Sleep Training – Sweet Dream or Nightmare?

“I eat and I eat and I eat and I STILL can’t seem to gain any weight!” These are perhaps the most annoying words one woman can say to another woman. But a close second would be: “I’m not sure why or how it happened, but my 2-month old baby just automatically started sleeping through the night.” Sleep has become a major topic, or rather point of contention, in the world of parenting – and for good reason. Although there is no magic potion to help our kids sleep when we’d like them to (aka 3am), help might very well be just around the corner.

“Accept that for one reason or another, you may never sleep again. Invest in a good concealer and drink more coffee,” says.Blair, mom of two boys. Helpful and realistic advice to say the least, right? But all hope is not lost. There is no shortage of resources on the subject of sleep. Rest (or no rest) assured, there’s an entire section devoted to the topic at your local bookstore. Jamie, mom of two girls says, “Twelve Hours’ Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old” by Suzy Abidin & Lisa Giordano is the bible to live by. It can be read in less than an hour and provides clear guidance on how to get the baby on a schedule and sleeping 12 hours at night without interruption (aka. no getting up by Mom at all!).”

Sleep deprivation can take its toll both physically and emotionally on parents as well as babies. It can negatively affect not only your health and that of your baby’s but your marriage as well. Parents must decide what approach is right for them and instincts are a good indicator of that. However, it is also important to keep in mind the greater good when going through the often-difficult process of sleep training. . Most parents feel guilty or selfish for wanting a full night of sleep and these feelings make sleep training difficult for parents to implement, if not impossible. “Hearing my baby cry was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but in the end, sleep training changed our lives. My husband and I are better parents for having done it, we’re nicer spouses to each other, and the entire family – especially my baby – is so much happier as a result,” says Rachel who worked with the sleep consultants at Dream Team Baby when her son was 4.5 months old.

Parents can hire Dream Team Baby or other similar sleep consultants and receive expert advice and some much needed support throughout the process of sleep training. And while such consultants can be pricey, consider how much money you spent on your baby nurse who gave you only a couple weeks’ worth of sleep. Sleep consultants can literally help you avoid a lifetime of sleepless nights.

Lisa Spiegel of Soho Parenting explains, “sleep is a fundamental nutrient for the child and the foundation for proper growth and development. And it is our job as parents to safeguard and ensure the right amount of sleep for our children. Though it may be difficult for parents to implement a sleep plan, it can be very empowering and beneficial on a variety of levels.”

“Parents are often hard on themselves – especially 2nd time parents who believe they should already have a grasp on this issue and how to approach it,” continues Ms. Spiegel. “But each baby is different and each deserves respect and a sensitive approach when teaching this necessary skill. And it doesn’t need to be perfect – it just needs to work for your family.”

All experts agree that consistency is key when getting your child to establish good sleeping habits. A regular nap schedule during the day, easily accommodated sleep associations like darkness and a portable white noise machine and convenient bedtime routines are also of utmost importance. Sharon, mother of two in NYC says, “the white noise machine was a huge help – before we got one, we could hardly breathe without waking her up!” A lovey which is easily found in the crib also helps a child to feel safe and it’s less likely that the parent will have to keep giving it back to the child throughout the night (as is often the case with pacifiers). But Amy, mother of two in New Jersey says, “We’re lucky – once we kicked her out of our room at around three months, we swaddled her up like a burrito, stuck a binky in, played some music, and she’s been out like a light ever since.”

But most parents don’t have it that easy. Despite knowing (and following) all the rules, some babies just don’t take to sleep training the way others do and parents often give up too quickly. It’s also hard to tune out the advice and judgmental comments you get bombarded with on this topic. “You’re in a lose lose situation. If you let your baby cry it out, you feel like you’re a terrible parent. But if you and your baby are getting up every 2 hours and you’re both sleep deprived, you feel like a terrible parent in that case too. You can’t win,” says Michelle, mother of two.

“I actually feel it’s easier (and nicer) to nurse my child to sleep for two minutes every two hours than to spend a handful of unbearable nights sleep training my son…. especially when there is a chance it wouldn’t work anyway and I might be doing some irrevocable damage to my child in the process.” remarks Jessica, mother of a two year old. Experts would agree that nursing throughout the night could be beneficial and nurturing for the child, but only as long as it’s working for the parent. If such an arrangement is compromising the parent’s happiness and in turn, the child’s well-being, it might be time to consider alternative approaches.

Parents, especially those with very young children, who don’t complain about sleep deprivation, are most definitely in the minority. For the rest of us, hang in there. You’re not alone. And just think – there will come a time when you find yourself actually missing those days when your child needed to hold your hand to fall asleep. Sweet dreams!

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