How I Changed My Mind About Sleep Training

There are people who have blogs who eventually learn that there are things you're just not allowed to write about on the internet: vaccines, spanking, breastfeeding in public, crying it out, etc. I am not one of those people. And I get a lot of reader questions about those things, especially about crying it out. A lot of mothers worry about sleep training. They worry that allowing their baby to cry it out will have long term adverse effects on their relationship with their child and on the child's personality and temperament. I had those same concerns as a new mom. I'm not someone who ever, ever thought I would let my baby cry. But, I changed my mind. So, here we go again.

When I was pregnant with my first, I read all the parenting books and I knew I was attachment-parenting for-evah. Because, obviously, anyone who did anything else was just not trying hard enough.

So, since God is funny, I got a baby who was a terrible, terrible sleeper even though I did all the things the books said. And, since I am stubborn, I just kept doing those things, even though they weren't working.

It took a few babies, actually, for me to figure out what works for me and my particular brand of baby.

I'm still an attachment parenting-type. I sleep with my babies, and wear them during the day, I've been able to exclusively breastfeed seven children. I find that the convenience and flexibility of attachment parenting is worth sacrificing baby-free date nights, and regular bathing, for a few months.

I cannot put my sleeping babies down. If I do, they wake up. Almost immediately. I also mostly can't nurse them to sleep in bed and sneak away from them. (Except on the day when I wrote my Day in the Life post!) I just wear or carry them all the time.

We sail right along, with them sleeping on and with me, until right around nine months. Then, for me and for my babies, it stops working. They stop being able to sleep for long periods in the carrier, and they stop sleeping well with me at night. They get reeeeeeal wiggly.

So, eventually, painfully, stubbornly, over many months and years and babies, I figured out that when the thing I was doing before stops working, I need to do something else. I need to do something that works, even if books and people on the internet try to scare me and insist that the way they do it is the only acceptable way.

They are wrong.

That's why I'm not here to tell you to sleep train your baby. Co-sleeping and babywearing is awesome. That "parenting to sleep" thing is fine with me. If it is working for you and your baby, if you are both well-rested and functioning then keep right on keepin' on. BUT. If you and your baby are tired and grumpy, or even if you just sometimes need two hands and your back free all at the same time, or to be able to go out to dinner with your husband and not have anyone grab a handful of your potatoes . . .

I am here to tell you that, in my experience with my many children, sleep training did not make any difference in the temperament, personality, or attachment of my babies. Even when it included long periods of crying.

No difference at all. My outgoing babies were outgoing before sleep training and they were outgoing after. My reserved babies were reserved before sleep training and they were reserved after. My grumpy old man baby was still grumpy. My happiest baby on the planet is still happy.

And all of them still have a very strong attachment to me, both before and after sleep training.

Not responding to their cries while they learn to fall asleep on their own has also in no way lessened their predilection to ask for help, they pretty much do that all the livelong day. Nor has it made them withdrawn and wary of the world around them. They are very friendly and outgoing. Except for the ones who aren't. They are as God made them.

Sleep training did not make a difference for my babies, but it did make a difference for me. Once I figured out that I could get my babies to sleep in a crib, and I worked up the nerve to actually do it, it made a positive difference for me as a mother. Once I begin sleep training, I am able to get an uninterrupted, or at least a less-interrupted night's sleep. I am able to get out of survival mode in cooking, household upkeep, and meeting the needs of my other kids. I am able to spend more quality time with my husband.

Sleep training my kids has run the gauntlet from very easy to very, very hard, but every one was worth the trouble and stress it caused my husband and me at the time, because it's such a beautiful thing when it's accomplished. There are few things in the world that are better than holding a newborn baby. But also in my top ten, is putting a ten month old down to sleep . . . all by herself, and just walking away.

p.s. Just for the record, I don't have any experience with attempting to sleep train babies younger than about six months old, so I can't speak to how that goes.

For more on this same topic, but with less-soothing pictures, see this post:


For my thoughts on babywearing, see this post: