So you’re on the fence about this whole, “teaching your baby to sleep,” thing.
On one hand, you know that sleep is essential for everyone in your family. You completely agree with all of the research out there that sleep is vital to your baby’s development and well-being. You also know that your little one needs help learning how to sleep well. You think you might be ready to begin the process of teaching your baby to sleep independently.
On the other hand, you’re a complete wreck when you even think about sleep training! (I know first hand, because this once was me).
Almost every parent I’ve worked with has started off with some level of anxiety. They know there’s a problem that needs fixing and they’re committed to finding the solution, but even with all of the research and evidence that this is an effective and safe process, they’re still on pins and needles.
There is a big difference between "babies" and YOUR baby, right? Everything changes when we're talking about the precious little baby in your arms, the one that you are completely in love with and would do anything for. What if it's not right for your baby? What if your baby doesn't adjust well to a new way of doing things?
So, what’s happening here? Why is there a difference in your head knowledge and what you feel is right? Is this your maternal instinct kicking in? Are you subconsciously aware of an underlying threat to your baby?
The truth is, it’s complicated.
Let’s take a few things into consideration. First of all, you’re probably running on empty at this point. If your baby’s not sleeping, I can guarantee that you are not sleeping either, and that can wreak havoc on your emotional well-being.
Sleep deprivation stimulates activity in the amygdala. This is the part of the brain that controls many of your emotional reactions.
According to a 2007 joint study between Harvard Medical School and U of C Berkeley, “...a lack of sleep inappropriately modulates the human emotional brain response to negative aversive stimuli.”
Basically, you’re likely to overreact when things go bad.
So when your baby starts to cry, you’re less inclined to think, “I wonder what she needs,” and much more likely to think, “I’m a complete failure as a mother!”
This is what happens after one night of sleep deprivation, so you can imagine what chronic sleep deprivation over the course of weeks, months and even years would mean. You may even be experiencing it right now. It leaves you feeling helpless, inadequate, and overcome with anxiety.
That's the sleep deprivation part of the equation. There is another reason this process can be so difficult, and the real elephant in the room when it comes to sleep training, and that is the crying.
Will your child cry when you’re teaching them this skill?
I know that's not what you want to hear, but I'm committed to being utterly honest with my clients and that's the truth.
Stop and think for a moment with me about crying in general.
Your baby may also cry on her first day of school. She will probably cry when you turn off her favorite TV show. She will cry when you tell her "no, you can't have a cookie for breakfast". All of your baby's cries are going to be heartbreaking at some level.
It's important establish that cries of any kind are hard - not just around sleep.
Did you know that there’s an actual reason why the sound of a crying baby causes us such distress? Dr. David Poeppel, Professor Of Psychology & Neural Science at NYU, found that a crying baby differs from other environmental noises. The sound of a baby crying is up there with car alarms and police sirens. When studying the brain's response while listening to a crying baby, Poeppel found that baby screams have a unique ability to trigger activity in… you guessed it, the amygdala.
So your baby's cries are going to be a trigger for you. It's how we are wired.
This is where some outside support can go a long way as you teach your baby to sleep. I'm not going to ask you to ignore your baby's cries. Even if that were possible, I don't think it's right.
We are going to start by taking a step back. After acknowledging the science behind why your baby's cries are so concerning, we are going to talk about her cry level. We are going to take her cries into consideration when responding. I'm not going to take this aspect of sleep training lightly.
The important thing for you to realize is that it's your brain's natural response causing you to feel negligent. It's telling you that something is very wrong. Similar to your reaction when hearing a police siren. Recognize why you are reacting, take a deep breath and understand that these protests from your baby are her natural way of responding to the changes you are making. Don't loose sight of the long-term solution that you are working toward.
If you are considering sleep training but have some questions or concerns, don't hesitate to reach out! I've been in the same position that you are. It's extremely hard and the process should not be taken lightly. But, there is hope that your family can be well rested again! If you are ready to take a first step, book an evaluation call - it's completely free with no obligations.