Sometimes when I really want my husband's attention to talk about something on my mind, I'll say, "Babe, can we have some real talk?" So, today I'm having some real talk in my sleep consultant world. I want to talk about YOU, mama!
While we're seeing more and more evidence that a temporary phase of increased crying during sleep training does not cause harmful effects, there continues to be a backlash against parents that choose to take the path of guiding their children into independent sleep habits. Despite the lack of evidence, sleep-deprived mamas are told they will be abandoning their child, causing loss of brain cells, and halting their child from calling out for help when needed. But we know the importance of sleep for growth, development, attention, and learning. So, what's a mama to do? We know in our heads how important sleep is, but what I want to address today is how this training process feels for you, mama.
Being a mama is HARD, y'all! I get it. I'm there. As my 13-month-old starts to test limits and boundaries, it's hard! When she went through a rough period of separation anxiety where I couldn't leave her side for two weeks straight, it was hard! I've also been there through the internal battle of knowing that my new, sweet baby needed to learn to sleep on her own but also questioning myself about if and when to intervene. Throughout my daughter's early infancy, I found myself reverting back to bouncing to sleep, to checking on her multiple times, to attempting to nurse her to sleep just because I wanted to help her. It took 6 months of utilizing different methods to get daytime sleep on track. At times I sabotaged her progress because I wasn't consistent. Because you know what, it's hard to listen to your baby become frustrated! I knew she wasn't harmed, I knew she would eventually be able to settle herself, I knew that even if I tried to hold her, she would push away because I was actually interfering with her ability to get to sleep. But as her mama, I just didn't want to see her cry.
Sometimes my role as a sleep consultant means I have to show a little tough love. Sometimes it means I have to say, yes, your little one IS going to cry because her expectations have changed. If you want her sleeping habits to change, you have to change the expectations. And if you change the expectations, you can be certain of some push back from your little one. While I'd like to think I can take care of the "hard part" by providing you with all of the tools you need to successfully improve your child's sleeping habits, I know that's not the case. The hardest part comes when you have to listen to your child protest the changes. I know it's hard. I do.
Here are 3 tips to help you get through the hardest part, those first few days of change:
1. Enlist Help - You know the saying "it takes a village to raise a child?" Well, that includes sleep training. This can be a stressful and tiring process on an already exhausted mama, and I often find mamas feel as if they have to do it all themselves. If dad can help, particularly during night wakings, it can speed up the process. While weaning from night feedings needs to be discussed with your child's healthcare provider and implemented into the sleep plan appropriately, if baby is receiving night feedings, the protests afterwards tend to be shorter-lived when dad does the feeding. This is typically because dads tend to be more straightforward, so to speak, in the process and aren't as likely to elicit the interactive responses that mama does. Also, if the child is not going to be feeding, dad obviously doesn't smell like breastmilk (for those nursing babies), which reduces the temptation and desire to feed. What if your circumstances prevent dad from physically helping during the training? There are other ways to be involved: giving mama a break to rest if he's home and little one is awake, sending encouraging text messages during naptimes, getting up a tad earlier to brew the coffee for mama. Family and friends can provide great emotional support as well, maybe you even have a mama friend going through the same thing. Find your village; you don't have to go through this alone!
2. Remind Yourself of Your Why - This one is just as important. As a certified child sleep consultant, I am all about consistency. And you know what is the killer of consistency in this process? Doubting yourself! In the trenches of the hardest part, it's easy to forget why you started in the first place. What is your why? Are you needing to get your child out of your bed so you and your husband can re-connect? Are you unable to get anything done during the day because your little one will only sleep in your arms? Are you watching the bags under your toddler's eyes grow as her sleep becomes more and more disturbed by frequent trips out of her bed at night? Whatever your reasons are, write them down. Place them on sticky notes on your child's door or anywhere in the house where you can be reminded of why you're doing this FOR your little one.
3. Stay Consistent - There it is again, that consistent word. But it's true! Consistency will get you through this hard part more quickly than any other tip because it's the key to moving this process along. If you don't demonstrate consistent responses to your child through this training, you will find that you both just end up frustrated and confused. Children rise to expectations and thrive on routine. The sooner you are able to maintain the expectation, the sooner your child will be able to secure herself in your guidance and settle into the new sleep expectation. The best thing you can do for your little one and yourself is to stay consistent!
There you have it, my 3 tips for getting through the hardest part!