What to Do When You Feel Like Sleep Training Your Baby

sleepFeeling close to giving up & sleep training your baby?

The first thing I want to say is that at some moment ALL parents have, or will feel, how you do right now. I definitely have, more than once (in fact more than that!). There is absolutely nothing wrong in feeling that you “just can’t do this anymore”. There is nothing wrong in feeling resentment towards your partner, your friends whose babies ‘sleep through’ and even your baby. There is nothing wrong in having a good old moan about how exhausted you feel. Parenting is tough, really, really tough. Although each age brings its own challenges, the first two years are definitely the hardest on you physically. It’s ironic that the hardest physical work comes at a point when your body is still trying to recover from carrying and birthing your baby, the time when you need rest the most.

I know too well how tempting it is to follow the magic sleep plan your friend with the perfect sleeping baby has followed. I know what it feels like to second, third and fourth guess your choices. Your parenting style is meant to make your baby MORE confident, but she’s only becoming clingier. What did you do wrong to create such a needy and anxious little boy? The answer is – absolutely nothing. NOTHING you have done has created a ‘bad sleeper’. In fact I would wager that your baby actually isn’t ‘a bad sleeper’ even though it sure does feel like it. Hundreds of thousands of babies around the world have been trained to sleep abnormally, these are the unusual ones – not yours. One day your hard work will pay dividends, but frustratingly that day isn’t here yet.

So, what can you do when you feel at the end of your tether?

1. You MUST start here. You are exhausted. You MUST find some way to rest. Right now, if you are at rock bottom it is better for your baby to some time with somebody who cares for them (even though they may not settle well for them) while you recuperate, than to have a drained and barely functioning mother. Tanking up on a night’s sleep, or sleeping in the day while your partner/mum/sister/friend takes the baby (preferably out of ear shot so you don’t hear any crying) is so important. When you have had some sleep, even just for one night, everything will seem different.

2. You MUST start practising daily self care of some form. This looks different for everybody – it could be joining a singing group, a running group, a knitting group, a salsa class, a yoga class, a book club – something involving adults where you can be your pre-baby you. In addition take long baths or indulgent showers, eat well, meditate or try mindfulness, go to bed as early as possible. Get a massage, get a pedicure, get some reiki or reflexology – whatever floats your boat.

3. Make sure you are not adding to your exhaustion due to postnatal depletion. Many new mothers are lacking in Vitamin D, Zinc, Magnesium, Vitamin B12 and Iron. If you’re lacking in these you’re going to feel even more run down and even more tired. I’m firmly of the opinion that ALL new mothers should supplement B12, Magnesium and Vitamin D (for all I use sprays made by Better You). Tablets are really not well absorbed by the body and if you’re deficient a multi-vitamin will not be sufficient.

4. Check your own anxiety levels. Many (most?) new mothers have high levels of anxiety, especially first timers. Birth trauma, difficulty transitioning to motherhood – perhaps after an unplanned pregnancy, a long wait and fertility issues, giving up a job where you were in control, or relationship issues can all play havoc with our emotions. Research shows that maternal anxiety plays a big role in infant sleep and can make babies wake more. In addition anxiety can make you second guess your choices and decisions and make you feel less sure of them which can lead to a lack of continuity and consistency – something else that affects sleep. Speaking with your GP, a helpline, a counsellor or a local support group can really help.

5. Remind yourself why you are parenting in this way. What messages do you want to send your baby? What are your long term hopes? How would sleep training fit with this? How would you feel if you sleep trained tomorrow, but in 6 months time your baby was sleeping no differently than if you hadn’t sleep trained at all? One of the downsides of sleep training is that results are not long lasting. Even pro sleeping training research admits there are no permanent positive effects!

6. There are ways in which you can help your child to get more sleep gently. These mostly involve looking at their sleeping environment, their daytime routine, their bedtime routine, their diet and any potential physical issues. I offer bespoke support through email, Skype and phone for those who need a little more. If you really MUST do something now, you don’t have to resort to CIO, controlled crying, pick up put down or gradual retreat!

For more gentle sleep tips, check out The Gentle Sleep Book and Why Your Baby’s Sleep Matters (written specifically for breastfed babies under 12 months old). You can also follow me on Facebook for more sleep tips and advice.

About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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3 Responses to What to Do When You Feel Like Sleep Training Your Baby

  1. Sarah says:

    Hmm leaving your baby with someone else knowing that they will not settle as well (ie will cry). Not that different to controlled crying, baby doesn’t realise it’s cause you need rest, baby will think you have abandoned it. Poor baby!!! What if it needs fed to sleep. It will be crying for hours on end without it’s mum, I imagine much more stressful than 5 mins of controlled crying!!!

  2. Sue says:

    My little girl is 14 months old and wakes up to 5 times a night. She stays awake for anything up to 3 hours each time she wakes. I am at a complete loss with what to do now. I can’t function the way it is but don’t want to sleep train and didn’t with my older child. I get so beside myself with anger that I think it may actually be better to leave her to cry rather than shout at her. I’ve been up for 2 hours with her since 1am and have rocked her for most of that, given her milk and tried to put her in with me. She doesn’t respond well to co sleeping as it seems to wake her more and she thrashes around and sits up and tries to crawl out of the bed. I have no qualms with co sleeping but it’s more that it doesn’t seem to work for her. I’ve just left her to cry for 20 minutes as I felt so angry I thought it was a better option than going in to her and losing it. I’ve nevee left her to cry and feel awful about it but I just don’t know what else to do. Any advice would be really appreciated. Thanks

  3. Hayley says:

    I have just read this at exactly the right time. All of this applies to me. I’ve had many ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moments over the last few weeks and the Mum guilt is eating away at me. This advice might very well save my sanity!

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