EM Advice: Sleep Training Pressure

Three Universal Truths of New Mommyhood:

1. You want to do what's best for your baby.

2. You have no idea what's best for your baby.

3. Everyone thinks they know what's best for your baby, and whooooooo-boy they'll school you on it.

If you have people around you who are like, "Trust your instincts," "You're doing a great job," "This is hard for everyone, you're doing your best," then kiss them square on the mouth.Because that's not what most young moms have, right?

A lot of us have, "You HAVE to do this" and "You SHOULD be doing that," all the live long day. This happens to most new moms, mind you, but when you have a shiny youthful inexperience, people can get even more aggressive with their well-intentioned words of wisdom. Or maybe we just take it more personally. Or maybe we have less peer-like moms to lean on. Or maybe our parents/older relatives still see us as very tall children.

Raise your hand if you've heard one of these:

You hafta put some cereal in that bottle, then he'll sleep!

You need to have some formula in the house, just in case.

Babies NEED pacifiers! // That toddler should NOT have a pacifier!

Cloth diapers?!, said with shock and disgust. Great, I'll have the smelly grandson.

(Dear Family: Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.)

Sleep training — or sleep, in general — is like the mecca of SHOULDs and MUSTs and HELPs. To be fair, sleep deprivation leaves us an emotionally raw version of our former selves, where even the slightest breeze could knock us into a full-on breakdown. But it could have something to do with the fact people have been asking us, "How does the baby sleep?!" or "How long is he sleeping at night now?" from the jump — as if hours slept is some sort of performance measure of our parenting.

You have a baby who sleeps through the night? CONGRATULATIONS! A+ to you, mama.

Or maybe it has something to do with the absurd EXTREMES we take in predicting the consequences of our sleep-training decisions. Like, it's not enough to predict what a child might be like in the next few weeks — we have to warn exhausted parents that, sure, go ahead and let a kid cry-it-out (::behind open hand:: If you don't mind raising a sociopath).

Same goes for the flip side. Oh, you still rock your baby to sleep? You're not at all concerned about that life-long dependence keeping him awake at night in his dorm room?

An Early Mama reader recently asked for advice in our private Facebook group about sleep concerns, and it made me remember how much pressure we can feel to make the "right choice" as new moms — especially about sleep.

Hey mamas! I think I need some help...I’m 19, so of course I’ve been receiving endless advice since pregnancy — letting her fall asleep [by] herself in her crib, they can’t be “spoiled” until they’re a few months old, etc. But I’m not so sure about that last part anymore. My daughter is now 2 months old, and most nights I have to nurse, hold, or rock (in rocking bassinet) to sleep. If we lay her in the crib even just drowsy, she cries and eventually screams and chokes until she’s picked up and soothed. We wrap her, we make sure she’s comfortable, fed, everything. Plus we live with family so we can’t just let her cry all night. But I don’t think I can do this much longer!! Our bedtime routine sometimes can take hours, even if she’s exhausted. Any advice, tips, experience? Please and thank you in advance!
— Katelyn

Katelyn doesn't know that there are other moms out there rocking and nursing their 2-month-old babies for hours before bedtime. She doesn't know if she's doing something right, or something wrong, or whose advice to follow. But after reading so many other member's advice and personal anecdotes, she came to this conclusion:

Thanks mamas for all of your great advice! I’ve decided that if I have to cuddle my sweet baby to sleep, then so be it, because she won’t be tiny forever and we both need to rest. I’ll worry about spoiled later, lol.

I think that's such a loving, nurturing conclusion — one that takes care of herself as well as her baby. And I just love that she could get that kind of support from Early Mama readers — women who understand the experience of being a young mom.

Considering not all readers are in our private group (or maybe you missed this thread), I wanted to share some of the advice Katelyn got. I'm also including my own response, from a different perspective.

When that happens to us, we load up our son and either go for a walk or a drive. We are out of the house (lets others sleep), and it puts our son to sleep, too. Have you tried that?
— Lydia
When you’ve tried everything and nothing works, try less bundling. Babies in Western life get too hot and can’t sleep. I know it’s against most people’s advice but keeping baby a little cooler (and fresh air- walks in stroller too) really do work.
— Nicole
I know my advice will probably be against what most others have given you, but, when my baby was that young (against the advice of my family) if he cried I held him! A lot of his freaking out in the crib was him not wanting to be separated from me. Have you tried the bassinet right next to you so she can hear your breathing and sense that you are close? Then maybe you can transition to the crib later? I agree with everything posted above me, I just thought I would add this. I had no idea either about baby bedtime routines but once I stopped listening to well intentioned advice from family and did what I felt was right, things stared to go a lot smoother. I don’t believe that babies can be spoiled, what I do believe is they spent 9 months living inside your body and growing accustomed to your every move and sound and so when they come out they get scared when you aren’t around. Even just a few feet away feels like a whole lot to a tiny baby. Like I said, my advice is probably not the most popular, but once I started having him near me at night when he was very new, we both slept a whole lot better! Good luck! I know it’s difficult and there are a ton of people who want to help pulling you every way, but listen to your instincts because you are her mama
— Megan
I had this issue...it was like the moment she left my body she was crying...we used to put her swaddle blankets in the dryer before we put her to bed then she wouldn’t know when she left the warmth of my body
— Nikki
Every stage is a short stage so do whatever you want!! If you want to hold and spoil the baby... Do it! Every baby is different so do what you as mommy feel is best!
— Ashley

Lucy suggested bouncing on an exercise ball, Emily suggested the Gentle Parenting International FB Group, Stacy uses a small bed in between her and her husband while she's nursing, and Jessica said to make sure her baby gets enough rest during the day. (I personally found that life got much easier when I made sure baby Noah wasn't overtired — meaning tuning into his sleep cues and putting him down BEFORE he was getting too tired, about every two hours.)

And Liann has recommended the book "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" on several sleep-related threads, and I totally agree with her.

Here's my two cents on the thread:

Sleep training was brutal on me and it took FOREVER for Noah to fall asleep without needing me nearby. He's an anxiety-prone kid, for sure — looking back, I can see that in him as a baby, too. He had night terrors a lot and exhibited real fear being alone in the dark. Maybe some babies don't have as much of that fear, but Noah definitely did.

And, to be honest, I didn't mind snuggling him to sleep. I CHERISH those moments and memories, even to this day. He's 5 years old now and I still lay down with him every night until he falls asleep. I know that sounds like some kind of failure, but it's one of our most special times in the day. We have some of our best conversations snuggled up together as he's getting sleepy, and a little inquisitive, and the deep emotional stuff comes up. That's when he asks me some of his best questions and we have some of the best talks. It's where we've bonded in a way that he hasn't with anyone else.

I didn't even start thinking about sleep training until 4 months (I think that's the standard time they say to start). After a brief stint sleep training, I still ended up shushing and rocking and nursing him to sleep. I'd even hang over his crib and hold his hand until he fell asleep. It was way more time consuming back then, of course. Now I just cuddle him and hold his hand in a twin-sized bed, and he's out within minutes.

I can see the end ahead, friends. He won't want me in his bed forever, so I'm enjoying this innocence and sweetness while it's still here. I think that "nurturing" and "spoiling" (or "indulging") are two different things. To me, snuggling and comforting and bonding is on the side of nurture. Like whatever helps the kid and family be comfortable and rested is nurturing — maybe that's sleep training. Some kids don't like to snuggle at all, and they need their space to decompress and fall asleep. At 2 months old? Trust your instincts and just love. She'll be completely different in 3 months, and then 3 months after that. You're in such an exhausting time period, but it'll change soon. Just love.

Did you feel pressured to sleep train? Did sleep training work for you? Any tips for Katelyn?

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