Some Sleep Training Methods Are Simply Not Okay
I was a pretty crunchy mama when my kids were little. You know, breastfed them forever, baby wore them till they were preschoolers, let them sleep in my bed (also forever!), cloth diapered them, practiced positive discipline, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Now that they are older, I have learned that the parenting choices you make when your kids are young don’t matter as much as you think when you are in the thick of it. Bottlefed or breastfed, co-slept or crib-slept, your tween is still going to roll their eyes at you if you so much as breathe within ten feet of them.
All that being said, there is a parenting choice that I really can’t abide with – couldn’t when my kids were young, and still can’t put up with for one second today.
It’s the idea that during the course of sleep training, you should leave your child to cry so hard that they vomit. And that if it gets to that point, you shouldn’t so much as pick your child up to console them. Nope, just clean up the puke, and let your child cry some more until they finally drift off into dreamy slumber.
No, this is not a joke. Yes, people do it. And it’s based on actual advice from a published book written co-written by a freaking pediatrician (apparently one who lives in medieval times).
The book in question is called Your Baby Week by Week: The Ultimate Guide to Caring for Your New Baby, and was written by Dr. Caroline Fertleman, a pediatrician at the Whittington Hospital in London, and Simone Cave, a former health editor at the Daily Mirror.
The Peaceful Parenting Facebook page shared an excerpt from this horrid book in which this abhorrent advice is (ever so casually) unleashed.
The section this passage is excerpted from appears to be about the method of “controlled crying,” often utilized in sleep training methods. The authors advise that during a certain phase of this training “some babies scream so hard that they are sick.”
Now, “controlled crying” – even if you wouldn’t do it yourself – is a sleep training method that plenty of loving parents use. What any level-headed person might expect these authors to say at this point in the book is, “If you baby is screaming so hard that they are making themselves physically sick (i.e., vomiting), this is a sign that you should consider letting them cry for less time, or re-evaluating if this method is working.”
Here is the authors’ cringe-worthy advice: “If your baby is sick,” they say, “you will have to be strong-minded not to scoop him into your arms to comfort him.” According to the authors, giving your vomiting child any kind of comfort then will “only prolong the process and his misery.” (Ummm, won’t picking the baby up actually end the process, along with their misery?!).
Instead, what they advise is that you simply go into your child’s room – and, as coldly as possible, deal with the mess that your child is inconveniencing you with. Then, just go ahead and let them continue crying. And puking, I suppose, if that’s what happens when they wail helplessly for hours at a time.
“Try to be efficient and calm as you change the sheet,” the authors explain, “you can do half the cot at a time so that you don’t even lift your baby out of the cot. Don’t speak to your baby, and be as quick as you can so that you don’t get his hopes up allowing him to think that he’s going to be cuddled and fed.”
I’m sorry, but this sounds so heartless and cruel that I am getting sick to my stomach.
Now, before you jump down my throat with all the arguments for sleep training, I GET IT. While I was never comfortable with any crying to get my kids to sleep (though, let’s be honest, some babies cry even when you are putting them to sleep in your arms), I understand that there are different sleep training methods out there, and that most of them are not nearly this horrific.
I think the Ferber method of sleep training, where you go in at periodic intervals to calm and soothe your baby makes a lot of sense, actually. I mean, it doesn’t sound like a picnic and I have some concerns about sleep training breastfed infants too early on (i.e., it can tank a mother’s milk supply). But I don’t believe few nights of “controlled crying” is going to do lasting damage to your child, especially if you are attuned to your child, and aware of the difference between them simply crying/complaining/fussing vs. crying-so-hard-they-make-themselves-hurl.
I think we can all agree that if your baby gets to that point during sleep training (and I’m sure it’s happened even to the most well-intentioned parents), it’s time to reevaluate what’s going on. At the very least, pick up your baby, change their clothes, and give them a few extra kisses.
I am not alone in my supreme discomfort of these sorts of tactics. Just check out the Amazon and Goodreads review for Your Baby Week by Week: The Ultimate Guide to Caring for Your New Baby. Even sleep training advocates are not having any of this bullshit.
There is no denying that the baby years are freaking exhausting. But you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that there are certain parenting methods out there that are just a matter of choice and others that are just plain wrong.
Letting your child scream till they puke – and then not even soothing them, changing them out of their pukey clothes, and then continuing to let them cry? That’s just neglect in my book.
Hear what our real-life Scary Mommies, Keri and Ashley, have to say about this when they give their (always real) thoughts in this episode of our Scary Mommy Speaks podcast.
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