“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?
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.