“Don’t let your baby cry themselves to sleep! They are only little for so long. It doesn’t matter what this study says. This is heartbreaking! Don’t be lazy! Just go to them!” 

That sums up quite a few reactions I saw across social media, even in my personal news feed after a study was released in May of this year that concluded that it’s actually fine to let babies (6 months+) cry themselves to sleep when a “graduated extinction” method was used. Basically, that’s when parents let the child cry for graduated lengths of time after checking on them before they finally fall asleep.

“Parents have been told by some experts that children’s stress levels will increase over time with these techniques and they will have behavioral problems, and this study shows very clearly, which I think is the first to do so, that there are no [poor] effects on children’s stress levels…”

That’s the exact method I used on 2* of my children, and I’m here to tell you that NONE of that was because I didn’t have a heart or I was too lazy to tend to them.

*More below on why I didn’t use it on all 3. 

In fact, it gutted me. It shamed me. I stayed up the ENTIRE TIME they were crying, crying to myself most nights.  And most of that shame and heartbreak came from what this must mean about me as a mother- what others say about parents who let babies cry at night.

“Jill, you HAVE to make sleep a priority. She will be fine. Let her cry.”

Those are the words a midwife spoke to me when Leyna was about 10 months old. I explained to her why I’d recently run to the nearest doctor to beg him to see me after I literally thought I was dying from a heart attack, which turned out to be a panic attack, and the lowest point for me when dealing with Postpartum Anxiety. She asked about my sleep patterns and I was honest.

I sleep trained Kendall a few years before, and while I felt guilty about it at the time, it quickly became something I was glad I did.

With Leyna, though, I was struggling with PPA. And the thing that sucks about PPA and PPD- one thing, at least- is it makes you question your parenting decisions all the time. Also, the sound of a crying baby caused a physical response in me that I can only compare to an electric current jolting through my body.

So I was in this awful place where I NEEDED sleep. I could. not. handle. the sound of her crying (which happened about every 3 hours at night), but I was too afraid and ashamed to sleep train her because I didn’t trust that that was a sound choice, and the judgement surrounding that choice made me feel even worse for simply considering it.

Want to see that place in all it’s raw realness? Check out this post I wrote when Leyna was a little over a year old. Read the comments if you’re feeling adventurous. *Then follow that up with a post I wrote when Lowell was about the same age. 

And so I just spent my nights running to her, soothing her, then not sleeping because I was already afraid of the next time she’d cry.

You know how that helped me bond with her? Um, well, it didn’t.

I was a wreck during the days. I couldn’t shake obtrusive thoughts of me accidentally dropping her on her face or a knife somehow flying out of my hands and into her eyes. She didn’t feel real to me for the first 10 months of her life. I screamed, I snapped, I got angry at anything and everything. I obsessed over all the ways everyone in my life would/could die. I didn’t eat.

So yay for not letting her cry herself to sleep! Because that would be heartbreaking, right?

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You know what’s actually heartbreaking? It’s not a baby who cries themselves to sleep while in a loving home with parents who are doing the very best they can.

What’s heartbreaking is a mother who sacrifices her mental health at night so she doesn’t have to feel “lazy” and “mean” for her choices – so she doesn’t have to question her choices at all.

What’s heartbreaking is a mother with a postpartum mood disorder, which can improve significantly with proper sleep, who can’t bond with the baby she’s sacrificing sleep for.

On the extreme end of things, but totally within the realm of reality, it’s heartbreaking when a baby loses a mother to suicide brought on by postpartum mood disorders.

This study, while criticized by many, has been a relief for me. With my 4th baby due in December, I am happy to know going forward that I can make that choice again- to sleep train at 6 months or older- and I don’t need to question it. It’s fine. The baby will be fine.

Don’t feel sad for a baby whose parents are making intentional choices to improve the entire family’s quality of life. It’s really hard to be a present & loving parent during the day when you can’t sleep at night. And babies, more than ANYTHING, deserve present and loving parents.

41 thoughts on “There Are Things More Heartbreaking Than Sleep Training A Baby”

  1. Oh this is me right now. Knowing I sleep trained my older children just fine but feeling incapable to do it with my 6 month old. And feeling completely drained getting up for the umpteenth time in the night. The physical response to her crying, the guilt, the fears- never heard some describe what I feel so well. Maybe a call to the midwife is in order… ?

  2. Love it! Thank you for this I have always felt the same way about this topic. I did what I had to do for my oldest’ health and happiness and for my health and happiness, but I did feel judged at times because of it.

  3. My kids are 4 &5 and still the 4 year old wakes through the night. She lost it at 5 am when I went to sleep in another bed bc I was so tired of waking to her every move. We don’t put her in our bed at night, she crawls in when we’re sleeping and I’m too tired to put her back once I figure it out. Sleep deprivation alone is a horrible thing. Added with any disorder, a mess. Everyone has their choices and it isn’t anyone else’s business how they deal. Rock on mama you got this.

  4. I thought I was the only one. Seriously. All the feelings you mentioned while L was little, I had those same thoughts and feelings. I thought I was the only one. I had no idea it was PPA until my lo was 18 mos. Even now at almost 5 yo, I’m still traumatized just remembering how awful it was. How dark. How scary. Thank you for bringing PPA/PPD to light. All moms need to know its okay and can be regulated with therapy and, in my case, meds.

  5. I had to do a form of sleep training with my second when she outgrew her swaddle and started rolling over. It was the only way she would sleep. No amount of comfort or nursing or rocking would help. It was really miserable for both of us. But I needed we didn’t have a choice.

    Other than that, I’ve established routines with my two kids from day one that helped them sleep on their own without any crying. (I promise I have never withheld nursing my babies, I let them nurse whenever they were hungry!!) My kids have thrived on routine and it’s helped keep me sane. I loved the Baby Whisper books.

    But that’s just what’s worked for us so far. I’m due with number 3 in October so I might have to eat my words then!

  6. Take that, flip it and reverse it. Cosleeping “would ruin my marriage, I would roll over on my kid, it was lazy, he would never sleep alone.”

    Until CIO never, ever worked for my son. “Fuck Ferber” became my mantra. It was HELL. But throwing him in my bed – that worked. We all slept. My lexapro dose dropped. And funnily enough, none of those things I’d heard about cosleeping were actually true… imagine that!

  7. You are an inspiration and breath of fresh air. I love that you are so open and honest about all the ups and downs. I found your blog while pregnant with my 2nd (who’s just a couple weeks older than Lowell) and laughed like crazy for hours while going through blog posts. You’ve helped me get through my own PPA and PPD without feeling guilty for making decisions that I needed for my sanity. I have no idea how you keep going with so much grace (I don’t think I’d ever be able to handle all the criticism w/o going absolutely bonkers), but thank you from the bottom of my heart that you do!

  8. From a mom of grown children and grandchildren, thank you. I was just asking my husband why our kids slept fine and parents now days are always complaining about never getting enough sleep. I even wondered if I may have done some kind of damage to my kids by letting them cry it out. They seem fine but …. ? My kids never went to bed with a bottle or a pacifier. They just went to bed and slept. My youngest and only son did so well with it he had a schedule and when he got older he would remind ME it was bed time. Let me just say, it’s OK. Your baby will be fine. And you will be a better parent when you get the sleep you need and deserve. You won’t have to call your children “little assholes” either. At least until your daughters become tweens. But that’s a story for another time.

  9. You know what else is heartbreaking? That there is so little support for mothers here that these mood disorders are becoming seemingly common. That the same person who has to function all day with the kids (or work all day) is the same person who is expected to do all the night care. Or even the same two people, but only one of those people is in the throws of the mess that is post partum hormones. Sleep training my second wouldn’t have saved me from PPD or PPA. I went through the same darkness, wondering if the drive off the cliff would kill us instantly or if we’d have to wait to drown, fearing the fall down the stairs or that I’d drop the knife and it would fly across the room. But it wasn’t from not sleeping. My second actually slept better than my first, but I sitll had them all day, every day, and all night, every night. But, it turns out my second is a screamer, all day, every day, about everything. No one to come take them for the weekend, or even the afternoon. My husband was going through his own stuff and he kind of just checked out. I have no family in town and freinds with kids of their own who work all day. Oh how jealous I was of their break from their kids and their adult interaction. I withdrew because I was jealous and didn’t want to hear about it. I withdrew from friends who had family because I didn’t want to hear about their kid spending the weekend with grandma. So I wasn’t close to anyone anymore to even ask for help. I still struggle to properly respond to my second even though he’s almost two now. I just shut down when he cries.

  10. I went through absolute hell with mine, who actually has a sleep disorder that wasn’t diagnosed until he was *3 years old*..it was absolutely horrible, but I didn’t know what else to do.

    And now, as a person who had lost a friend to suicide due to post-partum illness, I can say I agree 1,000% with your post. Mommies shouldn’t feel bad for doing the best to keep themselves, and everyone else in the household sane. Sleep training a baby?? Not a horrible situation. My friend’s baby who is growing up without a mother now?? A horrible situation.

    Moms need to stop shaming each other and start supporting each other.

    I wish I had something more eloquent to say because I feel like I’m not giving my friend justice, but that’s all I’ve got. SUPPORT EACH OTHER. LOVE EACH OTHER.

  11. It blows my mind that people who wouldn’t DREAM of having a few drinks and then getting behind the wheel and driving their children around think nothing of the ill effects of sleep deprivation on an entire family. Sleep deprivation is eqiuivelant to having a few drinks when it comes to reaction times, ability to make decisions, problem solving. They’re so worried about organic, BPA free everything, but inadequate sleep can do permenant brain damage. Feeling and looking like a zombie is NOTHING a badge of honor. Make sleep a priority! Bravo to you for figuring this out and speaking up!

  12. I couldn’t agree more with this post. I love that you wrote it 🙂 It’s never selfish for parents to put their mental health first. In fact, it’s irresponsible for them not to. The parent has to be in their “right and healthy mind” to be able to care for their child. Love your last paragraph; you summed it up perfectly!

  13. This is brilliant and beautiful and perfectly stated. I also struggled with PPA and PPOCD after the birth of my (now 4 year old) son. I can related SO MUCH to everything you experienced. Everything from the physical reaction to the sound of crying, to the inability to sleep after each time soothing because you were dreading/anticipating the next cry. GAH. All of it. We also sleep trained, using the graduated extinction method, at around 6 months, and I would sit on the couch and sob, tears dropping onto the baby monitor that was blaring in my hands. It was gut wrenching, but after around 1 week, he was sleeping and so was I (well, sort of). I wouldn’t be diagnosed with PPA for another year after that, and that might actually be because when we started sleeping, my mental health improved a little. I was far from “better”, but I think sleep training was the difference between me being able to hang on by a thread and the thread just snapping completely. I’m so glad we did it. Hugs to you, Mama!

  14. Seriously. My baby needed sleep so bad but couldn’t figure out how to stay asleep. He cried all the time when he was awake and never slept. After we sleep trained he started sleeping 10 hours a night and was like a brand new happy baby!

  15. Amen. I had PPD and the intrusive thoughts of something horrible happening too. I totally get it. Sleep is not just a fantasy, it is life saving, essential.

  16. This whole post was my exact experience. Thanks for sharing your truth. 🙂 And, you’re right, loving and sane parents are what’s most important. Some people have a higher tolerance for sleep deprivation than others. And, some people have a bigger, more involved support network than others. We do the best we can with what we’ve been given.

  17. Thank you so much for this post, it describes my experience with PPA bang-on, especially the physical reaction to baby’s cries, and the anticipatory fear of baby’s next cries once she is finally asleep, as if waiting for a bomb to blow. That’s why I can never “sleep when baby sleeps”–the dread over the next cries. I sleep-trained my now-22-month-old, and when she’s older, I’ll do the same with my month-old baby. Mom’s sanity and restedness is essential to nurturing a loving bond with baby, and I thank you for emphasizing this. I’m with you, friend!

  18. I so agree with your post. My baby boy was such a good baby, except when it came to sleep. He had nights when he would wake every hour and a half. I didn’t even get the chance to fall back asleep and he was awake again. And during the day was not better. You know that feeling when you can clearly see that he is soo tired, but he will just refuse to go to sleep and he would cry like he’s on a bed of needles, and nothing that you do helps? So many days when my husband would come from work and find me in such a state that I felt like banging my head against a corner of the wall and die. Days when my main focus was too contain myself from doing something I would regret long enough for him to get home so I can escape for at least half an hour. This kind of mother is not what any baby would need. Sleep training was the best thing I could have done…for me, for my baby, for my husband, even for my neighbours. It was so hard…I think I actually cried more than my baby. My heart broke over and over again, sitting on the floor outside his bedroom door hearing him cry. For him CIO didn’t work as he could cry for hours and still not fall asleep, so I had to combine CIO with PU/PD. After trying different sleep training methods, I found that this was what suited him best. Now he’s 14 months and he sleeps like I never dreamed he would. 2 naps a day, 11 hours straight at night. And even if he wakes up at 7:30, he will still lay there, playing with his confort toy until 8:30-9. Sometimes I don’t even hear him wake up. And the fun that we have together during the day, it’s what every mother should have with her baby. And that’s because I’m so well rested, that he can have my full attention and we can enjoy each other. He doesn’t have the usual schedule of babies his age. He goes to sleep later and wakes up later than other babies. And his naps are at later times as well. But it’s a schedule that suits both of us. That’s why I think that each baby should have their own personalised schedule, and sleep training. And if it works for him, then it doesn’t matter what other people say.

  19. THANK YOU for writing this. I too struggled with severe PPD and had far too many horrible thoughts, and my sleep deprived state did not help my condition. When I finally decided to sleep train my son, he was 11 months old, waking 8-10 times a night, and I was a complete wreck. I felt like a horrible mother for doing it. But I did it because I needed to. I have questioned myself over it hundreds of times in the 4 years since I did it. I have gone back and forth over the rightness/wrongness of my decision millions of times. He is now 5, sleeps in his own bed without waking up for 10-11 hours every night. And has done so since the first week after we sleep trained. He skips off to bed happily every night and wakes up happy every morning.

  20. Babies are crying because it is highly unnatural for them to sleep alone. In the countries where mothers sleep with the babies, ” wear” the babies, go to work on fields with the babies, never part with their babies, ( which is unthinkable in our society), babies grow into trustful and happy children! They cry because they need their mother’s warmth, and closeness. SIDS is most common among babies sleeping alone. But do not blame yourself, separate cribs and rooms for babies are the invention of industrial era. Both parents are to work to provide for their children; and the children better adjust!
    Well, autism, mental disorders, depression are on the rise for our children. Drugs, alcohol and violence on the rise for our teens, this is also a by product of industrial era.
    ” Do everything with the love in your heart and you never go wrong” is the best compass.

  21. I seriously needed to read this. I did not sleep train my first and at 2 she is finally a decent sleeper I can see such a difference in her personality now she is so much happier that she is not constantly tired. I now have a 3 mth old and once he is old enough I will for sure do some sort of sleeping training. The symptoms you describe have she some light that I may be suffering from ppa.

  22. This is an amazing piece just when I needed to see it. My 10 & a half month old is only now starting to sleep through. Partly down to the fact that she has just been weaned from the boob And her night feed but also Due to the fact that I listened to all the negative opinions around me on sleep training. I spend every night hovering, eyes closed but never asleep, waiting on a cry. I walk around like a zombie checking on my older daughter and my baby and lie down and twenty mins later I do it again! it’s just my opinion but all the ‘well-meant advice’ particularly from single, childless friends on what could be considered child abuse, should be carefully filtered. Mums need support not criticism.

  23. parents and infants train eachother with behavioral conditioning, infant learns which behaviors get which reaction and parents as well. the infant cannot critically thing and should not be making decisions. they cry for reasons and at some point, the reason is to get the desired response. it is a parents’ job to do what is right for their child even if the child cannot understand and it is the same with an infant. no one should feel guilty for letting a healthy baby cry some as appropriate just like no one should feel guilty if this method does not fit your family. mothers have to remember to care for your family, you must take care of yourself first which means meeting your own basic needs!

  24. I just wanted to say that about a year ago i was at my wits end with my daughter (the youngest of 3) she slept in bed with me and could only sleep if she was nursing. At about 12 month old I just couldn’t take it anymore! I was barely sleeping and still had two other children to attend to. I was starting to hate nursing and probably my daughter a little lol- but seriously it was hard not to grow resentful. I found the precious little sleep website and my life changed!! I followed it as outline ( for the most part ) and I can proudly say that my daughter has slept 12 hours a night since. She doesn’t wake at night and she also naps for an hour- hour and half during the day. In fact, last night she went to sleep at 615 and woke up today at exactly 715..it was not easy at first. There was a lot of crying and a lot of me feeling like I was a horrible, awful mom, but that lasted until the first night she slept through the night 11 hours which was literally 5 days after we started sleep training. I am so happy I chose this method and wish I would have with my first two!

  25. This was me exactly with my first daughter. I swore I would never let her cry. But…at 8 months I was an angry zombie. My daughter was up every 2 hours to breast feed. When i did get her to sleep I couldn’t sleep for fear of being torn from the sleep I so desperately needed. I had anxiety just as you did about dropping over our banister while walking across the hall and knives!!! We let her cry with the graduated intervals at 8 months. Best parenting decision ever! I became a (somewhat) normal human again. I knew I wasn’t “depressed” but I knew I wasn’t right. Keep sharing!! Thanks!

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