Is Sleep Training Necessary?

For as long as I could remember, I have known my love of working with children and families and have always taken pride in a particular phrase I often heard- “you were born to be a mother”.  I always knew that I wanted to be a mother someday; and I often thought about the type of parent I would be, about my parenting philosophies, about how I would apply all of the experience I had working with families and other people’s children, and about how I was actually going to raise my child.  Well, let me just say that things did not go as expected.

In 2017 I was blessed with the sassiest, most strong-willed baby in the world. In addition, she came just in time- a little over one week after we tore down our spare bedroom completely in order to make it her nursery- (I was hospitalized at the end of 30 weeks, and she came at exactly 32 weeks gestation).  Needless to say, things escalated very quickly- I worked hard to stay healthy and keep little Ellen inside of me for as long as possible as Daddy and Grandpa rushed to get flooring, wallpaper, paint, and furniture in her nursery and purchase all the baby essentials before her unannounced appearance.  I will never forget the phone conversation I had with a sales associate at Nordstrom to convince him to sell me someone else’s already purchased car seat since mine was on back-order; it worked!

Unfortunately, I found that raising Ellen continued in the same theme- filled with chaos, surprise, and jumping through hoops!  It was she who decided when she was going to stop breastfeeding, she who decided what mama will do with her time, and of course- she who decided where and when she will sleep.  Yes, I probably should have reached out for a lot of help from family, friends, and professionals such as lactation consultants, but in all honesty I was terrified that something would go wrong.

Finally, after 11 long months of her co-sleeping, then bed-sharing, I decided to take control and become the type of mom I had always wanted to be. This included sleep training her.  Again, having her in my bed and having almost one year of horrible sleep habits was definitely not on my list of expectations as a first-time mom.  I never thought that I would be able to teach her this skill because I had tried so many different times and failed.

So what was different this time around?  How did I make the commitment and do this for her?  Honestly, I really had to think about it.  I had done so much research, read so many books, chatted on so many different social media forums about sleep training, but I was lacking the motivation because I was not truthful with myself.

Here is a list of questions to ask yourself when thinking about whether sleep training is a necessity for your child and family (be fully truthful and open when asking yourself these questions):

Am I happy with the way things are or am I becoming frustrated, resentful, or angry?

Do I feel like an unfit parent because my child just will not sleep?

Is my baby’s nighttime routine allowing me to give time to my other children or my partner?

Are my child’s sleep habits negatively affecting my job or professional life?

Is my baby happy, healthy, and seemingly well-rested?

Am I happy, healthy, and well-rested?

Based on the recommendations, is my baby getting the appropriate amount of sleep in a 24 hour period?

What is the naptime and bedtime situation would I consider “acceptable”? Ideal?

What is holding me back from teaching the skill of independently sleeping to my little one?

Have I tried any methods to teach my baby to get the amount of sleep recommended for his/her age?

How much time out of my day am I spending on getting my baby to sleep?

Is there something else I need to do with the time that it takes me to get my baby to sleep?

How am I feeling emotionally and physically as a parent compared to when I did not have a little one to care for?

Do I get enough sleep to carry on through the day without feeling tired and groggy?

When was the last time I did something nice for myself? My partner for himself/herself?

Does my partner seem happy with the way things are going with our new sleep habits?

Do I have time for self-care?

Am I happy with the way things are or am I becoming frustrated, resentful, or angry?

What do we miss the most about not sleeping well?

As sad as it is, when I began going through these questions I realized that it was absolutely a necessity for Ellen and for my marriage.  In addition to being truthful about the toll it took on my well-being, on our relationship as a husband and wife, as new parents, and our health, I began to understand how important sleep is for the whole family and I realized that it is not worth waiting it out to see if it will get better.

You see, nobody can (and should not) convince you to sleep train your little one- it is such a personal matter.  Additionally, I often find that parents who reach out to sleep train their little one because of social pressures instead of personal choice tend to be inconsistent; resulting in a confused baby who continues to have unhealthy sleep patterns.  So, instead of asking your friends what to do by posting on social media about what others did or why they did it a certain way, or convincing yourself that your baby will grow soon and will be able to sleep better, go through these questions and be truthful with yourself- and encourage your partner to do the same.  Most importantly, research the facts.

Sixty children aged 15 to 48 months (mean age 26.4 months) were studied by interviewing their mothers initially and after 3 years. Children with and without sleep disturbances were compared, with the latter serving as the control group. Twenty-five (42%: night waking, 22%; bedtime struggle, 13%; both night waking and bedtime struggle, 7%) of 60 children had sleep disturbances at the initial interview, and of these 25 children, 21 (84%) had persistence of sleep disturbances after 3 years.