11 Jan To Sleep Train or Not to Sleep Train: That is the question
By: Stefanie Castro, RN, BSN
This past summer, I drove around Orange County handing out information regarding my company. My goal was to reach out to stores that catered to parents, from children’s furniture stores to toy stores. A large part of getting my company information out to the public began with my interactions with the owners and managers of these stores. My company caters to couples who are welcoming an baby into their home. I provide a variety of services, including course to better prepare parents for the infant’s arrival and CPR. I work one-on-one with parents to ensure they feel supported by a caring professional who understands the needs infants have in their first months after birth.
For many years, I have been a shoulder to lean on for many of my friends as they enter into their new role as parents. I’ve had many encounters where I’ve been told my assistance and guidance has assured them they could take the necessary steps to succeed in the new stages as their child grew. Many of my friends and now clients have reached out for assistance with sleep training. If there is one place where I’ve succeeded, it’s in relation to sleep training infants. Parents have praised my help due to the fact that they did not know it could be possible until I helped them through their sleepless nights. It wasn’t until I encountered an owner that literally told me my business was not welcome at her shop for the mere reason I sleep train. I was absolutely puzzled. After years of parents reaching out to me for that reason alone, why would the idea of sleep training be such a put-off for an owner of a children’s store? I looked around her shop. Was I in the wrong location? There were baby bottles, nursing pillows, teething toys; anything and everything you could think of for a child could be found in this shop. I wish I knew about this store when I first had my children. Returning my focus to the owner, I had to understand her reasons against my business. Why would sleep training be such a deterrent for her and her customers? Are mothers against sleep? Her answered: “my customers don’t believe in that”. I’m not sure if my jaw actually dropped, but inside I was shocked. As I left, I felt perplexed at our interaction. The idea that someone would not even associate with my business due to the fact that I sleep train was beyond my comprehension.
In this world of social media, where parenting is put under a microscope and judged at every angle, I try, with all my might, to keep an open mind. Throughout my years as a nurse and a parent, I’ve realized that everyone has an idea about what is right for them. I believe that as long as no one is putting themselves or those around them in danger, the manner in which they raise their child is their personal choice. I still have my opinions, but I’ve learned to keep them to myself.
Although I have kept an open mind with other parenting styles, those who are against the sleep training methods are usually quite vocal about their feeling against the concept. Individuals usually have something they’d like to say regarding the issue, from letting their child “cry-it-out” to ‘co-sleeping’. For those who are not aware of the differences, to sleep training is a way in which we allow the child to soothe themselves to sleep. The term “cry-it-out” comes from the fact that the infant usually cries for a particular amount of time while soothing him or herself to sleep. In contrast, co-sleeping is a practice where the infant sleeps in the same room as the parents. If the infant sleeps in the bed with parents, it is a form of co-sleeping, labeled as bed sharing. If the infant is sleeping in a bassinet in the parent’s room, without attachment to the parental mattress, it is still considered co-sleeping.
Personally, my children sleep in a bassinet in my room for a certain number of weeks and eventually I transition them to sleep in their crib, in their own room. I find they work in my family dynamic. If you have found a sleep method that works for you, it’s not my place to judge. If someone hires me to assist in sleep training their infant, they are choosing to receive my advice and guidance. But, when someone defiantly states, “I don’t know how you do that…let your kid cry. I could never do such a thing”, and in the same breath complains of exhaustion from being woken up by their child multiple times throughout the night, I will speak up. I defend my methods and let them know, “my kids may cry for a short time when they are learning how to soothe themselves, but at the end of the day my kids are sleeping through the night”. At the end of the day, we will have our own methods, but we need to ask ourselves, what is a good night’s sleep worth to a parent?
My desire to sleep train my children developed from my own childhood experiences. I did not sit at my kitchen table and determine, “TODAY MY KID WILL CRY HIMSELF TO SLEEP!” and proceed to stomp upstairs to put my child down for his nap. Due to the fact that I was a horrible sleeper as a child has followed me into my role as a mother. My parents did not encourage self-soothing, nor was it discussed when I was born. When I cried, they came running. With time, that evolved into my inability to sleep alone in my own room. This pattern continued for years. I had developed significant anxiety, which I am only aware of now as an adult. Now that I am a parent, I can sympathize with how my parents felt when I cried and whined at bedtime. My parents both worked tremendously demanding hours and they needed rest. I’ve been in their shoes with my kids and the lack of sleep can drain a person to their core. I did not want that same bedtime anxiety to return when I put my own children to sleep. I wanted them to view bedtime as a regular daily routine.
I can remember clearly the time I first sleep-trained my son. There was no structure or date on the calendar when this transition would occur. My son needed to nap one afternoon and I needed my own time to unwind. Like many first-time parents, I always used my son’s naptime to get everything in order around the house. On this day, I could feel the exhaustion catching up to me. I looked around and knew my son’s needs came first. I decided I would try to nap him in his room. I put my son in his crib and turned on the monitor. Now that I’m a mother of two, I can say with experience, I had an amazing sleeper for a first child, I simply did not know it at the time. Not only did my son sleep well, he slept longer than his usual 2-hour nap. This day in particular, he slept 5 hours! It was incredible to see him transition so well and realize he needed this rest. I constantly checked on him throughout his naptime to ensure he was well but it felt really empowering to see him thrive during his naptime.
After encountering such positive outcomes in my sleep-training experiences, I was surprised with the resistance I encountered that summer day. I did not know where to start. My company is not solely based on sleep-training. I’ve worked in labor & delivery, and I have a wealth of knowledge in which you can reach out for my services. However, this particular encounter with this woman really stayed with me. Months have now passed and I continue to be floored whenever I think about it. She would not hire me for anything else, not even a swaddling session, because that would mean she associates with a ‘sleep training’ company. Over time I’ve accumulated a wealth of knowledge that I would like to share with any parent or caregiver.
There are a variety of data regarding the benefits and purported negative outcomes pertaining to sleep training. William Sears is an accredited author who focuses his books on parenting and infant well-being. In response to Sears’ claims regarding infant wellbeing, stress levels and cortisol secretion during times of prolonged crying, “yes: chronic, toxic stress is bad for young brains…but several nights of crying during an otherwise happy infancy does not constitute chronic stress” (Moyer, 2013). Severe neglect and abuse of a child will cause chronic stress, impacting their mental and physical health in the years to follow (Moyer, 2013). In an attempt to grasp the effect crying children will have on their overall health, it is important to understand which environmental factors are significant sources of stress in an infant’s life.
The focus when my research began was on the impact sleep training had on infants, not on the well being of the parents. However, it turns out that sleep deprivation could create “…secondary effects on parents (e.g., maternal depression) as well as on family functioning” (Mindell, Kuhn, Lewin, Meltzer & Sadeh, 2006). Furthermore, when the infant sleeps better, there are benefits, that include “…better parent sleep, mental health, and child-parent relationships” (Price et al., 2012). Providing a proper schedule and routine when putting children to bed does provide benefits that spread to the entire family unit, beyond the infant’s ability to soothe themselves to sleep.
The arguments made against sleep training or allowing the child to cry-it-out involve the fact that stress increases for the infant and for the parent. The senior editor of TIME states that “[o]ne of the central warnings in [William] Sears’ work is that babies who cry too much – even those who are left to cry for short periods at night as they learn to go to sleep – could suffer permanent brain damage, leading to a lower IQ, behavioral problems and more” (Kluger, 2012). There have been many concerns regarding the damage and destruction that could be done to the infant’s emotional development and overall mental health (Price, Wake, Ukoumunne & Hiscock, 2012). The amount of stress posed on the infant when crying without comfort is a constant debate, one in which many parents have veered from sleep training in their parenting styles due to concerns of damaging their child’s future wellbeing.
There are a vast number of blogs and sites that are dedicated to mischaracterizing sleep training. When I finished my research, I discovered there is no right way to have a child sleep. The correct way for one parent could be completely wrong for another. This is the most important lesson I’ve taken away. My parents and mother-in-law commend us on how well our children sleep. They sit in disbelief that we have surpassed this tremendous hurdle that many parents, including themselves, have struggled with. Parenting is an area where we should join forces, not find a way to bring others down. We need to be able to talk to each other and reach out for help when necessary. I want to see parents stand tall and feel like they can succeed. If we focus on providing support to those who seek it, without judgment, then we can grow as individuals and learn from one another instead of pushing others away from this ever-growing community.
Kluger, Jeffrey. “The Science Behind Dr. Sears: Does It Stand Up?”. www.slate.com
Time. 05/12/2012. Accessed 12/30/2015.
Mindell, Jodi A., Kuhn, Brett, Lewin, Daniel S., Meltzer, Lisa J., Sadeh, Avi. “Behavioral Treatment of Bedtime Problems and Night Wakings in Infants and Young Children”. American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 2006, Vol. 29, No. 10. Accessed 12/31/2015. Moyer, Melinda W. “Cry, Baby, Cry”. www.slate.com Slate. 07/17/2013. Accessed 12/30/2015.
Price, Anna M. “Five-Year Follow-up of Harms and Benefits of Behavioral Infant Sleep Intervention: Randomized Trial”. www.pediatrics.com Pediatrics, October 2012, Vol. 130/Issue 4. Accessed 12/30/2015.
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