Sleep training and attachment…. This is the question that I get asked more and more regularly. “Is my baby gonna be ok if I sleep train?”. It’s a hot topic regarding baby sleep and is passionately debated anytime sleep training is talked about. You have two camps…. One that believes that teaching a baby to sleep is a gift to both the baby AND the family. Then the other camp that believes sleep training is evil and no loving parent would ever consider subjecting their baby to any such thing.
Verbiage like “unresponsive parent”, “unattached”, “disengaged” and “selfish” are all words that are thrown around by people that believe that sleep training is just outright bad.
I can tell you that in all my years working with families I’ve never worked with a parent that fits that description. I mean, where do they come up with this stuff??!!
Here’s the facts of the situation…
Sleep training does not affect the secure bond and connection that a parent has built with their baby. A few days or even a few weeks of teaching a baby the skill of independent sleep does not destroy all the hours that those parents have spent lovingly caring for and meeting the needs of their baby. Babies are not so fragile in their attachment that something as simple as sleep training could break that connection. And remember sleep training/sleep shaping can be done in a very slow progression of steps that causes very little stress (if any) to your baby. The earlier you start the easier it is.
And this is not just me saying this. This topic has been studied and it’s been proven that not only does sleep training NOT harm mom or baby but it actually strengthens the family’s overall wellbeing.
This Study pretty much says it all…. “ Behavioral sleep techniques have no marked long-lasting effects (positive or negative). Parents and health professionals can confidently use these techniques to reduce the short- to medium-term burden of infant sleep problems and maternal depression.
Whew! Isn’t that good news? Now let’s move on to the next…
This shows that babies who get consolidated night sleep have higher cognitive scores. It also shows that they have an easier temperament, are more approachable, less distractible, and more adaptable. Now, who doesn’t want that?!
This has absolutely been my experience with the families that I work with. Once everyone is getting a good night’s sleep mom and dad both express how much MORE they are enjoying their baby. And enjoying each other! Baby is happy and alert. Gone is the fussiness and unsettledness that was once so much a part of their life. Mom and dad now have time to take care of themselves AND each other. And they now have the emotional and physical energy to care for their baby. Gone is the exhaustion and depletion that was once a daily part of their lives. Life begins to look considerably brighter as parents go from survival mode to thriving and attachment remains secure.
Here’s another Study that shows that sleep training doesn’t harm attachment. Attachment is multi-faceted and the bonds of the child-parent relationship are NOT easily broken. Thank God for that! Trust me on this. If the parent-child connection was so easily harmed we’d all be in BIG trouble!!
Here’s another study that looked at maternal stress levels. They measured cortisol ( a stress hormone) in both mom and baby and here is what they concluded:
“Maternal stress decreased over the first month of sleep training. Infant Stress, measured by salivary cortisol levels, also decreased slightly. The security of child-parent attachment was not different among the sleep training and nonsleep training group”.
The conclusion also showed “significant improvements in maternal anxiety and depression”
It’s common knowledge that postpartum depression is worsened through sleep deprivation. Quanity & quality sleep has a substantial positive effect on mental health, and mental health certainly affects your ability to bond and connect with your baby. A well-rested mother is more easily tuned into her baby and able to respond consistently and appropriately. Bonding and attachment supports a new mom being present and able to meet her baby’s needs in a timely manner. Compare this with a mom who is at the “end of her rope” and is feeling resentful or desperate. Which one is going to be the better mama?
But Doesn’t Sleep Training cause stress to my Baby?
Yes, learning a new skill does introduce a certain level of intermittent stress. But, let’s also not forget that there are different levels of stress. We all experience stress to varying degrees and there is a big difference between normal stress that actually helps our babies/kids to learn and chronic stress that is overwhelming to them. Intermittent stress helps them to learn resiliency and is very different than stress that is rooted in chronic neglect. All stress is NOT the same. So while learning a new skill can be intermittently stressful in the short term, the long-term benefit for every member of the family FAR outweighs the short-term, intermittent stress that most families experience. I’ve never had a family say that the few days or few weeks of working on sleep wasn’t the BEST thing they ever did for their family. Chronic sleep deprivation robs you of the joy of parenting and it robs your baby of being well rested. Long term broken sleep is terrible for everyone, including your baby .
How long can you expect to be sleep deprived when you bring a new baby home?
While each family and baby is different you can certainly expect a few months of being tired after you bring your baby home. However, once your baby is 3-4 months you should certainly feel that sleep has improved. And, at this time, you are no longer up multiple times per night tending to or feeding your baby the way you were when they were brand new. If your baby is older than 4 months old and you feel you are beginning to unravel from being sleep deprived, reach out if you’re ready to start sleeping again.
I will help you to determine what age-appropriate night wakings should be for your baby based on a variety of factors and you can decide if you’re ready to move forward with helping them to learn independent sleep skills. And remember this doesn’t mean CIO!
So I hope after reading this that you feel a little more confident that your bond with your baby is secure. That sleep training and attachment CAN go hand in hand and know that mom guilt does not need to plague you if you decide to sleep train. YOU are the best Mama or daddy for YOUR baby and I want you to know that your attachment is not at risk if you are hitting a wall and know that a good nights sleep is the answer!
So while sleep training may not be the right fit for every family it is a viable and safe option for any family that feels that they are not able to cope any longer in their current circumstances. And remember you don’t have to wait til you’re at the end of your rope to start. The best time to start shaping healthy sleep habits is when your baby is young. You can literally start the most simple of things as soon as you bring your baby home from the hospital. This can completely eliminate the need for sleep training later!
Don’t hesitate to reach out if you want to learn more or just want to chat about your current situation. I’m here to support your family in a way that feels right to you. And, know that I ALWAYS support healthy attachment!
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