I’m hoping that I might be able to change some minds here today.
It won’t be easy, obviously, because when is it ever? But with parenting issues, there are so many emotional ties and hardened beliefs that they make changing someone’s mind nearly impossible.
As parents, we bear an enormous responsibility. It’s not just about keeping our little ones alive, warm, fed, and happy. We’re all looking to raise exceptional human beings. We’re responsible for the quality of our kids’ lives long after they’ve left the nest, and many of the decisions we make today are going to determine who they are 20, 30, even 50 years from now.
It should come as no surprise then that we take these decisions very, very seriously.
I’ll admit that I find the idea of attachment parenting more than a little interesting, and I can definitely see why it appeals to a lot of parents. After all, most of us want to love our kids unreservedly, especially in those first few years. Our instincts are all about holding our babies close, meeting every need the moment one arises, and protecting them with the strength and determination of a Titan. (Although if I remember my mythology correctly, those Greek gods made some pretty questionable parenting choices, so maybe that’s a bad example.)
For anyone who’s not familiar, attachment parenting is a parenting philosophy that was popularized by Drs. William and Martha Sears in their 1993 publication, “The Baby Book.” The idea, in a nutshell, is maximum closeness and responsiveness. You wear your baby, you share a bed with your baby, you breastfeed on demand, and you answer their cries immediately. In theory, this creates a strong attachment between mother and baby, which results in well-adjusted children who grow up to be happy, healthy, contributing members of society.
Now, all of these theories have been debated endlessly and passionately, but there’s no strong evidence to show that attachment parenting is better or worse than other parenting styles. If you want more information on attachment parenting, a quick Google search will provide you with more material than you could possibly take in over a dozen lifetimes.
But that’s not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to talk about whether attachment parenting and sleep training are mutually exclusive.
I have worked with more than a few clients who subscribe to the attachment parenting ideology and they usually feel like they’re “cheating” a little.
You see, an important thing to note here is that Dr. Sears included a catchy bullet point list of the principles of attachment parenting that he refers to as “The Seven B’s.” They are, in no particular order...
As you can see, he had to stretch a little to get these to all fit into a “B’ category, but I think he did alright. I mean hey, there are seven of them and the guy is a pediatrician, not a poet.
So the first three have nothing to do with sleep training. You can bond with your baby as much as you want, breastfeed until
you’re blue in the face and wear your baby in a sling everywhere you go, and as a pediatric sleep coach, I would tell you that’s all fine and dandy.
It’s the next three items on the list that tend to give attachment parenting advocates pause when they think about sleep training.
Sleeping close to your baby is another term for bed sharing, which Dr. Sears is a big fan of. It’s a common myth about pediatric sleep coaches that we’re firmly against bed sharing, and I won’t act like I don’t know where that came from. The consensus from
most of my colleagues is that babies sleep better, and so do their parents when they aren’t in the same bed as you. More people in bed means more movement, more movement means more wake-ups, and more wake-ups mean less of that rich, delicious, deep sleep that we love to see everybody getting.
So is this a deal breaker when it comes to sleep training? Well, yeah, pretty much. Teaching babies to fall asleep independently isn’t really feasible when Mom is within arms’ reach at all times.
I’ve heard a lot of parents say they get better sleep when they bed share with their little ones, and that’s 100% wonderful in my book. If your family is all sleeping in the same bed and you’re all sleeping well, I say keep doing what you’re doing.
However, if your definition of bed sharing is that one parent is sleeping on the couch and the other is sleeping in bed with baby, waking every 45 minutes to breastfeed back to sleep, that’s not what I would call “quality sleep.”
For anyone who wants to keep their little one close but would rather not wake up to baby’s toes in their nostrils ten times a night, I suggest sharing a room instead of a bed. As long as your baby has a separate space to sleep, like a crib or a playpen, then sleep training is once again a viable option.
What about crying?
Crying is how babies express discontentment, no question about it. Whether it’s a wet diaper, general discomfort, or just wanting something that they don’t have at that particular moment, babies cry to express that they want something.
You may have noticed that I specifically avoided saying that they cry to express a “need,” because let’s face it, not everything a baby cries over is a requirement. If you disagree, I urge you to take a look at these hilarious examples of kids crying for nonsensical reasons". He met Bill Murray” is my personal favorite, but they’re all pretty great.
A lot of my clients are surprised when I tell them that sleep training does NOT require them to let their babies cry until they fall asleep. In fact, I typically don’t recommend waiting longer than about 10 minutes before responding to a crying baby.
I do suggest giving your baby a few minutes to see if they can fall back to sleep on their own. But the idea that sleep training requires parents to close the door at bedtime and leave their little ones until the next morning, regardless of the intensity or duration of their crying, is, in scientific terms, bogus.
So we’ve managed to get to the last two of the seven B’s without any real conflict. However, this next one is going to be tough to navigate.
Beware of Baby Trainers.
So let me just level with you here, okay? I can’t speak for everyone in my profession, but as a Certified Sleep Sense Consultant, I am part of the largest collaborative network of pediatric sleep coaches in the world and we all have one thing in common.
We’re passionate about helping families.
We’ve been through this issue ourselves, we’ve found a solution, and we’re devoted to helping others the same way we helped our own babies because we know, first hand, the difference it makes in people’s lives.
And for anyone who might be thinking, “They’re just in it for the money,” I implore you to try working with exhausted parents and overtired babies for a few nights and tell me about how easy the money is. If this job were just about turning a profit, we would all find something else to do, believe me.
We work with people in their most frazzled, desperate moments, and it is challenging work. The reward is in the results; the smiles of those happy babies and the relief in the eyes of the parents who are feeling reinvigorated and re-energized about raising kids now that they’re getting enough sleep.
My only other issue with the attachment parenting style outlined by Dr. Sears lies in the last of his seven rules.
“Wear your baby everywhere, breastfeed on demand, respond immediately to every whimper, sleep next to them, and hey, remember to take some time for yourself, because it’s all about balance.”
I completely agree with the fundamental principle of balancing your parenting responsibilities with your self-care. Being a mother is a priority. It can easily be argued that it should be your main priority. Many people would tell you that it’s your only priority, which I would disagree with, but let’s say for a minute that it’s true.
If you’re going to be the best mom you can be, you absolutely, inarguably, need to get regular, sufficient rest.
Motherhood is incredibly demanding and getting it right requires that your body and mind are working together as a finely-tuned, well-oiled machine. You have to be patient, understanding, energized, empathetic, entertaining, and focused to be the best parent you can be.
Now ask yourself, how many of those qualities do you possess on three hours of sleep?
One of my favorite quotes on parenthood is Jill Churchill’s heartwarming reminder that none of us bat 1,000 in this sport.
“There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.”
It reminds me that we, like our babies, are unique. Parenting recipes need to be tweaked and adjusted to suit the individual needs of our family.
So if attachment parenting is your thing, more power to you. The best parenting strategy is the one that works for you and your family. But if your little one isn’t sleeping and bed-sharing isn’t solving the problem, I urge you to consider bending Dr. Sears’ rules a little and getting some help.
I won’t tell him if you don’t.
Have questions? Contact me today, at firstname.lastname@example.org
And be sure to sign up for my "7 Best Sleep Tips For Sleeping Through The Night".
Sleep issues are epidemic in our society. Many of us go through our days feeling tired and rundown. Often, we feel fine until we hit that dreaded afternoon wall of exhaustion and end up in a long line at a coffee shop for a hit of caffeine to power through the rest of the day. We might even joke about how little sleep we get, maybe even take pride in believing we're able to function well on only five hours of sleep while we’re working on an important project or studying for college exams.
But chronic sleep deprivation is no laughing matter. In fact, it has been linked to diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression. I have said this many times, but it bears repeating: sleep needs to be a priority. You know your body won't function at its best when you don’t eat regular meals, right? You also know the opposite is true, that your body doesn’t function at its best when you overeat at mealtimes. You know that the right balance of regular, healthy meals throughout the day is crucial to your health and survival.
Getting good sleep is just as crucial because sleep is about restoration. It’s when your busy brain can finally rest its neurons and create proteins that help repair cell damage while your immune system produces infection-fighting antibodies to battle bacteria and viruses. And in children, the brain releases growth hormones during sleep. It’s absolutely vital that you get enough rest so your body can recover from your day and prepare for the next one.
We all know that when we don’t get enough sleep we can feel foggy, spaced out, emotional, irritable, and we have trouble focusing. And if it continues long enough, this lack of sleep can lower your body’s defenses and put you at risk of developing a chronic illness.
Here are some conditions that are known to be caused by ongoing sleep deprivation:
According to the Centers for Disease Control, research has found that sleep duration and quality can be predictors of levels of Hemoglobin A1c, an important marker of blood sugar control. Recent studies suggest that the better you sleep, the better able your body is at regulating your blood sugar.
Sleep apnea is a common cause of insomnia, and people who suffer from it have been found to have an increased risk of hypertension, stroke, coronary heart disease and irregular heartbeat. According to Harvard Medical School, for people with hypertension, one night without enough sleep can cause elevated blood pressure all through the following day.
The link between depression and sleep is complex. It's a bit of a "what came first, the chicken or the egg” problem. Is the person depressed because he can’t sleep, or is it that he can’t sleep because he’s depressed? There is research that shows that people suffering from both depression and sleep apnea experience a decrease in depression once the sleep apnea has been treated and they start sleeping well again. The National Sleep Foundation claims that people with insomnia have a ten-fold risk of developing depression compared with those who sleep well.
It's easy to brush aside the importance of sleep as we navigate through our busy lives. Getting quality sleep is just as important as eating well and exercising. The good news is that if you’ve been sleeping poorly, you don’t need to worry that the damage is already done. It’s never too late to start sleeping well, and your body will do its best to repair and restore itself while you’re getting the rest you so desperately need.
I'd love to help you with your sleep struggles so you can get the healthy rest you need. Book a complimentary call with me today!
Jo Anna Inks
I help tired, frustrated parents get their babies sleeping through the night and napping well so everyone in the family can get the rest they so desperately need!