“Listen to Me, Not the Book!” is what your baby would tell you if s/he could.
In working with new parents over the years, I hear the same words and sentiments, and the same frustrations repeated again and again. In fact, I said these very things myself back when my first child was born.
While I empathize deeply with this vulnerable time for you and all new parents, I see Sleep Consultants making a big mistake, again and again as they work with families.
Sleep Coaches tend to take their clients words literally. Trusted consultants affirm parents in using their current perspective as justification to sleep train. In my opinion this is a great disservice and it’s incredibly short-sighted.
The first time I worked with an Attachment-based counsellor when I was struggling with parenting my strong-willed toddler, I was struck by her integrity. That is, she didn’t accept my version of our story as absolute fact. I say, “our story”, because each member of the family has their experience which is equally valid. To best resolve the issue, a skilled professional looks to all points of view and myriad of contributing factors.
“My baby/toddler fights sleep” is a common statement I’ll hear.
When presented these words, I know that a lot more digging must be done, to really delve into the true issue at hand. I’ll ask many questions like,
– What time does s/he go to sleep typically?
– When do you start your bedtime routine?
– What made you decide on the bedtime you have in place?
– How long does bedtime typically take?
– What does s/he want to do? Is there an unmet need from the day (attention, physical play, fresh air, cuddles)?
The reason for all of this digging of course, is to uncover the situation with as much factual detail as possible, and to go from there, usually from a perspective of education and managing a parent’s expectations. Sleep training is never, ever necessary.
“My baby NEVER sleeps.” is another common catastrophic statement I’ve heard too many times to count.
In the case of the insomniac baby, I’ll ask questions like:
Give me more specifics. When does bedtime start, how many wake ups and for how long? How many naps and for how long?
Often in these cases the baby is a frequent waker whose sleep patterns fall in the realm of normal, but rarely there is an underlying medical concern. Sometimes it’s an environmental issue (too much clutter, artificial lights and televisions on), or even stress at home that is resulting in a wakeful baby.
“Is there any way to just lengthen that first stretch of sleep?”
“I can’t get anything done.”
“I just want my life back already.”
“How can I encourage a later wake time?”
The above are questions and statements pertaining to what we tackle in the first module of The DREAM Method. You’re going through a difficult time with reconciling the way life used to look, and the way it is today. You thought that after your baby went to sleep in their crib, you could connect over some Netflix and unwind either on your own or maybe with a partner.
The reality is, your baby is crying out for you every 15 minutes until you finally cave and go to bed with your baby. And maybe you are worried that your partner is feeling neglected. Often parents want to go out on the occasional date, but have anxiety about leaving their baby with anyone, lest s/he wake up screaming and inconsolable.
It is not uncommon to wonder silently if your relationship can withstand this season of insatiability from your tiny new family member, and to come to believe that if your child could be just a bit less attached or more independent, that you can “get your life back”.
The behaviour-modification logic (baby ceasing to cry out for you equalling end of parental existential crisis) is problematic. Sleep training assumes the issue is the babys’. 99.9% of the time a baby or toddler is behaving in completely developmentally optimal ways, or in response to their caregiver and environment. If your baby is behaving “insatiably”, it’s usually for good reason and should not be trained-away through any form of cry-it-out.
My eldest is a good example, where he was a classic “high-needs baby” who would only want to sleep on me. I didn’t know until years later the genetic cards he was dealt, but had I known, I would’ve leaned in to his needs with a lot less resistance. Ultimately I followed my instincts and credit him with what I call, “high survival instincts”, because he had the biological wisdom to know he’d thrive best through relying on his mother during the night.
Mothers do act as a natural pace-maker, regulate breathing and body temperature, as well as provide on-demand nourishment. It makes perfect sense why any baby would opt for a sleeping arrangement that provides such a health insurance policy.
The long-term solution to “getting your life back” is to release your previously conceived notions to the meaning of life and where you derive joy and relaxation. To be flexible and open to how you can meet your needs AND your baby’s instead of trying to make a fragile new human be the flexible one in the dyad.
Life can look different from family to family, but there are solutions. Once sleep is no longer used as a babysitter, and parents understand that young babies require supervision and support 24 hours a day, they can look to getting a trusted caregiver to watch the baby during a different time of day so parents can enjoy a date outside of baby’s “witching hour” or first stretch of sleep. This flexible attitude can be learned, and then applied beyond infancy and to any parenting challenge.
“My toddler is so stubborn when it comes to sleep! He insists on coming into our bed.”
Similar to the “getting life back” category, when it comes to little ones requiring contact to sleep, I dig into why this is even a problem. Why don’t you let your 2 year old climb into bed with you? What is the underlying fear here? Usually it has to do with unsubstantiated concerns of “coddling” or “spoiling” a child, and the notion that as parents we are supposed to teach self-reliance.
The fact is that developmental psychology and brain science show that emotional regulation is in fact not “taught” but learned through example. One cannot be self-reliant until ones needs for dependence on another are met. By arbitrarily cutting a child off from nighttime comfort, you encourage insecurity instead of confidence.
By really hearing a parent and delving deeper into the layers that build on another in relation to this tender time of new parenthood, we can address needs and teach skills to the adults in the family. Because the babies and toddlers were born knowing what they need. It is us who need to unlearn the anecdotes and learn the skills to thrive without being at the expense of the person(s) who depend on us.
It can sting to be challenged on your perspective during such an intense time, when you are exhausted and feeling depleted. Of course your perspective is 100% your reality, and you deserve to be heard. You deserve empathy. You deserve a hug, a shower, and a warm meal eaten with two hands sitting down!
Ask for these things, and ask again if you weren’t heard. When it comes to communicating your woes, do not settle for false promises or patronizing “experts” that aren’t looking after your long-game as a parent. Seek the support you deserve from resources that you fully trust. Gain virtual support on Facebook by joining “The DREAM Method for Healthy Family Sleep” and learn more about the many ways you can find yourself reborn and refreshed as a new parent.