The last resort- when sleep training feels like it’s not a matter of choice anymore

The last resort- when sleep training feels like it’s not a matter of choice anymore

‘If you have a flexible relaxed baby you don’t really have a problem do you? I have a 10 month old and she won’t sleep anywhere but in my arms, takes up to 1-2hours to get her to sleep. SHE needs sleep, I need sleep. So what other choice do I have but to try sleep training? So once again let’s not judge people. Not all sleep training is cry it out so get off your high horses and go back to being perfect mums while I do what I can to survive’

This is a comment I received on my latest article and it breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart for this mama.

I know this feeling all too well. The desperation, the feeling that I had no choice but to try sleep training.

The crossroads.

This is not a mother coming to sleep training willingly. She has for 10 months, helped her child to sleep in her arms because that was the way that worked. She has responded. She has given. She has no doubt tried gentler techniques and still her baby finds sleep difficult and still this mother is exhausted, desperate and doubting everything she has done.

I reached this point earlier. For me, it was the 4 month appointment with a CHN that left me feeling I had ‘no choice’ but to sleep train and it is how I came to be in sleep school with my baby 2 weeks later.

This is a horrific situation for a mother to find herself in. To find herself feeling as though she must do something to her baby that she has desperately been trying to avoid. If this mother or I had truly believed that our baby needed to be taught to sleep through whatever name the sleep trainers would like to call their Controlled Crying technique, then we wouldn’t have left it to our last resort. Our only last remaining ‘choice’.

I remember saying to the nurse manager at my check in meeting at sleep school that I never wanted to be the mother who let her baby cry.

I wanted to soothe my babies. I wanted to hold, nurse and see them comfortably off to sleep. But I also wanted SLEEP!!! I wanted sleep in chunks. I wanted to recover from birth. I wanted to stop having to think, talk, live and breathe nothing but sleep. I was convinced that I could reasonably expect this from my baby. I was convinced that what I was experiencing with my child was far from normal. I was convinced that it must have been what I was doing that had led to my baby’s wakeful behaviour and that the ONLY way to fix it was to undo all of these ‘sleep associations’ and train him to learn to sleep alone through the ‘Responsive Settling’ techniques prescribed at the sleep school I attended.

I looked on the surface to be a willing participant in the process. I agreed to it. I went along with it. I persisted with it. I ultimately ‘failed’ at it.

But under the surface, I was anything but willing and this is where I see the failure of the system, society and these ‘services’ of the Sleep Training Industry.

A mother’s instinct to mother her unique baby the way they need to be mothered is there for a reason. These intense, high needs babies often have underlying health issues that further exacerbate the wakefulness and to ‘train’ them to the point that they stop signalling to their caregiver that they need help is so incredibly unfair on that baby. Other intense, high needs babies, such as mine, don’t have underlying health issues but simply NEED the extra comfort, contact and support to be able to rest relatively peacefully. They aren’t broken but do not fit the mould. They ask more of their mother even when she has nothing more to give. They are relentless and with no light at the end of the sleep deprived tunnel, it is beyond the point of difficult for the mother of such a child to keep things in perspective. ‘This too shall pass’ has a hollow ring as night after night after night for months and even years the waking continues. The intensity continues. The neediness continues.

Of course, when this mother hits the point of, ‘I can’t do this anymore!’ She will be vulnerable and far more accepting of advice and techniques that go against her instinct. She is fucking done. She is SO unbelievably over it and tired that she actually dreams of running away and sleeping whole nights away.

When someone is at their most vulnerable, it is easy to manipulate and take advantage of them. They are DESPERATE for an answer. They will pretty well try anything to change the current circumstances. They are in no fit state to be making decisions that may or may not have long term implications for their baby because surely, a short term pain is worth it to regain the sanity and SLEEP that is ‘needed’.

It makes me absolutely WILD that our mothers are being left to get to this point. Society and the sleep training norm have allowed and even encouraged us to get here though.

If a mother presents herself to a GP, Paediatrician, CHN, Sleep School or Sleep Consultant with a tale of desperation and last resort then it is THEIR responsibility to that mother to bring her back from that brink. It is their responsibility to find out how that unique child of hers is asking to be mothered, why it has brought her to the point of exhaustion, what supports can be put in place (physical, emotional and environmental) to help her come back from the brink and continue mothering this baby of hers the way they need to be mothered. It is absolutely NOT the time to be encouraging her to sleep train her baby as though it is the answer to her prayers.

Her baby is wakeful for a REASON and that reason has fuck all to do with what she has been doing and fuck all with not being able to ‘self soothe’.

Firstly, rule out health concerns: allergies, intolerances, food sensitivities, tongue and lip ties, birth trauma to name but a few possible causes of wakefulness. 

If her baby nurses to sleep and refuses the ‘feed, play, sleep’ routine, it’s because that baby finds the perfectly normal biologically perfect method of nursing to sleep the best way to go to sleep.

If they take a long time to drift off or fight sleep tooth and nail even while being held tight and rocked, but eventually go- this is what they need!!

If they wake at night and only fall back to sleep while nursing, they are behaving like a normal breastfed human infant. If it is happening many times, then investigating why through health concerns is important but encouraging safe cosleeping or bedsharing arrangements may help anyway.

A baby wanting to be cuddled and not put down IS NORMAL.

If these support services, truly have these vulnerable mothers AND their baby’s best interest at heart, they will do whatever they can to best meet the needs of both mother and child.

She should NEVER be made to feel that she has no choice but to sleep train. There should always be a choice and the goal should be to work with her to establish her true choices and go with the one that feels right in her heart, right for her baby and right for the family.

The conversation around sleep training needs more branches. Yes, it ‘works’ for many. Yes, it is touted as having ‘saved’ many mothers but what if we could avoid it? What if we never had to get to it as ‘last resort’?

What if.


For some thoughts on alternatives to sleep training, check out this article 👍🏻💙

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