My ten-month-old daughter is an absolute joy by day. Happy, funny, and sweet. Loves being held by Mama. Worships big sister. Lights up every room she crawls into (see what I did there?). She naps well, eats happily, and never really cries unless she has a dirty nappy or is in pain of some kind. You get the idea — my baby is a doll and I’m so grateful to have her.
Then night falls. Oh, my goodness. It’s like a beast within takes over my baby. She morphs from the sweetest baby on the block into an entirely different human. Fussy, inconsolable, unable to lull into sleep. It’s a nightmare. Except I’m awake — we’re all awake, and the track of sleeplessness plays on repeat all night, every night. It has for months.
She gave us a solid run in the early months, only waking once or twice a night from 11 weeks to about four-and-a-half months. And then a shift, one I was wildly unprepared for after having an all-night sleeper from the very beginning with my first. I applied most of the same tactics that had worked with our first daughter this time; but alas, Baby #2 is just not a good sleeper.
Suddenly, we were up often. In many cases every other hour, all night long. Exhausted to the point of delirium, I probably over-shared. When friends or fellow mums in the pickup line at preschool would ask how the baby was sleeping, I’d tell them the truth. And like with every other parenting problem, everyone offered their two cents. Most of it completely contradictory to everything I am doing as a mum:
“You should just let her cry it out.”
“She doesn’t need anything; she’s fine.”
“She’s manipulating you.”
“Put headphones on and you won’t hear it.”
What the what?
Here’s the thing, mums. I get that you all want to help. I do. And I really appreciate that. But you need to stop telling me to let my baby cry it out. Yes, I’m tired. Yes, I understand the dangers of bed-sharing with an infant and I don’t plan to do that. But I would pick a tired mummy over a baby in distress any day. That’s just me.
Before you roll your eyes or accuse me of judging you, please take a moment to remember that this is my baby. I’ve done my research on the Ferber method and other popular “cry-it-out” methods of sleep training, and I’m not about it. Studies like this one and report like this one were enough to make me say “No way” to anything that involved letting my baby cry alone in her room.
New research suggests that babies trained to sleep on their own by crying can potentially suffer psychological and emotional consequences later. This also means that an attempt to make babies more independent, CIO parents could be setting their children up to be needier later on.
My own mum, who did let two of her three children cry it out for sleep training, is a psychotherapist specialising in children and adolescents. She has told me recently that while it wasn’t her personal parenting style, she’s seen time and time again in her practice that my frequent holding and coddling of my babies, and the fact that I go to them every time they cry in the night, will produce more confident children.
Anecdotal? Sure. But if you’re going to trust anyone’s anecdotal advice, your mum’s is a good place to start. Especially when she’s an expert in the field.
And look, girl, if you’re letting your baby cry at night in order to get some precious shut-eye, you do you. I’m not going to stop you on the street to tell you that you’re messing your kid up. Because there are just as many studies out there to support your side of the argument. And you’re not alone; many medical professionals agree with you.
Even our trusted paediatrician implored me to let the baby cry at night. She wrote down a list of books on a sticky note and handed it to me at the nine-months appointment with the parting words, “Do it. You all need to sleep.”
Once outside in the car, I crumpled the sticky note up before leaving the parking lot and tossed it in an old coffee cup. Probably my third coffee of that day. Sorry, Doc: I just have to do what feels right to me as a mum. You know, this being my kid and all.
Speaking of this being my kid, I’m happy to report that alas, doing it my way has finally started to work. After several months of going into the baby’s room, feeding, shh-ing, snuggling, rocking, and so on multiple times a night, we’ve cut down to once a night. Sometimes not at all. Just about six weeks from her first birthday, we might be nearly in the clear.
Am I tired? Yes. Is that hellish no-sleep zone a distant memory? Not yet. But I’m okay. We’re all okay. We did our research, figured out what we could handle and how we wanted to get through this period, and we’re making it work. For us.
Don’t misunderstand me. You can brag to me all you want about how it took a few nights of crying before your little one slept blissfully through the night. I’m not calling CPS. I’m not even going to go home and tell my husband so we can judge you quietly. It’s none of my business and it’s your baby. Good job and sweet dreams.
But in my house, babies’ emotional needs are as important as the physical ones. My ten-month-old is manipulating me? Okay, that’s fine. Let her. A few years from now, this will all be the past and I’ll miss it. So if I want to go in there when I hear her cry, I’m going. And trust me when I tell you: I will never regret a minute I spent holding these kids. Not even in the middle of the night.