The Sleep Training Dilemma
Cry-it-out, a phrase that incites fear into parents everywhere. Why? Because it's awful to listen to your child cry. We are wired to respond to our children's cries, it's in our instincts and biology. Back in the cave-man days this had a very practical application of keeping predators away. Loud noises attract predators, so it was only natural to want to make the loud noise go away, as quickly as possible. Biologically, scientists believe the sound quality of crying triggers our amygdala, a region in the brain associated with generating a fear response, think racing heart, increased blood pressure, and general discomfort or panic. Studies have also shown the presence of the hormone oxytocin (the love hormone as some call it) which is abundant in new mothers, and even fathers, makes us even more sensitive to hearing just the slightest whimper from our babes. So essentially, we are designed to hear our babies cry, and then because it causes us great discomfort, we are inclined to respond and make the cries stop.
So, when we make the desperate, sleep-deprived decision to sleep train our babies, we are essentially tasked with ignoring our biology and fighting our instincts. No wonder it's so hard. This is something I personally struggled a lot with, especially in the midst of postpartum depression, in which the attempt to control my baby's sleep was a huge trigger for me. I remember thinking frequently, "why is this so hard?" My brain would always immediately jump to the conclusion I stated above, it's hard because it's not instinctual, and it's not really the way nature intended for us to care for our babies. But then again, is anything about the way we are living in this modern world, the way nature intended?
I knew the easiest answer for getting more sleep, was the more natural answer of bed-sharing, which is what is suggested by many experts who denounce sleep training. I knew, historically speaking, a family bed was the norm up until very recent times. I also knew bed-sharing goes against safe baby sleep guidelines of today, which recommend room-sharing, but with baby on their own safe sleep surface. Then of course, I had to factor in some of my personal circumstances. My husband had expressed to me he was uncomfortable with having our baby share the bed, and I also had some misgivings about it, because it left me unable to get up in the mornings and ready myself for the day without waking her. Also, as I mentioned above, I was struggling with a bad case of postpartum depression, and my baby's sleep schedule was something I was irrationally concerned about. All the above reasons are what led me to choose to sleep train, even though I felt it was maybe not the way nature intended.
If we lived the way nature intended however, we would all settle in and go to bed when it became dark, instead of using artificial light to prolong our days. We would wake and start our days all together as a family when it became light outside. We would sleep all together as a family out of necessity for warmth and safety. We would stay with our babies during the day while we go about our business, instead of leaving them for long periods of the day to go to a job in order to make money required for living. Obviously, this is not how most of us live, which doesn't mean you can't bed-share, it just means, bed-sharing is not a solution for all of us, for many different reasons. So, if that's the case for you, as it was for me, and bed-sharing is not the solution for a better nights sleep, what is the answer? We know sleep deprivation is detrimental in many ways, to both parents and babies, so something must be done, and that's where sleep training comes in, with many different methods, and even a few 'no cry" approaches to try.
The truth is, however, sleep training usually involves tears. It's baby's instinct to cry when they need or want something, that's how they communicate. So, if you're trying something new and suddenly removing the things you used to do to help them sleep, no matter how gentle the approach, they'll probably cry because it's different and it's new. The anti sleep training side says crying will harm the baby and damage their trust in you, while sleep coaches say crying is just baby's way to communicate their frustration at the change, and they will learn to adapt.
It's up to each parent to choose what they believe, but even if you truly believe in what you're doing, it still sucks to hear your baby cry, because, you know, biology. I guess that's when you have to remind yourself your baby isn't crying because they're about to be eaten by a mountain lion, and that they are in fact, safe. Then, you can assure yourself that you're a good parent who's doing the best you can and making the decision you feel is best for your whole family, based on your parenting wisdom, which can in fact, be different than your parenting instinct, because your parenting wisdom takes into account all the unique circumstances in your life.
I do believe sleep training was the best choice for us, in the end. I don't feel like sleep training negatively impacted my relationship/bond with either of my girls, or harmed their trust in me in anyway, and it did indeed help cure my sleep deprivation, which additionally, positively impacted my postpartum depression. However, as with any choice or decision in parenting, it's easy to harbor feelings of guilt and regret. It certainly wasn't an easy decision to make, and even less easy to execute, and I wonder sometimes, if I wasn't so crippled with postpartum depression if I would have made a different choice the second time around. I guess I will never know, and circumstances being what they were, sleep training was the best decision for our family.
This post isn't meant to shame anyone for their decisions regarding baby sleep, and I hope no one will shame me for my decisions. I believe decisions surrounding baby sleep arrangements are very personal, and there is no right or wrong decision. There is so much information out there to support and denounce each side of the debate, so each family can only do what feels right for them and their circumstances. Whether you decide to sleep train or not, remember to give yourself plenty of grace, trust in your wisdom, move forward bravely, and be kind to one another, because in the end we all love our children and we all are trying to do what's best for them, even if we don't agree on what that may be.