Let’s Nurture Babies Who Won’t Have To Recover From Sleep Training

Night

Last night was rough. And it’s still going. We’ve had four false starts just to get out of bed as my three-year-old returns time and again to nurse, seeking the familiar comfort he craves. He’s as exhausted as I am. It’s 8:43am and I’m relieved we could indulge in a rare Saturday morning sleep in.

As the autumn rain hammers down outside our bedroom window, I hear my husband watching the rugby and the kettle boiling in the background; I’m heartened by the promise of coffee. To be honest, the last week (or maybe the last three years) has been defined by broken sleep. I feel like a new mother as I reluctantly peel back the covers and drag myself out of bed; my legs quiver like jelly and my vision is blurred through my relentless tear-filled yawns.

My energetic toddler is suddenly all smiles as he greets his dinosaur collection, drinks carrot juice and dares us to chase him around the house in our pyjamas. Doesn’t he remember we were awake at 12:30am? Nursing at 2:45am? And again at 5am? His unshakeable happiness soothes my weary soul as he reminds me my efforts are worthwhile.

His growing confidence is fuelled by the knowledge we’ll endeavour to meet his needs come day or night.

Our family follows a different path to the mainstream; we share our bed, breastfeed, practice elimination communication, responsive parenting and gentle discipline…the list goes on. Yet, as self-assured as I am in my parenting choices I won’t discuss my current exhaustion with many people in real life. Why? Because, like most of us, I’ve been down that road before. I know what they’ll suggest: that my son should sleep in his own room, we should encourage independence and we should stop breastfeeding.

It’s been a common theme in my journey as a mother and a central reason behind why I write about my experiences; to connect with others who feel the same way. I reflect on how I felt as a new parent forging my own path into unknown terrain; alone and out of place, yet empowered and emboldened by my conscious decisions.

Most people would view my son’s recent pattern of broken sleep as a problem to fix, a puzzle to solve. But, that’s not how I see it. I know it’s normal; I trust he’s trying his best with whatever developmental, emotional or physical challenge he’s currently facing. I know he’s not attempting to manipulate or intentionally torture me.

Like many parents, I’m not seeking solutions; I’m craving support. Not sympathy, but empathy. Compassion. A warm cup of coffee. And most importantly, a reassuring pat on the back in recognition of the fact that I’m bravely following my instincts to give my son what he needs, in spite of the challenges it may present.

I often wonder why sleep has become the litmus test for a new parent’s level of success. Why are “good babies” those who sleep the longest with the least amount of support? The notion is nonsensical and goes against everything human biology and evolutionary history tells us about what babies and young children need for safe and healthy sleep.

It’s a misguided cultural expectation, which prioritizes the evolving adult-centred values of our society over the burning needs of our children.

It sends sleep-deprived mothers a dangerous message; that if her baby isn’t sleeping, in the way society unrealistically expects, she’s a bad mother. She’s doing something wrong. Or, worse still, there’s something wrong with her baby. In these moments, vulnerable parents are more easily bullied or coerced into harsh sleep training methods by friends and professionals who should know better.

Non-responsive sleep training, or the many names it goes by, has been a hot topic on my social media feed lately. I’ve watched as other brave mothers put their neck on the metaphorical chopping block and advocate for the needs of babies. They’re accused of judging those who’ve resorted to sleep training. And they’re vilified for suggesting sleep training is unhealthy for babies. But, regardless of the inevitable criticism I’ll receive, this is a conversation brave parents need to encourage, not only for our children, but for ourselves.

Society assigns labels to unpleasant practices like sleep training; it helps us disconnect from our instincts and dupes us into believing an approach is scientific, safe and official. But, if sleep training didn’t have relatively soft labels, like cry it out or controlled crying, how would we describe it? The common thread non-responsive methods share is to ignore a babies’s needs, to ignore their cries.

How can this be good advice for any parent? How can this possibly shape healthy family relationships? Or an empathetic society?

Sleep trainers inform parents that when their baby stops crying, they’ve successfully learned to “self-soothe”. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. A 2011 study measured cortisol levels (a stress hormone) in both mothers and babies when subjected to a sleep training program based on controlled crying. Initially cortisol levels in both mother and baby were synchronously elevated when babies cried; this physiological response prompts a mother to comfort her baby and promotes secure attachment.

However, over the three day study period when babies were ignored their crying decreased. With the lack of cues, mothers’ cortisol levels diminished and so too did her stress. But, how did their babies feel? Babies’ stress hormones remained elevated. In their silence, they remained psychologically distressed. Non-responsive sleep training teaches babies not to seek or expect support regardless of how distressed they may feel.

Babies may interpret a lack of parental response as evidence they’re unable to effectively communicate their own needs, predisposing children to issues with insecurity and a future lack of empathy for others. Young children believe they, themselves, are the cause of their experience. This is powerful knowledge for parents to have; how we treat our babies lays the foundation for the beliefs our kids will come to hold true about themselves for the rest of their lives. If we repeatedly ignore our babies they’ll believe they’re not worthy of attention, comfort and affection. But if we shower them with unconditional love, they’ll believe they’re loveable, valued and worthy of healthy relationships.

“Let’s raise children who won’t have to recover from their childhoods” Pam Leo

So, to all the sleep-deprived, responsive parents who feel pressured to “toughen up” and let your baby cry – what you’re doing and the sacrifices you’re making are profoundly important and worthwhile. You’re investing in your child’s psychological development as they literally form the neurological pathways they need for healthy emotional regulation. You’re attuning yourself with your baby and forming a unique bond which will serve as a platform to help them grow into successful, joyful and secure children and adults. You’re showing them you’ll be there for them unconditionally, to help them manage overwhelming emotions by providing a safe place they can return to at any time.

It’s important to make the distinction that this is not about judging parents. This is about questioning a potentially harmful practice and the relative ease with which it is recommended to sleep deprived parents who will try just about anything. Sleep deprivation is a killer, especially when we’re trying to keep up with the demands of modern life. Parenting is complex with a myriad of unique challenges and there are exceptional circumstances like post natal depression; sometimes it may be safer and necessary for a mother to leave her baby to cry. But a significant problem which needs addressing is a phenomenally unrealistic expectation about what normal infant sleep looks like combined with a culture doing very little to support new parents.

From advocating for sufficient maternity leave so that mothers can catch up on sleep during the day to demanding safe co-sleeping guidelines, our society needs to strive to meet the needs of both babies and parents. And as a community we need to care for new parents and ensure they receive empathetic and empowering support as well as realistic expectations. As challenging as it may be, if we can normalize night wakings the more acceptable normal infant behaviour will become.

COMMENTS
  • October 26, 2016
    Kirsty

    Hi Tracy,
    Thanks so much for sharing this article. This is the first time I’ve seen Your blog & I’m glad I came across it. After trying the sleep training schedule of naps & bed time yesterday, my bub had the worst night of sleep, waking every 1-2 hours to feed. He usually feeds frequently but I do get one long chunk when he first goes down which I didn’t get last night. Sleep training has worked for some of my friends and others have babies that just naturally sleep through and naturally I can’t help but wonder, what’s wrong with me and my baby? I want so badly to go by his cues and let him develop his own natural rhythms, but I feel as though he ‘should’ be sleeping better and having more time between feeds. It’s articles like these that remind me of why and how I want to parent and that no baby is ‘normal’. Thank you.

    • October 26, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Hi Kirsty,

      Thank you for reading and for your comment. It’s my pleasure and you are so right – there is no “normal”. All babies are different but by and large they sleep for short periods – which is so difficult to deal with but much easier with realistic expectations. A baby’s sleep cycle is half of hours – at only around 45 minutes so they have many more opportunities to wake during the night than we do. I believe it is at around age three that children transition to longer adult sleep cycles. Have you read The No Cry Sleep Solution? I really enjoyed it and used some of the methods Elizabeth described. How old is your baby? As long as you don’t suspect there is anything medically wrong – like tongue ties or lip ties (my nephew had a lip tie and when it was finally resolved at 6 months things got much better for my sister), there is nothing wrong with what you’re doing as a mother and nothing wrong with your baby. By and large babies crave a lot of attention and affection. I’m so happy it helped you and wishing you all the best to get some sleep soon – I know it’s not easy xx

  • October 26, 2016

    Hi Tracy,
    Thank for so eloquently pointing out the baby’s perspective in this blog. Yes, there are certainly parents who are exhausted – you most likely are, yourself – but the pressure to leave babies to cry isn’t helpful. It’s important to share this information so that when parents are at a crossroads and considering what to do about interrupted sleep that has gone on and on, they can make choices based on the evidence. This isn’t judgement – please don’t shoot the messenger. It isn’t ‘about you’ unless you want it to be. If you are feeling judged or shamed by factual information, please try and work out what is triggering these feelings. If you have regrets about choices you have made, be kind to yourself and try to work out how you can make new choices. Not all families choose to or can safely bed-share but all parents can be responsive to their babies day and night in a way that works for that family and meets their baby’s needs for touch, food, connection and safety. The baby’s wellbeing doesn’t need to be a tradeoff so parents can get uninterrupted sleep. Parents who have wakeful babies and choose to co-sleep or breastfeed and soothe their babies through the night need support – not pressure to train their child and self doubt about what they must be doing ‘wrong’ because they won’t leave their babies to cry. Please keep on sharing this information Tracy, parents can’t make informed choices without information. It’s up to individuals what they do with information, not a reason to blame you for their own insecurities. You have a lucky child!

    • October 26, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      My pleasure Pinky and thank you for your words of wisdom. So true – we all need accurate information and then it’s an individuals choice what they do with that information and how parents can implement that into their own families. A big part of the problem is accurate information isn’t filtering through to parents and too many hospitals, nurses and doctors advise on sleep by suggesting a blanket ban (excuse the pun) on bed sharing rather than explaining to parents how to do it safely, which in most cases it can easily be done. I appreciate bed sharing isn’t for all families, it presents it’s own challenges which I am all too aware of myself but room sharing should be possible for most families at least while babies are small. To suggest it’s ok to ignore our babies just doesn’t sit right with me, it’s not safe and not healthy for the short and long term emotional health of our children. Thanks so much for stopping by! xxx

  • October 27, 2016
    Cookiepress

    some thoughts,I am 65 years old and have 9 grandchildren all of whom have been breastfed and homeschooled. They’re all doing well.I had 2 kids in the mid 70s and both were breastfed and sorta slept with me. In 1975 my first child was born and I was in a ward with 9 other new moms. I was the only one who breastfed, One woman told me I should not do it because it was bad for my baby. I loved holding her and nursing her and her brother after her. There is no feeling like it. Jump ahead to 2016 and a young woman I know is almost to term. We talked about breastfeeding, she shut me down and told me she researched and will not do it because it is bad for the baby. I had a neighbor whose son was 3 and not toilet trained whose MIL told her she had to train him and it was bad for him that she didn’t make him use the toilet. Some kids just aren’t ready. My son was 3 1/2 when he was toilet trained. My daughter on the other hand was 2 and needed no nudging. She also changed her clothes 5 times a day at that age. We need to remember that all people are different and have different needs.

    • October 27, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Absolutely Marym and good on you for nursing when nobody around you was. You are so right about all people having different needs and by being responsive to our children they let us know what those needs are rather than a one size fits all approach. Thank you so much for reading and for your comment.

  • October 30, 2016
    modfrench

    My 15 month old never had to “recover” from sleep training. I completely respect your position and your right to choose what is best for your family but your article comes off as very judgmental of other people’s choices. Many working parents do not have the ability to be extremely sleep deprived and function at a job the next day. My daughter slept in our room until she was one. At six months I stopped breastfeeding her at night and would gently rub her back until she went back to sleep. Within a few nights she was sleeping through the night and has ever since. It has made us a more happy and functional family and she is completely healthy and developmentally thriving. I think you need to be very careful about your words and not potentially scare or guilt parents into making the right choices for their family.

    • October 30, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you for your comment and for reading but I think you’ve misinterpreted my meaning. What you describe isn’t cry it out or the many names harsh sleep training goes by. You’re a responsive parent who gently helped your baby to sleep – we’re on the same page. My husband and I are both working parents so I understand all too well the effects of sleep deprivation. I’m feeling the effects today after a restless night with my son. But ignoring babies and their needs isn’t the answer. It’s a fact that it’s not good for anyone, regardless of age, to be ignored. The real problem is a lack of support in society, a lack of realistic expectations about what normal infant sleep looks like, combined with a lack of information about gentle methods to help babies sleep such as what you describe. There are better ways than cry it out, controlled crying, extinction methods etc and parents need the knowledge so they can make better choices for babies. There are many parents who have had a very different experience to you with sleep training, being coerced into cry it out by paediatricians or doctors, with both parents and babies feeling it was a traumatic experience. This is what I’m passionate about preventing happening for other parents and babies who would like to follow a gentler approach.

      As Pinky so eloquently said below, “This isn’t judgement – please don’t shoot the messenger. It isn’t ‘about you’ unless you want it to be. If you are feeling judged or shamed by factual information, please try and work out what is triggering these feelings. If you have regrets about choices you have made, be kind to yourself and try to work out how you can make new choices. Not all families choose to or can safely bed-share but all parents can be responsive to their babies day and night in a way that works for that family and meets their baby’s needs for touch, food, connection and safety. The baby’s wellbeing doesn’t need to be a tradeoff so parents can get uninterrupted sleep.”

  • November 01, 2016
    Jane

    Hi,

    I am wondering if the 12 day “chair method” is considered gentle sleep training? We were advised this method was gentler than cry it out but I can’t find much info out there.
    Thanks!

    • November 01, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Hi Jane,

      I’d never heard of it so I looked it up. It says it’s most similar to controlled crying. From what I read it suggests leaving baby to cry while you’re there in the background providing support. The issue I see is that its encouraging parents to not respond to their babies’ needs. It’s a personal choice about what’s right for your family but what I found helpful was trying to put myself in my baby’s shoes. If I was unable to move and was asking for help and my husband was in the corner of the room but not responding to me I’d feel confused and on my own. There are so many gentler ways to try to help babies to sleep. Safe bed sharing is fantastic but it’s not possible or not the right choice for everyone. Three books I can recommend are The No Cry Sleep Solution, The Gentle Sleep Book and Sleeping Like A Baby: Simple Sleep Solutions for Babies and Toddlers.

      Sleep deprivation is such a difficult challenge to work through. How old is your baby? How much is your baby sleeping?

      Hope that helps,
      Tracy xx

  • November 01, 2016

    Well said! I am constantly hearing from other mothers and websites about what we SHOULD be doing. My baby is well fed, healthy, happy, sleeps well – but not ALWAYS! She is 6mo and growing every day, so every day presents new challenges (sometimes harder to go down for a nap, sometimes resists the boob, sometimes wakes a few times in the night). But you know what? I too wake in the middle of the night to go to the restroom and often find myself hungry (I’m breastfeeding, and alwaaays hungry). The expectation for babies is ridiculous, when we cant even “sleep through the night” ourselves. I am very happy with how we do things around here, sounds very similar to what you said in this article. There’s no normal, there’s “our normal” and that is “what works for us”. Thank you for sharing!

    • November 01, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience Shannon and for reading. You are so right – there is “our normal” and that’s different for everyone. The common thread we all share is being responsive and that means different actions for every parent. But if we let our WHY lead we figure out our HOW naturally and avoid one-size-fits-all approaches. You’re so right about us not sleeping through the night and when the phrase was originally coined it was referring to a five-six hour stretch but somehow it’s been extrapolated to meaning 12 hours which isn’t normal for young babies. Having realistic expectations can make life feel so much easier in dealing with the early challenges of parenthood. Thanks again and lovely to connect xxx

  • November 02, 2016

    You couldn’t have said it better, “I’m not seeking solutions; I’m craving support.” Thanks for another thoughtful post!

    • November 02, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thanks so much Julie and my pleasure.

  • November 07, 2016
    Jade

    Thank you for writing about such a controversial topic Tracy.

    It needs to be spoken about. Parents who are seeking sleep help are often desperate and will do anything for sleep. If I had someone like you in my life when my now 4 year old was little I wouldn’t have gone to sleep school. I’d have stuck with cosleeping and just rode it out.

    I was sleep trained as a baby. I now have trust issues and attachment issues. Do you think that’s hard for me to talk with my mum about as she let my Dad practice CIO with me while she sat out the back crying? She thought it was best for me. It clearly wasn’t.

    How lucky are we now to have these studies; to know the effects of certain parenting styles before we even try them.
    I think if there was less pressure on mothers to return to work then they would feel less pressure to sleep train.

    “The more we normalise night wakings the more accepted normal behaviour will become.” As with all behaviour in children we need to stop expecting them to be a act like adults. Heck I don’t even know how to be an adult some days.

    Thank you for putting your neck out and know you are heard. You are supported and are a huge support for many mothers who sit silently reading your blog. Thank you for empowering many mothers to follow their instincts instead of the crowd.
    Without you they may not have any other support networks. Without you we may not be able to find other like minded mothers.

    • November 07, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you so much Jade and my pleasure. You’re right – it is a controversial topic! Very kind of you to say and I hope to be able to create a platform for more support for our community in the future. Having another mum tell you its normal that your nine month old is cluster feeding every hour of the night or that their three year old still wakes can make things seem so much easier to cope with. Expectations are a powerful thing and as you say, the more we can normalize normal behaviour the happier we’ll all be as parents. I’m so sorry to hear about your experience with sleep training. I was a notorious thumb sucker and ironically until I became a mother I just thought that was normal, cute even – now I appreciate what it meant. I was apparently very quiet though and now as an adult I find it very difficult to ask for what I want – I’ll never have any idea if the two are related but I do find myself wondering.

      Thanks again Jade – your kids are lucky to have such a brave mama! Hugs xx

  • November 08, 2016

    Thanks for this post. It’s great timing! I can empathize with you. My almost 3-year-old wasn’t feeling well lately, leading to more than usual wake-ups and less sleep for me. It is draining. I’m trying to get to sleep sooner myself (around 9pm), so I won’t be so exhausted in the morning. We moved our toddler to his own room, thinking that would help him sleep through the night, but he still wakes to nurse at night. Now we miss co-sleeping. It’s too bad that going into parenting we have such a skewed view of what it will entail. If we had more realistic expectations, it would be easier to accept the challenges of parenting.

    • November 13, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      My pleasure Heidi and sounds like we’re on a very similar path. I’ve been trying to get to bed earlier lately too and then I end up getting a second wind and stay up writing and then I’m so tired in the morning. This will pass hey and will seem like such a short snippet of time in hindsight although it doesn’t feel like that in the moment. You are so right about the skewed views – if we had more realistic expectations we wouldn’t be as disappointed or seeking solution to problems that aren’t actually abnormal. Totally agree and wishing you sweet dreams with your son! xx

  • November 10, 2016
    Emily

    Hey Tracy,

    I think what you’ve written about is awesome! I’d never even considered things like cosleeping with a baby, NOT letting it “cry it out,” etc. before I found your blog, and your writing opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities! I love the approach you take in raising your son–it just makes sense! Thanks for sharing what you believe in, and keep up the great work! I always enjoy reading your posts! 🙂

    • November 13, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Hi Emily,

      Thank you – so happy you enjoyed it. I never knew about any of these methods before I became a parent either – its amazing what a shift in perspective can do though. You’ll be an amazing mum one day! xx

  • November 11, 2016
    Jane

    Hi Tracy,

    First of all thank you for creating this platform. My wish is that it reaches far and wide.

    Now onto sleep… So true that there is pressure and judgement in western society about infant sleep or lack thereof. I am sorry to say that I briefly tried sleep training on my 3.5 month old baby. I fell into my own desperation as a new mother in a foreign country with no family or help around.

    We had coslept for about a month before and then there was a bout of crying and hysteria that I didn’t know how to deal with. So I tried sleep training. It was horrendous. I felt that I didn’t deserve the beautiful child I’d been given. It didn’t take long until I put the baby back in bed with me. I can only hope and pray that those days didn’t do permanent damage on her – I’m still getting over them.

    She still wakes in the night at 11 months old and every time she does so I nurse her back to sleep. There is no pacifier in the picture. She still nurses on demand and I often take her around town in her baby carrier. I hope to have erased from her psyche the terrible sleep training nights.

    At this point she and I have been sleeping in a separate room from my husband so as not to wake him in the night. I see though that there is no end in sight to the night wakings. So, I’m not sure how to deal with it for two reasons – 1, I suppose it would be good that husband and wife share a bed and 2, I’m a musician and as long as I’m the only one who can put her to sleep and nurse her back to sleep during night wakings, it means I can not play in the evenings. I really do need to get back to playing for many reasons, a big one being that it is one of the most important things in my life and it keeps me sane.

    Any thoughts on how to deal with this?

    • November 12, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Hi Jane,

      Thank you so much for your kind words and I’m happy you enjoyed the post!

      So much pressure – I agree! And I live in a foreign country too with no family support so can totally relate. I always try to find a silver lining though and the one benefit I can now appreciate is the freedom we’ve had from close family and friends seeing what we do every day, so we’ve avoided a lot of judgment and been able to go our own way with less resistance. Hope that helps!

      I am hearing you on the sleep and I’m still in the same boat. I am so sure you will have erased any issues from the sleep training. I listened to an excellent interview with Dr Nils Bergman who studies infant neuroscience and he reassured parents that babies’ brains are very plastic and if there are any issues then to double the love, triple the hugs and you’ll get back any connection that may have been momentarily compromised. With all the co sleeping, skin to skin contact and breastfeeding you’re doing it sounds like you’ve more than overcompensated! 🙂

      I’m not a professional – just another mum sharing my experiences. But a few things that have helped me. How big is your bed? We have a king and its definitely helped with my husband. It’s still not perfect though and we do miss just being us in bed, but we also love our son being in bed with us and know he does too – its a tug of war and nothing is perfect. She will start to sleep for longer stretches as she gets older – adult sleep cycles which are double the length of infant sleep cycles begin around age three – but I know that feels like a long way off!! I get my son to sleep and once he’s asleep now he stays asleep for (most nights) around 4-5 hours or maybe longer until he rouses. My husband started helping more with bed times, reading, telling stories and he can get my son to sleep if he needs to. Can your husband help get her to sleep? Or maybe one night he goes in when she rouses the first time trying to provide comfort without nursing to see if that helps?

      I’d highly recommend reading Elizabeth Pantley’s No Cry Sleep Solution which has some great gentle methods to help babies sleep with less help from parents. Also Sarah-Ockwell Smith’s Gentle Sleep Book and Pinky McKay’s Sleep Like a Baby. Sarah also offers consults so may be worth speaking with her – she’s lovely, based in the UK but does phone consults. Tracy of Evolutionary Parenting also offers consultations and advice.

      I hope those resources help in finding a solution. I understand how hard it is and how much we give up to give our babies what they need – which I appreciate is one reason sleep training is so popular. You are a wonderful mum and your daughter is so lucky to have such a responsive parent! This time will pass but looking after yourself and meeting your needs is so important too. I’d love it if you could let me know how you go. Feel free to email me at tracy@raisedgood.com or reply to this comment.

      Wishing you all the best!
      Tracy xx

  • November 16, 2016
    Anne Katz

    Such a thoughtful and sincere post. Thank you for sharing. I nursed my first daughter until she was 4. She slept in our bed until little sister was born 9 months ago. She transitioned easily to a sleeping bag on the floor of our room and then last month said to us “I’m going to sleep in my bed tonight”. She has slept every night in her bed since then! No tears, no fights, just sweet slumber. I feel like the time we spent together in bed made the transition so much easier. Friends who used sleep training methods still have troublesome nights.

  • November 17, 2016
    Ersi

    I truly believe the above. I am just confused with one thing: why is it that parents that did CIO are saying that not only their baby is STTN but he is happier and they feel more connected. If CIO is so harmful, why the babies are just fine and happy? And what are the long term consequences? I never met someone who is now a traumatized adult because their parents did CIO on him. Could you shed some light?

  • November 17, 2016
    Katharina

    Thank you for writing this! My daughter is a month off 3 and we still co sleep and bf (sometimes all night long ????). I’m often exhausted but I try to play it down because while my parenting style was somewhat accepted while she was a “baby” now that she is a pre-schooler she is deemed by many to be to “big” for this kind of behaviour. I’ve learned to downplay my tiredness and to stop hoping for empathy which is sad because I know my efforts will all be worth it because I am raising such a happy, confident and loving girl. I am in a very fortunate position in that we can manage without me working and I can’t help but wonder what the world would be like if all households received the support to dedicate more of their time and efforts to their children. I can’t help but think so many of societies problems could be diminished by a gentler and more involved style of parenting…

    Thank you again for this article, knowing I’m not alone gives me the strength to face another night!

    • November 18, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      My pleasure Katharina and so happy it resonated with you. Sounds like we’re in the same boat! Some nights my son doesn’t nurse much at all – once in the early hours of the morning. And other nights he still nurses 3-4 times a night. It’s hard but I’m so happy to be able to give him what he needs and I love snuggling with him in the dark while the rest of the world is sleeping. I’m lucky too – I do work but I work from home so have some flexibility with my schedule. And then the blog is on top of that – I hope to cut back my day job at some stage. You’re so right that the problem is how society is set up not any actual issues with our kids and their needs. We’re thinking about downsizing and moving to a smaller town to simplify even more and have more time to just be. Life is so short. Thank you so much for your comment – it’s great to know I’m not alone too! Great to connect xx

  • November 19, 2016
    Kate

    Hi, I’m reading this as my 9 month old nurses back to sleep after breakfast. We co-founded sleep and although it’s not perfect it’s way better than the alternative. I love being able to be flexible enough to meet his needs and I know that I’m lucky to be able to financially as well as having as supportive husband who listen to my fears and discomfort about some sleep training methods. However, we are beginning to think about baby number two and I’m wondering how that will work! I think I might go insane if I was nursing two babies, but how does it work? Any thoughts?

  • November 19, 2016
    Shoshana

    I’m in the thick of this experience right now, and this post felt like a Red Cross station in the middle of a battle field.
    I recently decided not to share our parenting choices with people anymore because it’s a real buzz kill. And I’m tired of the unspoken, yet palpable criticism we face. I think it’s well intentioned, and people are concerned for us and want to fix it, but as you said in the beginning, you just want some support and empathy.
    I’ve got plenty of mommy guilt and I strike out plenty, but I have not regretted one red-eyed moment in the middle of the night.
    Our oldest son shares our bed, and for the moment I’m sleeping in a separate room with our three-month-old so they don’t wake each other up. Lately I’d been thinking maybe my friends were right, and maybe the studies were right – CIO isn’t harming the baby. It still didn’t sit well with me, but I started to second guess my intuition. Then I came across your post and found hope again. Thank you for sharing about that 2011 study. It confirms what I have been telling friends and family all along, but didn’t have anything to back me up.
    Do you have a link to the study?

    • November 20, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Hi Shoshana,

      Thank you and so happy the post helped you. It’s so hard navigating parenthood and being part of a minority in our choices makes it even more difficult. But so much fun and so worth it. I totally understand the criticism and even on this post I’ve received a lot of it. So great that you’re following your instincts – you’re a brave mama, keep going. The amazing thing about natural parenting is that I often find the evidence well after I’ve practiced something and my instincts have never been wrong. How can it be wrong to be kind to our kids? To give them what they need? It sure is HARD – no doubt about it but our babies need what they need. And as parents we need more support. Thanks again for reading and for your wonderful comment. The link to the study is in the post and I’ll copy it here too, its just the abstract. So great to connect and let me know if I can help at all. Tracy xx

  • November 20, 2016
    Rabz

    Hi Tracey
    Wow! Powerful, informative and life saving piece! Strolling through the internet deserately to find answers to improve my 13 month old boys sleep, as its literally killing me off and so glad to have found your blog. Currently going through rough time as a sleep deprived breastfeeding first time mum. I’m fed up with everyone telling me STOP breastfeeding or let him CRY it out. I will not do either. So I find myself alone in this journey. It can be and has been a very lonely and isolating experience to stand your ground. The pressure to comform is immense. The heart sinking feeling for making the mistake and opening up to friends/family about being sleep deprived is beyond words as all the advice rolls in and all they needed to offer was a hot cup of tea and if lucky just one meal to chew my food properly 🙂 . The guilt, the confusion, the chaos in the mind of self doubt ‘have I really got it all wrong’ but then a little desperate prayer is answered and I find your blog and a subject that couldn’t be more relevant to me now at this moment. So deepest gratitude to you that I can once again reassure myself and happily say “Yes I am sleep deprived and yes I will continue to breastfeed and NO i will not ‘sleep train'”
    Thank you

    Keep up the good work

    Rabz

    • November 21, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Hi Rabz,

      Thank you so much for reading and for your lovely and thoughtful comment. You’re not alone although it may feel that way at times – its so sad that just being kind to our kids can be controversial! You describe it so well. My absolute pleasure and so happy it helped. We’re all in this together – lovely to connect and please stop by again.

      Cheers
      Tracy xx

  • November 20, 2016
    AuJoz

    Hi Tracy,

    It’s 4 in the morning and I just fed my baby girl. She is almost 6 months old and I am constantly being told to stop being with her all the time, put her in bed and let her cry! Which I refuse to do! She is a very happy baby, almost never cries. But she wakes up to feed a couple of times at night, so obviously there must be something wrong with what I am doing (in other people’s view)! Thank you for your article and for reassuring me that I am not alone and there is nothing wrong with us 🙂

    • November 21, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Aw bless, Aurelie, I know the feeling. As hard as it is, isn’t it amazing sometimes being awake at that time when it’s quiet and dark. You may like a piece I wrote about a year ago about the experience and trying to find gratitude – In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning. Anyway, I digress, so happy this helped you and to know you’re not alone. There are so many of us doing the same thing but sadly a lot of it is underground because of the very criticism you describe. Isn’t it so sad how skewed people’s vision is of what is “normal”. What you are doing and how often your baby is waking is so NORMAL. What’s not right is deciding how we’d like it to be and deciding that’s NORMAL – that’s not normal, that’s dreaming! Anyway, keep following your heart, it will never lead you astray xx

  • November 21, 2016
    Stephy

    Thank you soooo much! Reading this article has finally given me peace.

    • November 21, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      My pleasure Stephy and so happy it helped. We’re all in this together…no matter how tired we are 🙂 xx

  • November 22, 2016
    Lia

    Hi Tracy and thank you so much for this article, I can relate to every word in it. So happy that I came across your blog. I think that listening to our intuition is the best thing that we can do as parents, staying connected with the baby and being able to read his cues. Ultimately, if the baby is ready to sleep alone, he’ll let us know and i think that’s the moments when Gentle sleep training methods work best. For us it was at seven months, when he stopped sleeping well with us, wriggling around through the night and not getting enough sleep. We went from co-sleeping and breastfeeding 3-4 times at night to sleeping alone and through the night or feeding once using Fading method in 3 days. But again that was just a period, and after the next teeth started coming and the separation anxiety kicked in, he needed us again and moved back to co-sleep with us and still does at 18 month old, as I don’t see now that he is ready to sleep alone. Living in the UK where every second health-visitor advocates cry it out, I think we need more articles like this if real parents sharing their experiences and being brave enough to follow their own path. So thank you. Btw, laughed a lot when started reading your about page, as i was the same about co-sleeping before the baby was born.

  • December 08, 2016
    Marina

    I love your blog and this post is great! I live in Romania, a great country but a country where not even the “mechanics” of breasfeeding is correctly understood by health proffesionals. Everyone advocates CIO around me, many family and friends keep telling us to let our 3 month old baby CIO and keep him out of our bedroom otherwise we will divorce soon and other such advice. I just wanted to say that I am a first time mom to a wonderfull 3 month old baby, I have read a lot about CIO although I knew that I would never use those methods I read a lot about them so I can be 100% sure that I will never be vulnerable to applying them. I exclusively breasfeed my baby and have done so from the moment I gave birth and when I tell this to people I am considered weird by some, lucky by others ( I do not know of one person around me that didn’t supplement with formula as every single healthcare proffesional at maternities nationwide tells new moms they don’t have enough milk and should supplement).
    I am considered weird over here so I just stopped telling people about my parenting choices because they are really judgemental and I have even been told that spoiling my child like this (spoiling as I am meeting everyone of his needs always) and that this will permanently damage him in the long-run. The most challenging thing to do is to avoid close friends and family that are well intentioned but simply give really bad advice as they are ill-informed. I’ve cut them off everytime they tried to explain to me that I should change this and that so now they are constantly bombarding my husband with advice on parenting. At times they are making him question our choices which make me terribly angry and sometimes my husband and I fight because he says I am too dismissive of any advice. We have recently cleared up this aspect as I explained to him that I constantly read to make sure I make informed decisions based on actual medical studies and facts and not old wives tales and that at times I am simply too tired to explain to him in detail what I am doing and why. He is really involved in raising our sweet baby but works way more than me so he skips the reading. He will stay up some nights and I would find him reading one of the parenting books which is just so sweet.
    I actually feel that having to defend my parenting choices of breasfeeding on demand and not applyind a sleep training method is more exhausting than the actually sleepless nights.
    My comment feels more like a rant and it probably is but it is just so liberating to find this kind of support, even if it is just online. I also wanted to let others that might be reading my comment know that some societies are far worst and much more judgemental but new mommies like me are not giving in to the pressure.
    P.s. some doctors here still tell new moms that they should’t breastfeed past 6 months because their milk has no nutritional properties past that age and that it is causing harmful attachment and preveting a baby from becoming independent. So you can imagine the pressure that moms who chose to breasfeed toddlers go through here 🙂

  • December 08, 2016
    Ellen

    Thank you so much for your post and the work you’re putting in to advocate against unresponsive sleep training. It’s especially heartening to read comments from mothers who are finding guidance and support when they most need it because, to me, that is THE most important thing about this post — the discussion that our society does not properly support mothers. It operates as a rat race where babies and children, and very often the mothers who tend to them, are nothing but burdens and problems to be fixed by minimizing or outright ignoring them. Many mothers would dismiss this as not applying to their particular situation, but it’s the unavoidable truth of our modern world. I read E. Pantley’s book but do still kind of wish the post didn’t have any references to even “gentle” sleep books because that still suggests someone else knows better than maternal instincts. I understand there can be some nuggets of wisdom and scientific study sprinkled throughout the books that might speak to some parents, but I think there should be emphasis that at no point should a book’s content override the maternal instinct. I was 100% committed to breastfeeding but desperately struggling and turned to exclusive pumping for over 6 months – with a baby who only “cat napped” (a term I loathe
    for it’s triviality) and who had a voracious appetite. This is a nearly impossible equation. I would literally race the clock, trying to pump enough in the 22 minutes my daughter would sleep to keep her from screaming in hunger, not only because that killed me but because it also meant her tiny body would burn off everything I was trying to feed her. At night, even if she slept a good chunk of hours, I had to pump every three hours to keep my supply. And pumping every three hours means setting up, pumping, cleaning and storing the milk so the actual sleep time between ends up much less. And then the baby would wake for a feeding in my short time to sleep. So I’ve experienced the devastating reality that sleep deprivation + lack of support and empathy = erosion of maternal instincts that crumble under the pressure of bad advice from the mainstream. I have tried to imagine a movement of support for families where women can be physically present for mothers in their most acute state of fatigue and vulnerability, simply to hold space and BE there for her when she needs to show how crushed she feels. I did have a friend who I called a few times in the middle of the night – once when I spilled pumped milk – but I didn’t have anyone who really knew what I was going through or how much I needed to hear and be shown with physical acts of support that mainstream or conventional or common should all be thrown out the window and that my only job was to do for my baby whatever my instincts told me was normal for us. I pray and hope with all my heart for the gentle kind treatment of mothers so that they have the same to pass on to the children – the innocent humans – we birth into this world. Thank you so much for providing this forum.

    • December 14, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful and honest comment Ellen! It’s my pleasure and I am nothing if not passionate about advocating for the mental and emotional well-being of babies and children. You are so right – I think one of the biggest issues is that child rearing methods have become a side effect of a failing society, a society that is coming to value the wrong things. I understand what you mean about references to books – I wanted to offer something to patens who are struggling but I agree that innate wisdom is all we really need, most of the time. I was relatively lucky with my baby, although having said that, if he didn’t sleep with me and if I was unresponsive I’m sure he would have cried and cried – just the thought of it makes my heart heavy!

      What you went through and did for your baby – you are a supermom!! I am sure that the connection we form through responsive parenting is what gives us that power to dig deeper and do things that any onlooker would label us as crazy for doing. I am hoping to create some sort of community of online support in 2017 so that parents who follow their instincts don’t feel so alone and pressured to succumb to the mainstream. We may be a minority but we’re impassioned and brave! Thanks again and stay in touch, xx

  • March 23, 2017
    Claire

    Yes!! Thank you so much for this article, and your wonderful website. It’s so nice to hear the same things that go around my head being written down by others who feel the same!
    I still come under pressure for not sleep training my 18 month old who ‘still’ often wakes several times a night. I also don’t feel justified in some parenting groups to say how tired I am, as if I’m being a martyr and bringing it on myself by refusing to resort to harsh methods. I honestly don’t even think my daughter would respond to sleep training – and I love that about her!

    I’m so strong in my conviction not to sleep train but instead to see my daughter’s sleep patterns as normal but it’s hard to retain that strength sometimes, especially after a rough night!
    My husband was sleep trained as a baby (pretty much left to cry from day 1!!) and I was not (I co slept and breastfed) and while there is no scientific study to prove this, we both feel that it definitely had an impact on the way we see the world and how our self esteem has been affected. So we are on the same page with our own daughter. But we are definitely in the minority amongst parenting friends.

    What I fear is what my daughters future circle of friends will be like, if the majority of them have been through harsh parenting and sleep training methods – I can already see their emotional wellbeing affecting their behaviour. But all we can do is what’s best for our own children I guess.

    keep up the great work and bring on the coffee!!!!

  • May 20, 2017
    Ursula

    I came across your website Tracy already a while ago and it resonated with me strongly. Sadly I stopped reading your posts and didn’t make it to this one – had I read it, I wouldn’t feel guilty now. My beautiful daughter hardly naps during the day. We co-sleep so I wake up at least twice at night, which isn’t bad I’d say. She’s now close to 4 months but when she was 3 mo I was so tired and trying to get on top of my own health (Hashimoto’s) that when I found on my shelf, among other parenting books borrowed from a friend, the Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg, I thought that was the right way to go. I thought that was THE normal way. And we tried the solutions described there, with me crying my eyes out not less than my baby girl. I gave up. And I’m so glad I did. And so sick knowing that I let my baby cry. The contradicting information, the overwhelming amount of information that new parents have no time to read, the lack of daily interactions with same-minded mamas, the comparing myself with other mamas… I hope I’ve learnt my lesson and I’ll now trust my gut feeling and stop following all possible advice around me. I know better than that. Or I hope so.
    Do you think that my attempt (over the course of 1 – 1.5 weeks on and off) with the Tracy Hogg’s solution has had lasting impact on my little one? She never stoped crying when we tried putting her down when awake, she didn’t give in, she didn’t let herself be sleep trained. I should have known better 🙁

  • May 21, 2017
    Stephanie

    Thank you! Oh does this speak to my heart. When my baby was in the hospital she choked on fluid they hadn’t completely cleared from her nose and mouth (hours after birth). I didn’t have a sleep “plan” but after that my baby was in the bed with me, where I could reach her. My daughter will be 3.5 next month, and we still co-sleep and nurse. I haven’t slept through the night since she was born! And guess what – that’s ok! 🙂 I will say our journey hasn’t been easy. For about 3 years she’s be up for hours in the middle of the night three/four times a week, or nursing every 30-45 minutes. We did find magnesium lotion helped with that. She needed more sleep! As her personality continues to develop, we’ve learned she’s a very anxious child, and I think she needs the stability and comfort of knowing she’s safely with me all night long.

    My only wish is that I had a dollar every time someone has told me to let her cry in the last 3 years. We could have funded 4 years of college! Thank you for being a voice of conviction that there is another way – a kind and gentle way to parent. Do you feel like your philosophy also follows a majority of repspectful parenting philosophies?

  • January 23, 2018
    Karina

    Thank you for writing this.
    Popped up in my Facebook feed, and was EXACTLY what I needed to read. After a more than usual sleep deprived week, I was feeling at my wits end about taking this approach. But thank you thank you thank you.

  • January 23, 2018
    Kate

    Thank you for writing this.
    I have three children- the youngest is 16 months. I never “trained” any of them to sleep. I adamantly do not believe in cry it out. When I say that I often get the response of “well, your kids must have been good sleepers. It would be different if your kids did this or that”
    No. My kids have normal sleep cycles. Sometimes they sleep like tops and sometimes I’m watching my 2 year old color at midnight. Sometimes my 5 year old goes into his room and is asleep before I can get into him, and sometimes I rub his back for an hour while he sleepily tells me all about his thoughts. My last two babies are only a year apart, so on any given night I might be up with one or two nurslings who need mommy. I go every single time. I do not resent it. They have a right to be human.

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