed without tears and went right to sleep. The best part was that she could put herself back to sleep if she woke up in the night. At 2 1/2 she is still an excellent sleeper.

    • Nice to hear that sleep training pays off long term as well! It has now been 11 days since the last time we’ve had to go into Oliver’s room in the middle of the night or early morning to settle him. If he does wake, he has been putting himself back to sleep in just a few minutes without any intervention.

  11. Three weeks ago I was a zombie and felt like I was on the verge of psychosis. We were letting the baby stay up until she seemed tired (usually 11pm), and I was cluster feeding all evening. She woke up every two hours throughout the night until 6am, and then slept soundly until 10 or 11. It was not working — I was too tired to function. We changed EVERYTHING about what we were doing (thanks to some fabulous advice from you, Carli) and now I feel like a whole new person and my baby is sleeping well. Bedtime routine starts at 7pm and she is asleep by 8pm. We usually have a dream feed close to midnight and another feeding around 4 or 5 am. She gets up at 7am, stays up for two hours and then takes a two hour nap. She then has an afternoon nap around 3pm. It is amazing how easy this switch was. It was obviously what she wanted/needed. I LOVE sleep training! 🙂

    • I’m so happy to hear that she’s sleeping well now! 🙂 I felt the exact same way when we got Oliver from waking every two hours to only one night waking. It’s amazing how big of a toll lack of sleep can take on every aspect of your life.

  12. You made such a wise decision to do this…i had preemie twins and there was just no way we could function without sleeping babies. We had them sleeping 12 hrs by 12-15 weeks, and it literally saved our sanity.

    It’s so important to make these decisions based on what works for OUR family…no one else has to walk in your shoes, so they can keep opinions to themselves!!!

    • It’s interesting — all of the moms I’ve talked to who have twins (there are five sets who come to the mom and baby group I attend!) say similar things. Out of necessity, it seems, their babies learn to eat and sleep on a schedule much earlier than other babies, and most of them learn self-soothing skills sooner too, because there’s not always an extra set of hands available to pick them up the moment they start crying. And I’m sure they end up no worse for the wear because of it 🙂

  13. I also followed the book “Babywise” and I can’t imagine how hectic my life would’ve been without it! I ordered the book when my son was about 1 week old and started the “sleep training” as soon as I finished reading the book. I’m a planner/scheduler by nature, so this book was right up my alley. My son has been sleeping through the night (and by sleeping through the night I mean about 12 hours or so). Babywise catches a lot of flack, but if you use the methods in the book along with a little common sense, it can be such a helpful resource.

  14. I think I’ve mentioned that my parenting focus this time around is on all things potty related and not so much on sleep. We all need to have our entertaining parenting literature to pour over in our spare time. 🙂 Anyhow, when I read that a baby is sleeping for 10-12 hours I am now thinking about that diaper. Really, at 12 weeks my wee one still poops sometimes, in her sleep. She stirs to pee about 3 times a night, even if she only nurses once. Just assuming one fills a baby up at 8, chances are excellent baby would need to pee around midnight or before. Does one just leave baby in super absorbent diapers for the rest of the night, random poop included? Somehow I think that could be setting up wetting the bed later problems (though I have no evidence to support that idle thought). I doubt a baby can hold it that long. I am very curious because our wee one does stir a lot in her sleep when she needs to pee and if I ignore it, she’ll pee and stay asleep. When I get her up to pee, she pees and goes back to sleep without all the wiggles. How does one handle the diaper duty of those long sleepers?

    • We have been stuffing the cloth diapers with one regular insert plus two of the thin newborn inserts, and that seems to do the trick for the overnight stretch (12 hrs), keeping his PJs and his bed dry without fail. Oliver rarely (and I mean *very* rarely) wakes up with poop in his diaper, and the odd time that happens, I’m pretty sure he’s doing it in the morning and that’s actually what wakes him up.

      I do potty him before and after naps, and he will often wake from naps with a dry diaper, which is pretty cool.

  15. I’ve heard it all. Don’t schedule your baby they will go distant from you… you need to put that baby on a schedulebthey will bw happier… Well I read Babywise about 10 times and could not be happier with the results. My LO eats, plays, sleeps… in that order takes a 1.5 hour nap in the morning, 3 hour nap in afternoon, and another 1 hour nap at night. Gets in bed at 8:30 PM and gets up at 8 AM. Babywise doesn’t call it sleep training but by 7 weeks my LO was sleeping 8-9 uninterupted hours and now at 9 weeks he sleeps almost 12 hours. He rarely cries, only if I don’t get him down for a nap when he’s ready. He goes to bed awake, falls asleep, and wakes up cooing…. all because I read Babywise. Dad and I get more quality time at night and our LO is as happy as ever.

    • Babywise seems to get a lot of ringing endorsements, and I certainly haven’t heard any criticisms yet. Now I am curious to read it – it sounds like it could be really useful next time around, so we don’t have to wait until six months of age to start having a good night’s sleep. You’re definitely right about the scheduling: Oliver seems much happier when he knows what to expect when. I can only imagine that life would have been easier in those early months if things were more predictable for all of us.

  16. I have a 8 month old who only sleeps short periods at night 2-3hours and so I m not getting the sleep I need. Can I ask what you did? I m really in need of help

    • Hi Beth,

      It’s would be difficult to tell you exactly what approach to use, without having the big picture, but one thing to keep in mind is that all children wake regularly throughout the night. The difference between a child who “sleeps through the night” and one who doesn’t is the amount of help the child needs in falling back to sleep whenever s/he wakes.

      What usually helps most is to look at bedtime first. Whatever conditions your child has at bedtime (for example, nursing to sleep, rocking to sleep, using a pacifier) will be needed in order to fall *back* asleep when he or she wakes during the night. Usually once you have a child who can fall asleep by him or herself at bedtime, they have a much easier time going back to sleep following night wakings.

      With 8-month-olds, you do want to be careful if they have hit the separation anxiety phase, and be sensitive to the fact that the simple act of you leaving the room can be stressful. Often times it is easier to have dads work on sleep, as there is much less crying that way.

      Good luck!

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