Are you on the fence about sleep training? Worried it could be harmful to your child?
You are not alone. Many parents feel the same.
To address your concern, Emily Oster, professor of economics at Brown University and the author of Expecting Better. “What to Expect When You’re Expecting meets Freakonomics: an award-winning economist disproves standard recommendations about pregnancy to empower women while they’re expecting" lays out the data on sleep training.
First off, she says, without a doubt, it's effective. She looks at three different meta-analyses -- one based on extinction (aka CIO), one based on timed checks (such as Ferber), and one based on the chair method (parent stays in the room) and all showed significant progress in children's sleep. Best of all, the progress persisted 6-12 months after the end of sleep training.
Next, she looked at studies that claimed that sleep training is dangerous. And what she found -- similar to my own research -- is that none of the studies that state that sleep training is dangerous are actually based on children being sleep trained.
Instead, they are based on children in long-term stressful situations. The most common was children in Romanian orphanages. These children were left in cribs for years with virtually no adult contact. They were also subjected to years of emotional and physical abuse.
Data gleaned from these studies is then extrapolated to be applied to children in loving homes who are being sleep trained.
I think we can all agree that that is hardly a fair comparison.
Looking at studies of children being sleep trained in healthy homes, she found that children's attachment to their parents actually increased after sleep training. Five years later, there was no difference in attachment between children who were sleep trained and children who were not. And as above, sleep training was shown to be effective in improving sleep.
Finally, she says that we may never be able to prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that sleep training isn't harmful BUT we have also not proved that sleep deprivation isn't harmful. Oster says, "Among other things, you could easily argue the opposite: maybe sleep training is very good for some kids -- they really need the uninterrupted sleep -- and there is a risk of damaging your child by not sleep training."
There is no research yet on this compelling point, but the research would be fascinating. Anectdotally, hundreds of parents have reported to me that their children are noticeably happier -- not just more secure but also more calm, more focused on their play, less likely to have meltdowns, and more eager to go to sleep -- after sleep training. Take it from them that sleep training is beneficial and consider: what are the costs to your child to not sleep training?
If you are considering sleep training, schedule a free chat and find out more information about what it would look like for your family. You'll get some free tips and there's no obligation to buy.
"Before working with Abby, my three-year-old nursed. All. Night Long.
It was affecting both of our sleep, and also negatively impacting his teeth.
I worked with Abby to create a really clear plan to wean my son off nursing at night.
She took the time to really hear my goals and understand our relationship. She understood my priorities.
She gave me guidance on how to gently prepare him for the transition so that he felt like a participant in the transition. He understood the change that was coming so that he could get on board and be excited.
I had been dreading the transition for months and months, and had been wanting to make the change for a year... but avoiding it because I just didn't know how.
Within one night, we made the transition and it changed everything for us.
I'm getting better sleep, Jude's getting better sleep, and his teeth are healthier.
Abby's way of working with people is incredibly nurturing, customized, and effective."
My own single mom family back in 2015. At eight weeks postpartum, I still felt plenty tired!
All new (and not-so-new) parents are tired. Parenting is hard work.
But single parents take it the extra mile. They do every daycare drop-off and pick-up. They are the ones who go to work every single day, because there's no one else to bring in an income. They handle every night waking, every dirty diaper, every middle of the night vomiting session.
All parents deserve great sleep, but single parents, my hat is off to you. (I am in a relationship now so I can no longer truly call myself a single parent, though my first eight years were absolutely solo and I will always identify with SMCs.)
Single parents, you have an extra layer of responsibility. If you don't sleep, there's no one to cover for you. Ever. You can't be the parent you want to be, never mind the employee, friend, or just human being you want to be. You have to put your oxygen mask on before helping others.
When I was a single mother working full-time as a healthcare provider, I was terrified of being exhausted because what if I made a mistake that cost a patient's life? I couldn't accept that level of responsibility, so I sleep trained each of my babies before I went back to work after maternity leave.
I'm not going to lie. It was scary. I was so worried about emotionally damaging my older daughter, back before I knew about the safety of sleep training, that I actually hired my postpartum doula to come and sit with me while I sleep trained.
Much to my amazement, the process was much easier than I expected. Both of my children were fully night weaned (and no, they were not big babies) and sleeping through the night by the time I went back to work at four months postpartum. Best of all, they were contented little things, engaged with their world, eating on a schedule and almost never crying -- they had no need to. They knew exactly what to expect of the world. Their schedule assured them that their biological needs would always be met.
I can't come to your house to change diapers in the middle of the night, single parent. But I can make you a plan that gets you and your children the sleep you deserve. I'll reassure you when you worry. And I'll celebrate with you when you achieve your goal and witness your children being the happy, healthy selves they were born to be.
As my former client, Verena, says in her powerful testimonial video, "Your children will thank you for sleep training."
Set up a free consult and get ready to change your life.
Single parents, I got you.
(And coupled parents, I'd love to work with you, too!)
"I fantasized about getting in a car accident just so I could go to the hospital to get some sleep."
Verena courageously shares her story here of how she was so miserable and exhausted because her baby didn't sleep. She was crying every night along with him. She even fantastized about getting in a car accident, just so she could get some sleep in the hospital.
She says, "Of course as a mother, I felt guilty. Why isn't he happy? What am I doing wrong?"
"I felt very alone. I felt like no one really understood what I was going through."
Worst of all, she felt guilty that she wasn't enjoying her baby.
Not knowing anything about sleep coaches but on the recommendation of a friend, she decided to sleep train with the help of Peaceful Parent Sleep Coaching.
"It completed changed my life. He's so happy now, always laughing. The times when he is awake are so magical. I'm so in love with him."
If you are ready to change your life, schedule a free consult and find out about the Better Sleep Guarantee.
Here is a dad's perspective on the amazing changes he saw in his 4-month-old son. Lucas previously only took 15-minute naps and slept 1-2 hours at a stretch at night.
(Kent and Verena did not want to night wean yet so are thrilled with 3-4 hour stretches at night and 1-2 hour naps during the day. Other parents are ready to night wean and are looking for 12-hour stretches at night. The choice is up to the family.)
Life with my first newborn, almost nine years ago now, was often miserable.
She was generally pleasant during the day but by late afternoon, all hell broke loose. She cried for hours. I felt like the worst mother in the world. And I used to be a neonatal ICU nurse! How could it be this hard to comfort my own child?
I sat at my mother’s dining room table with a breastfeeding pillow around my waist and my shirt bunched above Calliope’s bald head, doing my best to wolf down food one-handed.
My mom would take Calliope from time to time and bounce her repeatedly, which calmed Calliope momentarily but then she would cry even harder a few minutes later.
About the time that I was nearing my breaking point with the crying, having not left the house all day, my mother would hand the baby over and chirp cheerfully, “well, I’m getting tired, I think I’m going to go get ready for bed now.”
I frantically swaddled and swayed and nursed and rocked Calliope in her little swing. Nothing seemed to help. I was exhausted. And as a single mother by choice, I didn’t have a partner to turn to. My mother changed diapers and burped Calliope after feedings when she could, but she was a full-time attorney and busy with her own life.
My blog from 2011 says,
Calliope doesn’t seem to have any comfort mechanisms besides nursing. I know they say you can’t overfeed a breastfed baby... but I don’t believe that. If she is eating for reasons other than hunger, to my mind, that’s not necessarily healthy, just like it wouldn’t be healthy at any other age.
However, I still let her nurse whenever she wants to... but when she cries and roots while the nipple is still in her mouth, I feel beyond frustrated and helpless. Clearly she isn’t hungry. But I just don’t know how to help her.
Finally she fell asleep and II left her swinging in the den. I gathered my strength to climb the stairs to my bathroom. And cried in the shower.
I don't know how I can keep going like this. I love her but I can't bear the exhaustion."
Then my friend Catherine, another Brooklyn single mom, told me about a book called The Sleep Whisperer, by Tracy Hogg. She said it helped with her newborn son, Jack, just a few weeks older than Calliope.
I was desperate. And so tired I couldn’t imagine staying awake long enough to read a book. Desperation won out. I didn’t love the author’s tone. It was a bit too colloquial for me -- she addresses her clients as “luv.” But I forgave her for that because the information she shared changed our lives.
I finally understood that I was keeping Calliope awake too long. At just a few weeks old, she should have been awake for only an hour at a time. She should go to bed before she even looked tired, at the first sign of a yawn. And those too-late naps were thus too-short naps... which were absolutely causing the late afternoon witching hour(s).
I promptly put Calliope on Hogg’s EASY routine. EASY stands for Eat, Activity, Sleep, You.
Eat. Rather than letting her eat all the time, and especially before sleep, I only fed her when she first woke up from a nap. I aimed for feeding every three hours. I stopped feeding her to sleep.
Activity. For a newborn, activity was simple. Mostly it was a few minutes lying on her activity mat but other times, it was even less. It turns out that newborns don't need all that much in the way of stimulation. As she got older, this period gradually lengthened out.
Rest. I aimed to put her back to sleep after only an hour awake. If I saw a yawn after only forty-five minutes, I would put her down even sooner. I used four of Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s: swaddling, sucking (a pacifier), swinging and shushing (white noise). Back then, it was acceptable to let babies sleep inclined in swings. Now we know this is a risk factor for SIDS, unfortunately. All babies must be put down to sleep on their backs.
You. The part I lived for. This was time for me. To shower, exercise, call a friend, check email or (less fun) pursue the disability insurance folks. Getting a guaranteed break for myself made all the difference in the world to my emotional health. I never managed to nap but getting time off during the day meant I didn't stay up too late at night, trying to soak up some personal time.
Within a few days of putting Calliope on this schedule, she was a different child. She literally never cried. I could figure out her needs just by glancing at the clock.
It was hard, sometimes, to be so ruled by a schedule... but it was worlds better than hours of crying every afternoon. And I found I could compromise let her nap in the stroller occasionally without suffering the consequences at night.
And with just this routine, including the feeding schedule, Calliope was naturally sleeping 8 hours at a stretch at night without any formal sleep training by 6 weeks old. (The swing might have been an unfair advantage, though!)
I am not exagerating when I say that this schedule saved my sanity. I know I was lucky that she was a good sleeper... but I know it wasn't all luck, since she wasnt' a good sleeper before this schedule changed everything for us.
Moreover, it saved me from having to do any hard sleep training. This method didn't involve any crying at all. (In another post, I'll talk about the sleep training method that got me to 10 hours by 10 weeks. That was even better.)
It's never too soon to instill great sleep habits in your child. I started this schedule on our first day home from the hospital with my younger daughter. I never did any sleep training with her at all. She slept ten hours by ten weeks, too.
If you would like to get your little one on track and aren't sure where to start, schedule a free consult with me and get your life back on track.
Three beautiful, well-rested little ones.
I was privileged to work with C and her husband, parents of three children under three years of age (a two-year-old toddler and infant twins). They are total rock stars when it comes to sleep!
C & J changed their lives by making a few small changes in their daughters' sleep routines.
Watch C's story (it's less than 4 minutes, and is totally inspiring).
And if you are ready to change your life through better sleep, set up a free consult and get ready for stronger family bonds, better health, and a happier outlook.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and certified life coach for parents. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.