When it comes to sleep training, there is a LOT of myths out there. As moms, we all want what’s best for our little ones, but with so much false information out there, its so hard to know what that is! When I started writing this article, I reached out to a number of moms to find out what myths they had heard… needless to say, there were many. There were however, three big ones that stood out to me and were consistent among the responses. My goal? Dispel these myths and help you to make the decision that’s right for you and your family.
Myth #1: Babies aren’t able to self soothe
I’m sure you’ve all heard this one – babies don’t have the ability to soothe themselves. FALSE! Babies absolutely can self-soothe! Infants as young as one week old are able to suck on their fist or fingers to calm themselves when they’re sleepy or hungry. While babies and young children don’t have the ability to regulate their emotions as adults do, they are capable of finding ways to self-soothe on an instinctual level.
When we look at sleep learning (aka sleep training) with babies, a holistic approach is best to help set little ones up for success. Simply putting babies down, walking away, and leaving them to figure it out all by themselves is going to result in a lot of crying and likely not going to yield a lot of success. When we instead create a nurturing environment that fosters good sleep hygiene, ensure adequate nutrition, the presence of routine and positive sleep associations, we set the stage for sleep and the opportunity to learn to self-soothe.
What are sleep associations you ask? These are the things in babies environment that help them to fall asleep. They are often referred to as sleep props and come in two categories – limiting associations and healthy associations. Healthy associations are things like a dark room and white noise – environmental factors that encourage sleep and can remain consistent through the duration of sleep. Limiting associations on the other hand are things like sucking to sleep (soother or breast), rocking/bouncing, co-sleeping etc. Throughout the night, we all wake up numerous times as we transition between sleep cycles. For most of us, we aren’t even aware we wake up, we simply roll over and go back to sleep. For babies, however, if anything in their environment has changed from the time they fell asleep (ie. being rocked in mom and dads arms) they will fully awaken and look for that association to be restored before falling back to sleep. If your baby is reliant on these limiting sleep associations, the goal of sleep learning with The Mama Coach will be to wean baby off these props and work towards setting a foundation for healthy sleep where baby will learn to fall asleep independently through self-soothing.
Myth #2: Sleep training is harmful and causes toxic stress
This myth is a big one, and my least favourite when it comes to the false information that is circulating out there about sleep training. Those early days with your baby are so special, but so exhausting! You make it through those first months of sleep deprivation with the hope of teaching your baby to sleep better, only to open up Dr. Google and read that sleep training is harmful for babies, yikes! The theory is, that babies who are sleep trained, do not stop crying because they have self-soothed, but rather because they’ve realized no one is coming and give up. Now, if that scares you into continuing those long, sleep deprived nights, you’re not alone. Anti sleep-coaching proponents push the notion that sleep training leads to toxic stress in babies. Toxic stress can indeed happen to babies who are raised in homes where they are exposed to “strong, frequent and/or prolonged adversity – such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect… without adequate adult support” according to an article published by Harvard University. To insinuate that sleep training your baby will lead to toxic stress is scary, downright cruel, and not to mention, completely false! According to a study conducted by the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP), in loving, supportive, nurturing homes, when sleep training is approached in a holistic manner that sets the stage for independent sleep, toxic stress will not happen and teaching your baby healthy sleep habits is completely safe.
Myth #3: You have to sleep train you baby
As a paediatric sleep consultant, this probably isn’t something you expected to hear, but the truth is that you do not have to sleep train. Every baby, every family and every situation is different. Not every family chooses to sleep train and that is 100% okay. To me, the best decision is an informed one. What I aways so to my clients is this: ‘so long as your baby is safe, healthy and cared for, if something isn’t a problem for you, then it isn’t a problem’. So if your baby wakes up every hour and needs to be nursed or rocked back to sleep and you’re okay with this, then that’s totally fine, you do you! If, however, your baby is waking frequently, you’re tired of helping them back to sleep and ready for change, then it’s a good time to reach out to your local Mama Coach for support and a holistic approach to teaching your baby healthy sleep habits.
I hope this has shed some light on just a few of the myths that are out there when it comes to sleep training to help make an informed decision about what’s best for you and your family.