Sleep training and all of the miracles it works for tired families everywhere are heralded throughout our western society and culture. You’ll hear incredible success stories of how it saved someone’s sanity, or marriage or relationship with their baby and other children. It is the ‘go to’ for many a family who know that the mother will need to return to paid employment in the short, medium or even longer term after her baby is born. You’ll hear about it from friends, family, strangers on the street, Child Health Nurses, General Practitioners, Paediatricians and other trusted care providers. You’ll read about it in parenting books and on forums, websites and social media.
Why on earth would anyone choose to stay sleep deprived and put their child’s development and future sleep patterns at risk when there is an answer to be found, a cure all that brings back heavenly sleep, a sanity saving treatment that has ‘worked’ for so many others?
You’d have to be a glutton for punishment, careless or even downright lazy not to find the strength to sort this out.
Babies need a lot of sleep, don’t you know?
They are safest sleeping on their backs in their own cots, don’t you know?
Babies shouldn’t be nursed to sleep, it’s a bad habit that is hard to break, don’t you know?
A baby needs to learn to self settle and they need you to teach them this so they can get the sleep they need, don’t you know?
Babies shouldn’t be nursing whenever they want as it’s not nutritive and they are just using you as a pacifier, don’t you know?
A catnapping baby is chronically sleep deprived, don’t you know?
Aah, the sleepy ideal of the self settling, long napping, all night sleeping baby: the holy grail of parenting and beacon of successful coping of life after baby- the ‘good baby’ can match this and the ‘good’ mother can make it so.
This is how most people see and base their beliefs around infant sleep and it is completely and utterly at odds with the way normal human infants behave when it comes to nursing and sleeping.
The sleep training industry is going gangbusters. The rise and rise of the baby sleep whisperers seems to know no end.
And it’s got nothing to do with any rise in infant sleep problems (which are in fact extremely rare and are far more likely the result of an underlying health issue that is exacerbating the normal wakeful behaviour of the baby … that’s right, it’s normal for a baby to be wakeful). Our society has come so far from the knowledge of what truly normal infant sleep looks like and how it plays out over the first few years of life that close to half of parents (36-45%) claim that their baby at 6 months has a sleep problem.
I’ll say that again, close to HALF of parents think their 6 month old baby has a sleep problem.
Hmmmmm, I smell a rat. If close to half of babies are behaving this way, then perhaps that’s because that’s how babies are meant to behave … I know, a revolutionary thought right there.
This is especially important to be considered alongside the fact that MANY people choose to sleep train their baby from before 6 months and even from the day they are born and therefore they would never see the normal development or pattern of signalling a baby would follow as they’ve been trained to not call out for help from the very early days of life. They also wouldn’t be factored in to the 36-45% of reported as having sleep problems. If they hadn’t already been ‘intervened on’, I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that easily more than half and therefore the majority of babies would have been identified as having sleep problems as defined by our western societal norms.
It begs the question, is it the babies with the problem or society’s misguided, disjointed and unrealistic expectations that are the true problem?
So while this massive industry is thriving and word of mouth and real life examples of the miracles that occur when ‘my baby was waking at least 3-4 times a night but is now sleeping 12 hours straight in their own cot and I’m like a new woman, I can’t recommend it highly enough!’ the thinking continues that THIS is the way to go.
This is what we do now and you can jump on this bandwagon and live happily sleepy ever after or you can stay over there in your sleep deprived haze with your child who will never EVER sleep on their own, without your boob in their mouth and they’ll be forever damaged because you didn’t get them the nicely consolidated chunks of sleep you would get if you just did your job and taught them to self settle … so don’t come to me whingeing about how exhausted you are, you’ve made your bed, so now lay in it. How’s that rod treating you? I’m feeling refreshed and energised, but those bags under your eyes really do become you.
You get my drift.
It’s just the usual shit you hear on a regular if not daily basis as you mother your very young, wakeful child.
But then there’s folks like me, the riff raff if you like, who spend much of our time poking holes and asking questions about the wonder that is Sleep Training.
We, the sleep training failures of the world … well, we don’t really fit so well in society.
You see, we didn’t come from the beginning of our journey as flat out refusers. Nope, sadly for us and our children, we bought in to this world and the magic of ‘it worked for me’ sucked us in, turned us around, slapped us on the arse, dropped us on our heads and the vomited us back out the other side in disgust as we ‘failed’. Our babies didn’t comply. They couldn’t or wouldn’t conform.
We were forced to pull ourselves back from all that we had known, all that we’d been told and all that we were taught and reassess and find a new way to move forward and carry on mothering without ever finding the end to our sleep deprivation in the form of a ‘fix’.
We also had the chance to reflect on what was really at play in the sleep training relationship.
‘Well it worked for me.’ is a standard line I hear. I get it all the time. And I’m going to pick it a part a little right now.
‘It’ being sleep training
‘Worked’ achieved what you set out to achieve- more and better sleep for you and a baby who ‘sleeps’ in long chunks without signalling for help to fall asleep or to resettle.
‘For’- for the benefit of
‘Me’ key word- mother
I agree it may well have ‘worked’ in achieving the benefit ‘for’ the mother but I wholeheartedly disagree that it ‘worked’ ‘for’ the baby.
The baby didn’t need to be ‘worked on’ and therefore they didn’t benefit from the training other than having a mother who was better rested and believed her child was also better rested (even if they aren’t).
A more accurate way to describe it would be, ‘well it worked for me and it worked on my baby.’
At least then, there’d be an acknowledgment of who benefited and who lost out in the process.
The baby has sleep training done to them, not for them.
Even if the sleep trainers and baby whisperers all cry out, ‘Never! This is just as important for the baby’s wellbeing as it is for the mother!’
I’ll call bullshit.
A baby does not need to be trained.
It is normal for a human infant to wake and nurse frequently during the day and night for the first year of life and beyond. It is not a sleep problem. It is normal for them to need help and support to find and maintain sleep.
I have gone into detail in posts before about my thoughts on sleep training babies on the extreme end of the waking spectrum and also when a mother is being treated for PND or PNA. It is not an appropriate way to manage infant sleep behaviour nor their desperately tired mothers.
We can and should do better and as long as we accept that sleep training ‘works’ for anyone other than the adults or anyone other than the baby we will continue on this warped path. I know this doesn’t sit well for many. I know most disagree but I hope to at least give some people pause to reflect on their experience and question and consider rather than simply accepting what is popularly accepted.
As always, this conversation deserves a far more critical eye cast on it and the only way that will happen is to keep the discussion happening.
Our babies deserve to be heard in this.
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