“Is she a good sleeper?”
The random person asks you, prodding your baby in the supermarket. You force a smile, blink back tears and nod vigorously.
‘Sleeps like a champ,” you reply. Whatever that means. Because you can’t tell the truth – that she takes ages to settle then wakes again wanting to feed after like 4 minutes – because then the random person will say it.
“Just let her cry it out. She’ll soon learn.”
Learn what? That her mother who’s always there for her in the day isn’t at night?
Friends, family and random strangers – all casually expressing opinions on your parenting. All of them too far removed from new parenthood to have a clue what’s going on with you or how damaging their words are to your already-fragile confidence.
And that definitely extends to how you get your kids to sleep. But should you sleep train (even gently)? Is sleep training necessary at all?
Is there something wrong with nursing or cuddling your child to sleep instead of putting them in a crib alone?
Is sleep training necessary? Spoilers: no.
Maybe you know that your child’s behavior’s normal and okay and you’re dealing with it. Or you know that babies wake to feed during the night for months – that they’re supposed to biologically – so you nurse in the night.
Or that two year olds have developing imaginations and feel afraid alone in the dark – so you go in to comfort yours.
But somehow it’s become accepted that this is the wrong approach. And that’s not a very helpful attitude but a lot of people seem to have it.
The idea that babies should fall asleep alone and sleep all night when they’re still tiny is wrong – and unhelpful to moms and dads of normal babies who don’t.
A made-up thing that we’re conditioned to think is normal
I used to tell myself I wasn’t ready to sleep train, like it’s a natural progression. But it’s not. It’s a made-up thing that we’re conditioned to think is normal.
Because when you hear these unhelpful messages all around you – you start to feel like sleep training’s something you should do, instead of a free choice for you to make as a parent. Or not.
Maybe even that letting your child cry, at least to some extent, is normal and ‘worth it’ to ‘get your life back.’ Because quiet evenings and better sleep for mom and dad are worth leaving an upset baby alone to cry in the short term.
Maybe it is worth it – that’s for you to decide.
I’m not here today to tell you that sleep training’s bad and you shouldn’t do it. It works for lots of families.
I am here to tell you that you should do the thing that feels right for you and your family.
If that right thing’s sleep training, then go ahead. But you don’t have to sleep train your baby or toddler. Nope.
Because there’s an alternative to sleep training – and you’re probably doing it already.
I don’t want to sleep train my baby
If you’re not that mom who wants to pop her baby or toddler in bed alone and leave until the stopwatch says it’s time to go back, if the idea of letting your sweet little one to cry without comforting them leaves you cold – or red-hot fuming, yes, if you’re snuggly-mom – then you’re totally normal. In the best way.
Do you feel guilty admitting that you nurse your babies to sleep, rock them to sleep – or if they’re a little older, lie with them until they sleep? Does it feel like you’re doing something wrong – when all you’re doing is following your child’s cues?
When you’re deciding whether to sleep train or not, do you ever wonder why you hardly ever see or hear messages like,
‘Yes, just nurse to sleep. It might take a while and it might suck sometimes but it’s normal.’
Will baby learn to sleep without training?
But the result of those messages is that moms and dads feel awkward about saying that they snuggle their little ones to sleep. Ask a parent of a baby or young child how their kid gets to sleep and there’s a good chance you’ll hear something like,
“Oh, well, to be honest, I have to lie with him until he’s asleep.”
“Um, actually, I have to nurse her to sleep.”
It’s like a dirty secret. Like you feel like a not-quite-gold-standard parent – because your kid needs you at night and you’re okay with that.
We feel like our kids ought to be falling asleep alone very, very early in life – and if they aren’t we’re to blame and failing somehow.
But will your baby learn to sleep without training? Yes they will. Growing and developing is what babies do best and yours will eventually learn to sleep through the night – however you get them to sleep.
What’ll happen if I don’t sleep train my baby or toddler?
Do you want to know a secret?
Your child will need you beside them to fall asleep – which we already said is fine and normal – and you’ll keep lying down with your toddler when it’s time to sleep. So far so easy. Okay, sometimes it won’t be easy. Sometimes it’ll be a pain in the ass.
They won’t turn into a spoilt monster who makes endless demands on you unless your daytime parenting makes that happen.
And they’ll get older – and maybe your method won’t work so well and you’ll feel ready to change it up. But essentially, nothing bad will happen if you choose not to sleep train.
Won’t my child be spoiled if I don’t do cry it out?
Can a baby be spoiled?
Babies are wired to get your attention – they need it to survive. And you’re wired to respond to their communications and give them what they need.
It’s inbuilt. Meant to happen.
Giving your baby what she needs isn’t spoiling her. Also remember that babies are already individuals and behave differently from one another. Yours might be more demanding than another but that doesn’t make her spoilt.
Won’t they need me at night forever?
Uh, they probably won’t. How many 8, 9 or 10 year olds that you know go to sleep with a parent? Probably not many. Kids reach a stage where they are ready to fall asleep alone. It’s just not usually when they’re 4 months old.
So this is the sticking point many parents point to when they’re deciding what’s right for their family. What if they NEVER learn to fall asleep alone? What if we’re stuck doing this for years and years?
But things change over those years. The goalposts move.
By nursing and cuddling your child to sleep you give them security and comfort – and get to enjoy quality time with them. And once they’re just a little older, teaching your child to fall asleep alone‘s a whole new ball game. It’s not about wearing down resistance and modifying behaviour against their will any longer.
Children who’re two to three years old can TALK. That’s the difference. If you get them that far, you can take a totally different approach when you decide you’re both ready for independent bedtimes. And you probably will want that in the end.
And you’ll guide and teach them to settle without you without it being a miserable experience for everyone – but one that’s full of pride for both of you.
But what if you’re having a crappy time getting your kid to sleep?
Maybe you’re here because your baby or toddler is taking forever to settle. You’re nursing 5 times in a row with ten minute cat naps and wondering if you’ll ever relax in the evening again.
Or lying in the dark with a two year old who takes an hour to fall asleep and then wakes up the second you try to ninja out of the room.
Not sleep training isn’t all cuddles and joyfulness.
Nursing, rocking and cuddling your kid to sleep can really suck.
Suck hours out of your life. Suck slowly on your sanity. Suuuuuck.
But it’s not always like that – sometimes lying next to a sleepy little face and tiny warm body is the best bit of your day.
And even when it does suck it’s sucking for YOU. It’s not sucking for your child.
That’s the difference. And a lot of times, that’s why moms and dads put in all those hours – not because you’re too soft or lazy. (What?)
Because the beautiful moments plus the not-sucking-for-your-kid is worth the crappy nights. Until it’s not.
And then you’ll make a change.
How do you know when it’s time to change what you’re doing to get your child to sleep?
That’s easy. Answer this question honestly:
Is the method you’re currently using to get your little one to sleep working for you?
As in they go to sleep in a reasonable length of time without being upset and you’re not going crazy.
If you can say, ‘Yes,” to that then you don’t need to change a thing. At least not right now.
Seriously, taking care of babies and toddlers is hard enough without trying to live up to perceived ideals instead of sticking to what works.
So go right ahead and keep lying in the dark with your two year old or nursing your 11 month old until it stops working.
You’ll know when it’s not working any more.
Your nursed to sleep baby’ll breastfeed for half an hour then spit out the nipple and sit up like it’s morning.
Or your kid who you lie next to’ll start taking an hour and a half to settle. So long that you fall asleep before you’re done and wake up with bed hair and your evening gone.
That’s when to change.
So should I sleep train my baby if nursing and rocking to sleep isn’t working?
You get to decide what’s best for your family. If no one’s getting any sleep.
If none of these methods are working or you just really, REALLY need an evening again, then there are gentle sleep training methods you can try such as fading.
What should I change?
You can move from nursing to sleep to rocking and from rocking to lying with them – just give yourself and your little one some grace as you adjust and go slowly.
Most importantly, you’re the boss and your choice of method to get your child to sleep is valid.
You can feel entirely free to ignore anyone who tells you you’re doing it wrong – because the people around us can be incredibly judgemental.
And then their words can bring you down when you actually felt pretty good about what you’re doing up to that point.
Sleep training’s a choice not a natural progression.
You don’t have to do it and you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t want to.
The only thing that matters is that everyone’s getting enough sleep and you’re feeling okay about what you’re doing.
And moving slowly from rocking or pacing to lying with your child will keep them falling asleep happy (or as happy as any kid ever is about bedtime) well past 2.
I’m glad you asked.
Once they’re six months or over, you can try a sleep schedule to try and encourage more regular sleep times – and get more sleep for yourself.
And once they’re past 2, if you’d like to get them a little more independent at bedtime,
Want to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all? This is the post for you.
Worried your baby might be spoiled? Read this.