Is Sleep Training Really Torture?
Oh, what a sensitive and hotly debated topic.
Technically, everything about child raising is sensitive, but this one seems to get lots of special attention.
Pro-sleep-training advocates claim it’s unhealthy for babies to have fragmented sleep and impossible to function as a healthy parent without sufficient sleep. Those on the other side of the debate argue that you’re abandoning your baby during sleep training, causing a rise in stress levels and basically, well, reneging on your responsibility as a parent.
The worry that floats through the mind of every parent at some point or another boils down to one fear: Is sleep training torturous to my baby? Will it harm him? Will he think I’m abandoning him?
The official position of the American Academy of Pediatrics is that sleep training is safe and effective.
However, knowing that the AAP considers sleep training to be safe doesn’t take away the feelings of guilt and anxiety that many mothers feel when they hear their baby cry.
To make matters more difficult, it can be very confusing to do your own research on the subject, as there are esteemed child psychologists who advocate both for and against sleep training in very strong terms!
At the end of the day, the choice to sleep train or not to sleep train is a personal decision that each family must make on their own.
If you are ok with the idea of staying up with your baby through the night, feeding on demand for months or years, and can function on less sleep than your body really needs, than you may be ok without sleep training. Provided, of course, that your baby is happy and healthy and is meeting her physical and cognitive milestones.
If constant exhaustion and impaired functioning outweigh the perceived benefit of answering your baby’s every cry, it’s time to sleep train.
No one can answer this question for you.
My own sleep training journey with my daughters was fraught with uncertainty.
I knew I had to sleep train them, because I absolutely could not function without a proper night’s sleep each night.
Train them I did, and we were thrilled with the results. Well rested and content, our family settled down into a predictable routine nap and night routine each day.
And then I discovered Dr. Laura.
Dr. Laura Markham, founder of Ahaparenting.com, is a mom and clinical psychologist whose life work consists of teaching parents how to raise happy, well-adjusted children through specific parenting practices of empathy, connection and emotion coaching.
I registered for Dr. Laura’s parenting course and began to apply her ideas to my parenting.
They revolutionized my life.
I was calmer and more attuned to my daughters’ needs. My girls were connected and cooperative. As they grew into strong-willed toddlers, tantrums and power struggles didn’t faze me (well, they didn’t faze me as much as they would have!).
I was equipped with lots of love and empathy and knew how to emotion coach.
And then I read Dr. Laura’s take on Sleep Training.
As you may have guessed, she is not a fan.
The problem for me was that I had discovered Dr. Laura and became a committed follower of her methods before I knew what she had to say about sleep training.
How it can be seen as traumatic to children and can negatively affect the bonds of trust between a parent and child.
I became wracked with guilt and fear.
Had I ruined my daughters by sleep training them?
Had I severed our bond?
Would they ever trust me again?
To make matters worse, I was faced with another giant conundrum: at this point, I was already enrolled in an intensive training program to become a Certified Sleep Consultant.
How could I launch a career with a basis that my greatest parenting hero is fundamentally opposed to?
I had to do some more research.
There are plenty of opinions on both sides of this debate, and I knew I could find support from a plethora of sources.
But I wanted to hear from Dr. Laura herself that I hadn’t hurt my own children, and that I wasn’t going to help other parents cause damage to their babies as well!
Thankfully, Dr. Laura finds a middle ground in this article that I discovered on her website.
Here’s where I found relief from my sleep training angst:
“…I attempted Ferbering once when my son was nine months old and failed, having given him an ear infection from crying (and having nearly given myself a nervous breakdown.) After that, we went back to the family bed, which we all loved. However, once nursing my toddlers no longer helped them fall back asleep for long, I found myself walking the floor with them and spending many long hours in the middle of the night helping them to fall back to sleep. After substantial research, and working with many parents, I’ve come to the conclusion that many little ones who are helped to sleep by parents (nursing or rocking), simply can’t put themselves back to sleep when they re-awaken during the night. If they’re nursing, they may well awaken to nurse, but then will need to nurse again every time they re-awaken a little at night. Eventually, if they don’t figure out how to fall back asleep on their own when they awaken at night, they will need our loving help to learn how to fall asleep without rocking or nursing…
…Of course you want your children to know from the earliest age that they can always ask for and get help. That said, we all need sleep to function and be good parents. I don’t think CIO is good for babies, but I think exhausted parents who yell at their kids may be even worse. So my recommendations are biased in favor of keeping your infant close so you can get more sleep. But this is a very individual choice. Read as much as you can, and then lose the guilt. Do what works for you and your baby…
…I should also acknowledge that I know many kids who were Ferbered as babies by their parents, who shall remain nameless because they are dear friends of mine. These kids all seem fine to me. So while I think Ferbering is a risk factor, it’s hardly the worst thing you can do to your kids. Regular yelling because you’re exhausted would be worse, in my view. And sleep deprivation definitely makes you a worse parent…”
I was ok.
They were ok.
I hadn’t ruined my daughters for life.
And neither will you, if you decide that sleep training is the right option for your family.
The choice is uniquely yours, as is every parenting decision you make.
No one can tell you what is right for your family’s unique needs, as only you know.
Trust the voice inside of you that tells you what your baby needs. A mother’s instincts are never wrong.