Attachment Parenting–Sleep Habits

I know I’m a little “late to the game” when it comes to this parenting topic, but it’s something I’ve been researching more and more these past couple of weeks.

The reason? Every time– EVERY TIME– I’ve tried to put Gregory on a “schedule”, it’s only served to bring us both grief.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that parenting is “one-size fits all”. Far from it! But I also don’t think that it’s the baby’s sole responsibility to fit into the parents’ lifestyle. As I put it to someone last week, I’m the one who’s had 25 years to learn to control my passions. A baby isn’t even chemically able to, at this point! So it seems silly to demand that the baby learn to fit my lifestyle, instead of the other way around.

On the other hand, we can only do as much as we are able. This involves taking into account our individual personalities. Some parents need their personal space more than others, and simply cannot consider Attachment Parenting.

I’ve tried putting Gregory to sleep on his own, many times. Sometimes, it works like a charm. Other times, he wails helplessly. I’ve never tested how long he can go before stopping. Hearing him cry like that makes me feel nauseous. The few times I’ve tried letting him cry for 10-15 minutes at a time, I’ve accidentally cut, burnt, scratched and bruised myself, sometime in pretty major ways, all without even realizing it! I think my brain and my body detach whenever he begins to cry.

And then there’s the fact that it’s always felt instinctually wrong to let G cry it out. Perhaps it only comes down to his personality. Perhaps I have the only child in the world who wails if I’m not near him when he falls asleep.

If he responded differently, I suppose that my response would be different. Then again, that’s kind of the point, right? Learning to understand the individual child, not some example in a textbook. Not buying wholesale into any one method, just because some author says so. I think that many of motherhood’s mistakes could be rectified if we only chose to listen to our instincts more than the “experts”. Every time I’ve done this with G, it’s been incredibly rewarding for the two of us. I learn to trust my gut, and he learns to trust me and finds peace in the fact that he communicated his needs effectively.

The main way which I am wrestling with Attachment Parenting is when it comes to naps and sleeping through the night. I cannot stress this enough– G falls asleep easily, without fail, and for long periods of time, just so long as I am lying beside him, carrying him in a sling, or sleeping in the same room. This past Sat. night, for example, he slept 9 hours. Straight. That’s becoming a more frequent occurrence as he sleeps more and more in our room/bed. We’ve never done any sort of sleep training, any sort of strict “bedtime”. All we’ve done is fall asleep beside him. Easy.

In fact, trying to rely on the clock has only made our evenings miserable. I would love to have the flexibility that comes with a schedule, but not at the expense of my family and my child’s psychological health.

So, as a result of many unanswered questions, I’ve been researching Attachment Parenting, in an effort to see if I’m following any sort of model.

Turns out, by listening to my instincts on these particular subjects, I am!

From ATI’s website:

Parents who are frustrated with frequent waking or who are sleep deprived may be tempted to try sleep training techniques that recommend letting a baby cry in an effort to “teach” him to “self-soothe”. New research suggests that these techniques can have detrimental physiological effects on the baby by increasing the stress hormone cortisol in the brain, with potential long term effects to emotional regulation, sleep patterns and behavior. An infant is not neurologically or developmentally capable of calming or soothing himself to sleep in a way that is healthy. The part of the brain that helps with self-soothing isn’t well developed until the child is two and a half to three years of age. Until that time, a child depends on his parents to help him calm down and learn to regulate his intense feelings.

I’ve definitely seen this to be true with G. Half of the reason he can never self-soothe when he’s by himself is because he doesn’t know how to calm himself down. He gets intensely lonely and upset when left by himself. In order to break him of this, I’m afraid I’d have to break the part of him that loves having us around!

One of the arguments against Attachment Parenting is that the child will never learn independence. Again, never? Seriously? The “never” part of the statement seems to be operating on pure fear. “If I do this one thing that seems right, I will be locked into this method. FOREVER.” I have not met a child yet who lacked a desire for independence. From the looks of it, I don’t think G will be any different. So I think it’d be foolish to ignore his cries for love and affection in favor of a long-term possibility. Why worry about tomorrow’s problems now?

Also, putting children on a set schedule can actually take away their independence, teaching them to trust a clock over what their own body is naturally telling them!

Help your child learn to trust her body when she is tired by recognizing the signs of tiredness, and not forcing her to sleep when she is not tired, or keeping her awake when she is tired, just for the sake of a routine.

More from ATI’s website on Solitary Sleep:

It’s important to note that infant solitary sleep is a relatively new practice that has evolved in the western world only within the last 100 years. Recently, there have been efforts by various medical and professional organizations to discourage parents from sleeping with their children for fear that it contributes to an increase in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). However, new research demonstrates that co-sleeping, when practiced by informed parents, can be safe and beneficial. In fact, many cultures where parents routinely sleep with their children report some of the lowest SIDS rates. In some of these cultures SIDS is non-existent.

API encourages parents to respond to their children’s needs at night just as they do during the day. Parents are also encouraged to explore the variety of different sleeping arrangements, and to choose the approach that best allows them to be responsive at night. Individual babies’ sleep patterns and needs vary a great deal. Remain flexible and understand that it is developmentally appropriate and normal for babies to wake up during the night to feed and seek contact.

These are just my initial thoughts, based on what I’ve experienced these past 6.5 months. If anyone else has any articles or comments, I’d greatly appreciate the input!

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  • Becks

    IMHO, 6 months is pretty early for a baby to be put “on a schedule.” The older he gets the more he will benefit from a regular naptime and bedtime, but oh my gosh Kelly, if he is sleeping NINE HOURS straight at night, keep working whatever baby magic you already are!

    Because of James’ reflux and extreme need for soothing, he was waking up every FORTY MINUTES all night long when he was 6 months old. So every 40 minutes, one of us would have to get up, give the baby some milk or water, do the happiest baby on the block thing until he fell back asleep. So the longest stretch of sleep we were getting was an hour and 20 minutes. I honestly started to think I was going to DIE if I didn’t get more sleep. But you had to feel bad for the little guy – he was in SO much pain!

    When he was finally getting adequate treatment for the reflux, he unfortunately had gotten into the habit of waking up every 40 minutes and requiring parental intervention to get back to sleep. (AAARRRRG!) Believe me, we tried EVERYTHING. Finally, we just CIO, and after a week, he went from being the worst sleeper EVER To being a champion! And he’s none the worse for wear 🙂 And my goodness, we are all so much happier and healthier for it!

    All that is to say, you have to do what works for your family and your baby, but just because something works for you doesn’t mean that it’s the only right way to do it. I’m a fan of attachment parenting, but CIO is what worked for us!

  • Kerrin E.

    Hi Kelly, have you read or looked at the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child? This book literally changed my life with Jane. Realizing that sleep is just as important for babies as food. One point that constantly stays with me is that we would never deprive our babies of food, so we should also never deprive our babies of sleep. They are doing so much growing, mentally and physically, of course they need it. If you do read it, I will warn you of two things. It is a bit wordy and he does endorse the cry it out method. But you will also see that he isn’t just about a strict schedule but looking at the baby and reading the signs your baby gives you for when he/she is tired. It is interesting because I just recently attended an online debate with Dr. Marc W. (the author of the book) and Dr. Bob Sears. It was interesting because they both have statistics to back up their methods.Now, some babies do need more than others and it is going to look different for every family.
    I personally am not fond of the phrase “attachment” parenting. To me it makes it sound like parents who don’t co-sleep and baby wear aren’t attached to their children, but maybe I a just sensitive on that issue. Co-sleeping is not something I ever wanted to do. Maybe I am selfish, but I want that time with my husband, to cuddle and be close cause Jane and I are together all day. Having said that though I do let Jane sleep in her swing and have since she was 2 weeks old. It isn’t moving just stationary but it just seems so much more comfortable all nice and cozy. We will eventually have to wean her out of it, but for now it works just fine. She does fuss sometimes when I put her down for a nap but I can tell it is usually because she is overtired or just protesting because she would rather keep playing. She never wants to miss a thing….even if it means she becomes majorly wired!
    I think most of it is individual and what is right for one baby won’t work for another. I know that if Justin and i have more kids they won’t fit in the same mold as Jane.
    Those are just my random two pennies!

  • Kelly

    Kerrin, I have read a tiny bit of it. My friend uses it to sleep train her children.

    I’m not sure what I think about the “attachment” part of the title either. In studying it, it makes sense, since they advocate more physical contact with the baby than I can possibly manage in my situation.

    And we’ve also used the swing as a place for G to sleep (again, stationary). The curvature of the seat makes it impossible for even him to get out of, and it makes him feel secure.

  • Becks

    I read the Healthy Sleep Habit book, and while I do agree with his position on how much sleep babies need, he seemed really callous to me. He seems to think that moms and babies just need to suck it up – if your baby is crying, he needs to learn not to cry. If the mom feels terrible because her baby is crying, she just needs to get over it. One think I kind of rolled my eyes at is how he tries to soften up CIO by calling it the “full extinction method.”

    I get that sleep is as important as eating, but you wouldn’t force-feed your baby, so why try to force-sleep him? Babies will eat to satisfaction, and they will sleep to satisfaction. They instinctively get what they need.

    But again, what works for some families doesn’t work for others. I would love to co-sleep, but I have to be on this medication that makes me sleep really hard, and it’s just too dangerous. And James sleeps great by himself – sometimes I really wish we could co-sleep, but we make up for it in other ways, being extra-affectionate when he’s awake.

    (I feel like James was an out of the ordinary case – you would have to force feed your baby via feeding tube if he had an eating disorder, and James effectively had a sleeping disorder after those first 6 months of extreme pain)

  • Morielle

    I JUST posted on a similar subject…mainly rambling about my frustrations with the sleep issues I had with Solomon and am now having with Sera. I am a 100% advocate of NOT making your child cry it out but I feel like I have tried every attachment parenting strategy without nearly enough success. The thought has crossed my mind periodically to try letting Sera CIO even though it would break my heart. Unless I came up with some really good reasoning for it, I don’t think I actually will though. You are very blessed to have such a naturally good sleeper! What I wouldn’t give for just 3 straight hours of sleep once per night…

    Its hard to know a balance between being a parent and trying to decide what is healthiest/best for your child and listening to their needs and letting them dictate what is good for them. I think you have to re-find a balance with each child and even at each stage.

    *sigh* this parenting thing is so complicated…

  • Kerrin E.

    Hi Becks, Isn’t it funny how different things come across to different people? Because I read something by Dr. Sears and I thought he was kinda callous! haha Okay, maybe not callous but he was addressing a Mom who was talking about how little her child was sleeping and he bascially said, well you signed up for this when you had a baby, deal with it. Where as Dr. W reminds me of a typical man…..there is a problem, let’s fix it! So interesting.
    Morielle, I really agree with you. There has to be a balance. Because lets face it……we are all going to let our kids cry it out at some point. Either over sleeping issues, wanting something they can’t have, wanting to eat junk food, or wanting to date the guy with the motorcycle down the street! Some people aren’t comfortable letting their babies cry and that’s fine, they will just have to deal with it another way.

    For us the Healthy Sleep Habits and Baby Whisper book worked really well. I never “force” Jane to sleep but understand her cues and let her know what is good for her. Something I will be doing the rest of her childhood.