I have been sharing a little recently about the sleep training struggles we have been having with our six-month-old. After posting something on social media, so many people reached out to share that they too struggle. And I can’t say that I am surprised.
Getting your child to sleep through the night might be one of the most coveted parental successes out there. Yet there are so many mixed messages about how to handle the process. Let them cry it out. Soothe them. Pick them up. Don’t pick them up. Dark room. Night light. Sound machine. Silence. It is confusing.
Trying to figure out what is best for you and your child when it comes to sleep training is huge task in and of itself. Then you must implement the plan and see success, all while being incredibly sleep deprived. The whole thing has been very difficult for us, and I know the same is true for many others.
While I am by no means an expert on infant sleep (the last few nights in our home would actually suggest I am the exact opposite), I do believe you need to follow your gut when it comes to sleep training.
So this is why I will always pick up my baby:
A few months ago, I came across a story online. I cannot remember exactly where I read it or who wrote it, but the message stuck with me. The author shared an account of a visit she had made to an orphanage overseas. She was struck first by the sheer number of infants they were caring for. But then something stood out to her. She noticed that none of the babies were crying. All of the babies laid quietly in their bassinets. Some were asleep, but many were awake, yet not a single one was crying.
When she asked a caretaker at the orphanage how they were able to get the babies to be so quiet, the response she got was heartbreaking. She was told that there were too many babies for them each to be picked up every time they needed. Over time, these babies had learned that no matter how long or hard they cried, no one was going to come pick them up. So they stopped crying.
Now, I was only a few weeks postpartum when I had read this, so you can imagine the hormonal crying mess I became. But even now, thinking again about this story I get emotional. Thinking about all of these babies, with no one to pick them up. No one to soothe them. And here I am considering not picking up my child in an attempt to get her to sleep. Suddenly it feels wrong. While I wholeheartedly believe there is value in teaching your baby to self soothe, I am personally struggling to find the line between that and abandonment.
So what should we do?
My husband and I have been having an ongoing discussion about how to handle this current sleep (or lack thereof) issue. All of the advice we are getting is to let her cry it out. And we try that. Every night she struggles to sleep, we let her cry (at least a little). But something does not feel right to us.
The other day, I shared this story with him and again was overcome by tears. This time it might have been the sleep deprivation rather than the hormones, but there is still something about this story. One of the things that is most important to me as a parent is to make sure that my kids know I will always be there for them. Critics might say that part of that includes teaching them to sleep. But while I am laying in my bed listening to my daughter scream in her room, my gut is telling me I need to pick her up. So, in the moment I told my husband this story, after wiping away the tears, we made a decision. We will pick up our daughter.
Maybe when she is older, and I have a few more months of sleepless nights driving my decision, we will revisit the cry it out technique. But for the time being, what is best for our family is to not allow the crying to escalate to screaming. To not let a timer dictate when we will go in and reassure our daughter that she is safe. We will pick her up when it feels like that is what’s best. When it seems like soothing her is better for her that the potential longer stretch of sleep we might get if we held off. And if the mood strikes, I might even let her sleep in my arms.
So while I may never sleep again (that can’t be true can it?!), I am going to hope that those babies in the orphanage find their way into loving homes. That they eventually learn they are cared for, and that someone is there to pick them up.