Updated: Sep 4, 2020
The philosophy of extinction sleep training.
If you nurse your baby to sleep and hold them while they sleep they will become dependent on YOU to get back to sleep and maybe even to stay asleep, thus creating a bad habit. This ‘bad habit’ (again that would be you being responsive to them) will prevent them from falling back to sleep on their own during their natural sleep cycles.
Crying It Out.
There are scientific studies proving that the Cry It Out method of extinction sleep training has proven to be unhealthy for babies. Leaving a baby to cry alone and without responsiveness from you or a loving caregiver has shown to raise baby’s cortisol level. It had also been said that CIO could alter the developing neural pathways that babies and young children (about the age of 3) are actively making. I am holding my baby now as she sleeps and as I am not linking my research I will lead you to this article for you to chew on, she does site her work. In addition, a simple Google search will lead you to more information.
Here is where I believe we are following the wrong trend.
Where do we the parent get off telling our babies, "No you don't really need me." or "I can clearly see that you have a need that requires me to meet, but I'm not going to do that. You will just have to deal with it and learn to 'self sooth'."
These are babies. (Once they are speaking and communicating toddlers negotiations can be made and understood.) Babies are People!!! They are people that don't yet have the ability to understand all the complexity of life as toddlers and adults. People that require us, the loving and caring parent, to learn to self sooth.
Let me paint a picture.
SETTING. You are magically transported into The Land of Giants. Yours parents, giants themselves, but about the only ones you trust, drop you off into the dark forest. You have never been dropped off alone in the dark forest.
AGE. 4-12 months.
BABY. Played by you.
PARENT. Once you spend 5 minutes screaming your heart out I will be back to tell you that I am still here and that you can handle this. I won’t touch you or comfort you any more than that, but you will know I’m still alive.
BABY. (Sitting on the forest floor and screaming.) I have no idea what she’s saying. I can’t speak that language yet, but every now and then she comes back. (Noise in the distance.) What was that? What was that noise? This forest is dark. I’m scared. I’m screaming. Where are my people? (Grumble.) Oh, I think I’m hungry. HELLO, anyone there? I NEED FOOD. OK, now I’m really scared. I don’t feel loved. Am I being abandoned? (The tree outside the window blows and casts a shadow in the forest.) OMG a giant is coming to eat me!
PARENT. (Entering.) I love you. It’s time that you go to sleep. I’ll be back in 5 more minutes.
BABY. (Screams again.) Wait a minute here, do they think I am going to go to sleep by myself on this cold unloving floor, without my two soft pillows and blanket? (Mom, that’s you.) No siree. I NEED YOU!!! I am so confused and don’t understand what’s happening to me. And I’m hungry!”
From here on the screaming continues until BABY (you) give up, shut down, and fall asleep.
(Fade Out. Er, yum, pass out.)
Yes, this is a bit dramatic. And no, babies don’t have this kind of dialog. Isn’t that my point? They don’t understand the world yet. They just know that they need you to meet their needs. If you were able to imagine in the slightest way that you were that baby, doesn’t that feeling suck.
Need a more realistic example?
Your toddler wakes up in the middle of the night from a terrible nightmare. Maybe they remember the details and maybe not. Do you go comfort them? Well, some sleep trainers will say no (some doctors do as well). But really what does your parent gut say? Yes, you instinctively want to hold them and let them know their world is safe.
* Are you going to create a bad habit? NO, absolutely not. A baby searching for their parent during the night and at a time of need is NEVER a bad habit.
* Do you ever reach over for your partner at night?
* Ever have a bad day and want to call your mom or dad still as an adult?
What to do instead.
I long for a world where our children know that when they need us we will compassionately respond, in whatever way is needed by that child. Maybe they need us to sit with them, to hold them, to listen to their story. Sleep training teaches our children from the very youngest ages that their voice, their needs are not heard and respected by us, the person that they need it from the most!
So here is where I agree with sleep trainers. Babies don't always need the boob. It's true. And your baby will tell you that given the chance. I just tried to nurse my 9-month-old down for a nap. She wouldn't have it! “No mom, please no boobs.” It's such my easy go to, but not what she always needs (each kiddo is different). So, I cradled her, kissed her head, and held her and within no time she was out! Maybe later today or tonight she'll need the awesome power of my milk to help induce sleep, because yes, it has amazing sleep aids in it, (I should drink it myself) but that's for a different time because like all of us, our needs are in constant ebb and flow. BUT THEY DO ALWAYS NEED YOU (OR A LOVING CARGIVER) TO ATTEND TO THEIR NEEDS. ~ I don’t consider a scripted line like, “Mommy loves you it’s time for sleep.” every 5 minutes after intense screaming as responsive parenting.
In conclusion for now, there is so much to say.
Your baby searching for a human being (it can be mom or loving caregiver) as a source of comfort day or night is not bad and does not create bad habits. YES, we all need sleep to stay healthy and happy! And there are ways to bring more sleep into your life without leaving your baby to cry it out. If you are looking for someone to give you permission to hold, cradle, nurse your baby on demand day and night for as long as you two need then here it is. If you need permission to listen to your instinctive gut and respond to your baby then here it is.
* Every baby is different and they each come with different personalities and different nighttime needs, this is true for breastfed and bottlefed babies. Also, note that those needs will ebb and flow. There is no constant, not in sleep and not with anything else parent related, except for your love. I don’t doubt your love for your baby, even if you are considering or have done CIO before. BUT, there is a way that I believe is more responsive than CIO. So, if you feel like the cry it out method of sleep is not for you, if you are searching for what biological infant sleep is, if you are looking to increase your family's sleep and meet everyone's needs, then I can help.
~I help parents co-create safe and effective sleep plans for their family.
To a Confident, Sexy, Love filled life! Kimberly Lindsay, BA, CPCC, ORSCC, IBCLC
Mental Fitness Coach for Spiritual & Creative Moms:
Who are ready to ditch their saboteurs so they can show up
as the partner, parent, and person they want to be - getting back to self and back to roots.