Seems that parents who feel OK about letting their babies cry it out are more successful at getting their little ones to sleep. I am not that parent.
Before I was a mom, I used to see leaving an infant crying in a crib as tantamount to child abuse, a terrible breach of trust. I know I’ll never have the cajones to do it myself, but I got too tired long ago to judge anyone else’s approach.
Like so many parenting philosophies, this one has been thrown overboard in favor of doing what works. Which for me seems to be: sleepwalk through two years of co-sleeping a baby, move toddler to own bed, then let the toddler cry out her frustrations at being cut off from night nursing in my arms for a few nights.
My first child was three years old before she started reliably sleeping through the night. This was after her little sister was born. My husband and I have been juggling baby related night wakings since before we even had a baby together, when I would get up three times a night to pee during pregnancy.
In fact, my husband is upstairs trying to settle a crying toddler back to sleep as I type this.
How did we end up like this?
We started out as well-intentioned hippy parents with visions of peaceful cosleeping in a gentle family bed. And we had a baby who woke up no less than once an hour for the first 18 months of her life. She’d wake up screaming at full volume, shaking and red and wild.
Apparently some kids are just like this. And, in case you were curious, these kids are never good candidates for a cry-it-out sleep training approach, no matter what attitude the parents have.
We never tried a cry-it-out method with her. While I’ve often wished I had the stomach to make a baby cry herself to sleep and get it over with, I’m just not wired like that. I usually find myself wishing for the nerves of steel it must take to do it around 3 a.m., when it is far too late to suddenly become a different mother.
Instead, we tried Elizabeth Pantley’s No Cry Sleep Solution, a lovely book which just left me in tears because none of it worked. Then we gradually weaned her off of our bed onto a mattress on the floor near our bed, onto a mattress on the floor in her own room, and eventually up onto her bed. Sometime after that we eventually persuaded her to give up night nursing.
I desperately wanted us to be one of those blissed out family bed families that let the child lead the whole process of moving out of the parents’ bed and away from night nursings towards a more adult style sleep. People do it, all the time. But it just didn’t work for us. At a certain point, we had to start setting some hard boundaries about what kind of parenting attention she could have at night. There was crying. And screaming. Not just from the kid.
When we finally got her to sleep in her own bed, she slept for almost four hours at a stretch that first night. It was the longest anyone in our house had slept in years. We all immediately became much nicer people.
So what was the right answer?
I’ve often wondered, since then, if it wouldn’t have been better for the kids to have me set a firmer boundary earlier. To let them cry it out, in other words.
It’s an experiment I’ll probably never run. I coslept and night nursed my second child too. Serena has a much more easygoing temperament than her sister. She slept through her birth, and sleep has been less challenging with her from the beginning. We didn’t do anything different with her, she’s just a different kid. More accepting. She moved into her own bed with no fuss when she turned two. She still wakes up most nights to pee, but gave up night nursing with minimal bother.
I think she would have done fine with a Ferber style sleep training approach. She did fine with cosleeping and free-range night nursing. Most kids, I hear, have this kind of adaptable temperament.
If you’re looking the right solution for your family, here’s a nice summary of the available expert opinions on infant sleep. If you’ve taken a co-sleeping, breastfeeding approach thus far and are ready for a change, PhD in Parenting has a great article up about night weaning.