Did you miss episode 1: linking sleep cycles? Find it here 💙
In my second instalment, I’d like to discuss another popular element in sleep training bibles -the notion that in order to teach your baby to self settle, you need to be able to tell the difference between their ‘protest cry’ versus their ‘emotional cry’. The idea being that if they are just protesting then they are fine to be left and it’s only when they start becoming ‘emotional’ that they need you to step in with whatever form of ‘soothing’ or ‘comforting’ each particular sleep trainer feels is appropriate.
I have two problems with this one.
- Not all babies have a ‘protest cry’ despite what the cookie cutter baby sleep books say.
- All crying is communication not manipulation and therefore I’d rather not waste my time listening for the type of cry and simply accept that my tiny, helpless human is unhappy and is asking for help and go and help them in the way I know they want me to help them.
To elaborate a little, I freely admit I am scarred from my horrendous sleep school experience. The first 24 hours are the lowest point in my life to date. I was told repeatedly in those 24 hours that my baby was ‘just protesting’ as he fired warning shot after warning shot and drifted further and further from the sleep they seemed to think he was heading towards while he ‘protested’. I knew this. I knew my baby. I knew he didn’t protest, he was simply warning that he was building and building and without intervention he would blow his top into hysteria. I told nurse after nurse and they denied this. They ignored me. The one person in the building who actually knew this child and they blew me off. Why? Because the sleep training model they followed said they were right and I was wrong. You know what happened though? Each time he built and built and they held me at the door assuring me he was doing just fine and then he blew. He hit hysteria. 0-100 in 2 seconds flat just as he had done every time I’d experimented with anything similar at home.
There are many babies like mine. The 0-100 babies who are ALL emotion. No protest. They NEED help and they are not backwards in demanding it comes forward. Despite seeing it with their own eyes, these nurses maintained that ‘he will learn’ and wanted me to persist with this cruel routine that saw them rocking my sweating, hysterical baby off to sleep as all their techniques failed to calm the storm I told them was brewing.
If your sitting their thinking, you’re the mother, if you knew you were so right, why didn’t you do something?
You’re right. It still guts me to my core that I didn’t take my baby and run. But it gives you just some idea of the shell of a mother I became. Full of doubt, lacking confidence, I put my trust into this sleep school program thinking that clearly my way wasn’t working and they were experts who dealt with this stuff every week.
Sleep training and mainstream society’s bullshit expectations of infant sleep did this to me. They made me question everything I’d done before to settle my child. They made me doubt I had any motherly instinct at all. They made me feel as though I couldn’t trust my own baby. I felt I couldn’t listen to him as he clearly didn’t know what was good for him.
If YOUR baby does genuinely have a wee little grizzle before popping off peacefully to sleep, then there’s every chance you’re thinking I’m overhyping this and that sleep training was the best thing you ever did and not even remotely traumatic for you or your baby. To you, I say I am happy for you and may you never witness or experience this process with a baby who does not have a protest cry but if you do, please have the strength that I didn’t to pull out of the process that is clearly an inappropriate match for the needs of that baby.
My second problem with this ‘learn your baby’s cries’ bollocks is, a baby’s cry is their only form of communication. They’ve got nothing else. They also don’t cry just for shits and giggles. I try to respect this by honouring my baby’s cries as promptly as is humanly possible with two small people. If my baby is grizzling or warning as I like to look at it, I’d prefer to help answer his need while he’s still quite calm rather than wait til he’s all worked up and emotional. I try to put it in my adult perspective, if I need something or have something that’s bothering me, I’d prefer to talk with my husband and solve the issue rather than have him ignore my calm pleas and then wait and hop to it when I start howling. Or even as a model for my children, if something needs to be discussed I can address it with them calmly rather than have them only listen to me once I’ve blown my top.
This applies to sleep. If my baby cries for help, no matter the strength or emotion, I will help and in the way I know is required for my unique baby not the way the book says. I don’t need to work out the difference in my baby’s cries as the answer always involves the same thing- responding and comforting through contact and cuddles.
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