Sleep Training Shock: Dangers of Rigid Schedules for Newborns


Sleep Training Shock

Sleep Struggles: Questioning Parenting Narratives

One of the more thoughtful gifts I received when I was pregnant with my son was a subscription to Today’s Parent magazine. For the past two years, I have enjoyed flipping through the articles, finding stories I’ve enjoyed or trying some great recipes. When I saw the cover of this month’s (February 2015) issue, with “Sleeping through the night” scrawled across the bottom, I slightly rolled my eyes, knowing that I would need to take this one with a grain of salt. As with all discussions surrounding sleep, there are stories from one extreme to the next and LOTS of heated opinions. While I am confident in my stance on what I have researched, what I believe and what has worked for our family, I also fully realize and appreciate that different things work for different families. However, one particular story in this article is enough to make me lose precious sleep tonight. After reading it this morning, it has bothered me all day. I debated whether or not to write this blog in the heat of the moment, or wait until I had thought through it…but here we are, and you’re getting the heat of the moment!

The article I am referring to can be found here, and the main story I was so affected by is titled “I put my baby on a strict schedule”.

A Gentle Approach to Infant Sleep

It is important for me to say again that I do realize different things work for different families (and babies). No two babies are alike, and all new parents are wading through challenging times, trying to figure out the best approach for the good of their babies and their own sanity. I get it. I am not trying to fuel the Mommy Wars. That being said, my opinion is that babies (especially during the “fourth trimester” in the first three months of life) need and deserve to be responded to in a loving, patient and respectful way. I do not agree with cry-it-out or most methods of sleep training. I believe in responding to the ever-changing needs of your child, while trying to maintain some balance of self-care.  I learned a great deal about infant sleep and what to expect from a prenatal sleep class, and I have done bits and pieces of research on my own, favouring sources such as Dr. Sears and several great articles from Evolutionary Parenting, along with this article, which I have read several times, and passed along to other moms who have asked for some guidance. Let me also fully disclose that I am not the expert here, but if you are looking for coaching, guidance or advice when it comes to sleep, I highly recommend Brandie Hadfield, who taught my prenatal sleep class, and is certified by Dr. Sears and a member of Attachment Parenting International.

The Shocking Reality of Infant Sleep Routines

Ok, back to the article. So, of course I knew I would come across the stories of sleep training and probably someone’s account of how difficult cry-it-out was, but I never anticipated hearing a story like what was told in “I put my baby on a strict schedule”. My stomach simply dropped when I read that this mother had her baby on a schedule at two days old. TWO DAYS. Forty eight hours new, and already on the clock. Many babies have not left the hospital by this point. Many babies have not left their mother’s breast at this point. I am all for routines in the right place and time, but plastering your house with Post-Its detailing a rigid schedule for an infant seems like a recipe for postpartum disaster if you ask me.  So, you are a new mom-to-be and you go to the bookstore. You are overwhelmed by the titles for sleep books alone, the research, the opinions. So you settle on…a book that promises to have your baby sleeping “through the night” using a step-by-step program for the first six weeks of life. The FIRST six weeks. Even the pro-sleep training doctors will not usually recommend any sort of sleep training until at least 3 months old. Maybe because your baby is, um, BRAND NEW and needs some attention and nurturing? Then, the list of forbidden practices with your brand new robot child: “pacifiers, co-sleeping, putting babies to sleep with help from a bottle or breast, rocking or bouncing into a deep slumber.” Basically, stare your newborn baby in the face, don’t feed or comfort them, and make certain they don’t drift off to sleep while in your loving arms. I should’ve just stopped reading.

My jaw literally hit the floor when I read the next steps. In summary, in order to make your baby sleep, wake them up. Every three hours. For the sole purpose of forcing them to get back to sleep on your own. Can I just repeat that? WAKE YOUR BABY UP. Every sleep deprived mothers’ dream! Aside from true concerns with feeding and weight gain in the early days, why in heaven’s name would you want to wake your sleeping baby, to interrupt your child’s sleep to help them sleep “better”?? Shockingly enough, the author of this story tells us that her daughter was “almost always out cold, and she would scream when I woke her up“. Yes, as opposed to most other human beings who are simply delighted to be woken out of a deep, peaceful sleep at intervals dictated by someone else. Seriously?

Embracing Motherhood’s Messy Beauty over Rigid Schedules

The story concludes that by 12 weeks old, her baby was sleeping from 7pm to 7am. And how this allowed her to enjoy the “luxuries” that many other new moms do not get. These “many” other moms are unfortunately catering to their babies, missing out on mani/pedis and drinks with girlfriends. Again, I’m all for balance and self care, but do you ever stop to ask yourself why you chose to become a mother? Why you tried (maybe really hard, through fertility struggles, ironically like this mother in the article) to make a child to add to your life if you did not want your life interrupted by a child? By all means, take time for yourself. Enjoy a shower or a coffee with a friend while your partner, family member or postpartum doula takes a turn caring for your baby. But to brag about forcing such a rigid and, in my opinion, cruel schedule on your newborn baby so you can enjoy the “luxuries” most moms go without? This just makes me sad. Because you are missing out. You are missing out on the messy haired, dark eyed, soft bellied mom uniform that we should be proud of. You are missing out on the hours you spend rocking or nursing your infant, wishing you were on Facebook but then looking at that sweet face and realizing there’s nowhere else you’d rather be. You are missing running out of storage on your iPhone each week from taking 40 videos of your baby having gas smiles in their sleep. Why the schedule? Why not slow down and enjoy these precious early days, weeks, months, even years, with your baby? I’ll remind myself of this when my toddler calls out for me at 4am and I climb into his bed to feel him nuzzle right into the cradle of my neck, while my pregnant belly jumps with the kicks of our next greatest adventure. This, is motherhood. And I’ll sleep when they’re 30.





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