It’s Time to Stop with the Sleep Guilt

It’s time we stop guilting parents about bad habits, sleep crutches, unhealthy bedtime props and sleep mistakes. Almost every day I am contacted by a parent who is worried that they are creating bad habits, or inhibiting their child’s independence. They have been warned (usually by healthcare professionals or sleep trainers) that in feeding or rocking their child to sleep, they are creating problems for the future. They are told that they should teach their child to ‘self soothe’ (read here for why there’s no such thing), they are told to stop feeding their baby at night (and that these feeds are negatively affecting sleep, teeth, daytime eating, confidence and more) and they are told that they are mollycoddling their child by cuddling them to sleep. These parents are led to believe that their child has a very serious sleep problem and they believe that this is a problem that they have created. The truth? A problem is only a problem if it is a problem for the parent, or the baby, if the family is happy who on earth are these people to insinuate otherwise?


These sleep warnings and sleep guilt are widespread, not surprising given that the messengers often make money from parents believing in them (after all, if there are no problems, no fixing is needed). Sometimes, where no profit is involved, the messages are spread out of a degree of ignorance, a lack of true understanding of human norms. Often there is a sad mix of both. They get under the skin of parents, the niggling doubt eroding an already fragile confidence and self-belief. Parents start to believe that they do have a problem and worse, that they are the cause of it. In truth they are anything but.

There is no evidence that shows rocking, holding or feeding to sleep is damaging in any way whatsoever, whatever age the child is. There is no evidence that shows feeding at night (beyond an arbitrary age) causes long-lasting sleep problems, or any others for that matter. I cannot shout this loudly enough. These things are not problems *unless* they are a problem for you, or your baby.  Don’t let the sleep guilt spreaders get under your skin.

Will you need to rock, hold or feed forever? Of course not!  (read here about why these things aren’t habitual). In time, your child (baby or toddler, perhaps even preschooler) will outgrow the need. This natural independence is magical, if a little sad for you, in one fell swoop it proves the naysayers were wrong with a capital W! (read here about when you may expect independent sleep onset). We are the only mammalian species in the world who try to force our offspring to be independent before they are ready. Nobody tries to train mother cats to not sleep curled up with their kittens, or chimps to not feed their babies to sleep, or during the night, because these behaviours are innate, natural and normal.

habWe must stop trying to guilt parents into ignoring the same instincts, whether for profit, pride or productivity. Parental instincts aren’t wrong, guilting parents into ignoring them is. Parents should be advised to cuddle, feed and rock to their hearts’ desires and be encouraged to ignore any thoughts of problems, habits and crutches. If we feel inclined to give them any advice it should always (and only) be:

“There are no problems, unless it is a problem for you and your baby. You’re doing a great job, keep on doing what you’re doing, for one day your child will be grown and not need you anymore”

The NEWLY UPDATED Gentle Sleep Book – out now! If you would like to understand and learn how to improve your baby, toddler, or pre-schooler’s sleep WITHOUT cry-based conventional sleep training, this is the book for you!


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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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