5 reasons people try sleep training and 5 questions to ask a sleep consultants
While I am against most forms of 'sleep training' that are mainstream....because there is such a big body of evidence of the harm it does, especially under 6 months, I acknowledge that it happens, and it happens everywhere.
With that I wanted to explain some reasons why people do it (as obvious as it may seem to some it's important to point out as we may all feel the pressure to):
1 - It's 'normal' in many 'developed' countries as a practice, even advocated by some healthcare professionals who live in the dark ages (Paediatricians and Health Visitors are often cited as endorsing and promoting it).
2 - People get sleep deprived - if you don't know what that is like, you don't want to. It can lead you to the depths of despair. If a mother was so deprived of food, like she is of sleep, she would be hospitalised.
3 - The expectations around baby sleep has been somehow skewed so that many many many MANY people in society, including parents, now believe babies should sleep 'throughout the night'. In America, for example, prepping your baby nursery in a separate room is like a right of passage into parenting. Products have been sold to us as though they are necessities, like baby furniture and cots. I never once thought when I was buying one, how the f am I meant to sleep when I have to keep leaving my bed, and my room whenever the baby wakes. Which is what happens. Until you start bed-sharing which everyone does (and IS SAFE if you do it properly).
4 - Many, many parents have to go to work, even if you don't have to, it's almost like it's a requirement in society now to get up and go out and about (baby massage classes, or toddler groups as a case in point), doesn't matter if you're exhausted you can't be 'lazy', oh no!
5 - We are often raising our kids alone (let's just leave the absurdity of that one right there. We can't, we are not meant to, we never did in history)
So, in summary, as with most things in parenting, no body actually knows what they're doing when they start off because they're pretty much either doing it alone, or are bombarded with advertisement that suggests what they are doing is wrong or not good enough in order for the company to sell you a product (that would be formula company's main marketing strategy right there, tried and tested). So, naturally, many people do what they're told, they do sleep training. They also get the hired help of 'sleep consultants' or 'expert sleep trainers'. I see them advertised now to me, in almost every Facebook news feed thread, EVERY single time I log in.
You need to get help. I get it. You don't know how much I get it - I went to many apparent 'sleep experts' (even 'gentle ones' who totally failed me) with my first born who woke every 45 minutes at night for months. I went MAD from the lack of sleep. Trust me, I GET IT.
So, with that I wanted to write 5 questions you should ask your sleep consultant/expert/company so as to prevent any undue stress and harm to you, your partner and your baby or child. And here they are;
1. What are your credentials?
And no, having had your own children, having tried cry it out, and it 'worked because they slept 12 hours straight every night for the next 10 years' is not something that makes you qualified in infant sleep. Neither is 'helping hundreds of families sleep better' as they all claim. As it's an unregulated field, unfortunately, there is not any measure of accountability or even a general framework of what counts as 'successful sleep trainers' or what counts as credentials. What it would include when there are some regulation (and what you should be aware of for the safety of your child) is some kind of medical training, so as to properly identify if it is a medical health issue/or even a feeding issue, and if it's wiser not to sleep train as the baby or child needs attention at night (even though most babies do anyway, unless you're lucky and they will just sleep for hours).
Do they have knowledge of baby and infant sleep in general? What does the latest research show about the risks of sudden infant death syndrome in each circumstance and why? Do they know the latest studies on the effects of sleep training for different age group ie raised cortisol, increased crying, increased stress in caregiver? If they don't know them, or brush them off, I really wouldn't trust them They are trying to sell you something, in the end.
2. What are you 'long-term' results?
A person or company that boasts a 60/80 or even 90% 'success' rate really doesn't mean anything at all, and I'll tell you why. An intervention or a technique working ONCE for some (and they have the quotes from many happy families to prove it) is NOT the main thing you need to know. What you need to know is how MANY times it was tried and how long it lasted for every client (they will have stats), and how many families or clients 'returned for their services'. Why? Well because babies grow fast, they change fast, they also have these things called teeth pushing through which can be terribly painful for many of them, and keep them up at night. They have 'developmental leaps (this is decades of research to show what happens and that it affects sleep). The 'success' of sleep training can revert when you travel, with development leaps, and even if you move house or introduce a new person (new baby?) or any life event. Just like your sleep would be effected with all of these changes, so would theirs. They are not robots, after all. They are just tiny human beings. Just so you are informed and can make the right decision about how much crying are you willing to tolerate.
3. Do you know about studies on normal sleep behaviour, and optimum sleep times for babies and children?
Ask them about FACTS (an amazing study). How many babies wake (and reasons why), and how much babies sleep, and what the range of normal is: i.e it's 9.5 hours - to 12.5 hours. This is a BIG difference of expectation if your baby doesn't sleep 12 hours a night. And 2-3 hours nap time in the day is NOT what many babies do (short sleep cycles of 20-45 minutes keep them safe and ALIVE), and even young children. My son, for example never slept more than 1 hour naps - like many others. Have they got experts in figuring out if your baby of child is one of these apparent 'outliers', and experience in working with parents who don't know to help them understand?
4. Do you consider the health and wellbeing, and the behaviour and interaction of the main caregiver in your assessment?
Is this important? Well, I think it's the MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR. Why? Because of one of the most amazing discoveries in recent decades in neuroscience: mirror neurons. We mirror what we see. Babies will do this too. You shout and cry, they'll shout and cry. You smile and laugh, they will laugh and smile. YOU can't sleep, THEY can't sleep. Simple. (Obviously this is not the case for everyone, and medical conditions and life itself have to be taken into account, but you catch my drift).
And then also because of stress, how stress affects development, and the calls for 'ZERO SEPARATION' of mother and baby from birth, see Bergman's work. The principle of zero separation doesn't magically disappear once the baby is a few months old, so now you can leave them to cry in another room all night. This blog is already far too long to go into both of these. My point is: if the sleep 'experts' don't do an assessment on YOU, YOUR health, YOUR behaviour, YOUR responses and interactions with your baby - TRUST me, they don't know what they're doing.
5. What support will you give me and my baby/child if it doesn't work?
Will they offer counselling to you, and even therapy for the infant/child to manage any emotional or character changes? Do they offer support and strategies to help you reconnect? Don't laugh. It's needed, and they have a responsibility to offer it as part of their services and for the extortionate price they charge.
Sleep training was my worst regret. We didn't go through with cry it out, but we tried so many things and there was a lot of crying, and to be honest, it really, really traumatised the whole family. If only we just accepted him and his sleep. If only we knew what was normal. If only we got the help we needed - i.e someone who loved him and we trusted to play with him for a couple of hours every day or every other day so that I could sleep. JUST SLEEP. Then, we would never have had to go to 'experts', we would never have had to try to force him to sleep. This is ONLY the way he slept as a newborn, so this is what we did for him:
And we should have embraced it as he got older...not expected change so soon.