This week a great friend of mine, admitted that as much as she supports me and how I help families, that she's of the camp that believes we shouldn't ignore the cries of our babies to "sleep train" and today I want to share my response. It might not be what you'd expect from a sleep consultant!
I agreed with her! We shouldn't ignore baby at all! Her argument that cries are our baby's way of "communicating" is absolutely accurate. Our babies cry for all sorts of communication! There's the "My diaper is wet" cry, the "I'm hungry" cry, the "I'm bored" cry, and certainly we all know the "I need a cuddle" cry! But, let's also remember, there's also the "I'm tired cry" and that sleep is a demand our babies have. They are asking to go to sleep as much as they are asking to have other needs met.
So of course parents who have heard that sleep training is "letting baby cry-it-out" sit there stumped as to how to make progress with sleep, when there are so many other cries they'd have to ignore!
So here's how I solve that issue... we DON'T IGNORE A CRYING BABY! Instead, we listen, harder than ever! We anticipate needs so that we have a well fed baby who is dry and comfortable and ready for sleep. We follow age-appropriate awake windows to help us determine when the cries aren't quite clear to us. And we listen to each and every cry. Because along with the cries of "needs" are the cries of "wants". That includes "I want my sleep-prop" and "I need you to put me to sleep the way you always have-- it's easier and what I know!" and the "I'm confused! Why are doing asking me to do this differently?" cry.
When I work with a family, we need to accept that crying may be part of the learning journey. After all, I bet you'd have some strong emotions if I took away your sleep associations! You know, that pillow, blanket and bed you enjoy? It would be really hard for you to make a change as well, if I told you what you are doing to sleep wasn't ideal for quality sleep.
A huge part of making a sleep change, is accepting that change needs to happen. Because, wouldn't it be ideal if our babies and young children weren't crying during the day out of exhaustion or an inability to fall asleep even with our love and comfort? That's right, a lot of my clients claim they can't even get baby to stop crying in arms. And I get that! I'm always a mess if I battle insomnia! I want sleep and it can be so frustrating when our mind can't easily help us do the journey!
So, then my dear friend questioned me as to the claims that babies who stop crying have just learned that their parent isn't coming, which is a belief she agrees with. I asked her to think about the families that I write plans for with the mom or dad staying in the room until the baby is asleep. Never leaving baby's side for a moment. Offering a hand to hold, a pat, a song and verbal reassurance, and even picking them up in arms to soothe and calm. Why do they stop crying, and go to sleep? She said "good point". I want moms and dads to open their minds, and consider that their are so many cries and if we listen, and intervene when the baby needs us to help regulate and calm down, that we can still achieve sleep skills! We can be there for our babies, but we have to listen SO carefully to any crying to determine what that cry is about. We respond to the needs, but we also need to change the way we allow baby to fall asleep, so that we can help baby achieve a self-led strategy that is efficient and easy for the baby so that she can stop crying out of frustration and exhaustion and instead embrace the sweet silent sleep that we all know so well!