There is loads of information about sleep training out there and how bad it is to leave babies to cry, if you are unsure of that then here is a good place to learn about that. Lots of people also focus on the way it can make your child feel, this heart-wrenching piece really helps you to empathise with baby & to be honest, if you have done controlled crying/cry it out/taught baby to self settle/ignored their protests (delete where applicable depending on the advice you received) then you are probably feeling like crap & thinking well what next?
Now most parents use a 'sleep training' method when they feel they have just had enough of waking at night/not getting baby down until midnight. I would not think that a parent with a baby who sleeps naturally from 7pm-7am (this type of baby is a very rare type I may add) would even need to consider anything like this. Just because you have sleep trained then that does not make you a bad parent, it does not mean you cannot do things to help undo any damage that may have been caused.
I am writing this post as I have been contacted by a few Mums who have done different sleep training methods and now feel like they have made a bad choice. None of them knew about the dangers sleep training can have and all have reported changes in their relationship with their child since doing it that has not been a 'good' change.
"Sophie* Shared with me that she did let her daughter cry it out at 6 months old. Her daughter had been waking 6 times a night to breastfeed and Sophie had to go back to work, she also had 3 year old twins so day napping was not an option and she was at her wits end. The twins had always been 'good' sleepers and she felt she could not cope with this lack of sleep. So at 6 months (and on the advice of her health visitor) she let her daughter cry herself to sleep. The first night took 90 minutes, the second night took 60 minutes, the third night took 45 minutes, the fourth 25 minutes, the fifth 10 minutes and on the sixth night baby was asleep in 2 minutes. Baby never cried at bedtime from the seventh night onwards and she started sleeping from 8pm until 7am when Sophie woke her up for the day. At first Sophie was amazed at the change and pleased but she noticed her daughter was different. Her daughter became very clingy in the day and where as before she was very happy-go-lucky. She would cry more often and became upset when she was separated from Sophie. One day Sophie went to peg the washing out and baby started to cry as soon as she opened the back door, she was so distressed that she was sick and cried really hard. Deep in her heart Sophie knew it was from the cry-it-out, she felt bad and did not know where to go from here, she also felt as though the bond was not as good, her baby seemed to smile less and no one seemed any happier for having more sleep..."
So what can I do if I have sleep trained my child and now I want to undo any damage that may have been caused?
This is precisely the point of this post.
So you have done controlled crying, cry-it-out, self settling or whatever and you are now aware that perhaps it wasn't the best idea. Maybe you thought you were teaching them a 'skill' they needed to have or that it was in their best interests and then you have stumbled across something like the posts in the second paragraph and now feel bad.
You should not feel bad if you were unaware of the dangers or the effect it could have on your child. You were doing the best you could in the situation you were in with the knowledge you had, that does not make you a bad Mum, that makes you a great Mum who was not aware of the full facts. With more information we may make other choices.
When it comes to sleep training, I think its a good idea to understand why its not recommended, this article highlights why it may be better to seek alternative so lets look at some of the points then look at what you can do to undo any damage that may or may not be an outcome of sleep training.
Babies can feel stress – and crying to sleep for any period is stressful. Stress for kids under 2 is shown to actually change brain development
If your child's brain has developed differently, then according to Dr Sears in the above link your child may have an over-active adrenaline system. The main output of this is anxiety so taking the following care with your child should help not to make any adrenaline or anxiety worse:
- Don't dismiss their feelings
- Listen to your child
- Offer comfort and distraction
- take them outside
- Stick to routines (limit change)
- Keep your child healthy
- Avoid over scheduling
- Set a calm example
There is lots of research to show that responding to your babies needs creates a more secure confident toddler. if you have sleep trained them, there is nothing stopping you from making sure you respond to them during the day, avoid ignoring them if they are crying in the day and when possible have skin to skin as this boosts their serotonin levels, the feel good hormone. Make sure that if you have sleep trained you are extra sensitive to their day needs.
Babies do not need to self soothe through crying to be “independent” – they achieve this by self-esteem fostered by a strong, trusted bond
This is something to bear in mind. If you have sleep trained your baby or child try to be the best parent you can. Tell them you love them, hug and kiss them as much as possible, tell them you understand why they are upset when they are having a tantrum instead of ignoring them. If they do start waking at night again go to them as quickly as possible. Let them know you care deeply for them and think the world of them.
Babies are not able to calm themselves down when under stress & they wont learn that skill by crying it out
When I child is left to cry-it-out they give up crying and go to sleep. They are often still upset and some babies sob for a while after in their sleep. These babies have never learned how to ease their tension so tend to be more demanding toddlers who find it very hard to stop once they get going. You need to understand this and not punish them for it. Parents need to understand that tantrums are a child's way of making sense of the world and by being there, being calm & understanding they will learn from your example and calm down quicker than being left.
Babies don’t cry just for the sake of it – they are communicating their needs and why they are being ignored is not understood by the baby
If you have left your baby to cry at some point, chances are they have had an unmet need. You need to be aware that the unmet need may manifest itself in other ways. For example if your child was hungry and left to cry, they may worry about the availability of food and eat very fast or be almost obsessed about when they will be eating next. If they were left to cry when they wanted a cuddle, they may be very clingy and need even more cuddles in the day. Its important that if you have noticed any changes in your child then you make sure you go the extra mile to meet any needs that may have been unmet as this will hopefully reassure them that it will not happen again.
What if I did controlled crying and my child seems better for it?
If this is the case you may want to adopt the above advice anyway. Children will often do anything they can to please their care givers and may still be insecure. They can then grow up into adults that always try to please others and ignore their own needs. I am not saying this is why your child or baby is compliant but it is true for some so making sure that your child has the freedom to express emotions, even if at times those emotions may not be what you want to hear, will help them be a well-rounded individual.
Now, that's about all I have on the subject for now, I just wanted to write something that would help people to move on from any guilt or bad feeling that they may have for controlled crying or other sleep training methods. If you have any concerns about your child's sleep in the future there are a few places you can look for advice; Facebook groups The Dangers of Baby Training, The anti CIO Community and Natural, Gentle Parenting all welcome questions on sleep concerns and have a wealth of information and support. There is also information in Elizabeth Pantley's No Cry Sleep Solution about helping your child sleep for longer periods at a time but uses gentle methods.
Remember, just because you have done something as a parent that you may now regret, that doesn't make you a bad parent - it makes you human x
* Name has been changed as they wanted to be kept anonymous