This is a post I‘ve gone back and forth about writing for awhile. I know that this is an unpopular opinion (in our country especially!) and I’m probably in the minority for my opinions on sleep-training. I care about what people think of me more than I care to admit, so I’m a little scared to post this, but decided it’s worth it to bring awareness to this issue that I’m so passionate about!
The topics of infant sleep and cry-it-out come up in everyday conversation so much and I am the most non-confrontational person ever.. I never quite know what to say! So that’s another reason I decided to write this post; So I can just get my thoughts out there and be able to thoroughly explain my reasoning since it’s usually not possible to go into all this in a daily conversation.
*A little disclaimer- The last thing I want to do is offend any of my friends or family who practice cry-it-out or sleep train. (I know there are a lot) So if you might be offended feel free to skip this post! I won’t be offended and I’m always down for agreeing to disagree! 😉 I know of many parents who practice cry-it-out and I do believe that they deeply love their children and are just doing what they feel is best. I’m not a know-it-all or a my way or the highway kind of person; This post is just for me to explain my opinions based on my personal convictions and the research out there to anyone who is interested! 🙂 Here’s why I won’t practice “cry-it-out”.
- It goes against my mama gut instincts. Before I became a mom, I thought letting babies cry it out was just what you do. In our country, it IS what most people just do without question. I assumed I would be no different, but when I became a mom I became overwhelmed with empathy and compassion for my child. For me at least, and probably most moms, responding to your baby’s cries comes naturally. I would argue that no mama wants her baby to cry. Sometimes it even makes ME cry when Gabe cries, which isn’t that often. I’ve heard so many people say how HARD it is to let your baby cry, and I believe the reason it is so hard is because it goes completely against your innate parenting instincts. It just doesn’t feel right.
- Sleep is developmental. It is biologically normal for babies to wake or stir frequently in their sleep. I know there are rare babies out there that somehow magically sleep through the night on their own, but for the most part, babies have been waking up needing their mamas since the beginning of time! It doesn’t last forever. While my baby is still little and still needs me I want to be there for him. Nothing about parenting is always convenient for the parents. Parenting requires lots of sacrifice. Gabe knows if he cries I will come to him. I’m building a secure trusting relationship with him. Just like every other baby stage, he will eventually grow out of needing me throughout the night. (Honestly, I will miss it!) Some people might say he will “never learn” to sleep through the night if I’m there for him when he wakes. This simply isn’t true. I believe that sleeping through the night isn’t something you can teach or train a baby to do. (I’ll touch more on this below!) It’s something that happens naturally when the baby is developmentally ready to do so. Expecting babies to sleep alone in a crib through the whole night is an outrageously unrealistic expectation. I wish more new parents realized what biologically normal infant sleep looks like. (Click the links for more in depth info on it!)
- I believe babies’ emotional needs are just as important as their physical needs. If a baby has been fed, burped, and changed some people think the baby has no reason to cry, or says the baby is just crying for comfort, as if comfort isn’t a true need. My baby isn’t just a digestive system, he’s a human with a need for touch! Babies spend 9 months cozy inside their mama. They need snuggles. They need to be held and loved on and cannot be spoiled by too much love! Also, cool science fact- How much a baby is held actually affects their DNA. The more cuddles a baby receives, the better! (Read more about this here!!) Crazy!! I’ve gotten comments about how I’m “always holding” Gabe, but I know I will never look back on this time and regret that I held him too much. 😉 Not possible!
- Most other countries successfully raise babies without using this method. Sleep training and cry-it-out are first world problems. Even the idea of babies sleeping apart from their mothers seems ridiculous in more traditional primitive cultures. It just doesn’t make sense to them. It is only some western first world countries that push sleep training. Many other countries, such as those in southern Europe, Asia, Africa and Central and South America practice co-sleeping as the cultural norm. Co-sleeping (which can be a crib or bassinet in your room, or bed-sharing) naturally lends itself to easier night time parenting. Many people in these countries have never even heard of the concept of “sleep-training”, or they view the practice as unnatural, or even neglectful and cruel because its so far off from what they’re used to in their country. Most new mothers in the United States are pushed into sleep training by well-meaning friends, family, and pediatricians who genuinely believe its a great idea. Everyone seems to be doing it, therefore many moms don’t even realize it’s an option to do anything else. Additionally, you may be looked down on if you disagree with sleep training or cry-it-out. This also negatively affects new parents’ expectations of their child and their sleep. It’s so easy to think there’s something wrong with you or your child if you can’t get them to sleep alone in their crib. The obsession with infants sleeping alone through the night is purely a cultural thing that I pray will start to change! The baby sleep industry is a huge one ($325 MILLION actually), and this is likely one of the big reasons that sleep training is pushed as much as it is. It is also interesting to note that, of the developed countries, the United States has one of the highest rates of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), and Japan, where co-sleeping (and therefore being responsive to your baby at night) is the cultural norm, the cases of SIDS are extremely low. (source) Being near your baby and being extra attentive to them likely has a part to play in the huge difference.
- It can have lasting negative affects on babies’ brains. This is the point that people will probably scoff at the most I’m sure. I want to stress that it CAN have negative lasting affects on the child’s brain, I’m not saying that every child brought up with this is scarred for life. (I don’t believe that.) But babies left to cry alone have abnormally high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in their brains. These babies don’t only have high levels of cortisol during the actual crying, but babies left to cry were actually found to have higher levels of it even when they appear calm. There is significant research that shows that babies routinely left alone to cry can potentially have lasting issues with things like anxiety, future sleep issues, insecurity, trust issues, chronic stress, etc. and I personally believe this to be true. Many of these studies also show that children who are nurtured more actually become more independent, cooperative, mild-mannered children, contrary to popular myth that your kids will become ultra dependent and spoiled.
- Babies cannot “learn” to self-soothe. Like learning to walk, talk, and sleep through the night, learning to self soothe is developmental. It is something that develops in time. It is not something you can teach a baby to do before they are developmentally ready. When a baby is left to cry-it-out, they are only being taught that no one is going to come when they cry, so their brain freezes and they shut down. The part of the brain needed for self-soothing (the neocortex) isn’t even fully developed for a few years! (Read all about the science of it here!) Babies left to cry alone have high levels of stress hormones in their brain and are not in any way calm or soothed. They are in distress, even long after the crying has stopped. Studies have been done on babies crying in the loving arms of a caregiver as well as crying alone: the babies crying with a soothing caregiver did not have high levels of cortisol in their brains even though they were crying. The babies crying alone had high levels of it. Knowing this, my heart breaks for babies left alone to cry. I think if this information were common knowledge, cry-it-out would not be nearly as popular as it is in our culture. I also think people can easily become desensitized to a baby’s cry. If you practice cry it out, hearing your baby cry would get easier the more you do it. Gabe rarely cries, so when he does it really upsets me and I want to do everything I can to make it all better.
I believe that my mama gut instincts are there for a reason and it’s best to listen to them. Primal child rearing instincts work and make sense, and modern research totally backs them up too.
Babies are meant to be fully dependent at first. This is not a bad thing. Babies are not flawed for being dependent on their parents. They don’t wake us up at night out of selfishness, they just love us and genuinely need us! They need the comfort of our touch, and in many cases, a little late night milk snack!
With that being said, safe bed-sharing has completely saved my sanity and allows me a great night sleep so I’m really not having to sacrifice much to be able to respond to Gabe at night. He never fully wakes up in the night since I’m right there when he starts to stir and I can get him comfortable or latched on for a snack. I still get 7-9 hrs of sleep at night on average and I wake up cuddling with my sweet precious boy who is often smiling up at me with big loving eyes. *swoon!* Alone time with my husband may require a little more thought, creativity, and prioritizing but it is still completely doable and important to me. I’ve heard people say their marriage would suffer if they let their baby sleep in their room or if they didn’t sleep-train and I do agree that it makes things trickier but it is nothing that can’t be worked around. My husband and son are the two things in this world I care most about and they’re both my top priorities. It requires more work to be responsive to my baby and also make time for my husband but their happiness means everything to me and its totally worth it.
Co-sleeping or bed-sharing isn’t a perfect solution for everyone or every family but it works for us right now and I absolutely love it. I couldn’t imagine a more natural or instinctual way to raise our boy. ️I hope this post has been informative to those who simply didn’t understand and I hope it encourages any moms feeling the societal pressure to go against their natural nurturing instincts!