I read an article recently that almost made me cry. It’s about a celebrity that is really struggling to get her toddler to sleep. My heart breaks for her for two reasons. Firstly, because I completely understand her exhaustion and wanting her child to sleep. And secondly, because she was given bad advice that she has to leave her child to cry. In the article she stated:
“‘I have never heard these kinds of screams from [son Jace, 19 months] and it’s literally BREAKING my heart,’ Kramer wrote. ‘Apparently it’s the 18-21 sleep regression. (I had his ears checked and all are good now). His molars all 4 are coming in. And he throws his lovey and toys out of the crib. While the mother of two said she ‘used to go back in to give him’ the comfort items, it soon ‘became this game’ and she was advised not to continue that practice”.
Reading this I cringed. Not because of how she is feeling or her struggles (because I REALLY GET the exhaustion! It’s intense!) no, the reason I cringed is because it makes me so sad (and MAD!) that we are lead to believe this is the only way. That our child is doomed to be “too dependent” or will never learn how to fall asleep if we cuddle them in the night. Millions of women are in this same place. We are fighting against our instincts as we are inundated with advice on getting our child to “sleep through the night”. Thankfully this is not the only option. And I would argue it’s also a harmful option. In what other scenario would we leave a child who is so upset they are crying out to us? In what other scenario would we leave a crying older child or adult so they “learn” how to calm down on their own? We don’t. So why would we do this to a baby or toddler? Human babies have the longest stage of infancy compared to every other mammal on the planet. Human children need physical proximity to us for years. This is apart of human development.
Here are some important things to consider:
- Your child WILL learn to fall asleep on their own. However this does not happen at a magical age. It happens when they are developmentally ready to do so. In the mean time? Cuddle them. And if you’re still breastfeeding, breastfeed them. All three of child now grown children (17, 13 and 8 years old) all breastfed to sleep and bedshared with my husband and I. None of them have breastfed to sleep or slept in our room for MANY years. No sleep training required. Our children were never left to cry on their own. It’s not needed to get results.
- Get creative. Your child does not (and most likely will not) want to fall asleep all alone in their own room. Especially a child who has been cuddled and breastfed to sleep their whole life. Your child does not have to sleep on their own in a crib. You can bring a mattress for them into your room next to your bed, you can take the side off their cot and put it right up next to your bed like a co-sleeper bed, you can take your bed off the frame and put two mattress together on the floor so you have space but are still close. There are different options that you can try which allows you to still have your own space while also being close enough that your child is more likely to stay settled and happy. For more on cots and how many breastfed children hate them, CLICK HERE.
- Humans require contact with other humans. It’s crucial to their development and well being. Humans thrive on touch, comfort and simply BEING with other humans. Especially their main caregiver. Why we would think they need to learn how to fall asleep on their own at such a young age? This is a cultural expectation and pressure, it is not the biological norm. In many cultures around the world this would not even be a topic of discussion because families bedshare and that’s the norm.
- As your child gets older it’s actually easier, not harder to get them falling asleep and staying asleep on their own. Why is this? Because as they start to be able to understand more of what you’re saying and you can understanding what they are saying and thinking, then you can negotiate with them! Then you can form a plan that works. If they stop breastfeeding to sleep but still need you there you can cuddle them for a bit and then see if they’ll listen to an audio book or some music. Then you can come and check on them periodically and of course if they are upset then go back to cuddling them to sleep until they’re ready to try something new. You can give them books to read or look at to help them wind down. There are different calming activities you can try to see if you can start to “detach” from them as they get older. No tears necessary.
Keep it simple. Your child wants and needs to be with you in the early years. This need is as important as any other need they have. A child who is crying to be with you is a child who needs your cuddles and your attention. You cannot spoil a child who is needing a cuddle to go to sleep or stay asleep.