If I Need To “Train” My Child to Sleep, Do I Also Need To “Train” Her to Walk or Eat?

By Sofie Thomson

This is a reaction to a blog claiming that mothers who “sleep train” are being harshly judged.

In a society where sleep training is so prevalent and bed sharing is condemned, I feel the opposite is true. How many times have you heard that you’re making a rod for your own back for cuddling or feeding your baby to sleep?

When my son was 9 months old, he was crawling. We all know what a nuisance crawling can be!

They can’t crawl outside without wrecking their clothes, you can’t put a little a pretty dress on your little girl and I’m not even going to get started on what a mess the fabric covering our crawler’s knees get into.

I knew that my son would likely learn to walk in his own time, but I was impatient and decided that it was simply time to “teach” him how to walk independently. And by teach I of course mean “force”! I ordered this metal frame which would hold my son’s feet in the correct position and gently push his legs to move. I was fed up with carrying him, it was hurting my back and I really felt it was time he learnt.

I didn’t really. Sounds pretty horrid doesn’t it?

How awful does the idea of forcing a child to walk, make you feel? I realise I’m being quite sarcastic and dramatic here but really, what’s the difference between attempting to force a child to sleep all night or forcing these other developmental milestones that take place during a young child’s first few years of life?

Sometimes I think parents forget that although we have evolved, babies are led by instinct and remain very primitive. And most importantly, we are mammals.

A newborn baby is born with instincts and acts fully on these. A cry when alone is an alarm system, a survival mechanism.

Babies have all these built in ways of surviving, ways which we are so incredibly keen to contradict. Evolution is mind blowing, yet we somehow dismiss these needs of our newborn babies as well as the needs of our young toddlers.

Babies are born with small stomachs, this of course means that they need to feed often. It may feel exhausting and of course it’s challenging to say the least, but it’s also amazing and fantastic.

Short sleep cycles and hunger are ways in which babies are naturally protected against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Why would we want to break a natural behaviour for the sake of more sleep?

I always hear new mums being asked if their babies are “good”, and the response almost always contains the amount of hours baby is sleeping, or the amount of hours baby is going between milk feeds. Imagine if we turned this around completely?

Imagine we simply answered: “Yes, she is awesome. She wakes every two hours for milk day and night. Her survival instinct is so strong and I’m so proud.”

Imagine if we appreciated babies for their individuality instead of their nightly sleep pattern.

I have given birth to two amazing little children. My first didn’t sleep. Like, ever. I remember being told I had to train her. That she needed to “learn” how to sleep.

At the time I believed these statements fully. I really thought a developmental and biological action such as sleep needed to be taught. I never considered that maybe her natural sleep patterns were just different from what was considered socially acceptable. It never crossed my mind that no other mammals seemed to have to teach their young ones how to sleep.

Sleep training is becoming so prevalent in our society that we ignore our instincts as well as the instincts of our young babies.

I did try to break my daughter’s sleep patterns and I pulled my hair out in despair when the methods we tried all failed. Ultimately, I was told I had to get some sleep! It was crucial for my mental health. It was time to attempt to let her “cry it out”.

I set everything up nice and cosy. I had a red night light as they are known to aid sleep. I went through all the normal steps of bedtime routine, but instead of holding my beautiful little girl in my arms as she softly drifted off, I placed her in the cot. I left the room and turned the volume down on the baby monitor.

I looked at the monitor as the volume indicator moved up and down. I knew she was crying. I didn’t last long, maybe ten seconds or maybe 20. I rushed to the bedroom and picked my sobbing child up, out of the cot and into my arms.

I looked at her little face flooding with tears and I felt her heart thumping in her chest. She held on to me so hard and I realised that although leaving her to cry may supposedly help my mental health, what would it do to hers?

I never attempted sleep training again.

When my son was born, I decided to follow his lead and only do what felt right. He was quite a solid sleeper which at times worried me, but as he grew I relaxed more. Of course we had developmental leaps where sleep was non-existent, and there were the cluster feeding sessions which left me beyond exhausted. I found ways in which I coped such as going to bed at 7 pm.

I’m coming out the other end of it now, and although I never “taught” my children to sleep, they both offer me the opportunity to have a full night’s sleep.

See next page for the rest…

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