Anyone who has dived into sleep training hashtags recently will have seen many anti-sleep training posts – making tired families feel guilty for the choice they are making in regards to their child or baby’s sleep. Or they speak poorly about “baby trainers” or sleep consultants forcing parents to do things with their baby that are falsely selling services to new parents that might impact a healthy attachment. These posts are largely from people who subscribe to the attachment parenting philosophy.
Attachment Parenting became popular due to Dr. William Sears encouraging basic tenets of attachment parenting including: breast feeding and feeding on demand, co-sleeping in a family bed, baby wearing, and responsiveness to a baby’s emotional needs (therefore not leaving them to cry). Many people in the attachment parenting space believe that sleep training goes against these tenets because this means that there will not be that level of responsiveness to crying and having their needs met during sleep periods.
Parents have a very important role to play in helping create strong and healthy attachments to their little one’s. This includes cuddling, eye contact, being sensitive to their baby’s needs and non verbal cues. But does this responsibility preclude sleep training to improve your baby or child’s sleep?
I’m going to get controversial and say that Attachment Parenting doesn’t have to preclude sleep training.
The biggest reason for choosing the attachment parenting style is to be responsive and understanding of your child’s needs, provide love and affection and create a secure attachment in the process. A secure attachment, as described by John Bowlby, is essentially “a lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” This is something that we all want to have with our baby from the moment of birth. However, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, baby wearing, and so forth, in and of themselves, don’t cause a secure attachment. A secure attachment is about providing a sense of security and safety and being a secure base from which a child can explore their world. This secure attachment is formed from all the little things a parent does throughout the day to show that they love and delight in their child. Being attuned to their baby or child’s needs does this. There are a lot of parents who have a strong attachment to their baby or child despite not bed sharing, baby wearing or embark on the practice of sleep training.
When we sleep train a child we can do it in numerous different ways depending on our style of parenting, wishes. needs and goals. There is not one method of sleep training. There are many and can range from gentle methods like being with the baby or child the whole time (like pick up/put down or chair method) to giving a baby or child the space to work out the sleep business themselves (Ferber method or Cry it Out). Studies have shown that there is strong evidence that leaving your baby to cry during sleep training has no adverse impact on attachment.
And yes, this means that a baby or child will spend time being upset and have some big feelings. But depending on the method they can do this alone or with a parent close by. But at the end of the day the science of attachment isn’t rooted in where a child sleeps or how. And those periods of upset and aloneness are balanced out by them having their needs met and the attunement during the non-sleeping hours.
Crying is a part of the sleep training process that worries parents in general, and specifically attachment parents. No parent wants to see their baby or child upset, but the crying that happens during sleep training is not the cry of distress or fear that we often worry about but instead a cry of “Come back and do what you used to do, I don’t like this new routine, I liked the old one better.” They are crying essentially because they much preferred their parents helping them fall asleep. After all, learning to sleep is new and not easy. Just like us when we get frustrated over a difficult task. And for babies especially; it is their main form of communication. They can’t tell us all these things in words.
One way we can also reframe this in our heads is: this won’t be the last time we let our child or baby cry – out of upset, anger, or frustration. We will stop them from touching that light socket they are so excited about and they won’t be happy. If we practice attachment parenting does this mean we protect them from their upset even in those situations?
The other big issue is that if we follow the attachment parenting style of jumping up at our baby or child’s every noise, co-sleeping, baby wearing and so on this can lead to exhaustion. If in the process of doing all this we inadvertently start a sleep association this can lead to a very tired parent who is not getting enough sleep because they are up hours upon hours in the middle of the night trying to help their child pr baby fall asleep and maintain sleep. If you are too tired day in and day out this is going to make it hard for you to enjoy being a parent and to meet the day to day needs of your baby or child in the way you truly want to, which has the potential to impact the development of a secure attachment.
Whereas deciding to work on independent sleep skills – whether by yourself or with the help of a pediatric sleep coach – has a huge impact on people’s lives. I have seen first hand how working on sleep can truly change things – parents are healthier, happier and well rested. Babies and children are as well. I love getting text messages with smiles of those happy babies who are finally sleeping well! Some parents even tell me they thought their baby was happy before sleep training, but WOW are they even happier afterwards. How amazing is that? If sleep training can change things so that parents are well-rested then they can great each day with their baby with eagerness and enthusiasm and be able to show their baby the love, delight, and attunement that is so important.
You can be a responsive parent, a good parent, who has a securely attached child, no matter what decision you make about their sleep. The best parenting strategy when it comes to your child’s sleep is to do with works for you and your family. The main priority is really healthy sleep habits and ensuring that both parents and babies are well rested and happy with how sleep is going. Your parenting approach may be different to your friend, neighbor or relative and that is okay.
Now I’d love to hear from you, do you agree? Does attachment parenting preclude sleep training? And for those of you who have sleep trained, did it improve your parent-child relationship?