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Sleep “training”

Let’s talk about something that is somewhat controversial in the mom space. As someone who focuses on natural and gentle parenting (as best I can), I’m also a mama who cannot function without decent sleep. I am prone to PPD and PPA (and deal with high functioning anxiety on a daily basis) and lack of sleep makes things significantly worse.

Not only that, but I know how important sleep is for development of infants and kids. So my goal is always to set kids up for healthy sleep habits from the start. But that doesn’t mean things always go as planned (hello, parenthood). So with my first, I turned to a sleep coach for help when, after sleeping 12 hours a night for months, our little dude started waking every 45 minutes. He was about 6 months old, and I knew I didn’t want to just let him cry until he passed out (as my then pediatrician suggested….). Working with her taught me so much about sleep and opened my eyes to the world of sleep coaching.

Gentle Sleep Coaching

I know a lot of moms don’t like sleep “training” because they think it just means letting baby cry with no support but that isn’t the case. There are many different more gentle ways to help nudge babies and toddlers to better sleep. Certified pediatric sleep coach, Kasey co-owner of Discover & Dream, a sleep coaching services for families, gives us an overview on more gentle methods you can use to help baby sleep better.

Kasey: “When using a gentle way to teach your baby independent sleep, you will help soothe your baby when they cry, until they learn to sleep without help. This type of method focuses on calming, soothing, and comforting a baby, but still allows a baby to learn to self soothe. Some gentle techniques include the shush/pat method, pick up/put down, rocking, patting, back rubs, and the 5 S’s which is great to calm newborns and young babies (0-3 months).

Sleep coaching myths

We often hear moms saying that they don’t want to hear any tears or could never have their child cry-it-out.  And I get that! I don’t know a single mom that LIKES to hear babies cry, especially not their own babies. You’ll even see debates about how sleep coaching can diminish the bond between you and your child or accusing you of doing long term damage to your baby’s brain–but it’s just not true. In fact, there is research proving these are just myths.

Kasey explains that, “Babies thrive on routine and chances are if your baby is not sleeping well, their routine is not beneficial to restful and restorative sleep. When a new routine is created, old habits have to be broken, and as a result, your baby will be confused and show their frustration by crying. The crying is simply your baby’s reaction to the change in their sleep habits, nothing more. Don’t mistake the crying for fear, sadness, or abandonment. Once your baby learns the new way to fall asleep, the tears will stop and your baby will be falling asleep on their own.”

There are many ways to gently coach your baby to better sleep. And while she says she can’t promise a tear-free experience, she offers gentle methods to try and reduce the tears as much as possible.

She doesn’t believe in just letting babies cry but letting your child experience some tears while you are there to comfort and love them is something very different–and I agree. As one of my all time favorite gentle parenting experts explains attachment to your baby is about calm and consistent comfort, not never letting your baby cry.

Most common sleep issues

One of the most common issues that children have with sleep include sleep associations or “sleep props.” This is anything a child uses to fall asleep.  For example, the breast or bottle, a pacifier, white noise, rocking, swinging, movement in the car can all be sleep props.

Sleep associations are a normal part of falling asleep. It’s when these props disrupt a child’s sleep that they become a problem.  

Some children are more sensitive and need the same exact prop all throughout the night and when transitioning during sleep cycles. Eliminating these props and helping children learn to self soothe will be the key to improving your child’s sleep. Often times children that have strong sleep associations usually have very bad sleep patterns. Eliminating sleep props and teaching a baby independent sleep is the cornerstone to improve a baby’s sleep.

You do you

Here’s one thing to keep in mind. As with all things parenting related, you have to do you. Do some research (Google scholar style, not just random articles online), talk to a few professionals, asks some moms who have similar values and then go with what makes you comfortable. You’re going to get judgement on either side of ANY issue–so just smile and nod. You can’t let judgement from others be the guide to your parenting decisions.