Much has been told and written about infant sleep problems and sleep training. While there’s no need for repeating all of it, it might be useful to stress some points. Here are a few thoughts.
What Is Sleep Training For?
Sleep training exists to wean kids from excessive dependency on what is described as sleep props such as pacifiers, breast, rocking, etc. It’s important to define excessive dependency. If the child sucks on the pacifier for awhile, falls asleep then drops it, there’s no problem. If, however, dropping the pacifier makes your child wake up and cry, we have a problem. There’s no denying it. The best way to deal with it would be to avoid creating it from the very beginning, but we all make mistakes.
How Does Sleep Training Work?
There are various techniques, from CIO (the well-known cry-it-out method) to supposedly gentler methods like Tracy Hogg’s, who advocates picking the child up when he cries and putting him down again, and repeating it until the child learns it’s time to go to sleep.
Does Sleep Training Work?
Certainly, sleep training works, though there’s no single method that suits everybody, and you will always find a parent claiming that this or that technique was truly lifesaving because her toddler won’t sleep. Some children learn to soothe themselves to sleep after just one night of Ferberizing, others cry themselves hoarse after a week of Tracy Hogg’s. Training usually works if done well. But it’s called training for a reason. It’s not teaching. You cannot teach falling asleep. You can, however, train even the smallest child to expect a certain reaction (or lack of it) in response to a certain behavior. No doubt, this too is part of learning how to behave, but not being able to fall to sleep as fast as it suits us, the parents, or waking up frequently is not something children can control.
Sleep Training Requires Sticking to a Routine
You have to stick to the daily routine carefully, which usually includes going to sleep at the same time and place, and the room should be dark and quiet. Consistency is generally a good thing when putting a child to sleep, as it is in every other issue, but when it comes to sleep training, every little change might interfere with the process. If you have guests, granny is visiting, the child went to sleep a bit later than usual, has a new bed, started daycare, got ill, or goes to bed in an unfamiliar environment, problems are guaranteed. And every time it happens, it will take you some time to get the child back on track. What if the child is ill again and again, especially after starting daycare? Are you ready to hear him cry for an hour? Three hours (yes, you heard me..)? An hour every day for a whole week? It might not be so bad in your child’s case. Then again, it might be. Experts who criticize CIO warn of negative associations with a bedtime that could last years, and even if it is not so, doesn’t a whole week of everyday misery matter?
Will Sleep Training Affect Night Awakenings?
If the child keeps awakening because he drops the pacifier, sleep training will help. But babies and toddlers tend to awake frequently of no visible reason – it might be teething, dreams or a developmental stage – we parents love this explanation, it always sounds convincing, and it really is.
Night Breastfeeding Causes Night Awakenings
Night breastfeeding DOES NOT cause night awakenings in babies or toddlers. Co-sleeping does, though. A child can spend the whole night comfortably latched to your breast, waking up every time you try to pull away. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it a bad habit, but it certainly is a habit more than it is a need. If it suits you, there’s nothing wrong with it. If it doesn’t, you have every right to make some changes in your sleep routine. But apart from that, picking your child a few times during the night to breastfeed doesn’t mean he will wake up more frequently to breastfeed. Small children awake just as we do, they simply need more help to fall back to sleep again. These night awakenings will grow less and less frequent between the first and the second years of your child’s life. Sleep training will not prevent your child from waking up at night. Making some changes in your sleeping arrangements, though, might make these awakenings less frequent.
When has Sleep become an Issue?
Before choosing between the various existing methods, whether CIO, shush-pat, the no-tear-solution, etc, ask yourself this: What is your purpose? Does your child really have a problem, like being too dependent on the pacifier? Lack of sleep is awfully hard for the parents, but why and when has the sleep issue become a problem that requires solving and spawned so many life-saving gurus, sleep clinics, sleep experts, methods and techniques with curious names (and even abbreviations which parents actually know the meaning of), stages and timetables and even a brand new profession – a sleep consultant? A person who’s supposed to teach your child to do something that is supposed to be the most natural thing of all! What is it that we’re doing wrong? The question of how to put a baby to sleep is an eternal one, and sometimes the baby won’t sleep no matter what we do, but that’s how babies are. Is it possible that millions of babies really have a problem, or is it our lifestyle that turned a natural state of affairs to a problem that needs fixing? Just something to think about.