In a parenting era where sleep training is the norm, I made the unpopular decision of choosing not to… and I don’t regret a single thing.
If you told me a year ago that infant sleeping habits is a potentially controversial topic, I wouldn’t have believed you. Fast forward a year later with a baby boy who’s about to turn one soon, I find myself having to constantly defend the reason for my son’s bedtime routine.
The reason? Because I commit just about every cardinal sin in the sleep training guide book. All the don’ts that are highlighted by sleep consultants? I probably do them on a daily basis.
That’s right – I don’t sleep-train my baby.
But first, a short disclaimer from yours truly.
Before going into details about the choice to not sleep-train, I wish to emphasise that how you choose to raise and parent your child is a personal choice that should be respected. No one should judge or criticise your parenthood just because you choose to do things differently – simply because you know your child the best, and you know what’s best for your family. I also acknowledge that I’m blessed enough to have the privilege of choosing not to sleep-train. I’m aware that some families don’t have the choice due to living or working arrangements.
You do you, parents!
Now, on to the main topic…
To sleep-train, or not to sleep-train – that is the question.
My husband and I were co-sleeping with our son up till he was six months old. It was an arrangement that was made out of practicality more than choice, as we were still staying in a rental two-bedroom unit with my mum. As such, we couldn’t sleep-train him until we moved to our new home where he’ll have his own room.
After the move, we again decided to delay sleep training because we wanted him to get used to this new sleep environment. I was sleeping next to my son (we got him a floor bed) for two days, then running back-and-forth between our rooms whenever he woke up at night.
Despite feeling ridiculously exhausted by the end of the week (he was waking up every two hours), I found myself quite reluctant to start sleep training him. My husband felt the same. Call us overly-protective new parents, but there’s something about letting a baby cry alone in a dark room that we weren’t comfortable with. We’re aware that there are gentle sleep training methods, like the pick-up-put-down and chair methods, but they all involve an element of separation that we just don’t think is suitable for our son.
However, most of our colleagues and friends think differently. Those who favour the cry-it-out method said that it’s the fastest way to teach a baby how to sleep independently; many recommended the Ferber method as it provides a good balance of parent and baby self-soothing. We even got close to engaging a sleep consultant since we were too afraid to do it ourselves.
To sum up the advice I got:
- You should be sleep-training your baby as it’s good for them.
- Sleep-training only sounds ‘cruel’ because the parents are too afraid or soft-hearted.
- If I want my baby to sleep through the night, I must sleep-train him.
If there’s baby-led weaning, could there be… baby-led sleeping?
The thought came to me one night as I was preparing a week’s worth of vegetable puree for bub. Since baby-led approaches are all the rage now, surely there must be a baby-led sleep approach?
And to my pleasant surprise – the concept of baby-led sleeping exists!
A simple Google search brought me to Isla-Grace Sleep, a sleep consultant which started the baby-led sleep approach. According to the website, baby-led sleep means improving a child’s sleep quality through attachment-focused methods that follow a mother’s instincts and her baby’s cues.
Does this mean attending to your baby whenever they wake up crying during the night? Yes. You should be doing so as soon as you can, in fact. Baby-led sleep isn’t a magical solution that makes your baby sleep through the night instantly. It’s a method that aims to help your baby, well, sleep like a baby.
The pressure to “sleep through the night” and “self-soothe”
If you have a baby, chances are that you’ll be asked this question at least five times throughout your child’s first year: “Does your baby sleep through the night?”. Should the answer be no and you decide to start sleep-training your baby, the goal would then be to teach your baby to “self-soothe” so that even if they wake up during the night, they can soothe themselves back to sleep.
That’s what I’ve been told, and came to believe… until I read this article written by the sleep consultant who co-created the baby-led sleep approach. One thing that really resonated with me was when she explained how leaving a baby in a room all by themselves is probably the scariest thing that a baby could face.
Confession: I hate being all alone in the dark. I usually keep a night lamp or bathroom light on if I have to sleep alone. Reminding myself this helps put things into perspective. How can I expect my baby son to soothe himself in a huge, dark room, when I can’t even stand it?
Besides that, I remember being told by a nurse in the maternity ward that the only way a baby knows how to signal distress is through crying. This tallies with what the author claims: Sometimes a baby who is put through the cry-it-out method falls asleep not because they managed to self-soothe, but because they were trained to stop signalling and communicating, or even passed out from sheer exhaustion.
Teaching my son independence by letting him know he can depend on us
It may sound contradictory, but baby-led sleep is about teaching your child to be an independent sleeper by letting them know that they can depend on you. It’s about giving your child the assurance that you’ll be there to help them whenever they need you.
Babies thrive on attachment – it’s a natural instinct that’s essential for their survival. To them, overnight sleep represents at least ten hours of not being attached to their parents. As such, it makes sense for them to wake up searching for a familiar face to feel secure. Baby-led sleep believes that once a baby’s needs – from physical health to emotional ones like attachment – are met, then they’ll gradually be able to learn independence.
As I count down to my little boy’s first birthday, I realise that his infanthood days are coming to an end. There’ll come a day when he’ll no longer crawl to me for a cuddle, or generously plant kisses all over my cheeks. My little boy will no longer be little, and will eventually be independent of me. Hence, I’ll let him sleep the way he is – like a baby.