If you're feeling confused about the conflicting advice you've read or been given about baby sleep, you’re not alone.
The advice starts coming in as soon as you’re pregnant – and keeps coming once your baby’s born:
“You can’t spoil a baby.”
“Don’t hold them too much or you’ll spoil them.”
“A baby’s cries are the only way they can communicate.”
“A baby’s cries can manipulate. “
… And then there’s all the sleep advice that you get!
Does any of this sound familiar?
- Your baby will only go to sleep by being rocked or nursed, but you’ve read that you’re creating a bad habit
- You don’t want to sleep train your baby, but you’re told that it’s “for their own good”
- You think that you’re too weak or soft and you don’t have what it takes to give your baby the “gift of sleep”
- You’re worried that your baby isn’t getting enough sleep because you’ve read that short “catnaps” don’t count as “real” sleep (but they seem happy…)
- And a million other pieces of advice that make you feel like crap about yourself and your baby
Maybe you’ve read and researched a lot already, but it’s still leaving you either confused or unsure of yourself.
If this sounds like you, I have 3 powerful tools that you can use to help cut through the bullshit surrounding baby sleep and regain some perspective.
I don’t go deep into the science of sleep and development in my examples below because these three tactics are to help you gain clarity within yourself and help you trust your instincts – Especially if you’re confused from any of the research you’ve already been doing.
Tactic #1 - Flip the Script
Take whatever piece of advice that’s tripping you up and flip it into a scenario involving adults to see if it gives you a different perspective. This exercise often highlights how ridiculous some of our expectations are for our kids.
Let’s use rocking your baby to sleep as an example:
First of all, if your baby falls asleep while being rocked, it’s completely normal and developmentally appropriate. Your baby spent 9 months inside your belly being comforted and lulled to sleep by your movements. Have you noticed how, when standing, you sway while holding your baby? Or how you instinctively push your stroller back-and-forth when you’re waiting to cross the street? I do it too. It’s normal!
So, why are we told that it’s bad? The premise behind rocking your baby to sleep as being “bad” comes from two main ideas:
- that how your baby goes to sleep is how they’ll always expect to go back to sleep
- that sleep in motion isn’t the “right” kind of sleep
Now let’s take the word “baby” and insert YOU into the scenario instead:
Do you ever fall asleep while in motion? Have you ever fallen asleep in a moving car? What about in a hammock? If you have, are you now unable to go to sleep any other way? Do you have to get driven around to get some rest?
Of course not.
And what about this type of sleep being the wrong kind of sleep? What does that even mean? Have you noticed what kind of sleep is the “right” and “wrong” kind for yourself? In what scenario do you get the “wrong” kind (other than falling asleep in the middle of dinner at your in-laws because you’re so exhausted)?
Napping in the normal daylight and motion of the day helps to set your baby’s body clock and reduces sleep pressure that builds throughout the day. It also keeps them from taking in more sleep than they need, which can affect nighttime sleep. There’s also evidence showing that motion helps put us into a deeper state of sleep so…. Wouldn’t that be the RIGHT kind of sleep, if there is such a thing?
You get the picture.
Does putting yourself into this specific scenario change your perspective towards your baby? In what way?
Similarly, we often have double-standards when it comes to how we treat children vs how we treat adults.
To take this exercise a step further, ask yourself questions like:
- Would I let my partner treat me this way?
- Would I treat my elderly parent this way?
- How would I feel if the teenage-version of my child was treated this way by a teacher, friend, or partner?
Tactic #2: Look at your values
How does the advice in question stack up against your values? Does it support or detract from them?
Let’s look at “needing to sleep train your baby for their own good” as an example:
First, let’s say that two of your values are to:
- treat people with empathy and understanding
- help people when they’re in need
Now hold that thought.
People are telling you that you should leave your baby to cry alone until they fall asleep. Or telling you that it’s ok to stay in the room with them and pick them up when they cry – but only until they’ve calmed down. Then you need to immediately put them back in their crib, even if they want you to hold them, so that they can try to settle without your help. While this advice feels off to you, you’re scared that it’s because you’re too weak or soft and you just don’t have what it takes.
So how does the advice above support your values?
In short, it doesn’t.
If you want to treat people with empathy and understanding, you might try to identify why your baby is crying or needing you to fall asleep. They could be cold, lonely, hungry, in pain, scared, need comfort, miss you, thirsty, or any number of other reasons. Try to relate to how they’re feeling. What would you want someone to do if you were feeling any of the above? Might that be what your baby needs too?
Helping your baby when they’re in need might look like this:
- Need for comfort = holding your baby.
- Thirsty/hungry = feeding (and holding) them.
- Too cold = warmer clothes (or holding them).
- Feeling scared = Holding them….
Notice how you can fulfill a lot of baby’s needs by holding them (and not forcing them to stay in a crib all alone)? And how doing so supports your values?
Tactic #3 Pass it through your heart filter
The last tool is the simplest of them all, and the only one that actually counts:
What is your heart telling you?
Is it telling you that this advice feels wrong, or right? By looking inside yourself, you can’t go wrong. This is the filter I always fall back on, and the one that causes the least amount of regret in the long run.
And there you have it – my 3 most powerful ways to cut through the bullshit surrounding sleep (and regain some perspective). What I love most about these 3 tools is that they can be applied to all types of scenarios, not just with sleep. You can get your free printable cheat-sheet version of this here.
Gone through these exercises and now you need help getting your partner on the same page? Find my free worksheet here to help navigate parenting disagreements.
Know someone who’s doubting themselves and could use an extra boost? Share this with them – It might be the one thing they need to feel good about themselves again.