If you’ve been a reader of my blog for a while, there’s a good chance you already know my views on the whole sleep training issue (I could use the word debate here, but I’m purposely choosing not to…this only further promotes the ‘mommy wars’).
I like to think of myself as ‘pro sleep’, rather than ‘pro sleep training’, but I guess the two can be pretty similar, for all intents and purposes.
I guess when you have a history of two non-sleeping babies (one in terms of naps, the other nights), coupled with talking with parents day in and day out over the course of 7 years, you have a pretty good idea what parents go through.
You hear stories of parents of one year old babies who haven’t slept for more than an hour or two at a stretch since birth; of moms who are dealing with postpartum depression or anxiety and a chronically fussy baby; of parents who are so sleep-deprived they have lost perspective, and in extreme cases, have lost touch with reality.
So, yes, in these cases (and others) I guess I am pro-sleep training when it comes down to it.
(for more on my personal opinion regarding sleep training, see my post Sometimes It’s About the Less Bad Option).
The Blog Post That Inspired Me to Write This Post: The WIO (Wait it Out) Method of Sleep Training
So, on with the show.
Recently, a mom on our Facebook group posted a link to a blog post called The WIO (Wait It Out) Method of Sleep Training.
Intrigued by the title, I clicked through and starting reading. At first, I enjoyed the post. It’s written with a fair bit of compassion and understanding for sleep-deprived parents, and I could definitely see how some parents of young babies could feel affirmed by it.
The basic gist of the post is this: Babies cry. We don’t always know why they cry. And because we don’t always know why babies cry, our best bet is to hold and comfort them, and simply be with them until the crying passes. That they will eventually learn to sleep on their own, as we set the foundation for sleep in their early months and years.
(Keep in mind that this this post is written in the first person, as a note to her baby. In this way it could be argued the author is simply being descriptive, not prescriptive.)
Here were a few quotes I appreciated.
“With your oldest brother I became anxious and felt like I was doing “nothing” to help him learn to sleep. With you, I smile peacefully when offered advice about getting you to sleep. I know that I’m not doing “nothing”, I’m laying the foundation slowly and gently.”
I love the fact that this mom was able to let go of the ‘shoulds‘ that come so often in parenting (whether from others or from ourselves). To be able to let go a bit, relax and enjoy her little one.
This is a lesson that most of us – regardless of our child’s age – could probably do better (I’m still working on this).
I also think the reminder, particularly in the first 3-4 months, that establishing healthy nap and bedtime routines and comforting and soothing your baby to sleep isn’t nothing…that it’s SOMETHING. That it’s laying the foundation, slowly and gently, for healthy sleep habits later on.
“Since you have no words, I do not know the meaning behind your cries. And since you are an infant, I do not choose to attribute malice or aforethought to your cries that soothe as soon as I pick you up. I do not view you as a cunning little creature that wishes to interfere with my life by insisting on being near me.
I think it can be easy, particularly with a fussy/high need/colicky baby to get into the mindset that they are doing this TO you.
If we’re able, it’s probably far more helpful to think about their crying and fussing as coming from a place of total helplessness. And I know that most of us know this, but consciously having this thought when our baby is crying is probably a helpful practice to get into.
So…these are the points I agreed with 🙂
As I kept reading however, something wasn’t sitting right with me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s been just beneath the surface of my thoughts for several weeks now.
Shortly after I first read this post, one of the moms on our Facebook group posted this in response:
Yes…this is definitely part of why I’m uncomfortable with this post.
First, let me say that I have no issues with the mom who wrote this post. She is obviously writing from the heart, and I don’t think she had any kind of negative agenda when she wrote it.
That said, I also feel the need to speak up for moms and dads of babies for whom nothing else is working. Babies or kids who are chronically overtired, who have gotten caught up in a cycle of sleeplessness, and whose fussiness is exacerbated by the lack of sleep.
I need to speak up for parents who would love to co-sleep, but who either find THEY can’t sleep that way, or whose BABIES can’t sleep that way (I had one of those babies).
I need to speak up for parents whose babies don’t like to cuddle, or who never seem content or satisfied, whether in their crib, swing or in their mother’s arms.
Nobody ever said that helping a baby learn to sleep was easy (on the parents or the child). And most people wouldn’t say they enjoy it, or that they relish the experience.
She goes on to write:
“I cannot think of any reason why I should feel okay letting you lay there screaming. Yes, I need sleep. Of course I need sleep. And I snatch that sleep where I can. Yes, I like sleep. I love sleep. I’ve acquired that taste for lazy days of lounging around in bed. Lazy days that I can’t remember the last of. I have words to vocalize these needs of mine. I have people that I can speak with, and I can even make a stab at saying it eloquently. “I need sleep.” Sometimes I’m so tired that I could cry with that need for sleep.
I am grown. I am strong. I understand the passage of time and that THIS will pass. You will sleep. Your infancy is the briefest part of the brief time that you are a child in need of my arms.
I can wait it out so that you don’t have to cry it out.”
THIS. This is the part that really, really bothers me. There are 3 assumptions here that really irk me.
1. That parents who sleep train do so for themselves. That they themselves are tired of getting up all the time. That they love their sleep SO much that they plop their baby in the crib and let them cry. I’m not saying this never happens, but I also don’t believe it’s the norm.
Most people I know who sleep train do it because EVERYONE is happier when they are rested, baby included. Sleep training isn’t automatically a selfish act. That assumption is one that really rubs me the wrong way.
2. That parents who sleep train don’t understand that this will pass. That they are so short-sighted that they give into their selfish desires for sleep while failing to look at the big picture.
I think that for many parents, sleep training is a last resort. While they know their baby is only young for such a short time, they also see that their little one’s fussiness is being exacerbated by the lack of sleep.
To put it simply, they feel they have run out of options.
For instance, my daughter stopped being able to fall asleep with me anywhere near her. She wouldn’t sleep in my arms, in my bed, in her stroller, in the car. I rocked her and carried her until my arms were ready to fall off, and yet she still wouldn’t close her little eyes. For her, sleep training wasn’t the option I chose, it was the ONLY option I had.
3. That sleep training = leaving your baby to cry in a crib alone.
While the post doesn’t explicitly state this, I would say it’s heavily implied. This is a misconception that is widespread, and I think it’s extremely harmful, particularly for this reason: It puts all methods of sleep training in one basket, labels it as ‘Cry it Out’, and positions it directly against ‘Wait it Out’.
To be clear, I’m not an advocate of leaving your baby to cry alone for hours in his or her bed. Not because I believe it damages the baby, but because I believe there are more effective, less stressful ways to guide a baby to healthy sleep (this is particularly true when we’re talking about high need babies).
So, in my opinion, full-on CIO isn’t the ideal solution.
The blog post ends with this:
“I can savor bedtime and wait it out, because this will not last forever. You are a little creature that is bent on independence. All I need to do is help you see sleep for what it is. Safe, comfortable, and lovely.”
This sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Baby drifting off to sleep in your arms, a smile on her face. All it takes is a little holding and cuddling for the first year, and baby will learn how safe, comfortable and lovely sleep is.
The problem is, I’ve talked with more than a few parents who have waited it out, and generally speaking this is not their experience. Their little one generally doesn’t drift off to sleep in their arms – I for one, would have been thrilled had either of my babies done this.
For many parents of fussy or high need babies, bedtime isn’t something to be savoured. Baby doesn’t drift off to sleep in their arms, but rather fights and kicks and screams, until finally, in a moment of utter exhaustion, he falls asleep (only to wake up 45 minutes later to do the whole thing again).
For some parents, waiting it out ceases to become an option. And hearing that waiting it out is the only ‘gentle’ or ‘natural’ solution, or that it’s somehow the ideal solution, is very hurtful for these parents.
When your baby is chronically fussy, in large part due to lack of sleep, she isn’t learning how safe, comfortable and lovely sleep is.
So, in my mind simply ‘waiting it out’ often isn’t the ideal solution either.
Option #3: Think it Out (TIO)
Here’s what I’d like to propose. A third alternative that is neither CIO or WIO. If I were going to name it, I’d call it the TIO (Think it Out) method, but that would be cheesy, so I won’t.
But here’s what it would look like:
Respect and understand that your baby needs you. Expect to spend lots of time cuddling, soothing, bouncing and/or feeding your baby.
Know that babies – particularly fussy, colicky or high need babies – will need extra help with soothing and falling asleep, especially over the first few months.
Also respect the fact that he or she needs sleep in order to be healthy. That you need sleep in order to be healthy. Years ago, moms and grandmas, aunts and friends would form a community around new moms, allowing everyone to share the work and the sleepless nights. This is generally not the case anymore.
If your baby’s sleep is severely disturbed, consider not just waiting it out, but thinking about how you can gently guide your baby towards better sleep habits.
This doesn’t mean letting him CIO. It may be as simple as establishing a consistent bedtime routine (which would be part of waiting it out), or it may mean camping out in your baby’s room, holding his hand while he gets used to sleeping in his crib.
It may mean co-sleeping, if that works for your family.
It may mean hiring an infant sleep consultant.
It may involve some crying. And you shouldn’t feel guilty if it does.
It may mean any number of other methods or strategies for helping your baby get the sleep he needs.
It means researching how much sleep babies need. It means carefully considering your baby’s unique sleep patterns and habits.
It means reading books and talking to friends. It means thinking about your values and needs.
It means learning about what’s ‘normal’ in terms of babies and sleep (and therefore which behaviours you can ‘wait out’), and what’s problematic and needs fixing.
(By the way, just found this great post today if you’re wondering about normal versus abnormal infant sleep.)
It means using everything you’ve learned, and helping your baby get the best sleep possible.
This may look different from baby to baby, and family to family.
All I ask, is that whatever you do, you don’t do it blindly. This means you don’t jump into sleep training without understanding what it’s going to look like from beginning to end. It also means you don’t just wait for serious sleep issues to resolve themselves, in the hopes that your baby will eventually figure it out
Neither of these options seem ideal, at least to me.
I’m not going to quote research here – research that’s often used to scare parents into one option or the other. It only takes a few minutes and a quick Google search to find articles from credible sources that seem to give undeniable proof that one option is better than the other.
For instance, here are a few headlines I pulled after spending 30 seconds on Google:
Let Crying Babies Lie: Study Supports Notion of Letting Babies Cry Themselves Back to Sleep
Proving the Risk of Harm in Early Sleep Training
Baby Sleep Training Methods Safe for Infants (STUDY)
Latest Sleep Training Findings Show it’s Just a Form of Torture
Anyone can point to numerous studies and surveys that support their point. And that’s the point.
There is no one, single ‘right’ answer.
Learn what’s normal in terms of baby sleep, and what’s not. Learn what’s normal for your baby, and then help him with the things that need fixing.
Think it through.
Then do what’s best for your baby and your family.
What are your thoughts on CIO versus WIO? Do you think there’s a viable in-between option? Respectful comments only, please!