I Couldn't Bear the Cry-It-Out Method of Sleep Training, and I'm Glad I Went With My Gut
While I was still pregnant, my husband and I discussed the cry-it-out method extensively. At the time, I was working as a therapist and had a fair amount of clients who were parents to young ones. As my bump grew bigger, the advice poured in. I felt like I learned everyone’s secret to getting their baby to fall asleep. My husband and I were both brought up with the Ferber method, and had done a lot of reading about the different techniques and research regarding baby sleep. Then our little one came, and all of our well-thought-out plans went right out the window. She was very small, and was up every hour and a half to nurse. We got used to the idea of no longer sleeping and put all of our energy into helping her gain weight and making her feel as loved as possible.
Around her six-month checkup, our doctor recommended we try the cry-it-out method, noting that our daughter was ready to put herself to sleep and self-soothe. We talked it over again and decided that it just wasn’t right for us. To me, it didn’t make sense to not attend to a baby who couldn’t communicate fully with us and who was in distress, scared, or maybe just needed a cuddle. Culturally, there is an undercurrent that babies should be independent by a certain age, and to me that felt a little ridiculous. Logically speaking, she had only been out of the womb for six months – of course it would take her some time to learn how to sleep through the night and put herself to bed. In my practice, I’ve worked with some adults who have trouble sleeping through the night, so how could I expect an infant to do so without the total support of the only people she’s ever trusted? I know there are gentle ways of sleep training, but to me they still felt a bit too intense. We decided we wanted to make the transition from womb to world gentle and take cues from our child’s developmental needs, not the doctor’s generalizations, or society’s should-dos.
So what did we do instead? We rocked and sang her to sleep, coslept for a few months, felt exhausted, and also felt incredibly connected with her. We slowly transitioned her from sleeping on us to relaxing in her bed prior to dozing off. One of us, usually my husband, will wait for her to fall asleep before leaving the room, and as she approaches her second birthday, that’s still our go-to routine. She’s gone from an hour and a half to get to sleep to under an hour to do the full nighttime routine, which entails singing and story time before drifting off to sleep in her crib. We’ll know she’s ready to fall asleep without us in the room when she does so without it being a highly distressing scenario. This trust that we’ve worked so hard to form with her is not something we take lightly, and we want her to know that if she feels uncomfortable falling asleep in a dark room alone, we will be there for her no matter what. We know that she’s close to not needing us in there, but for now, it’s something that we’re trying to cherish, instead of pushing her into something she doesn’t feel ready for. Taking cues from her needs has really helped us put aside our own expectations for what we think should be happening and focus on truly enjoying the stage she’s in right now.
With my background as a therapist, I know just how important forming a healthy attachment is with your child, and I’m happy we decided to go with our gut when it comes to teaching our little one about sleep hygiene. I truly believe that making sleep an enjoyable experience for her will benefit her in the long run and positively impact her adulthood and how she internalizes the notion of sleep. My hope is that it remains associated with peacefulness, safety, and lots of love. For our family, we knew that the most important gift we could give our child was to let her know that we will be there for her, at whatever pace she is comfortable with. Despite the well-intentioned advice we received from her pediatrician, family members, and friends, we had to go with our gut on this one, and we’re so glad that we did.