9 Things Not to Say to a Sleep-Training Parent
I started sleep-training my last baby at an early age. As a third-time mom, I knew all too well how miserable everyone in our family is when they are sleep-deprived, and so I wanted to establish good sleep habits, stat—something I didn't do with my first two kids in any consistent way and regretted.
It worked: My baby slept through the night early on, and I was a very happy mom. But sleep-training is controversial: Although many experts recommend babies be 4 to 6 months old before starting it, there’s no hard-and-fast recommend age or method to try. And certainly, it’s not right for every baby or every family. Given all that, I heard some real doozies along our sleep-training journey—and my fellow sleep-training mamas have heard some gems, too. Among the comments that really aren't helpful to hear:
1. "You must not care about your baby." Okay, you got me there! That must be why I sat outside the door to her nursery, crying my eyes out the first few times we tried sleep-training. But here's the cold, hard truth: I committed myself to sleep-training my baby because I cared so much about the overall well-being of our entire family. So in reality, working with my baby to establish a sleep schedule was an act of love not just for her, but for her siblings, my husband, and myself.
2. "Aren't you are harming your baby?" Actually, no. A recent study published in Pediatrics looked at babies between the ages of 6 and 16 months who weren't sleeping through the night, and found that graduated extinction (or "cry it out") sleep-training did not cause a baby stress. Not only that, but babies who cry it out, fall asleep faster, and wake less during the night. Which was precisely my experience.
3. "It won't work." Except it did for me. Sleep-training isn't the right choice for every family, of course. But here's the deal: Trying it for just a week's worth of naps won't yield results. I spent weeks sticking to a very disciplined routine. I'd gradually allow my baby to cry for a minute or two longer each time, before I stepped in. Eventually, that ratio got inverted; less crying and more sleep.
4. "That's just mean." When my husband leaves his dirty clothes all over the floor, I can get a little mean about it. But when it came to my baby? No way. The fact that I allowed her to cry for a few minutes before stepping in—helping her learn to self-soothe and fall asleep on her own—doesn't negate how we spent most our time, which was filled with nurturing cuddles and love.
5. Look of disdain (no words). If an expression can say, "What kind of parent thinks it's okay to leave a poor, defenseless child to figure out a natural, biological need on their own," then I've definitely seen it.
6. "What will this do to her when she's older?" Now that my little one is 3, I can tell you she sleeps through the night. Every night. And during the waking hours, she's happy and well-adjusted. With friends! Only sometimes does her head spin around, as she demands to know (in a scratchy, devil-like voice) why I tortured her by sleep-training her years ago. Kidding, of course. And in all seriousness, a 2012 study published in the journal Pediatrics, which looked at 6-year-old children who had had parent-reported sleep problems at 7 months of age, and had (or had not) received behavioral sleep interventions, found that "behavioral sleep techniques have no marked long-lasting effects (positive or negative)."
7. "Sleep-training is selfish." If doing what is best for your family as a whole is selfish, then okay. Guilty as charged.
8. "I just can't stand to listen to my baby cry." I absolutely understand that—because I feel the same way.No sleep-training parent enjoys hearing their child cry.We're not evil moms creating playlists on Pandora with the sounds of our babies whining, crying, fussing, screaming, and being otherwise disgruntled. Babies cry, and that crying is hard on any parent. But it's also hard to live in a perpetual fog, and feel moody and miserable. And watch your child's face fall when you snap at her due to lack of sleep, and feeling totally out-of-control. Sleep-training absolutely helped me gain control of our family life. So although it wasn't easy, I don't regret it.
9. "I guess by kid #3, you're just over it." Over what? Loving my child? Doing what I believe is best for her? Um, no. Sure, I'm not as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as I was in my 20s, when my first was born. But I've also learned a lot. Like, that just because my baby cries for a moment, I don't have to hurdle over the couch to get to her. Babies cry. It's how they communicate. And sometimes that cry means, "I'm tired. Please let me be for a bit, so I can try to fall asleep. Without you hovering."