The Great Sleep Obsession (The Problem of Modern Day Life versus the Primitive Infant)


No other word can generate such an emotive response in so many parents of young children. The ‘baby sleep industry’ is worth millions of pounds, a myriad of products from pharmaceutical to musical, mechanical and material adorn the shelves of the high street luring in tired new parents with the promise of peaceful nights. Thousands of professionals earn a living from exploiting the vulnerabilities and exhaustion of sleep deprived parents around the world, training babies and toddlers to ‘sleep through the night’. To add to this the media regularly report on surveys showing how the sleepless nights of baby and toddlerdom lead to breakdowns in relationships and now television producers want a slice of the pie with new programmes, like the shockingly awful Bedtime Live, springing up and with no doubt more to come.

Sleep is a big issue in our modern day society and an enticing money-maker. Yet, is our species so flawed that we must forever be destined to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown for the first three years of our offspring’s life? Or does our infant sleep obsession show a more concerning need for a greater understanding of the norms of our evolutionary biology? If parents were truly educated about the sleep behaviours of normal babies and children and the illusion of the perfect ‘contented little baby’ sleeping 12 hours at night by as many weeks was shattered and replaced with realistic, evidence based information then everything would change. It would change how we are with our babies and children, it would change the value of motherhood and it would change the support we give to young families, I do not think I am being over-dramatic to say that in turn it may then just change the world.

Currently, as a society we are not supportive of young families. Only a century ago it was acceptable to be a mother, it was rightly seen as the important job it is. Now we parent miles away from our own families, no longer embraced by a support network. We are under pressure to “have it all” to be a ‘yummy mummy’, with a perfect figure, a perfect house, perfect clothes and a perfect job. It is however, just not possible to live up to this ideal whilst also responding to the normal and natural needs of our infants. Something has to give and sadly, very often, it is the needs of our children. We sleep train our children in order that they fit into our modern lives more easily, we fool ourselves into believing that it is our offspring that have ‘sleep problems’ rather than opening our eyes to the real problem – that is the disharmony between the primal needs of our young and the expectations of the modern world. Who really has the problem?

baby toddler asleep with teddy bear
Babies and toddlers don’t sleep like adults, they wake – lots – and this is perfectly normal.

When a baby is in utero he borrows the circadian rhythms (body clock) of his mother as melatonin is passed to him via the placenta, after birth however, he’s on his own and it takes his body a while to be able to do what his mother’s did. In fact it takes him until at least 4 months to get anywhere close and even longer – until he begins school to really get the same effect. That’s not all though, not only do they lack the hormonal regulators of sleep of an adult, a baby’s sleep cycle is hugely different at about half the length of an adult sleep state. Now this makes perfect biological sense, it keeps our tender young offspring more alert should a predator threaten their life – but what predator will come and gobble them up in their nursery I hear you ask? Nature might be clever, but not quite clever enough to evolve us that quickly, so – for now – we still possess the same innate responses that kept our hunter gatherer predecessors safe. Imagine then that a baby goes through a sleep cycle twice as quickly as an adult, that means they wake at least twice as much as us during the night, in fact they move into a light sleep state around once every 25 minutes. That means the likelihood of waking fully every 25minutes if something alerts them.

In addition to this babies and toddlers have a hugely underdeveloped neocortex in comparison to an adult’s brain, this frontal section of the brain, responsible for rational and analytical thought as well as the regulation of emotional responses, means that they do not yet possess the skill of emotional self-regulation, or as the sleep trainers like to call it the skill of “self-soothing”. The ‘self-soothing’ referred to in mainstream books is anything but that, it is a myth – a myth perpetuated to make parents feel better about ignoring their baby’s needs. The real key to boost emotional self-regulation in an infant is to be responsive to him when he needs it, so that in time, when the brain connectivity matures it will hardwire the pathways necessary for true ‘self-soothing’.

Modern day science supports the notion that our sleep expectations are anything but realistic, with recent research suggesting that at least a third of 15 month olds still wake regularly and the concept of ‘sleeping through the night’ not being a reality for most children until they are over 2 years of age. If sleepless nights are still so common in toddlerdom why do we consider it a problem if our babies and toddlers do not sleep all night? Why do so many enquire about our baby and toddler’s sleeping habits and suggest methods that do not meet the needs of our children in an attempt to ‘fix’ their sleeping problems? Indeed even the NHS website recommends controlled crying. Contradicting themselves with the sentence “By the time your child is six months old, it’s reasonable to expect them to sleep through most nights. However, up to half of all children under five go through periods of night waking.” Surely if as many as half of all children under five go through periods of night waking then night waking in children must be normal and not really a “common sleep problem” at all?

Sadly we have such incorrect expectations of normal infant behaviour in society, we try to fix babies, we sleep train them, we wean them early, we give them ‘hungry baby’ formula to make them sleep for longer and we follow routines of baby experts to train them to ‘sleep through’. However it isn’t our babies who have ‘sleep problems’. They are sleeping normally; quite simply they “sleep like a baby”.

Rather than fixing our babies and toddlers isn’t it time we looked to fix ourselves?

bcsleepIf we have realistic expectations we realise that what we really need is not to train our babies and toddlers, but build a network of support once again for parents, a ‘village’ as some say. The issue really is a problem belonging to adults and society, what really needs fixing? We need to respect what a huge job parenting is and we need to support mothers as much as possible so that they can concentrate on the most important thing they will ever do – raising their babies. How do we return respect to motherhood and provide that most needed support and value that I’m sure we must once have had? How do we get our leaders and policy makers to understand that what families really need is support to be just that – a family. We need to firstly begin with a change in expectations; here we are lucky that science is on our side, someday soon it will be impossible to ignore the research any longer. As mothers we also have the opportunity to gently re-educate from a grass roots level, I call it ‘The Maternal Revolution’, the revolution of giving back power to mothers, when the mothers of the world reclaim their power I believe they can do anything. Will you join the revolution?

Sarah Ockwell-Smith

This article was first published in Issue 32 (Summer 2013) of Juno Magazine

If you would like to learn more about infant sleep, including many more sleep tips check out my latest book, available to order now:

gentle sleep book, gentle sleep training, gentle sleep expert, baby sleep expert, toddler sleep expert

You can also join me on my Gentle Sleep Facebook page HERE for advice, tips and chat about all things baby, toddler and preschooler sleep.






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About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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76 Responses to The Great Sleep Obsession (The Problem of Modern Day Life versus the Primitive Infant)

  1. Orla Desmond says:

    Great article-so true. It’s difficult to raise a baby gently, naturally and without pressure when we live far from our parents, siblings and other family members that could support us with household and other tasks, freeing us up to focus on parenting.

    • Nicole says:

      Like this article and agree with much of it, but modern society also means I need to go back to work before my baby will be ready to sleep through the night naturally. I haven’t yet considered how I will handle that but I’m not sure its fair to make working mothers feel guilty for attempting to sleep train, they are only doing what they feel is best for their families as we all are, and maybe having a mother who can function enough to spend precious quality time with their babies after a long day at work is best for some families.

  2. lovely article, you say it like I feel it.

  3. Rob Bane says:

    My 1 yr old throws his toys from his high chair. Should I pick them up every 10 seconds or just realise I’m merely perpetuating an unhelpful learned behaviour?

    Nature usually has the answer to these questions, if we assume prehistoric society was better than modern life (???), so do our primate cousins pick up the playthings of their toddlers, do they wake every 25 minutes? No, because they have to get up and collect enough food for the family to survive in the morning, ward off the predators and hopefully have children alert enough to learn how to do this on their own eventually.

    It’s not normal to tend to a 1-yr old plus every 25 mins throughout the night and it’s irresponsible to write giving the impression that it is.

    • In prehistoric society parents kept their babies and young toddlers close at all times, they would sleep in close proximity at night and during the day they would carry their young. This all would likely result in far happier babies/toddlers who slept ‘better’ and were ‘easier’ in the daytime. If offspring were not kept close they would not have survived. A one year old throwing a toy from a high chair is not an “unhelpful learned behaviour” – it is a child experimenting and forming a new schema, you might say ‘learning about the world’, personally I would not chastise him for being naughty – for he is being anything but. I would grit my teeth and resign myself to a short period of ‘hardship’ until the schema was formed, knowing it would not last forever (as with sleepless nights) but my response *would* shape my child’s future.

    • Anjela kewell says:

      Sarah. You are amazing. I have just spent the last 6 months supporting my daughter through her first child’s first ten months. This could have been me speaking. As for the comment by rob bane I do feel unfortunately this is the voice of modern society putting life before children. The first few years spent with your child is such a tiny amount of time in the scheme of working life but of such huge importance in that child’s life. I do feel that good parenting is the single most important thing we give to our children and society needs to address this if we want a strong, capable and successful community in the future. Mothers who feel strongly about this should unite in spreading the word and supporting those who are confused by too much conflicting information.

    • mr says:

      You obviously mis-understood the article.

    • Elle_B11 says:

      I am so glad I am not your child, good luck to him or her!

      • Car says:

        Amazingly I was raised like that and I turned out just fine, as did my 6 siblings, in fact I loved my childhood. Contrary to what you seem to think, regardless of rearing choices children can have happy childhoods and grow up to be well adjusted adults, we all do what we think is best for our children. Will I do everything the same as my parents? No, but not because I feel they damaged me in any way with their methods.

  4. Raji says:

    I totally agree about the family support. In my culture, we move in with our parents when we are 8 months pregnant. We stay until the baby is born and feel confident to take care. I stayed next door to my mum for the first three years of my son’s life. It was the best decision I ever made. My house was cleaned, clothes washed, meals cooked.

    30 years later in Australia, I am doing the same for my son and his family so they can spend quality time with their child. Everybody benefits!

    • Janeen says:

      Can you come stay with me and my family after? 😃

    • Ann Golub says:

      So, you think it’s ok for the grandparents to be slaves for your needs – what about a grandparent who is also working and is not able to do your chores for you? I can not believe there are people who would expect their parents to do their washing, cooking, etc – aren’t they entitled to relax in their age? My parents helped me since my child’s birth, and continue to help in the form of baby-sitting once and again, for a few hours, but my mother has NEVER done any of my house chores… I do my own cooking, washing, ironing, cleaning… Cultures are so very different!

      • beachmommy says:

        I’m surprised at your aggressive and hostile response to Raji’s comment, Ann. I don’t see a spot anywhere where she said she expected her parents to be slaves. She mentioned that the chores were done but not necessarily because the grandparents were doing them all. I interpreted it as an illustration that everyone was helping out so that the chores could more easily be done than in the smaller nuclear families that are common in many societies today. I would also wager a guess that Raji’s role in her parents’ elder care may be “hands on” compared to what happens in many smaller nuclear families today. I also love how Raji recognizes her role to now “pay it forward” with her own children. I know I wish I had a close relationship like that with my own mother.

  5. Lily says:

    Wonderful perspective and explanation! You have out into words what I’ve been doing naturally and easily with my 5 month old daughter. My heart is happy reading your article.

  6. yogamumma says:

    What part of denial is Rob Bane in?…..another one that advocates “teach them by punishment and denial” they are 1yrs old…have a read about baby brains at that age…

  7. humblepie says:

    I agree with a lot of what’s said here but I think caution has to be taken when there is not really any scientific evidence that sleep training has a negative affect on the child’s development or the child-parent attachment.

    I have two boys now 6 and 3 and I breastfed both of them until they weaned ‘naturally’ at around 2 years, I co-slept with them when I or they needed it and I never used a controlled crying technique. My first son woke regularly for the first two years of his life, my second son slept pretty much 12 hours uninterrupted from around 3 months. Seemingly my approach didn’t dictate their sleep patterns, one just seemed to sleep better and he was a thumb sucker from the moment he was born so actually was able to self soothe and i think was a more relaxed, contented sleeper because of it.

    I do not regret the way I have parented and I think it suited me but I happen to have a very supportive partner, plus, was able to stay at home and not juggle the pressures of a salaried job. In other words I could not have parented in this way without a support network and, in this sense, I totally agree with the sentiments of the article, that our world has gone in a direction that does not make it easy to always put our children first and that is sad.

    However, telling parents that the cry it out method and co-cleeping and ‘attachment parenting’ are the more natural and right way to parent without backing it up with solid research evidence, in my mind is putting just as much pressure on women to be the perfect mother as the idea that she should be all things at all times. You should do what works for you and look at the hard evidence based facts, not get swept along with the charismatic and convincing writing (particularly to a sleep deprived brain) of the likes of Dr Sears – be cautious!

    • Have a read of this which has just come out today: and then Prof Middlemiss’ continuing work: I believe 2014 will be the year that we can finally lay the assumption that sleep training causes no harm to bed…….there is much work happening behind the scenes that will come to conclusion soon.

      • Jacob says:

        America is so far ahead of Britain on medical research in every aspect. Sadly, this will probably take years to filter through into British medicine. The NHS are a tight-knit, principled group – midwives and health visitors are trained and taught Victorian parenting techniques as being “healthy” for a child and the parents. Anything contrary to this teaching is considered wrong and harmful to the child – after all, they’re the ones working with hundreds of children, they’re the ones with the qualifications, so obviously, they’re the ones that know best. I think attachment parenting is on the up in Britain, but it’s still a fractional minority, and unfortunately, that minority is contending with the leading health organisations.

        In terms of the article itself, I think it succinctly and concisely puts across the instinctive arguments that many parents are dying to make to advice put to them by the NHS and other parents. Thank you.

      • AParent says:

        I would strongly imply the opposite.

        I hope that 2014 is the year that “negligence” and “sleep training” can be separated and people will stop judging me for sleep training my baby.

        First, let me point out that the two articles you linked are wishy washy pseudo-medical.

        I get a lot of judgment for having sleep trained my baby at 4 months. However, I had a particularly terrible infant. Yes, you can all collectively gasp – I called my infant TERRILE. A more appropriate term would be colic, but colic is a symptom, not a cause, and since science has yet to figure out the cause of colic, I’ll just refer to my dear son as a TERRIBLE infant.

        The honest truth… Before DS was born, my wife and I had both read Willaim Sears’ attachment parenting bible from cover to cover. I couldn’t wait to co-sleep and baby wear and do all those other wonderful attachment parenting activities. Oh, it was going to be so wonderful!

        And then he was actually born. For the first 2 days, he was a quiet newborn… Then, almost too suddenly, the colic started. If he wasn’t being held, he was crying. If he was being held, he was probably crying. He would cry for hours at a time, only stopping for brief moments. We wore him – in three different wraps and two different carriers. This helped a bit, as he seemed to like the coziness, but after 30 minutes he would just start crying again.

        By 3 months, he only cried MOST of the time. His sleeping, on the other hand, was getting worse and worse. He used to sleep 4-5 hours followed by 2-3 hours followed by another 2-3 hours. Waking up twice a night was fine. My wife and I took turns, she would take him when he needed to breastfeed and I would take him when he didn’t. Then, approaching 4 months, he started getting worse. He would sleep 2-3 hours when we put him down at 8, and then he would wake up EVERY 45 MINUTES all night.

        We tried cosleeping, in many configurations, including having my wife actually hold him in her arms while trying to sleep. This had no effect.

        This wasn’t just bad for us – it was bad for him.

        At 4 months, with the help of one of these individuals whom you insult in your pointed article, we taught him to sleep. It took THREE nights. The first night was particularly bad, and he cried for 2 hours straight. Enduring his cries was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. Some people assume that those of us who sleep train are taking the easy way out. I beg to disagree. I think sleeping with my baby sounds a lot easier than training.

        By night 4, my dear son had learned one important lesson. A very simple notion, which is a lot for a 4 month old’s very simple cognitive processes – “When I wake in the middle of the night and it’s still dark, I don’t have to cry, I can just close my eyes and go back to sleep” From that night on, he slept. At first he slept from 8pm to 4am and then got fed, and soon after the doctor said he was big enough to go the night without a feed, and so he started sleeping from 7pm to 7am. Yes, that’s right – 12 hours a night.

        He is now 12.5 months old and he has slept EVERY SINGLE NIGHT for the last 8 months. While I must admit that it could be a time-oriented coincidence, his colic stopped immediately when he started sleeping through the night. Suddenly he was a calm, happy baby. He started to smile and babble more. Now, he is an absolutely wonderful child. He is always smiling, exploring, babbling, playing, and doing all the other things happy, well adjusted one year olds do. His well-sleeping parents take him on all manner of adventures and spend our time with him energetic and enthusiastic.

        This particular article adds nothing to the discussion and really just tries to guilt parents like me who have consciously and thoughtfully decided to sleep train (read – not ignorantly, negligently or neglectfully). You self-servingly conclude that parents sleep train because they want to force their baby into their lifestyle, or for other selfish reasons. Our motivation was our survival, as well as the health and happiness of our then infant. Four month old babies are not going to remember the ordeal – by I will. It was excruciating, but I am the one who bears those scars, not my dear happy little son.

      • Kathryn1980 says:

        I agree wholeheartedly with aParent. It would be wonderful if dealing with a newborn baby was as easy as responding to their every need and was miraculously fixed by something as easy as co-sleeping.

        After being a fairly decent sleeper for her first few months (in the sense of waking every few hours like any normal tiny baby), our daughter regressed at 4 months to the point where she was waking every hour or so all through the night. By six months, we were at breaking point. I was literally going mad through lack of sleep. We decided, in desperation, to try sleep training. Within two nights, her sleep had improved dramatically.

        If we hadn’t done that, two things would have inevitably happened. My husband (who I had been with happily for the previous 14 years) and I would have split up – we had already discussed separating, things had become so bad between us. I would have probably ended up on anti depressants (something my doctor and health visitor had already both suggested as I was just in bits and couldn’t cope with anything). I thought I had post natal depression, but looking back, a huge part of it was sheer sleep deprivation. I’m sure, if I scour the internet’s depths, I can find some study about the side effects of breast feeding a baby while on Prozac and I can definitely find something on the trauma even a small child would go through with the divorce of its parents. I would be interested to know how the effects of both those things combined would compare to the effects of sleep training in terms of the long term effect on my child.

        As it was, we managed to get to the point where we could cope again as a family and now, a year later, we have an unbelievably happy, healthy 18 month old who, while still not the best sleeper in the world by any means (she still wakes once most nights and often ends up in our bed) gets plenty of sleep and has the energy to run around, make friends and chat away happily as she does every day. Her parents are also perfectly happy – both together and as a mum and dad to our lovely daughter.

        We did what we had to do – our family would not exist in its current form if we hadn’t – and I am unbelievably tired of being made to feel guilty every day for our choices.

  8. karen says:

    What about when co sleeping and the attachment method of sleeping doesn’t work for the parent? I don’t sleep with my children in the bed with me. I have a mild sensory processing disorder, and simply cannot cope with being touched or constantly cuddled or held, and when we allowed my son to nurse all night, or want to feed at night, or sleep next to me, I literally would be either awake all night, and a mess the next morning, or sleep so badly, that I would feel dreadful. My son was a poor sleeper due to ear issues (now resolved with grommets) and I have arthritis too, so co sleeping meant “No” sleep for me, and affected my health mentally and physically. My husband works long hours, and cannot be up all night so I get sleep, he also needs to function, and I don’t have any family to help me (mother is dead, in laws 1000’s miles away, no siblings close by etc)
    I am not saying sleep train, and I do agree that there are an awful lot of gimmicks and sleep thing out there marketed to vulnerable parents, but I do feel I need to point out that actually, humans DO need good sleep, for some co sleeping etc just does not work. I think the theory of returning to a more gentle way is great, but it isn’t always practical. When you are awake all night with a toddler tossing, turning, touching you, and keeping you awake, but have no help or support, what do you do? There isn’t anyone to support or help most mothers out there, I don’t think. How do we change that? All the gentle parenting in the world, reading all the books, trying all the gentle “tricks”, co sleeping, allowing him to self wean, etc didn’t help, and basically wore me out.
    I probably sound slightly bitter, but having spent nearly 3 years barely functioning on literally no sleep, having tried practicing gentle parenting, being made to feel like an utter failure by the attachment/gentle parenting community, because frankly, it wasn’t working, and found that It didn’t help (ironically, the grommet operation worked so well, that he was sleeping through the night in his own bed, a week after the procedure and now his sleep is so much better) I wonder what the answer is?

    • I don’t think ‘the answer’ is attachment parenting and bedsharing – far from it. There is no one simple answer. As parents it’s all about balancing risks and benefits and doing the least harm to our kids. We all have different issues and hurdles and we will all make different decisions to fit our lives.

  9. rosewell says:

    It’s so lovely to see an article that validates my experience as a mother, rather than makes me feel I’m not normal, or my baby is not normal? My baby has never ever slept through the night, and furthermore, I have never expected her too….and it gobsmacks me when I hear friends or family ask ‘is she sleeping thro the night yet?’ as if it’s some realistic expectation… or worse get bombarded with ‘ooo my baby slept thro the night at 6 months old?’…..Wouldn’t it be great to get to a point in society, where sleeping thro the night is regarded in as abnormal / the exception and a totally unrealistic expectation and instead focus on as you say, supporting mothers and families through networks perhaps, support groups, volunteers, to help young mums to cope with the 24/7 demands of a small infant…..I felt exhausted as a single mum, and did a solo role for the first year of my baby’s life, she sleeps with me, breast feeds, wakes frequently thro the night, especially during teething episodes, growth spurts, or sheer excitement at showing me how she’s mastered rolly polly moves at 5am? There is immense joy in becoming a parent, but there is also an incredible and overwhelming demand on the mother, the sleep deprivation is like suffering permanent jet lag — yes over time you adjust, but it is exhausting and it is really more the lack of parental support, and a breakdown in family networks, that makes the job twice as hard….because there is little rest bite care…if there were, we would produce much happier mums and babies……So, I wonder, why is it there are no charities or support groups for parents run by other old mums perhaps with kids off their hands, grandparents who for whatever reason don’t have a role, but might want one, anyone who loves kids and has some free time to donate, somewhere where mums can get rest bite care? — where are we driving support groups for mothers, giving mums the support they need to do the best job they can at raising these beautiful little human beings — even the gov offering free holistic treatments to burnt out mothers? Surely, this is the most precious group of people in society, who populate our planet, do THE most important job there is! but yet are the most neglected in society?…..we now have to pay for nursery / childcare, where once upon a time it was free? It’s a system gone wrong and has lost sight of the most important ‘need’ in people, the need in mothers to have support, hands on support, with cleaning, caring for children, shopping, supporting their health and wellbeing — when caring for the overwhelming demands of a baby / toddler…’s an incredibly demanding role, which won’t be pacified and create confident healthy adults, if we continually buy into sleep training and forcing our kids to do things that are just not natural for them! It will be helped by offering support to those who are doing the most valued job in society?

  10. rosewell says:

    the point is I think rob, is that a child doesn’t know what it means to throw his toys, he isn’t going to learn at such a young age, that if he throws them off the high chair, his punishment is he doesn’t get them back, so hence he wont throw them in future — he’s just too young to put all this together? So, until he is old enough to realise that throwing them away, means not getting them back, you as a responsible, kind and generous adult, pick them up, because he is unable to pick them up himself, put them back, so he can play with them again…..or you buy toys that ‘stick’ to the high chair….as adults, we are facilitating learning, at age appropriate times….the point is, babies, don’t learn anything but ‘disappointment’ when an adult fails to respond to their needs, or picks up things that they throw away — they are playing and learning and do not have sophisticated brains like adults, to understand that if you throw something away, you don’t get it back — forgive me, but I do think you’re method is rather cruel in it’s over expectation of a baby to learn a behaviour pattern at such a young age — sort of a cruel to be kind method — why not just be kind until your child is old enough to know how to pick up the toys himself…..if his nappy is wet, do you go ‘well, he wont wee himself again, if I don’t change it for a while, or he’ll wait for a few hours longer, if I make him wait longer?;…, he just learns, that his ‘parent’ is not tending to his very underdeveloped and developing needs…..if he throws his dinner on the floor — do you turn around and say, well that’s it, you’re not getting anymore, until you learn to eat it…..where is your ‘parenting’ method, all I can see, is teaching and enforcing through abstinence of a compassion or empathy that a baby is learning, and to speed up this learning, but failing to respond to a need in him, just leaves his needs unmet surely?

  11. Melanie says:

    I used to love reading these type of articles with my first child as it validated my approach. Then I had a second child and you realise this worthy method just isn’t feasible.

  12. Janice A says:

    Love what you wrote. I used to get all nervous when another parent asked if my baby has slept through the night. My boy still wakes up for feeds even though he is almost 6months. He latches on for 10minutes, turns away when he is done and continues sleeping. He naturally forms a routine of sleeping at 10pm and waking up at 8am. Because he feeds with minimal fuss and does not require me to soothe him back to sleep, I’m happy with his version of sleeping though.

  13. Juliet says:

    The purpose of all this appears to be ‘we have been made to feel bad about our parenting choices and therefore we think there should be a swing in government policy/media coverage to make other people who have made different choices feel bad instead’. I dont know why parents become like this – hopefully before having children most of us were able to accept that everybody does things differently and let them get on with it without throwing stones, casting aspersions or making sweeping generalised statements about other peoples personal situations? I totally understand the arguments here and say good for you if that is the path you choose to take. The pre-historic analogy is an odd one, though, with many flaws….should I also allow my husband to have sex with every good looking woman he meets, beat me with a stick and run off with a younger model when I hit 25, as that is what he is ‘programmed’ to do? Life has moved on and evolved – thank goodness! I personally did four horrible days of sleep training when my baby was three months old – days I am 100% confident she does not remember. This tought her to self-settle and it changed everything. She is one now and sleeps twelve hours a night, waking fresh as a daisy and ready to take on the day. As am I! If she does cry in the night, I am in there like a flash as I know she needs me rather than she is just awake and not able to go back to sleep. I have not been persuaded by anything here to feel bad or guilty about my choices, although several of you have actually said you think I should be made to feel abnormal. A bit of sympathy and understanding for other peoples choices would probably make everyone feel better.

  14. Melissa says:

    Fantastic and ensightfull read, I wish someone explained this to me 21 months ago when my daughter was born and I wish society including the work place can support mothers much more.

  15. Celeste says:

    Sadly, Rob thinks in the way most in our society thinks. They put their own understand of things-the adult way of thinking,onto the child,so they assume that,if the child is,say, throwing toys off the the highchair, then they are doing it to be bad and to pick them up,the adult is setting the scene for further “bad” behavior. Instead of seeing what the child does through the eyes and brain of a child-that the child is actually testing gravity and cause and effect,not trying to do anything naughty. A child at that age doesn’t actually know right from wrong. It’s the same with sleep, to force a child to sleep in a way to accommodate an adult and ignoring the child’s needs is what most people do,thinking that they must get the child to switch over to the adult ways as soon as possible so the adult can get on with their own lives. Also, people think that to be there for the child even in sleep, is growing more bad behaviors. It really is sad. It’s not about bad habits,bad behaviors or right and wrong in young children. It’s about them exploring and growing and experimenting and needing an adult to be there to help navigate things for them. This includes sleep.

  16. Leonie says:

    What about fathers? Could we please stop writing about parenting as if it were exclusively a female preserve? I am a full-time working mother and parent to a 7 month old and a 3 year old. Both I and my partner get up in the night to both of them, and we are much more relaxed about the lack of sleep the second time around. But it doesn’t seem unreasonable to want more than 4 hours uninterrupted sleep every now and again!

    • Absolutely, however since I am a mother myself I feel I am only qualified to write about mothering and will leave discussion of Fatherhood to those who know what they’re talking about! I absolutely agree there is nothing wrong with wanting 4hrs sleep and didn’t actually say at any point that it was wrong, just that it may not be realistic to expect.

  17. Lucy says:

    I cannot move past your suggestion that allowing babies to be awake every 25 minutes is giving ‘power back to mothers’. This is lunacy that could only come from a sleep deprived mind.

    I have a one year old baby who sleep for the most part very well (2 1/2 hours in the day and 12 at night ). This was a result of some sleep training and some routining of her (breast) milk feeds from 8 weeks old. Like most children she goes through phases of not sleeping as well. Like at the moment I’m tending to her a lot in the middle of the night and she’s not napping as well at all. All I can gather from these (thankfully) short lived phases is that neither she, nor her father and I are as happy. Of the dozens and dozens of parents and children I know, those who sleep well (ie long naps and 12 hour nights) are without exception the happiest nicest children and those who don’t have irritable, easily upset, often ill and badly behaved children. This is what evidence ACTUALLY suggests.

    Surely, SURELY our job as parents is to raise happy, confident healthy children. You can’t disagree with that?

    I question, on a very serious level, why you would want to encourage parents that constant night waking is normal and healthy. Your argument about prehistoric times is flawed beyond measure. We have evolved. We no longer live in caves. We use toilets. I do hope you’re not suggesting we return entirely to a time where women were raped and left to survive alone with the offspring?

    You countered someone else’s argument in the comments earlier saying that in pre-historic times children slept close to their parents all night, and during the day. Exactly. They did sleep all night, and during the day. Co-sleeping is how parents achieved it then because their lifestyles dictated they had to. Those parents in our modern times who try, and succeed to get their babies to sleep 12 hours at night are doing the same thing. How we choose to make this happen as parents, is frankly none of anyone else’s business. But the fact remains, babies need a lot of sleep. They did then, and they do now.

    Scare mongering like this is all together more frightening than any advice on how to get your child to sleep through the night, especially as you seem to have no real evidence. Although you speak off it a lot. You mention that we will no longer be able to ignore the evidence. What evidence? Please provide this in order for your argument to be taken seriously.

    • Hi Lucy, in fact some lovely evidence came out today – then there is the Middlemiss research too which is ongoing. I think 2014 is going to be the year that categorically proves that sleep training does cause our babies harm, it’s not scaremongering. I speak as somebody who sadly sleep trained my first baby and regret it every day because I can see the damage it caused, yes it was hard to change to a different way of parenting and admit that perhaps something I had done with the best intentions had been less than optimal for my son, but when we know better we do better. It seems also that you think I am directing this at parents who sleep train, I am not. I am directing any frustration at those professionals who do not present the full picture to sleep deprived parents to let them make a truly informed choice and those in power who see no value in close, nurturing parenting – particularly in the first 3 years, when it is so important. Sarah- oh and I will add that I am not sleep deprived (my four children are much older now) and am slightly offended at your suggestion that I am a lunatic.

      • Lucy says:

        Oh Sarah I’m sorry, you obviously have some misplaced guilt over the sleep training of your son. Guilt is a bewildering emotion that seems to engulf us all from time to time when we have children. I can assure you though that teaching your child to fall asleep on their own will not have damaged him. Perhaps it was the way in which you did it?

        I’m sure you are offended at my suggestion that your thoughts are lunacy. I too, could be offended at your suggestion that I have harmed my child and don’t have a close nurtured relationship with her, that is if I had an ounce of respect for your views. Sadly your plethora of contradictions, both in your article and in the comments to your readers have put the final nail in that coffin.

  18. Anna says:

    I don’t know about this, I think giving the impression that trying to get your child to sleep through the night is inhibiting their natural way of being is unhelpful. I’m all for taking off the pressure, with you on that, but the truth is a good night’s sleep, for everyone, is a wonderful thing, makes everything easier and I know makes me a better mum. And for many people going back to work when their child is very young is a necessity, and working without a good sleep is horrible. It’s not about sacrificing the needs of your child, it’s about responding to the needs of the family as a whole, and every family is different.

  19. Amarech Beauregard says:

    What an interesting article, so true what the article is saying. It is hard to raise a child, and to have routines. I have a 22 month old son, he is our first child. We love love him to pieces and spoil him rotten. I has a C-section, I’ve had him sleep in our bed since he came home with us. Everyone has told me not to let him sleep in our bed, big mistake I was making, but I was having such hard time lifting him out of his bassinet and onto my lap for feeding, it would hurt so much I would cry and got frustrated, I pretty much kept him in our bed from than. I have tried to get him to sleep in his own bed when he was 6 months old, he cried for 2 hrs straight, it broke my heart, I cried, I blamed myself for the pain I was putting him, he felt or I felt like I was punishing him for something he did nothing wrong. I pretty much gave up.
    As a child myself, I’m adopted, my mother gave us up because she couldn’t take care of us. To me, I felt abanded, I felt like she didn’t love me, or my siblings and I. I don’t like to say that word ( abanded). It hits a soft part in me. I don’t want to aband my son, or him feeling like I am. I want to ween him off breast feeding, but again, that word. I’ve asked plenty of mommies for pointers or advises, but I personally don’t know which one to take or which road to go. I feel so lost and terribly scared. My husband and I have been talking about having another baby, but I’m a really ready for another one? Can I share my breasts with two? No, I can’t, how do I do this, how do I teach my son and teach my self?
    I’m not close with my husband mother, or mine,( adoptive mother). I want the help, I need the help, I guess it just comes to me realizing I have failed my self too many times, and I keep on failing, I love my job being a mother, but I want to be a mother of 3-4 children and them being proud of me and knowing that I love love them to the core of my heart. That I would do anything for them if it came to life or death.
    So, how do I do this scary job I’m avoiding so much, but wanting more children?.

    • H says:

      You obviousy deeply love your child, and tat is the all and everything a mother can be. I you and your husband enjoy having him sleep in your bed, why move him? I he sleeps and you both sleep and it makes your house and heart happy why change it? I cant think o any 15 yr olds that still sleep with their parents….one day it will change! You could make him his own bed….in your room…or even in his own room, have him help choose pillows and dooner covers and wall paper etc so that he owns that space as a sae and happy place or him. Oer it as a place or day time naps, but i he doesnt want to, dont orce it. Oer it as a place for him to sleep at night i he wants to, but dont force it. Just introduce the concept that he too can have his very own bed one day when he is ready. I you are physically ready for another baby and so is your husband, let mother nature take her course. If you all pregnant your little boy will experience the joy you experience as a new member of his loving family is nurtured in your tummy.Explain that when baby arrives baby too will drink milk from Mummy, highlight that your little boy will be a big brother, he can share with his new sibling. Your body can feed a new born and a toddler. It is my understanding that often though, the milk changes and so gradually the toddler weans themselves. They also see themselves as the older child, not the baby and i it is highlighted as a positive role they are keen to diferentiate themselves from the new born so again feed less and wean slwly….they know you and your milk are available, they are not being forced away, it becomes their choice and so gentler and easier on you and them.And i believe that the new born can co sleep with you (if you have another c section or you wish to do so) in a bassinette/cot attatchment that fixes to the side of the bed – so all SIDS approved and safe. This is your family, your story, your journey. You are doing it with Love and it is perfectly ok to do it your way. Follow your instincts, trust yourself. You wont always get it perect but you will do ok.I too am often scared that i am not being the Mummy i wanted/hooped/should be. But each day i get up and try. And each day my children bring me joy and Love me despite my failings. I am no expert. I dont know how best to do any of this either. But i think starting with Love and following your heart is the first step.

    • Anna says:

      Aw you seem like a lovely lady and I don’t think you should worry about having another baby, you will take every day as it comes and figure it out as you go along the way we all do. As long as it’s done with love, which you obviously have bucket loads of, you won’t go far wrong. I think having a grand plan can be the road to disappointment and guilt, and articles like this purporting to be the ‘right’ way are just as much the problem, if not more so, than the standard recommendations. Listen to all the advice, but they are just ideas and suggestions, just do what works for you and your family. It sounds to me like what you need more than anything is the confidence to know you can do it. (I have an 8 mth and a 7 year old and it was the 7 year old in bed with me for cuddles this morning!! As I say, you’ll just take each day as it comes!) Good luck x

  20. Estelle says:

    I completely agree with this article. Modern life makes it extremely difficult to parent in a natural and responsive way. Mothers are forced back to work too soon and are put in the desperate situation of having to put their child’s needs last. We addressed this issue by bed sharing up to around the age of 4, which was the only way I could respond to my children as I wanted and function during the working day (having returned to work part-time at around the 16 month mark both times). There is no doubt it has taken a toll on me, but that’s more acceptable than the alternative of not caring for my children as I wanted. I have had to make compromises due to the economic needs of my family, but have refused to cut corners where there has been a valid alternative. I can be content in knowing I have done all I can for my children, my very best under the circumstances at the time.

  21. Rachel says:

    Well I thoroughly enjoyed your article and refreshing perspective Sarah. Many thanks! x

  22. Hel says:

    Some beautiful babies sleep most o the night, all night, rom a ew weeks old, some do not. I was blessed with beautiul twins, who did not sleep. they kept us on our toes by waking on average 4 times a night, every night, for 4 years. It never took long to re settle them but still our sleep was broken.We didnt have the option of co-sleeping as we had twins, and we are both Emergency service workers who are in and out of bed at strange times. I have cried the exhausted tears of a desperate Mum (we have no extended amily nearby to help), i have smiled when i have had the luxury of a 5 hr stretch of sleep. I tried sleep school, i tried books, i tried listening to the miriad o different advice available. Eventually, as with most elements of parenting, even in my sleep deprived state, i realised that every baby, toddler, parent and family unit is different. What works for one will not necessarily work for another, and we all seem so very quick to judge when someone else is parenting in a style that differs to our own. If a family is doing its best to nurture, love and care for its little people in its own way, let them be. feel secure enough in your own approach to your own parenting that you can allow others the freedom to parent their way. Share the conversations, maybe even pick up some little hints and tips, but listen with kindness, an open mind and an acceptance that while that Dad might adore co-sleeping and that Mum believes in leaving her child to sel settle neither is necessarily right or wrong. It is what works or their amily. A parent orcing themselves to go against thier own instinct will be unhappy and resentull and that will impact on baby in all their interactions. I truly do know how hard it is to be the loving, patient, engaging parent you want to be when you are exhausted, be kind to yoursel too i you happen to have a baby who wakes regularly and lower your expectations o what can be achieved. And know that eventually the sleep deprivation does slowly ease, this too shall pass, and even on the toughest o days give yoursel a moment to see the joy in your child….. and steal a nap whenever possible!
    There are so many in the world who think they know whats best or us all, rom religion to diet to education to amily lie. At the end o the day we all have to walk our own journey and do it the best most loving way we can.
    My children are ive now, they still wake occassionally at night, maybe twice a week or so…..they give me the most sweetest kisses when i go into them, they describe thier vivid dreams that have woken them, and they thank me or being there. I do encourage them to sel settle oten, but i also oer a Mums cuddle sometimes too, because sometimes thats what is needed.I think, and i am no expert this is my irst time round, but i think i we listen to our instincts as parents and listen to our babies as the individuals they are, we eventually create a version o parenting/sleeping/eeding/routine etc etc etc that is a little jigsaw o all the advice we have read and heard and experienced in our own lives, and then that jigsaw its our unique amilies. I we give ourselves the time to learn and the permission to make mistakes along the way.It is so easy to judge others, unless we are living their lives, how can we truly and what right do we have to do so? (Unless a vulnerable person is being harmed obviously).
    Enjoy your precious babies, even in the middle o the night. I have sadly seen so many that are lost rom SIDS and other health problems, and one more cuddle at 3am would be a git.

  23. Susan says:

    Wonderfully thought provoking article.
    I was thrilled to read such true, common sense – not enough of that kind of talk anymore!
    Love your Maternal Revolution idea! Bravo!

  24. Jane says:

    “Sadly, Rob thinks in the way most in our society thinks…” – “[except me]” is what you are actually trying to say. Fanbloodytastic. Congratulations, Celeste. Et al. You are probably the best parent in the world. Unlike all the rest of us neanderthals who don’t (or perhaps do, how would you know?) follow the exact same ethos when it comes to parenting as you.

    I am SO tired of the attachment parenting brigade PREACHING.

    Yes, there are some good ideas in there which some us may or may not want to consider. Just like the NHS (believe it or not) also has some good ideas. My mum also has some good ideas. Maybe she should write a book, or a blog, so she can congratulate herself on what a fantastic parent she was.

    What I also don’t get is how this whole issue is still such an issue in so many people’s lives when their children are no longer infants! I’m reading this because I have a one year old (and a friend “liked” it on Facebook). I’m hoping that by the time my daughter starts school I won’t be spending most of my waking day thinking about sleep patterns, whether I’ve damaged my child by pureeing her food and if I should have carried her in a forward or backwards facing sling.

    Babies are wonderful – and how I choose to bring my daughter up is important to me and my family. But there is life outside of this baby bubble world of online evangelisism. Just saying.

  25. Natalia says:

    Thank you sooo much for this! Finally, a voice of reason. I’m coming from Russia and I was shocked to find out how the whole country here believed and followed just one woman with no children..
    In Russia, it’s pretty common to breastfeed till 2 y.o. and night wakings are totally part of business as usual.
    My daughter is 1.5 y.o, I’m still breastfeeding and she wakes up 1-2 times a night.
    Thanks a lot for the article again.

  26. Arial says:

    When did parenting become so competitive and vicious? I really enjoyed this article and can see the relevance, however there are other perspectives on this topic that I relate to as well. Why does there have to be one right way to parent? No two children are the same and therefore what will work for one will not work for another! I don’t think this author was mocking other methods just presenting their opinion on the sleep debate, and I welcome any information on how I can provide a better sleep environment for my child as well as reassurance that because my baby doesn’t sleep through I’m not necessarily doing something wrong as so many parents like to make you feel. Why don’t we support each other instead of tearing each other down?

  27. cecilia lawrence says:

    Well said Sarah.

  28. cecilia lawrence says:

    I had a baby who cried a lot and didnt sleep well for 2 months as he had colic ( before he got cured by acupuncture) So I know what it is like to have a crying baby who doesnt sleep. It was tough. Also emotionally as I desperately wanted to cure my child and couldnt bare to see him in pain. I was so tired I cried sometimes BUT: I had at that point been on this planet for 35 years. I had had all the time in the world to sleep as much as I liked. I had had all the time in the world to myself. I made a conscious decision to have a baby. A baby who depended on me. Even if the 2 months of lots of crying and rocking and lack of sleep was hard at the time it was such a short period of my life. Time when my child needed me 100% 24/7. He is now 3 years old and has always woken up several times a night even if he spends most of his time in bed with me. It is perfectly normal and perfectly ok. I so agree with having more realistic expectations on our children. Let go and stop stressing.

  29. dahlia says:

    It’s funny to me when people take metaphors and analogies as literal statements. For example so many comments about the 25 minute sleep cycle has parents freaking out…..waking with a baby every 25 minutes is lunacy! Ok people she didn’t say the baby would wake every 25 minutes just that it’s the sleep cycle and during that lighter sleep phase it is easier for the baby to wake up.

    Now on to this battle of which parenting style is best
    Cry it out, sleep training, co sleeping, attachment parenting
    Each baby gas different temperaments and each family had different routines.
    To try to cram your baby and your lifestyle into one type of style will only make things harder.
    I read EVERYTHING I can about all different types of parenting styles, get different types of advice from web pages, friends, family and I take what works best for me and my son
    And guess what, what worked one day may not work the next
    I’ve come to learn that I have to be flexible and educating myself on a wide variety of techniques has helped.
    Somee days my son will be paying by himself and drift peacefully to sleep on his own, since days he wants to nurse to sleep,a few times when he was cranky, over tired and wanted to fight his sleep I’d have to just let him cry it out.
    Some nights he sleeps for 6 hrs straight, some nights he wakes up every 2 hrs,
    I can usually tell by his body language that he’s hungry before he even wakes.
    Sometimes he wants to sleep with me sometimes he kicks me away and wants to sleep alone.
    I don’t have to sleep train him….he sleeps on his own.
    He barely turned four months and already sleeps more than me. I have insomnia and have trouble staying sleep for intervals longer than 4hrs at a time.
    I’m so jealous of his
    I get upset when people try to categorize me because I don’t see the need to categorize in parenting.
    Or say I’m spoiling him because I enjoy holding him. I’ve seen spoiled baby that won’t even let their mothers set then down or hand then to someone else without son doesn’t. He’s quite content doing his own thing.
    Maybe my next child’s temperament will be different, maybe they’ll be more clingy and needy and more of a handful.
    I may have to handle him/her completely different. But if I confined myself to attachment parenting only I may miss out on things that might suit my next child better

    My advice, take it day by day, read everything you can,Listen any advice given, it may just help, trust your instincts! The midst important lesson I’ve learned at a young age before even having kids is to trust my gut. It’s literally saved my life more than once

  30. Lucy says:

    Reading through this article, and the comments it validates my belief that every child is different, and there is no “one size fits all” manual, and it seems silly to try and suggest one method is better over than another, everyone has a different experience or story to tell. There are many different sleep methods, and that as parents we can choose to try or not try them, but no one should be maligned for choosing one over another, suggesting it will harm the child. Parenting in pre-historic times, which has been referred to in previous comments was largely based on instinct. So many parents nowadays buy countless books, and seem to rely on the internet and blogs, which are always going to be biased towards the method they are recommending. But just because one suggested method works from one child doesn’t mean it will work for yours. When I had my son 15 months ago I was scared and clueless, I jumped to the internet and read books, but the best advice came from my mum in that sometimes simply trusting your instinct and your gut about your baby is the best method. At the end of the day no-one knows your child better than you do, and we can only endeavour to do our best by them, knowing that like most things in life it’s trial and error and we won’t get it right all the time. I have been extremely lucky, my son slept through from 6 months old, but I don’t believe this has anything to do with any one specific thing or method my partner and I tried, we tried lots of things including sleep training, which has had no adverse affects on him. He had a set evening routine very early on to gradually get him familiarised with when it was his bedtime, and whilst in the earlier months we were up and downstairs quite a lot, he now self settles, and regularly sleeps from 8pm till 7pm, He’s 15 months old now, and feel he is living proof that a baby can sleep for 10 – 12 hours, although this was never an expectation of him.

  31. cecilia lawrence says:

    Great great article Sarah. I always only trusted my gutfeeling when it comes to parenting. Im from Sweden and was myself raised without any ‘techniqes’ or ‘methods’ or schedules. Nor were any of my friends. My mother always met my needs, comforted me when I was sad and came when I cried, she set boundaries but calmly explained to me why I could do certain things and not others ( taught ethics and morals and empathy ) No punishments, no CIO no reward systems. We lived and shared a life together. Very simple. Very natural. I have 2 sons and only go with the flow, listen to my instincts and tune in to them. I know the first few years will be chaotic at times and full of sleepless nights… but thats part of parenting. My 3 year old still wakes up at least once at night and normally sleeps with me, he has his own bed and starts the night there now ( because he wants to! ) but then joins us at some stage during the night. I dont think we have had one single night that he hasnt woken up for some reason and I think its perfectly normal. My 18 months old sleeps with me, hugging my arm or cuddling up next to me like a little kitten. He wakes up a few times but settles quickly by stroking my arm and getting reassured Im there. I know that these precious years will pass so quickly. I know that in only a few years these little boys will not want to sleep in mummys bed. So whats all the stress about. I know that there is pressure on modern mothers to return to work far to soon and that the one who has to suffer is inevitably the child. I believe its time for another kind of feminism – one that includes our right to be good mothers too. Or maybe its time to start to a babyism movement… the rights for children to have the start in life that they are designed for and deserve?.

  32. cecilia lawrence says:

    And I forgot: are there right or wrong ways to parent? If you ask your paediatrician and asked if it is ok to not change the babys nappy for 2 weeks I am sure the answer would be ‘ No’. That would be neglect. To me sleep training is ‘ controlled’ emotional neglect. ( The only one feeling in control possibly being the parent ) We must respect different parenting styles but there are many ‘techniques’ and ‘methods’ out there that are very controversial and proven to even cause longterm damage. These must be questioned and the childs welfare must be the priority.

  33. Rebecca mottram says:

    Hi Sarah, thanks for sharing your ideas. I found it reassuring to understand how an infants sleep cycles etc is different from an adults. I think it will hell me to feel less irritated when the baby wakes at night. His cot is next to ours but he usually sleeps in our bed for second half of the night, otherwise he doesn’t sleep so well. I have arthritis and do get uncomfortable and sometimes wish baby didn’t have to be in our bed , but it is only for a relatively short time of our lives. I think it’s worth remembering that daytime and nighttime are not always so different for a baby and they will expect the same level of attention in each.
    What is missing is , as you imply, a level of support from society as a whole that can enable mothers and fathers to cope better with the lack of sleep. For example, paying for longer maternity leave as they do in other countries would mean mothers didn’t necessarily have to go back to work before child was sleeping more solidly. I catch up on my sleep in the early evenings or in the afternoon, so I can cope better at night. Once I go back to work this won’t always be possible.

  34. Serena says:

    I joined that revolution over 35 years ago. I’m sad that I inflicted trying to get my baby to sleep through the night on my first baby at 2 months and again at 13 months. I’m sure some of her insecurities and fears come from that. I learned more with each baby. My youngest, now 12, will still want to come in sleep in our room sometimes, though most of the time he sleeps through the night. He just wants to know we are close when he is feeling scared of something. I have learned to not make a big deal about it. Being a mother is the greatest thing you will ever do because children are the future, so how we mother them is VERY important.

  35. Isabelle says:

    Thank you so much for this well written easy to understand article. It is going to be a great tool for me with my work with Breastfeeding mums. You put into words what I feel and believe ! Thank you.

  36. Stephanie says:

    Being currently obsessed with information on how babies sleep and wanting to get it ‘right’ with my baby, for his sake and mine, I found this interesting. Having sifted through a ton of info trying to understand how I could best support his healthy sleep, my understanding of ‘sleep training’ evolved to be respect my babies drowsy signs and respond to his need for sleep like I do his need to eat and play etc. I believe this is the opposite of convenient for parents and is why these sleepy signs are often missed or ignored. Over tired infants are less able to return to sleep at their natural frequent wakings on their own. Sleep begets sleep. I got out of my research that sleep training is truly parent training. I just wanted to add my two cents that is what I got out of the concept. Not that sleep training = crying or baby torture.

  37. maya says:

    Exactly!! The thing that finally convinced me I’m not a bad mother for following my instinct when it came to my baby’s sleeping patterns, was coming across an article on the study of melatonin in baby’s developing brain. Melatonin is a hormone responsible for the drowsy feeling we get when we remain in a dim lighted relaxing environment. It appears that babies don’t develop the production of melatonin in their brains until 9 months old!! So how can we realistically expect a baby to relax on it’s own before 8-10 months??? Furthermore, doctors are prescribing oral melatonin to babies who do not have a genetic defect. Get this information out there!

  38. Blue-Shirt-Gal says:

    Yet another article espousing the “evils” of modern society and how motherhood is devalued. Some of us do not want to be valued only as mothers, thank you very much. Who is out earning the money when we are all eco parenting in this utopian research-based future of yours? It is a luxurious ideal peddled my a spoiled middle-class who do not understand the economic pressures forcing so many parents into this modern dichotomy I breast-fed my babies, we co-slept for the first six-ten weeks, I wore them in a sling… but then I went back to work. Funnily enough, they were both sleeping 12hours a night by 6-months. They both still do (except during illness). Go figure.

  39. D.C. says:

    For those having trouble with the pre-historic angle – a baby doesn’t understand that it’s been born into a modern society. The baby’s needs are the same as babies born thousands of years ago. However, society has moved on and this is where there is a conflict. We as adults have learned over ime not to do certain pre-
    historic things (eg multiple mating of males – actually some haven’t learned this) but a baby born brand new into this world only has whats it’s programmed to need.

  40. Juliet says:

    Brilliant article, beautifully written. I am with you in the Maternal Revolution.

  41. mia says:

    What I love about your article is the acceptance that we don’t live in a society that allows us to be the best mothers we should be. 9 months into my first son’s life I ended up using some kind of ‘sleep training’ technique because I was up every 45 minutes – 1 1/2 hours at night for 6 weeks with a husband that was never at home due to work travel, parents thousands of miles away and a new environment with no community support. I would never advise anyone to do the same, but my other option at the time – a recurring virus for 6 months, a child and mother that were rapidly losing weight/underweight because I had no breast milk production and was too tired to cook or feed him or myself during the day really just highlighted that we have SO FAR to go to in terms of becoming a society that respects mothers and families. My second son is 3 months old now and I have done much community building, work on my health and more to make sure we don’t get in the situation we were last time but honestly, how much easier would it have been if I was given the opportunity to ‘JUST’ be a mother… ah!

  42. Victoria says:

    Sarah, reading half way down this page of numerous comments in response to a thought provoking and much needed article, it seems most people are embroiled in the sleep deprivation vs sleep training argument and miss the point you are actually making.
    I may be biased by my own short experience of living in a nuclear family with my 20 month- old daughter in a ‘modern – ‘women are now working full time AND doing everything they did in our parents generation – world’, but the point I think (and hope) you are making is – ‘This responsive way of parenting is basically impossible and improbable to be successful in our current nuclear families and the only real way to make it a widespread, accepted and successful parenting approach is if we are to dramatically adapt the structure of the family from nuclear to (at least) extended and change the perception of motherhood in society, in addition to educating families regarding the expectations of parenthood…..

    It frightens me how people talk about ‘when they will have children’ as if they are another accessory like the latest iPhone or tablet; a ‘must- have’ without deliberation. I always say to couples thinking to have children with that naïve look in their eye – ‘nobody tells you how hard it is’. Nobody wants to admit the magnitude of the task for fear people will think they cant cope. It changes your life forever and you cant go back: you bring a new life but then your life (as it was) is then not yours anymore. Being a parent for me is – forgetting about your selfish wants (including sleeping) and without question responding to every need that child has. My daughter had colic from 2 weeks – 4 months not just crying (although small babies don’t cry very loud so the noise is not really an issue) but screaming in agony EVERY evening from 5pm – 9pm, non stop. Watching your child in agony for 4 hours EVERY evening and not knowing when it will end is nothing short of torture and it broke me mentally, just starting to recover now but I would never have another child for that reason.

    I can honestly say that parenting to respond to every need absolutely does not work in a nuclear family, – even when my husband is more than dedicated to this approach (he looked after her full time from 7 weeks to 8 months). It does not work because it simply puts too much pressure on too few people and the family will implode. It does not work when you both juggle working full time and have no network or family support. With the prospect of our separating imminent, I am instead giving up work to be a full time mum as of today. Sadly, we are not alone, many couples are suffering the same pressure cooker environment but don’t admit to what extent and sadly not everyone is able to give up work. I don’t know if it will be the answer to our problems but something has to give.

    Therefore comments above to say that responding to every infants need is not practical – correct – it is not practical in our current society and culture so you are completely justified in making that point. It’s not a question of ‘Surely, I am entitled to at least 4 hours sleep from time to time?’ because this wouldn’t be a question that needs to be asked in a culture which encourages extended families and society which supports the needs of young families. This is the point I believe that Sarah is making.

    I completely agree that THE most important job is motherhood / fatherhood as this will inevitably dictate how people and therefore society will be. I will definitely join the revolution, I am on-board! Its just a shame that the British culture is SO far behind other cultures who are already working as a team and cherish their little ones rather than ‘fit them into their busy working lives’. These cultures live in a win-win environment. I don’t mean to offend the British culture, it’s just our culture. It is also our culture to be so damn stubborn and believe we do everything the best way!

  43. Victoria says:

    What about the increased SIDS risk from co-sleeping? Unproven risk of later insecurity from sleep training versus proven risk of death from co-sleeping? I know which I would go for.
    Also I would like to know how mothers from these ‘superior parenting cultures’ manage not to feel completely awful and exhausted when being woken up every hour by a poorly-sleeping baby? Without some reasonable sleep for me (and I’m NOT expecting an unbroken 8 hours), I have a hard time responding properly to the needs of either of my children – how is that good parenting?

    If you are able to function adequately on limited and continuously broken sleep – that’s fantastic, and you are very lucky. Please feel sympathy for those of us who can’t do the same, rather than trying to make us feel guilty.

  44. Parent says:

    One thing that intrigues me is this whole comment of babies being especially sensitive in the dark / night time due to fear of predation. This, I can pretty much say is a load rubbish for two common sense reasons (i) if it’s dark there’s no better way to attract a predator than making a whole load of noise. If this was true, babies would wake up and not say a peep and (ii) you say that they go through light sleep cycles every 25 mins to detect predation. What about the 25 mins when they’re not in a light sleep cycle? Is this just bad luck? What happens if they wake up and sense a predation, do they run away? These statements just undermines everything else that is written

  45. Mim says:

    So refreshing! Thank-you for being proactive on these topics of parenting! Much of what I have read that you have offered in this article has been my instinct, and it is nice to see some research back it up. The society that we live is is more disjointed than it should be in my opinion. A community that helps one another I think is a sign of healthy families and individuals. It all begins in the home, and with basics of love, patience, longsuffering, and kindness. It is not popular in our culture to sacrifice our own desires, so that others may benefit. However, it is amazing to watch what happens for individuals when we do. Of course not all family situations will be ideal(working moms, ect), that is just the nature of human existence, however we can help so much by simply starting with our own families. It makes a world of difference to our children. After reading some of the comments, I think we become over obsessed, and perhaps too critical of ourselves, if we are not in the ideal situation to practice what has been said and become angry, or give up. Take a deep breath and simply do what you can, because, simply that is all you can do. 🙂 Choose to be happy with your best. Thank-you Thank-you Sarah.

  46. denise collins says:

    Isn’t sleep deprivation a well known torture? Why do you, Sarah, think that just because you have found something that has worked for you means that you are right and others are wrong? Trying to look after a toddler during the day after a baby hasn’t slept at night, and therefore neither has the parent/s, is a recipe for disaster. Ever heard of infanticide? Ever wondered what causes it? Sleep deprivation is one of the main causes. I could be quite cynical and cite the fact that you have a new book that you’re trying to flog being the reason for your article.

  47. tired1980 says:

    “this makes me feel bad about my decisions” comments. Seriously. Own your decisions. If you have guilt over some thing you have done, it means you have a conscience and maybe you should listen to that. Articles written based in fact/science aren’t written to upset you, they are written to educate you. If you read all the info about sleep training, for and against, but decide the risks are worth it, then that is ok, you should t have guilt if you wholeheartedly feel it’s the right thing.

    I had 2 medically advised c sections. I don’t love it, but I don’t read articles about the benefits of natural birth and scream “YOU WROTE THIS TO MAKE ME FEEL BAD!!!!” I think oh yeah, right that’s true. Done. Move on.

    • Dorothy Campion says:


      We’re all entitled to our opinions on this very contentious matter. However neither ‘side’ can reasonably claim the weight of scientific evidence. A article or two by a professor which has not been peer-reviewed showing a correlation does not meet the standards required for such a claim by a long shot. I could write an article showing that a large amount of firemen seems to correlate with large fires, it doesn’t prove that firemen start fires.

  48. tired1980 says:

    Oh seriously. All the “you wrote this to make me feel bad!” Comments…. If you are so confident in your decision to let your kids cry to sleep, why do you feel guilty? Maybe your conscience/instinct? Which is actually kinda what we are talking about here anyway; science. Not “you’re a bad parent” (again, think about why you feel that way when reading something, by a stranger, that opposes your decisions) but the biology and anthropology of the human race.

    If you did all your research and felt the benefits of sleep training outweighed the risks, then that is ok. But don’t then say “oh it’s your fault I feel bad” coz it is YOUR fault you feel bad, own your decisions.

    I had two c sections with my kids. I don’t read articles on the benefits of natural birth and how my kids may have missed out on some of those because they had to be surgically birthed. I read the info and think “oh yeah right, that’s a shame” and move on. End of story.

  49. tired1980 says:

    Oops sorry my last comment paragraph was meant to say I don’t read articles about the benefits of natural birth and assume folk are trying to make me feel bad; they are sharing fact. Period.

  50. Laura says:

    Interesting article. I think the obsession with bed time and routine is quite a British thing – my husband and some of my friends are from a more meditteranean culture and have a much more relaxed attitude to sleep times – and generally for children to be much more a part of evening life – i.e. they will go out to restaurants with them in the evening etc. We have never tried to force a 7pm or 8pm bedtime on our child and she has always gone to bed quite late (she is now 2), but we have had very little problem with her sleeping at night. My friends think we are mad, but basically we have just found that fitting in with her natural rhythm works better for all of us. It means as one friend of mine put it we ‘don’t get an evening’ but I don’t really see it that way because I do get an evening – I just get an evening with my child! I actually just say to her sometimes ‘do you want to go to bed now’ and sometimes she says ‘yes’ or ‘lets listen to music’ (which we do before bed) and so when she goes to bed she is actually tired and sleeps really well. This goes against all the advice I have received but it has worked. When people come to me complaining about their child not sleeping I ask when they put their child to bed and invariably they say 7pm – I suggest letting them sleep later, but you would have thought I had suggested they go and mug their grandma! It’s so funny lol.

  51. Jessica Maliphant says:

    I have spent a lot of time studying Child Development and I am very excited to see how neuroscience is really illustrating how the way we respond to our small children shapes their brains. I was particularly interested in the point you make, ‘Now we parent miles away from our own families, no longer embraced by a support network.’ I believe that the loss of extended family support structures can place real stress on parents. I am really interested to explore how families have changed over the generations and how families differ in different cultures. I wondered if you had any suggestions for further reading?

  52. Kit Sune says:

    “If sleepless nights are still so common in toddlerdom why do we consider it a problem if our babies and toddlers do not sleep all night? ”

    Because for most mothers, the reality is that you are expected to go back to work within 6 months of giving birth, and if your baby keeps waking you up at night, you’ll just be a wreck and unable to work properly. We need to make societal changes that allow mothers to spend more time with their babies after giving birth.

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