I’m hoping that I might be able to reassure some minds here today.
It probably won’t be easy, obviously, because when is it ever? But on parenting issues, there are so many emotional ties and beliefs that enter into the equation that make these conversations emotive or even explosive – but it doesn’t need to be that way.
,As parents, we bear an enormous responsibility. It’s not just about keeping our little ones alive, warm, fed and happy. We’re all looking to raise exceptional human beings. We’re responsible for the quality of our kids’ lives long after they’ve left the nest, and many of the decisions we make today are going to determine who they are 20, 30 or even 50 years from now.
No surprise than that we take these decisions very, very seriously.
I’ll admit that I find the idea of attachment parenting more than a little interesting and subscribe to a lot of the principles, and I can definitely see why it appeals to a lot of parents. After all, most of us want to love our kids unreservedly, especially in those first few years. Our instincts are all about holding baby close, meeting their every need the moment it arises, and protecting them with the strength and determination of a Mamma Orangutan
For anyone who’s not familiar, attachment parenting is a parenting philosophy that was popularised by Drs. William and Martha Sears in their 1993 publication, “The Baby Book.” The idea, in a nutshell, is maximum closeness and responsiveness. You wear your baby, you share a bed with your baby, you breastfeed on demand, and you answer their cries immediately.
In theory this parenting style creates a strong attachment between mother and baby, which results in well-adjusted children who grow up to be happy, healthy, contributing members of society. (There is a difference from Attachment Parenting and Attachment Theory, you can still have a secure attachment with your baby and not subscribe to Attachment Parenting for example)
All of these theories have been debated endlessly and passionately, and there’s no strong evidence to show that attachment parenting is better or worse than other parenting styles. If you want more information on attachment parenting, a quick Google search will provide you with more material than you could possibly take in over a dozen lifetimes.
But that’s not what I want to talk about today. This is about whether attachment parenting and sleep training are mutually exclusive.
The Seven B's
I work with more than a few clients who subscribe to the attachment parenting ideology and they usually feel like they’re “cheating” a little. when they come to me for support (that is a shame, right?)
You see, an important thing to note here is that Dr. Sears included a catchy bullet point list of the principles of attachment parenting that he refers to as “The Seven B’s.” They are, in no particular order...
As you can see, he had to stretch a little to get these to all fit into a “B’ category, but I think he did alright. I mean hey, there are seven of them and the guy is a paediatrician, not a poet, oh and I should say I own and like most of the principles in this and his other books. .
So the first three have nothing to do with sleep training in the traditional sense. You can bond with your baby as much as you want, breastfeed until you’re blue in the face, and wear your baby in a sling everywhere you go, and as a paediatric sleep coach, I would tell you that’s all fine and dandy and most defiantly encourage you to do that.
The three that follow are the ones that tend to give attachment parenting advocates pause when they think about sleep training.
Sleeping close to baby is another term for bed sharing, which Dr. Sears is a big fan of. It’s a common myth about paediatric sleep coaches that we’re firmly against bed sharing, and I won’t act like I don’t know where that came from.
The consensus from most of my colleagues is that babies sleep better, and so do their parents, when they aren’t in the same bed as you.
Some say more people in bed means more movement, more movement means more wake ups, and more wake ups means less of that rich, delicious, deep sleep that we love to see everybody getting, Others say the opposite and that being close has means that you can be responsive to your baby, that you get used to the movement and synchronise. (I have found both can be true, both personally and in my practice)
So is bed sharing a deal breaker when it comes to sleep training? Well, No and Yes. Teaching babies to fall asleep independently isn’t really feasible when Mum is in arms’ reach at all times, but supporting babies to sleep better doesn’t always mean they need to have independence.
I have worked with a lot of families who get better sleep when they bed share with their little ones, and that’s 100% wonderful in my book. If your family is all sleeping in the same bed and you’re all sleeping well, I say keep doing what you’re doing, and be confident and happy with this decision too.
However, if your definition of bed sharing is that one parent is sleeping on the couch and one of you is sleeping in bed with baby, waking every 45 minutes to breastfeed back to sleep at 9 months, that’s not what would be commonly described as “quality sleep.”
For anyone who wants to keep their little one close and bed sharing is not working out then I suggest sharing a room instead of a bed. As long as baby has a separate space to sleep, like a cot then gentle sleep training in terms of how most understand it can be a good option.
So What About Crying?
Crying is how babies express discontentment, no question about it. Whether it’s a wet nappy, general discomfort, or just wanting something that they don’t have at that particular moment, babies cry to express that they want or need something.
So again, a lot of families are surprised when I tell them that sleep training does NOT require them to leave their babies to cry until they fall asleep or be left alone while they figure out a new way to do something or that parents need to delay a response, In fact, I typically don’t recommend waiting longer than between few minutes and 10 minutes before responding to a crying baby or depending on age, not waiting at all.
How appropriate it is to delay the parental response depends hugely on the infant’s age and developmental stage the idea that sleep training requires parents to close the door at bedtime and leave their little ones until the next morning, regardless of the intensity or duration of their crying, is, in scientific terms, bogus. although I have seen and heard of crazy people saying boldly that this is the right thing to do, so I understand why parents might be worried about seeking sleep support.
So we’ve managed to get to the last two of the seven Bs without any real conflict, but this next one is going to be tough to navigate
“Beware of baby trainers.”
This is me he is talking about, well not personally but my profession. So let me just level with you here. Okay, I can’t speak for everyone in my profession, but as a Certified Sleep Sense Consultant, I am part of the largest collaborative network of paediatric sleep coaches in the world, and we all have one thing in common.
We’re passionate about helping families.
We’ve been through this issue ourselves, we’ve found a solution, and we’re devoted to helping others the same way we helped our own babies because we know, first hand, the difference it makes in people’s lives.
And for anyone who might be thinking, “They’re just in it for the money,” I implore you to try working with exhausted parents and overtired babies for a few nights and tell me about how easy the money is. If this job were just about turning a profit, we would all find something else to do, believe me.
We work with people in their most frazzled, desperate moments, and it is challenging work. The reward is in the results; the smiles of those happy babies and the relief in the eyes of the parents who are feeling reinvigorated and re-energized about raising kids now that they’re getting enough sleep.
My only issue with the attachment parenting style outlined by Dr. Sears and in many other parenting books for that matter lies in the last of his seven rules. Balance!
“Wear your baby everywhere, breastfeed on demand, respond immediately to every whimper, sleep next to them, and hey, remember to take some time for yourself, because it’s all about balance.”
But on the fundamental principle of balancing your parenting responsibilities with your self- care, I totally agree. Being a mother is a priority. It can easily be argued that it should be your main priority. Many would tell you that it’s your only priority, which I would disagree with, but let’s say for a minute that it’s true.
If you’re going to be the best mum you can be, you absolutely, inarguably, need to get regular, sufficient rest. I wish there were more support, longer maternity leave and pay, free postnatal doulas to create the 'village' for mothers and babies to be able to get balance.
Motherhood is incredibly demanding and requires a finely-tuned well-oiled machine to do it right. You have to be patient, understanding, energised, empathetic, entertaining, and focused to be a good parent. Ask yourself, how many of those qualities would you say you possess on three hours of sleep?
One of my favorited quotes on parenthood is Jill Churchill’s heart warming reminder that none of us bat 1.000 in this sport.
“There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.”