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Does sleep training actually help your baby get more sleep?

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

"If your baby doesn't sleep properly, they won't develop well, they'll do poorer in school later on, sleep deprivation is hazardous to their development" etc.

It's (mis)information like this that drives the deep pockets of the sleep training world. From paying hard earned money to people to hold your hand while leaving your baby to cry, to multiple apps and blogs convincing you that you must sleep train; it's simply a "part of parenting".

"It might be hard, but it's what's best for your baby and honestly does no long term damage...". All of this nudging you further and further away from your instincts and deep rooted knowledge of what truly is best for your family.

The arguments I hear most in "defense" of sleep training is this: 1. Babies need proper sleep for healthy development. 2. Sleep deprivation is harmful, and 3. Parents need proper sleep for their own mental health.

All of this is true, but is it necessary to train your baby to sleep better?

In short, no - but here's the long answer:

Firstly we need to look at the sleep NEEDS of babies and children

In stating that we need to sleep train to help our babies development, we are assuming that babies need to sleep like adults, and that they need a solid chunk of sleep over night. All the sleep science says that they absolutely do NOT sleep like adults. In fact, babies spend most of their sleep in lighter, more active stages of sleep and wakes frequently. This is how they are designed for survival. We want our babies to be able to wake up if something feels wrong - too hot or cold, hungry, not breathing, etc.

Also, there is more blood flow to the brain during these lighter stages of sleep, so this is actually ideal for brain development.

With regard to sleep deprivation: yes absolutely, we don't want our babies and children to suffer from sleep deprivation, and it can absolutely affect development. But normal infant sleep and the sleep needs of babies need to be the context in which we view this. The "normal" window for sleep needs for a 4 month old can be between 10 and 18 hours a day (in 24hours) - that's a HUGE variant! So going on the "norms", the sleep patterns of your neighbours baby, what the apps are telling you, etc. is of no indication to whether your baby is sleep deprived or not.

Now, there are instances where sleep is disrupted beyond the norm, or sleep genuinely is a struggle. In cases of true sleep deprivation, we need to get to the root of the problem, which brings me to my second point:

My main concern with Sleep Training:

Apart from the damage sleep training can do to the relationship, attachment, breastfeeding relationship, etc. My main issue with sleep training, is that it does not address the root cause of sleep disturbances. It does not teach the skill of sleeping (which is a biological function and cannot be taught) neither does it teach a child to calm themselves (which is developmentally not possible).

There are dozens of reasons your baby may be waking at night. There might be an underlying medical reason (e.g. tongue tie, food sensitivity, breathing issues, etc.); sensory issues; etc. Sleep training will not address this. In fact, research shows us that babies who are sleep trained are often still waking at night just as much as babies that had no intervention, but parents are not always aware of these wakes due to decreased signaling.

All this means is that the parents may be getting more sleep, but their baby is probably waking the same amount they usually would. (in other words, IF your baby was sleep deprived, they would still be sleep deprived after being sleep trained.)

Sleep and parental mental health:

Sleep is important at any age and stage in your life, and certainly not less so when you become a parent. But do you know what is even more damaging to parents mental health than a lack of sleep? Societal pressure to do something that goes against their natural instinct. Constant feelings of failure and loneliness in fear of admitting to being exhausted, knowing they will probably be advised to practice some form of sleep training. Feeling stressed out and obsessed about their baby's sleep, when in reality their baby's sleep is completely normal.

Mama, I feel you. I'm in no way trying to say being sleep deprived is easy. I have honestly been there, and it's hard as hell.

But there are a lot you can do to take the pressure off, get some rest and improve your quality of sleep. All of this while staying true to your baby, your instincts and your natural desire to comfort your child.

So, if you feel that it is your duty as a parent to teach your baby the skill of sleep, know that it is absolutely not necessary! The "necessity" to do this is nothing but an illusion.

Babies have not changed. Your baby waking throughout the night is normal. They are doing exactly what they should be doing and have been doing for thousands of years.

And if you ever feel concerned about your baby's sleep, or if you feel there are parts of bedtime/sleep you would like to address, know that there is a solution for you that doesn't require controlled crying.

If you are looking for holistic support with your child's sleep in a way that validates your instinct and treats your child as the unique individual that they are, feel free to contact me.

In the words of Lauren Heffernan:

Your baby's sleep is normal, and you're an amazing parent!

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