Pondering if sleep training is bad: Is it bad?
Sure my kid sleeps 12 hours a night but he shakes my hand instead of hugs and calls me by my first name
Emily Oster’s latest newsletter is titled (I choose to believe ironically) “Sleep Training: Is It Bad?” The takeaway is that, more or less, the somewhat scant data reassures parents who do cry-it-out that they are *probably* not breaking their babies. A quick dip in the post’s comments section shows that people as always have strong opinions on the topic and are still searching, searching for some narrative that affirms their choices with science. The debate re: sleep remains that if you don’t have your baby cry it out, you’re a weakling sucker whose kid will grow up to be a bad sleeper, and if you do, you are a coldhearted selfish type unmoved by the sound of an infant in distress and also, Romanian orphanages.
It’s a crotch-punch that choosing what to do w/r/t sleep comes at such a vulnerable, exhausting time for new parents in particular. It is the first of many decisions where you have to dig deep and say, “This is the best decision for us.” It’s much easier to make those types of calls when you are more familiar with what kind of parent you are and what type of kid you have, but when both you and the kid are brand new at this, you don’t know anything about what they—or you—can tolerate.
My husband and I let our kids do cry-it-out each around 3 months, when they had shown us that they were capable of sleeping overnight without our intervention. I jokingly wagged my finger at them and said “You fucked up!” because now I knew that they didn’t need to eat to sleep through the night (we bottle fed so my husband and I split nighttime duties.) The fact that I don’t remember the gory details indicates that we got off pretty easy compared to some—I have a friend whose son is out of college and she is still mad about how he slept as a baby. My kids ended up being pretty consistent sleepers (minus head banging). We were just super great and smart parents, basically (Luck. It was good luck.)
I wanted to know how other parents whose kids are past the sleep training age feel about it now: would you have done anything differently when it came to how you approached sleep with your baby, particularly if you did cry-it-out? Are there any regrets, and what do parents really care about in retrospect? Witches, activate!
“The only thing I would do differently is not feel guilty at all about ALL the sleep training we did. Time will only tell if they were traumatized by all the cry it out and sleep training we did but my kids were (and are) good independent sleepers and I think I am a better parent to them because they slept pretty well (they are still kids and still wake us up sometimes but 8/10 nights they leave us alone). I am a complete bitch when I don’t sleep. I had to defend myself so many times (from others and from myself) for the sleep training stuff. I’m relieved that there is any reason to support it because it was FUCKING HARD.”
“I would do so much different! I didn’t know night nurses were a thing. I would have let the kid have a pacifier, and I would have done bottle-feeding at night so that I could sleep through on occasion. I also would have switched to the super-absorbant overnight diapers, because when we finally did, it cut out one waking. I might have done co-sleeping early on, too. Then I might have slept better.”
“So, we sucked at sleep training, but no regrets. My husband was in treatment for melanoma, I worked and traveled a lot in their early days. It would have been great to have a better sleep schedule, but we did not have the capacity to put in the work - I have no capacity to feel the guilt either. Kids are fine. Sure my son still sucks at bed and I wake up most days with him in my bed - but he is fine, we are fine.”
“Zero regrets about infant sleep training and my proudest achievement as a parent may be that I did reverse sleep training, so they don't leave their rooms before 7:30am. We are now recalibrating bedtime expectations with our almost-8-year-old (she no longer needs to fall asleep at 7pm, does that mean she just... hangs out till 8:30, aka my bedtime?!), and working up the nerve to take away the 3-year-old's bedtime pull-up, knowing that will likely rock the good sleep boat for a bit. I feel like there's a lot less out there on navigating these kinda-older-kid issues? But my general policy is ‘I need 10-12 hours off the clock in order to love you’ and I see no need to change that.”
“Would I do anything different? Hm, probably about... 99% of it. Signed, was once indoctrinated by the Sears Baby Book.”
“I would not do anything differently. We started sleep training our kids around 5 to 6 months and both were sleeping all night (like alllll night, not just 5 hours) by 10 months. They share a room and both are in bed by 7:30 (occasionally 8 now that it's summer). We used melatonin every single night throughout the pandemic, and I was feeling really bad about that. Our pediatrician reassured us that while it's not ideal, it's fine given the circumstances. Now that we go to the pool every day, we’ve been able to send them to bed without melatonin (even in daylight!), and I'm really relieved they go right to sleep and seem to be weaned from the gummies.”
“I would do everything differently because my son still doesn't regularly fall asleep before 9:30. 😭 I would be much more aggressive with it, and I would also completely cut my husband out of the process. I finally got us to a really good place and my son would wave to me happily when I left the room around 7:30, then fall asleep on his own. It continued this way for a couple of years, and then he decided he wanted my husband to read to him one night, and it's been a steady plunge into despair from there. So maybe...different husband? Is that too dark?”
“I would change nothing with baby sleep training, but NO ONE told me about the multiple re/training throughout the years! I may have spent my $$ on a baby night nurse to come and intervene earlier and let me sleep. Sleep deprivation was terrifying first time around.”
“We didn’t sleep train my son and he didn’t regularly sleep through the night until 2.5. We are what they warn you about if you don’t do it. I’d have 100% next time.”
“I built my life around sleep training and it is the only reason I survived that period. We have a good sleeper now. Of course that may have happened regardless, but I think the predictable routine helped all of us. I think it’s interesting that no one I know who sleep-trained now regrets it.”
“Sleep training was a miracle! My kid is almost four and still can’t fall sleep alone (requires hand holding till he does), but I’m happy to do it since he sleeps in a solid chunk from 9:15pm to 7:15am, often a bit later. Before sleep training at 4.5 months, he would only ever sleep if I was holding him. What I would do differently next time is hire a baby nurse and buy a Snoo.”
There is no one (or even two or three) right ways, to be sure, although I am always in favor of a method that works for the parents as well as the kid. There are plenty of people out there who coslept etc and also have no regrets, and people who didn’t really have a choice, like my friend who adopted her son when he was about a year and a half and needed to cosleep for practical bonding reasons. But if you’re reading this at home with a baby or a soon-to-be-baby and are concerned if you let it cry that it will grow up and not know how to hug you or is destined to become a well-known racist landlord or something like that, I think you can take that off your plate of things to worry about. By the way, if you really want to sleep train your kid but just cannot abide the sound of the crying, do what these moms did and go out of town and, if you have one, make your partner do it.
I hope you got a few good hours of sleep last night and also that you enjoyed this issue of Evil Witches, a newsletter for people who happen to be mothers.
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