Is Self Soothing the Biggest Con of New Parenthood?

Night

They say if you tell a big enough lie and repeat it frequently enough, it will be believed. It will become a cultural truth, even if it has no factual origins.

They also say that fear can convince a person, or a society, to do just about anything; no matter how unpleasant the act may seem at first. If enough people are doing it, others will follow.  If enough people believe it, it won’t be questioned.

Terms like “it’s for his own good” are often borne out of our primal need to rationalize and justify choices that abrade our instincts. To help us justify decisions that deep down, we know just don’t feel right.

Of course, with anything in life there are extremes; encouraging our children to brush their teeth or eat their greens is unquestionably looking out for “their own good”. But, other practices like discounting their basic emotional needs; not so much.

I have no doubt that this post will find me in hot water; people have a habit of shooting messengers especially when an inconvenient truth is being delivered.

And that’s ok, because I’m not writing to be popular. Rather, I’m using the written word to advocate for the needs of those who can’t speak for themselves. To shine a light on the truth. And, as uncomfortable as it may be, to throw unquestioned mistruths into the arena and start a conversation.

Because the further I venture into my parenting journey, the more I feel many detached mainstream parenting practices can be traced back to the mistruths we’re told when our children are young.

And if we can be convinced to disengage with our babies, where does it end? Unknowingly, we allow cultural beliefs to set the stage for a lifetime of disconnection.

From cry it out to time out, it begs the question; how are we convinced to crush our compassion in the first place? What rewards could possibly justify being non-responsive to our children’s needs?

When it comes to infant sleep the prize we’re promised is self soothing. The theory is that by ignoring a baby’s needs we’re actually teaching them a valuable lesson; how to soothe themselves so that, as parents, we won’t need to continue doing it for them.

Strengthening this theory is the ultimate motivator: fear. Parents are scared into believing that if they refuse to teach their baby how to self soothe, they’re failing to teach a very necessary life skill.

Thankfully, self soothing is an illusion. And when we shatter an illusion, it has no power over us; our love can’t be leveraged and our sleep-deprived desperation can’t be taken advantage of. We’re immune to being duped into believing that we need to carry out harsh parenting practices in an attempt to achieve something that doesn’t even exist.

It’s critical to expose and debunk these myths before they embed themselves in our subconscious; creating unrealistic expectations, fueling unnecessary frustration and driving a wedge between us and those we love most.

Because, no matter what some may say, parenting matters.

Our choices can have powerful consequences, serving to either strengthen or weaken our mutual connection. To build or erode trust and to grow or diminish our confidence as new parents.

In a modern world that places such a high value on the species-inappropriate expectation of solitary sleep we need to feel emboldened to ask tough questions, to scratch beneath the surface and seek the truth. So, why is self soothing the biggest con of new parenthood?

Because self soothing is a physical impossibility for babies and young children. The skill of self soothing is referring to the ability to regulate one’s own emotions; a developmental milestone that can’t be rushed. The last part of the brain to mature is the neocortex; it is the rational or analytical part of our brain that enables us to assess a situation and mediate our response.

In infants and young children, the neocortex is extremely undeveloped, quite literally making it a physical impossibility to rationalize and deal with strong emotions and unmet needs. This is why young children rely on us, their parents, to externally regulate their emotions for them until they are capable of doing it for themselves.

Because it fuels the practice of non-responsive sleep training. For me, self-soothing and non-responsive sleep training are like the chicken and egg theory. Which came first? I don’t know. But, what I do know is that two lies are stronger than one. What these myths rely on are massive assumptions, the desperation of sleep-deprived parents and the failure to fully examine what is really happening.

What parents observe is that their baby eventually stops crying after practicing one of a variety of techniques that involves leaving their baby to cry without comfort. But just because parents don’t hear their baby crying doesn’t mean they’re sleeping through the night and it doesn’t mean they’ve miraculously learned to self soothe. It means they’re silent through the night. Babies continue to lightly or fully wake as often as biology dictates, but they’ve learnt if they cry nothing happens so they stay silent.

Because it teaches babies to freeze. When babies are silent, it doesn’t necessarily means they’re calm and peaceful. Because, when babies are left alone, with physical or emotional needs they can’t meet, it is a stressful experience for them. Their blood cortisol levels rise and their fight, flight or freeze response kicks in. The only choice babies have is to freeze or develop a behaviour called ‘learned helplessness” or as Dr. Sears describes it ‘shutdown syndrome’.

Because it has a material effect on brain development. During the first three years of life, a baby’s brain grows from a mere 25% to 80% of their ultimate adult size. This period of rapid brain development is critical to long term mental and emotional health. Early childhood experiences literally fire and wire the brain our children will have for the rest of their lives.

Two regions of the brain, the amygdala and hippocampus, are especially susceptible. The hippocampus is key to memory and stress modulation as well as behavioural regulation, while the amygdala helps process emotions.

A longitudinal study in 2012, involving neuroimaging of healthy and depressed preschool children, showed that the more nurturing mothers were towards their children, the greater their hippocampal volume became. The positive effect of maternal support was greater in healthy children and a similar response has been shown for the amygdala. These findings provide prospective evidence of the beneficial effect of early supportive parenting experiences on healthy brain development.

Because it trains children to believe that their needs don’t matter. When we ignore a baby’s communication, they learn that their needs don’t matter. Babies who learn this lesson early in life are predisposed to experiencing insecure attachment, which can lead to a myriad of negative mental and emotional outcomes.

If we teach our children that, as parents, we’re unreliable in responding to their communication when they’re young, how likely are they to feel comfortable confiding in us when they’re being bullied at school? Or will they freely choose to come to us when they’re teenagers and feeling peer pressure to make choices that don’t feel right for them?

Because babies believe they, themselves, are the source of their experience. Young children believe they, themselves, are the source of their own experience. 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. Babies can’t understand that we’re intentionally choosing not to respond to cries because an author recommended to leave them to cry for X number of minutes, so that they can learn to self soothe. From a baby’s perspective all they know is that they’re communicating a need and nobody is coming.

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.

Because it sabotages the REAL path to teaching children how to self-soothe. Our children learn how to effectively regulate their own emotions through observation; by observing us modelling healthy emotional regulation. Nurturing close, connected and respectful relationships with our children when they’re young offers the greatest assurance that they will not only be able to self soothe when they’re neurologically able, but that they will develop empathy and healthy pro-social behaviour.

‘Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.’ Marie Curie

While it may be possible to train babies and young children not to cry out when they need help, it is important to acknowledge it is not the same as self soothing. A child who is left to navigate emotions or situations they’re incapable of coping with is not happy, calm and stress-free.

The path to a happy, calm and stress-free baby is to be responsive to their needs. To pick them up. To hug them silly. To hold them, even if we can’t stop their cries. To reassure them through our actions that our love is unconditional and we will have their backs no matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable it may be at times.

Now is the time to trust our babies. To have faith that when they are developmentally ready, they will spread their wings and fly. And one day, in the not too distant future, they won’t need us any more. And we will look back and feel gratitude for the moments, that despite our sleep deprivation, we held our babies, drank in their sweet innocence and sang to them in the black silent stillness while nobody was watching.

COMMENTS
  • Avatar
    June 05, 2017

    This is so so great!! I’ve dealt with my fair share of push-back for choosing to comfort my children instead of letting them cry, sleeping or not, and it’s high time someone spoke out about it. Love this!!

    • Avatar
      November 07, 2017
      Kayla

      Same here. What a lovely article. Through my experience I’ve learned that following my mother inticts and heart has by far been comfortable for my baby and I.

    • Avatar
      February 03, 2018
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you so much Annelise and so happy to do it. It gets pushback but that’s based on cultural values, not biological needs of children. Keep following and trusting your instincts xx

      • Avatar
        August 17, 2019
        Naomi

        Hello, I don’t like cio method and my sister with 3 kids, my mom, dad and husband all tell me to let her cry. I hated the sound before. However, my baby has only slept through the night 3 or 4 times and she’s almost 1 year. Those times that she has slept is because I left her rock cry about 30 minutes to an hour, coming in every 5 minutes to comfort. I am completely exhausted when she is in our bed all night and she wakes up constantly and is miserable all day. I have tried gentle approaches but it hasn’t stuck and my husband is usually working during her bedtime. She is on a very consistent schedule. What do you suggest?

  • Avatar
    June 05, 2017

    Thank you so much for writing this! I am in the business of Mothers and babies and I deal with this issue constantly yet I do not waiver from my belief that it’s about self-regulation through attentive parenting Self-soothing is destructive as the babies simply shut down. Everything you said is right on- we need to keep speaking for the babies who are just innocent victims of a controlling/perfectionous culture. Which has resulted in a society of detached human beings – attached to things and not people.

    • Avatar
      June 06, 2017
      Rebecca

      “Which has resulted in a society of detached human beings – attached to things and not people.”

      Well said. We’re too busy keeping up with the Joneses and have lost sight of our core values.

      • Avatar
        February 03, 2018
        Tracy Gillett

        Absolutely Rebecca – couldn’t agree more xx

    • Avatar
      February 03, 2018
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you so much for your comment Maria and couldn’t agree more. It is so important that we keep speaking up for a new normal to be recognized and to support the parents who so gently meet the needs of their babies day and night no matter how exhausting it may be – and when we do society can rise to the challenge as well and support sleep-deprived parents.

    • Avatar
      May 15, 2019
      Stacy

      That is absolute nonsense as is the article and all it does is make Mothers feel bad, we should be helping and supporting each other not writing sad, hateful articles like this.
      More sleep makes us better mothers and our babies happier because they are sleeping more and being cared for by a happier mother. Simple.
      I tried CIO with my first and it worked after 2 nights. I tried a gentler method with my second and it took 33 days and nights, this amounted to far more crying and stress for everyone. I MUCH preferred CIO method.

      • Avatar
        May 15, 2019
        Tracy Gillett

        Hi Stacy,

        The article is not nonsense – it’s actually complete common sense. CIO is nothing more than ignoring a baby. That’s good for you that you got more sleep but what your baby has learned is that you’re not coming, not how to sleep. Babies already know how to sleep – the problem is that our society wants babies to sleep like adults and not like babies. Actigraphy (an objective measure) shows that babies who are sleep trained continue to wake just as often as they did before, but they’re silent. The parents report that they’re babies wake less (a subjective report) because they don’t hear any crying. If the sleep training industry was honest in their marketing and instead of trying to give sleep training methods names like spaced soothing or CIO or controlled crying and instead just called it what it is “ignore your baby until he gives up” I am certain far fewer parents would do it. This site is all about normalising normal infant and child behaviour – not bending and manipulating it to be what we want. There is nothing hateful about advocating for what children need. There is something distirbing though about a culture of adults – who are the ones who decided to have the children in the first place – ignoring the needs of children because they’re inconvenient.

  • Avatar
    June 05, 2017
    Leah Marie

    Great article! My baby has significantly regressed in night sleeping and with the lack of sleep I caught a nasty cold. Which, as any breastfeeding mom can attest to is not fun! I’ve been wrestling with what to do, maybe I’m doing something wrong. Maybe I have created this by nursing my baby to sleep. But then I realized that nursing your baby to sleep is nature’s way; in fact there is something in breastmilk that makes baby sleepy!! Why would I fight against nature and let her cry it out?! Reading your article solidified my position on this. Does it suck being up 5 times in the night, yes, but it won’t be like this forever and clearly whatever is going on she needs comfort rather to cry it out and be left to emotionally shut down.

    • Avatar
      June 06, 2017
      Rebecca

      I feel your pain! We dealt with a rough 4 and 8 month sleep regression. I tried so many methods to encourage “self-soothing” (but fortunately never used full CIO) and nothing worked. Glad I gave it up and realized that my boy needs me, and that’s okay. I hate that in my sleep deprived state I ever thought otherwise. It was against nature.

      • Avatar
        February 03, 2018
        Tracy Gillett

        Thank you so much for sharing Rebecca – good on you for following your instincts, it isn’t easy when there is so much messaging to do the opposite.

    • Avatar
      February 03, 2018
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience Leah – so encouraging! And so true, this time passes by so fast and the degree to which our babies need us reduces so quickly. With a now four year old, I miss the middle of the night time wakeful moments where it was just me and him. You might like another post I wrote too – How Gratitude Reframes Night Time Parenting. Thank you again for sharing and hope you feel better soon! xx

  • Avatar
    June 05, 2017
    Charlie

    If self soothing causes children to withdraw into their own world. A child that doesn’t cry to meet its needs is a child that no longer trusts the world. I have met mothers who take in foster care kids. The neglected babies never cry. It’s a break through when they do.

    • Avatar
      February 03, 2018
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you so much for sharing Charlie. Heartbreaking to read but if we can break the cycle what an empathetic world this could be.

  • Avatar
    June 05, 2017
    Jo

    Thank you for this article!! Being a new mom is one that is rewarding and, at the same time, stressful and confusing. I’ve been told by so many people that I need to “let my baby cry it out, it’s good for her, self soothing is important otherwise you won’t be able to do anything else because she will want to be held all the time”. I’m not going to lie, I’ve tried it and it broke my heart to hear my baby crying and my baby CRIES! To the point that it doesn’t​ take very long for her to get really upset. After trying the self soothing method, I thought it to be mean and ridiculous! What you’ve stated in your article is true, how can they learn if we don’t show them? I would rather have my baby grow to trust and know that I’ll always be here for her. After trying I’ve decided to stay away from the self soothing method because it also made me feel so guilty. I’ve waited for long time for my daughter, even told I wouldn’t be able to have children and here she is…my miracle. Why should I follow what others are saying and allow my baby to be upset for something that I can help her with? Its true when people say they grow so fast and I don’t want to miss out on any opportunities that allow me to hold, nurture and love my baby. So thank you for your article, it makes me feel confident in my abilities as a new mom.

    • Avatar
      February 03, 2018
      Tracy Gillett

      Aw, thank you so much Jo – it was so reassuring to read you story and I really appreciate your honesty. It is so hard to trust and follow your instincts and be gentle when so many people tell you to do otherwise. I’m so happy this post was helpful to you as this is the whole reason I write. Congrats on your miracle baby, I have one too – took us three years to conceive too. Enjoy those sleepy snuggles xx

  • Avatar
    June 05, 2017

    Thank you for this very important message. Thanks for being brave and standing up for those who couldn’t speak for themselves. I started to buy into the sleep training “idea” early on and then later abandoned it. Four kids later, I’m so glad I did. Now? I just regretted the days and weeks that we got conned into this entire false belief of sleep training in the beginning. Thanks for taking time to write this.

    • Avatar
      February 03, 2018
      Tracy Gillett

      Oh my pleasure Lilly and thank you so much for your comment and insight. This is the whole reason I write – to try to provide a counterbalance to the popular ideas that are spread about sleep training. Thank you again xx

  • Avatar
    June 06, 2017
    Angela

    Love that this is being spoken. I dealt with infertility and finally got one baby boy after three miscarriages. I, too, started to believe the self-soothing baloney, but my husband said that was ridiculous and he didn’t want our son to make himself sick crying. I then realized how bad it made me feel to let him cry, the few times I did try to let him cry it out. We both did our best to respond to him with lots of attention and love, and I held him as often as possible when I didn’t have to be doing something else, and carried him in a carrier when I needed my hands free. He was NOT a good sleeper either, due to some health problems, so we were up a LOT! But he’s almost 4 now and is a happy, compassionate, secure and generous child, and does sleep all night finally! He notices when others are hurt or need help and offers hugs, pats or toys to help others feel better. It’s so precious to see how caring he is and I’m sure that comes from his own feeling of safety and security. He knows that his needs are important and will be attended, so he can offer solace to others. What a relief as a parent to know that my gut instincts were right on, so I keep following them!

  • Avatar
    June 06, 2017
    Rebecca

    Thank you so much for this. As a new mom, I kept receiving so much (unwanted) advice about my baby who wasn’t sleeping well. I read so much from the so-called sleep training experts and even tried letting him fuss a few times. All of these “methods” and schedules and formulas to follow. I regret ever doing it and wish I could take those nights back. I feel like a whole society of moms are getting duped by this sleep-training culture and doing our babies a disservice. Breaks my heart to think of the effects it has on them long-term. I’ve been there, and I know how tired and desperate you feel after the 6th time getting up at night with a baby who won’t settle. Those times are so rough. But they won’t last forever, and it doesn’t mean something is wrong with your baby. It means your baby is doing exactly what he’s supposed to, which is expressing his needs.

    This article reinforced everything that already feels so instinctual, and I love that it’s backed by science and research and so full of common sense. Thanks again.

  • Avatar
    June 06, 2017

    YES!

    • Avatar
      February 03, 2018
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you Shawn!

  • Avatar
    June 06, 2017
    Frankie

    I LOVE the idea of this principle but in the practice of it I struggle. My boy has never been one to appreciate physical affection, in fact he pushes away from it. In distress he has always pushed away from us rather than seek our comfort. This has always been a struggle for me, I want so badly to comfort him, but he seems to want to manage things on his own. At 4mths old we realized he feel asleep faster and calmer in his bassinet alone than sleeping next to us in bed and then later calmer if we left the room than if we settled down with him. I was so not what I was expecting from all the attachment parenting style resources I had read. So when I read “The path to a happy, calm and stress-free baby is to be responsive to their needs. To pick them up. To hug them silly. To hold them, even if we can’t stop their cries” I wonder how that could apply to my boy, now almost a toddler, who screams louder and pushes away if I try to hug and comfort him when he’s mad or distressed. He’s affections are more attention based. He likes words more than hugs and eye contact more than sitting on my lap so I guess that’s what I focus on for now? Oh and he loves it when I sing to him, maybe that would help.

    • Avatar
      June 08, 2017
      Charlie

      This is so good to hear! My son was exactly the same from the moment he was born and has always been big and strong enough to struggle and kick away from my comforting cuddles, no matter how hard I’ve tried to hold him and soothe him even if he doesn’t stop crying. I read articles like this and worry that I’ve scarred him for life by doing things the way we have done, but then we think back to how he is and always has been and realise that we couldn’t have done it any other way. He still has a very sensitive side and sometimes gives hugs and kisses, but he just doesn’t like to cuddle. And now he has a little sister, who is the cuddliest thing in the world 🙂

    • Avatar
      June 15, 2017
      Jennifer

      My oldest son also always seemed to push me away when I was trying to give him comfort. Then one time, when he was about 6 and definitely old enough to get it, he had been hurt and was crying uncontrollably and fighting me as I tried to comfort him. I stopped and asked him if he wanted me to soothe him and hug him and help him feel better. He said yes. I explained that if he wanted that, he couldn’t push against me and had to sit still and let me hold him. And he did. I do not understand why he was unable to come to that conclusion on his own, but once I taught him how to let me comfort him, it was no longer a problem. I even wondered if he might be autistic or something – but he’s not. He’s 13, healthy, happy, well-adjusted, mature, doing great! He just sometimes has to be told things that you would think come naturally, and for some reason don’t.

    • Avatar
      November 24, 2017
      Miriam

      As an educational councelor in daycare centers in Israel I am well aquainted with what you describe. These are children born highly sensetive to touch. One proffesional tried to describe it to me” if I would take off the skin of your hand and would touch your bare hand..could you imagine your pain?”
      These are sensory processing disorders(SPD) and you need an expert in the field to help you.
      There are many great books that give insight
      ” sensational kids” by Dr.Lucy Jane Miller director of STAR Research center. One of the greatest places in the US.
      It is so important to get help because you need to know your child loves you, but can not bear to be touched.
      All the best!

  • Avatar
    June 06, 2017
    Regina

    Totally agree. I struggled with this as I parented #1 more mainstream and #2 like this. Good comment.

    • Avatar
      February 03, 2018
      Tracy Gillett

      Thanks so much Regina!

  • Avatar
    June 06, 2017
    Abby

    Yeah no I can’t say I agree with this. I feel bad for all the first time mom’s who are sleep deprived dealing with PPD who read this.

    • Avatar
      June 07, 2017

      Well… the reason so many mothers suffer from PPD, is the total lack of help and support in our society.
      The fact that you’re tricked into letting the bond between you and your baby snap by CIO and time outs, etc.

      Moms who are sleep deprived dealing with PPD (like I was the first 10 months of #2) should get a lot of love, power, support and hugs. Someone who takes over during the day for a nap. A husband who jumps in at night with a bottle (pumped) milk. A grandmother who brings some food or a neighbor who does some laundry.

      It’s strange how many solutions are concentrated on fixing a (non-existing) problem with the baby instead of helping out a young mother.

      Letting your child CIO doesn’t fix PPD. Not. at. all.

      • Avatar
        January 14, 2018
        Monira

        Amen!

      • Avatar
        September 11, 2018
        Marcy

        I don’t think postpartum depression is necessarily a lack of support but a lack of support worsens the issue. If a mother with postpartum depression had people like the aforementioned examples actually helping her with these things and getting the psychological help I could see it helping. I had a bout of it after my little guy was born but that’s because I recently moved to a new place when I was pregnant that was 2 hours away from any relatives that could help. I felt so incredibly alone and depressed and like such a failure. I’d cry trying to sing you are my sunshine to my baby. I feel like if I had had the network of family and friends near me it would have been a lot easier. Though there a lot of severe cases, that I personally can’t I Say I was one of, that this kind of help might not have helped.

        In my opinion as a species we are not biologically evolved to have to raise children alone. Yet with modern day society especially in the western world it’s not unusual to see a family starting out with no help from family and friends, due to varied circumstances, and to have both parents working. I live in a nice gated neighborhood and when originally moved I. I was surprised to find that my next door neighbors live in the same house as the wife’s parents. They already had a little boy and the wife was two weeks farther a long with their baby then I was. The grandparents love being there for the couple, I know they’re from another country though not which so I’m assuming it’s culturally acceptable and oh how I envy them. I’d love to have such readily available family help!!!

      • Avatar
        September 20, 2018
        ALI

        Inherent in the ‘Sleep Training as a prevention for PND’ argument is the belief that a baby’s sleep pattern is a risk factor for PND. It’s not. ALL babies have times, long or short, where they wake often and need extra cuddles. But not ALL mums get PND. The difference is the support, and the mum’s personal risk factors and history. All mums/dads therefore need support in those tough times to get through them and stay well.

        The evidence shows that the risk factors for PND are:
        • low level of social supports including lack of support from her partner
        • Perfectionistic personality (eg. trying to force a baby to sleep like an adult – how STRESSFULL is that?!)
        • Pregnancy and delivery complications
        • Low socioeconomic status
        • Domestic violence
        • History of depression or anxiety disorders in the woman or her family
        • Stressful life events
        • Past history of abuse

        I personally experienced 3 months of hourly wakening with our son until we had help from the wonderful Grow Medical/Possums group in Brisbane who taught us to optimise our son’s feeding and circadian rhythm. There was NO need to let our baby cry himself to sleep to help him sleep better. There is no need to ignore a baby that is asking to have their emotional needs met in the name of protecting the mum.

        • Avatar
          June 09, 2019
          Elizabeth

          I’ve been looking into Possums! What did they teach you? And how long did it take for things to improve?

    • Avatar
      February 03, 2018
      Tracy Gillett

      As Sara mentioned below Abby, being responsive to our babies isn’t a cause of PPD.

  • Avatar
    June 08, 2017
    Their mom, Katylin

    Thank you!
    My boys make me a mom-sandwich nightly. They are 7 and 4, and to be frank, they MOM-Sooth. I am a better person for the quite time I lay near then, praying for them, planning for them, touching their face or feet.
    They will leave soon enough, this is what I will remember.

    • Avatar
      June 08, 2017
      Lyndsey

      lol I love that expression! Mom soothe!

    • Avatar
      February 03, 2018
      Tracy Gillett

      So beautiful Katylin – love it! Thank you so much for sharing xx

  • Avatar
    June 08, 2017
    Abby

    I see articles about how much grief people get for not sleep training, but when I get online, all I see is shaming mom’s who let their babies cry at all (“I would NEVER let my baby cry!! How could anyone so such a thing??”) I have to wonder about these people’s experiences. I would say I never would, but here I am stuck in a battle between responding immediately to every need or having my body give out from chronic lack of sleep. I work full time in a fast paced healthcare job,not my choice to work full time. There are no “naps. ” I have no support–I’m the only one whose ever got up with my baby. At 7 months, my child screams the moment I say him down during the evening and he wakes sometimes more than every hour at night. I sleep with him in my arms in a recliner many nights to survive. Every sleep trained baby I know is a thriving child who feels love and support from parents. Someone convince me it’s worth it to my child for me to keel over dead from exhaustion.

  • Avatar
    June 08, 2017
    Mia

    Great comment. As a new parent, it’s overwhelming how many articles tell me I am doing everything wrong. And it’s so hard to trust myself when I am so tired and almost overwhelmed by the new situation, too. I think we all (for the most part) do the best we can given the information we have, so even putting the information out there is so much help. It’s never too late to change your approach!

  • Avatar
    June 08, 2017
    Lyndsey

    Thank you so much!!! I was literally just wondering what I should do. My family believe I’m spoiling my son by not letting him cry it out. He’s 7 months now and I just can’t bare to do it! It feels so wrong!

    • Avatar
      February 03, 2018
      Tracy Gillett

      My pleasure Lyndsey – follow your instincts and trust your baby and you can’t go wrong xx

  • Avatar
    June 09, 2017
    Amanda

    I’m so happy I’m not alone on this. So much of what we’re taught feels like “because that’s the way it’s always been done”. I don’t know what works for anyone else, I know we are struggling to find the right sleep solution- but what I do know is leaving my son to “cry it out” just doesn’t work for me or him.

    • Avatar
      February 03, 2018
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you so much for sharing Amanda and couldn’t agree more.

  • Avatar
    June 11, 2017
    Rhiannon

    Love this article… It’s emotional and rational and perfectly reasoned.

    I have shared it to a citizen science group on Facebook full of parents who are trying to answer parenting questions with science. It’s something we all feel strongly about I think you’d be someone we’d be interested in speaking to.

    Would that be something you’re interested in?

  • Avatar
    June 17, 2017
    Deepti

    I love this post, all the more because I come from a culture (India) where it’s natural for us to attend to a baby’s needs instinctively. It’s also a given that our babies will be sleeping in our rooms, until they’re old enough to sleep independently. Most families, due to space shortage, may practice (although not consciously) co-sleep until kids are well into early teens. I guess we don’t have the luxury or culture of over thinking our parenting philosophies and just go with the flow. I’m afraid western society places too much importance and pressure on being “perfect” and “right”. No wonders parents are a confused lot!

  • Avatar
    June 26, 2017
    Jessica

    So, I’m positive that you won’t listen to me. But I have to say something.

    I was an attachment child and as an adult I struggle with severe attachment issues and a pre-occupied attachment style that I absolutely attribute to my parents’ subscription to attachment parenting.

    I understand the appeal behind it, and I certainly understand the overwhelming feelings that you have as a mother for your child that discourage you from allowing the child to learn to self-soothe. However, I wish my parents had been able to find the strength to seek out another path and the presence of mind to consider the real lessons they were teaching me about how relationships work, and to not worry about being self-reliant because the people close to me were there to bear the burden.

    Because I was always attached to my parents, as an adult I tend to seek out relationships that are codependent and all-consuming. I become severely attached to people and when things don’t work out, I lack the coping skills to handle the devastation. The person I’m with literally becomes my world, similar to how it was with my parents through attachment parenting, and it’s unhealthy. Damaging. It has cost me years of therapy and honestly it is still a daily struggle to form healthy attachments.

    Like I said, I don’t expect you or anyone sipping the attachment parent juice to listen. But I implore you to consider a compromise and think about what you are actually teaching your child about attachment.

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      February 03, 2018
      Kathy

      It doesn’t sound like you had a secure attachment with your parents. Whatever they were calling attachment parenting obviously wasn’t.. it might have been what they considered attachment parenting, but it sounds more preoccupied, dependent and stifling and like you ended up in an insecure-preoccupied relationship with them. Secure attachment allows for age appropriate independence and for the child to explore the world on their own. I’m glad you are getting help now.

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      December 23, 2018

      curious as to what you think attachment parenting is? just because you were always attached to your parents, doesnt mean you had a secure attachment.

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    September 09, 2017
    libbi

    Hello! I love this post and my heart stands behind this information fully in my parenting. Personally, that’s enough for me, but others want the science and facts. I was wondering if you have sources to share to backup the statements made in this post? I would LOVE to share them with others in my life. Thanks!

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    November 24, 2017
    Beth

    I also did a form of gentle sleep training with our toddler that started when she was 7 months old. We started by having her sleep in the crib across the room from us (as opposed to beside the bed). We did this for about 2 weeks. Then we moved her to her own room for at least a couple hours a night (by this time she wasn’t night feeding at all). She went to sleep nursing until about 8/9 months. Then we rocked her to sleep, and then moved to rocking her for a bit then laying her in the crib. Then at 10 ish months we moved to laying beside her crib and holding her hand while she fell asleep. We did this during both naps and at night. At about 13 months we started a bedtime routine of nursing, story, tuck in, and she would fall asleep.She self weaned at 14 months much to my disappointment so that removed the nursing from the routine. But we still do story, cuddles and tuck in and she goes to sleep.
    Of course when she wakes up during the night or she is sick, we still end up with a toddler in bed with us.

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    November 30, 2017
    Amy

    Please hear me 🙂

    I am not against the soothing methods you are describing. If it works for you, wonderful! However I am asking you to be gracious and understanding towards the moms who have found a different way to run their home that adds to their families health and happiness. Do not treat us like monsters.

    I let my 4 month old daughter cry when I know she needs sleep. There comes a point where she does not want Mom, she does not want milk, she wants sleep. I allow her to fall asleep alone in her crib. It doesn’t take long, and amazingly, nowadays she won’t cry at all. At night as her bedtime approaches, she gets unhappy in my arms. nothing will comfort her. I place her in her crib…the crying stops! A look of contentment fills her face and I leave her alone and she remains content, slowly drifting to sleep. Alone. This has become an incredible blessing to our family. She is not dependent on others to fall asleep. She has been trained to realize that she does not need rocking, she does not need soothing, she CAN be alone and fall asleep alone.

    It was not always like this, she used to cry before drifting to sleep. I was not training her to freeze, I was training her to be content alone. You know what this training has resulted in? She can be content as an individual and is not dependent on attention or being entertained. After her nap or in the morning, I find her awake in her crib, smiling to herself, studying her hands and feet. Learning about the world..alone.

    Now you may be thinking, you are depriving your daughter of socialization! Not so. We socialize nearly all day long. I am not neglecting her, just allowing her to be a content baby when Mom is not around. She knows that when she really needs me, I will always come.

    I am not saying that this method works for all babies, my daughter is a special individual and I had to discover her specific needs. There is no one-size-fits-all method for infant sleep. Ladies, do not feel guilty when you discover what works for you and your family.

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    February 01, 2018
    Jenny

    Everyone has the right to their own opinion and to chose the best parenting techniques that work for them. However I hate articles like this that shame mums who chose to teach their baby to self settle, or any other aspect of being a parent. “Parenting matters”… insinuating those who teach self soothing don’t think parenting matters!!? “Being non responsive to our children’s needs”, “crush our compassion”. “Erode trust”. “If they cry nothing happens so they stay silent”. Umm, no they don’t, they have a chat to their comforter or a giggle about sticking their foot out the cot and wiggling it around, then they go back to sleep (the joys of having a baby monitor!)
    To assume that a mum who has taught their baby to self sooth is less caring and less loving and gives less maternal support, and has a less healthy child to show for it, is disgraceful.
    “Self soothing is an illusion”. I’m sorry, but what a load of crap! We taught Henry to self soothe (perhaps a week of crying at bed time when he was 4 months old) and as a result he’s slept for 12 hours a night, every night, for the last 10 months.
    Why can’t bloggers embrace all options, ideas and methods, rather than shame those who do things differently to them ????????‍♀️

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      February 02, 2018
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you for your comment Jenny. I agree that everyone has a right to their own opinion but not their own facts. I have stated the facts in this article and I stand by every single one of them. My opinion falls in line with these facts as I accept them no matter how inconvenient they may be.

      You mention the idea of “embracing all options” – I often hear people saying this is a way to be able to do whatever they like and not be questioned. To do that is to ignore the rights of babies and children and assume adults can do whatever they like. It is linked to the subconscious notion that children are property which of course, they are not. Should adults be allowed to hit their children for example?

      If we don’t stand for something we fall for anything and I am an advocate for children and what they need. I cannot make anybody else feel shame – if a mother has done her research and truly believes that leaving her baby to cry is a good thing then nothing I say should be able to rattle her. However, if a mother has followed popular opinion and made choices because she followed the mainstream then finding out what she chose may have not been the best option then yes, she may wish she had made a different choices but there should be no shame. I have recently written about this in my post Kids Don’t Need Perfect Parents, They Need Real Parents. This is about questioning social values and culturally encouraged practices, not judging individual parents. All any of us can do is make the best decision we have with the information we have at the time so my role is to help make sure the best information is out there. Information backed by science, developmental psychology and evolutionary history.

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        February 03, 2018
        Tracy Gillett

        Thanks for your comment Claire but I support instinctive parenting and even if there was zero scientific evidence (which of course isn’t the case) I personally wouldn’t need “proof” that being empathetic and responsive to my child is a good idea. Requiring “proof” that it is ok to ignore one’s child is based cultural values not on meeting the biological needs of a chid. I wrote about this a while ago in my post Is Cry It Out The Tip of a Dangerous Parenting Iceberg? There are plenty of websites that support sleep training and I aim to provide a counterbalance for my tribe of parents who want to follow a gentle parenting path.

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          April 19, 2019
          Diane

          First child I was on my own by the time she was six months, so our living arrangements had us sleeping together. Second child I went back to work when he was six weeks so we followed the self soothing method. Last child six years later I was a single parent by the time she was six months, so she slept with me until she was seven years old. My son is very smart, always ahead in school, had friends who came to our house a lot. But very un personal. At thirty six has had two girlfriends. He is friendly but doesn’t know how to show feelings. Both daughters very personal, out going, loving mothers. Maybe a coincidence….. but I wouldn’t take the chance. Sleep deprived I never was having them by my side. 😀

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    February 02, 2018

    What a fantastic post. Parents need to be directed to articles like this, rather than the trash and lies that cry-it-out sleep “experts” publish and push out to millions of parents.
    I genuinely worry about the future health of society because of these damaging parenting practices.
    Thanks for sharing this post, it really is great. X

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      February 02, 2018
      Tracy Gillett

      My pleasure Alice and thank you for your kind and encouraging comment – they’re not always like that! xx

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    February 05, 2018
    Tsarine

    Interesting article…
    People have lost so much touch with their natural instincts that they need to be told what to do, and as you say it’s often so wrong…

    By the way, you say: “encouraging our children to brush their teeths (…) is unquestionably looking out for “their own good”.”

    Well not when tooth paste is full of fluoride which directly affects the pineal gland, which affects our very ability to be in touch with our natural instincts… a vicious circle!

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      February 05, 2018
      Tracy Gillett

      Agreed Tsarine and we don’t use fluoride! We use natural toothpaste for that very reason and when we go to the dentist we don’t have the fluoride painted on. Thanks for bringing it up!

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    September 07, 2018
    Cleo

    Thank you for talking about this! So many people thinks the opposite, that self soothing is the key, that babies need to learn “by themselves”, that if we are too available they will be dependant and will rely on us parents too much. This is just wrong. Babies need us and all our attention and help when they feel distressed. I tried sleep training when my son was refusing to sleep alone at 11 month old. That’s what other mums told me to do. I could not do it! I chose to follow my instinc and I pick him up as soon as he needs me. Leaving your kids cry is definitely not good for their mental health and the fact that people do this makes me angry. They don’t deserve this. They just came into our world, they need unconditional love and a lot of cuddles even in the middle of the night.

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    September 11, 2018
    Marcy

    Thank you so much for your article! I’ve had a lot of push back, sadly even from my husband, for raising my baby how I have. Whether it’s that we bedshare, how I think crying it out is barbaric, or my thoughts on “extended” breastfeeding. I try to look for information to help me feel like I’m not messing up and it can be difficult. I’m a new mom and everyone is telling me that my 10 month old should self settle or he’ll always need me. I’ve had more people then I’d like tell me to let him cry himself to sleep but I just can’t, so what if it takes me 30 min to sometimes an hour to put him to sleep. I’m a parenting I’m supposed to parent aren’t I? Yeah I get frustrated because I have a sink full of dishes but hey they can wait. I googled “10 month old won’t self settle” to find information on self settling and it took me three pages of scrolling through sleep sites to find an article, yours, that wasn’t tips on how to get baby to self settle.

    Sorry for the rant! But again thank you for your article!

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      September 11, 2019
      Gretchen

      I agree, and had the same push back. And same problem with finding articles, so I’m so glad to find this one and the responses like yours.

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    October 24, 2018
    Georgina

    I hate this article for one reason. I found it 3 years too late and now I have a sickening worry of how sleep training may have affected my 3 year old. On the other hand i know i have learnt a lot as a mother since, and I am absolutely loving the natural approach with my 11 week old which included the perfect home birth. I adore this site and just shared it with my mothers group xx

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    November 25, 2018
    Caitlin

    I appreciate your arguement and on many levels agree with you. I hated cry it out with my first daughter but we turned to it in desperation: we were not sleeping (me especially) and couldn’t function properly at work or at home as parents. It would be helpful if you could provide clearer guidance on what we should be doing instead. Thanks!

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    November 26, 2018
    Dace

    What a beautifu, fresh perspective on babies and sleep. I really enjoyed reading it and I agree 100% with everything you’ve said.
    Babies need connection and to feel safe to be able to sleep- it seems common sense to me!
    Thank you for your courage to speak up and expose all these myths surrounding self- soothing.
    I hope that more and more parents will start to wake up and see the truth.
    Much love,
    Dace

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    November 26, 2018

    This is a beautiful article – thank you! However, I would really encourage you to back up what you write with up to date evidence from studies in the fields of neuroscience, education and psychology. If this message is to appear credible to the mainstream, it absolutely must be presented from a scientific rational base rather than from an emotional place. Keep up the good work!

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    November 26, 2018
    Ashley

    I will be the first to say ‘to each there own’ when it comes to parenting. What works for me may not work for you. But to write an article basically telling other moms who sleep train that they are causing their children to basically become emotionless threats to society is both preposterous and utterly rude. My son was sleep trained and he is the sweetest most loving child. And yes he still cries during the day when he needs things and I am there to hug him and help him through his emotions. To say that sleep training took that away from him is utterly untrue. I am not saying your way is wrong….but just because you want to do things one way doesn’t make my way ‘sleep training’ wrong either. Be More compassionate and a little less judgmental.

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    November 26, 2018
    Zara

    I absolutely LOVE this! Thank you for writing this. I went through a consultation with a “sleep trainer” a few months ago but it just didn’t sit well with me and in the end I trusted my gut and did not go ahead with it. Many people have questioned this choice and now I have this to share with them. Thank you ????

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    November 27, 2018
    Tracy Gillett

    Thanks for your comment Maddie. If you could provide links to the studies you reference that would be great or feel free to forward them to me at tracy@raisedgood.com

    I am more than happy to have a constructive disagreement and debate on the topic but this is not scare a tactic. Scare tactics are most commonly used to maintain mainstream cultural ideals and have nothing to do with biological norms – “if you don’t sleep train your baby, they’ll never sleep’, “if you bed share your baby will never leave your bed”.

    Yes, PPD is a major issue and that is why I also have an article about that which you may like to read. Here is a link. It is from a mother who has experienced PPD herself and for whom sleep training was recommended but it made things worse. PPD is a complex issue and to suggest that ignoring babies and leaving them to cry is not a solution. What is a solution is providing mothers with real support – help with the baby, help with housework, help with cooking, someone to come and help her have a shower, a shoulder to cry on. Our village has been lost a long time ago and it is easier to use babies as a scapegoat.

    In addition, we now urge mothers to breastfeed their babies but at the same time, we say that babies must sleep alone. This in itself is a recipe for PPD. A mother needing to get up, out of bed, maybe 8+ times a night is what causes suicidal sleep deprivation. Mothers who bedshare and breastfeed have been shown to have lower risk for PPD and get more sleep. Check out Dr. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett’s research for more. Here are a couple of her papers:

    The effect of feeding method on sleep duration, maternal well-being, and postpartum depression

    Mother-infant sleep locations and nighttime feeding behaviors: U.S. data from the Mothers’ Sleep and Fatigue

    Having said all this, I am here to support mothers not convince them to do one thing or another. I would also add that I am not talking about crying for a minute while mum comes to respond, CIO, controlled crying or responsive​ settling are about intentionally ignoring a baby’s needs and communication sometimes for a couple of hours – that is not mild stress.

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    December 23, 2018

    thank you for the article. i feel that its a con and it teaches babies to feel insecure. each baby has it’s own temperament and what works for one might not work for another. i personally would not leave my own babies or any babies i take care of alone to cry. in the grand scheme of things they only have sleep issues for such a short time, so who is really the one with the issues? if you believe that you are teaching your baby something good and it’s been positive, fantastic.

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    January 18, 2019
    Lea

    Thank you so much for this beautiful article. After weeks of doubting my instincts as a parent and people telling me how to sleep train my little one ( who is only 3 months), your article reassured me that I have been doing the right thing all along by comforting him, rocking him, and holding him whenever he needed me. Quite frankly, I do not understand how any mother can leave their baby crying alone. That goes against nature. Thanks again for those true words!!!

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    January 27, 2019
    Ellie

    I reposted this excellent article yesterday in the hope that it would help to stem the constant tide of unsafe advice telling people to let their babies cry.
    I have already been sent a long rant by someone who has now unfriended me. I have also received thumbs up and agreement from other gentle mums. I stick by my beliefs: babies cannot self soothe and should not be left alone to cry if this can be avoided.

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    March 13, 2019
    Kate

    My now 8.5 year old son who sleeps beautifully 11 hours a night and relishes bedtime had to be cuddled to sleep and shared our bed more often than not through his early years. I always believe this to be instinctive behavior and so vital for his and my own development despite being constantly criticized and exhausted. He is now an emotionally mature, creative and highly intelligent little boy who can trust his own judgement and hold his own. Staying true to our human needs allows us all to flourish, parents and children.

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    March 18, 2019
    Janette Presnell

    Congratulations! You are SO correct. Loving connection with loads of cuddles instills self love and confidence later so true

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    May 06, 2019
    Sam

    My 3.5 month old baby has ‘self soothed’ or put himself back to sleep. And I think I taught him?
    I told my husband that I wanted the bed/crib to be a no cry zone, so he associates it with safety and calm. It’s a co sleeper, so we’ve more or less got into the pattern of bed routine then we put him in, I cuddle him in the crib and lay with him until he falls asleep. In the early days I would stroke his head and lightly push his eye lids down, then later I would lay with him and repeatedly slowing close my eyes and he would follow suit, followed by pretending snoring (heavy breathing) until I could could hear his heavy ‘asleep’ breathing.
    That’s normally now when I make my escape, after waiting 10 more mins.
    Now, we watch him on the monitor and I’ve seen him self settle by stroking him own face. It’s not perfect, I have to go up and give him an extra hug if he can’t do it.
    We’ve bed shared, co slept and he’s a star so far. Now isn’t this self soothing?

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    May 13, 2019
    Camilla

    I think the issue is that “self-soothing” is often discussed in connection to a baby being able to fall asleep by themselves. These are two entirely different things.

    My son cannot self-sooth at 12 weeks old, when he is upset he needs my reassurance and help, but he has no issues falling asleep on his own if his needs are met. Hence some people would say that he “self-sooths” to sleep since I can put him down while he is still more or less awake and he will fall asleep. The only reason that happens, however, is that I listen to him and help him solve any issues he has until the only one left is tiredness.

    I would be so happy if people stopped talking about “self-soothing” in connection to sleep. They are two very different things.

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    May 15, 2019
    Hanna

    Which is the better mother?
    One that gets a full night sleep or one that is too exhausted to spend quality time with her baby after being up 5 times a night instinctively feeding said baby to sleep.
    Hmmm.

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      May 15, 2019
      Tracy Gillett

      Absolutely! Breastsleeping (breastfeeding + bedsharing) mothers get the MOST sleep so I highly recommend it!

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    May 25, 2019
    Dave

    Self soothing is what adults have to do because there parents didn’t sooth them as babies.

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    May 28, 2019
    Rachel

    Yes, yes!

    The feminists of the world won’t like me for this, But Children truly lose something when they lose having their mother at their side. Nothing is more important for young children than their mother’s direct and total presence.

    I am grateful my husband agrees and allows and encourages me to stay with my little ones as long and often as I or they need/desire.

    We are all better off for it.

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    June 01, 2019
    banshee

    You’ve hit the nail on the head with this one. Thank you for the courage to speak out.

    It is frightening the amount of conditioning and trauma that goes into convincing parents to ignore the distress of their offspring (something never observed in the animal kingdom) only to have them grow up into jaded and conditioned adults who continue to perpetuate this circle of abuse and trauma. Brilliant.

    Throughout the day, what doctors and CIO proponents advise us to do at night is known as ‘abuse’ and ‘neglect’ but at night it suddenly becomes a necessity through the power of moral relativism. The same things (not comforting baby, not answering to baby’s cries, only handling baby for diaper change and food) are the very reason children who grew up in orphanages develop reactive attachment disorder or other more severe emotional and cognitive issues. Psychology even has a term for babies who weren’t held or comforted in infancy – ‘crib baby’. But when parents are encouraged to do it, then it’s suddenly okay.

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    June 01, 2019
    Pamela

    Thank you so much for this article! I keep going through periods of feeling guilty because my 16 month old hasn’t learned to “self soothe” like other kids we know and thinking that it’s because I’m still nursing her, rocking her, singing to her etc…

    I’ve been torn because everything I’m doing feels right for me and my baby yet there’s just so much out there that says I’m doing it wrong!

    So glad I found your website to help me reinforce in myself that I need to ignore everything else and just do what I want because this time with her is too precious and some day I know I’m going to miss all the snuggles, cuddles, and special moments that were just ours.

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    June 05, 2019
    Corinna

    Amazing and I totally agree. Just wondering to what age this refers to approximately? Baby to 3 years/younger/older? Thanks!

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    August 18, 2019
    Christina

    Yes! I completely agree! We justify doing all kinds of things we shouldn’t so that our lives as parents are easier. We even wrap the lie up in a decorative little package with a shiny red bow and celebrate it!

    How different would our world look if there was more self sacrifice instead of finding all the easy outs (self-soothing, spanking, etc.)?

    I got my degree in psychology and I whole heartedly approve this article.

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    September 02, 2019
    Leigh Yarberry

    I would just like to point out that the idea of “self soothing” is not a new one. In fact it goes back to Victorian England. Basically “let the child cry it out” is a very old idea that existed even when people had night nurses, wet nurses and full staff.

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