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If Sleep Training Works, Why Doesn’t it Stick?

I did not want to sleep train my baby. I couldn’t bear to hear her cry for 10 seconds, never mind 10 minutes. When my pediatrician casually suggested that I let her “cry it out,” I was so angry, I temporarily switched pediatricians. That was at four months old.

By seven months, I was singing a different tune. Not only had my baby never slept through the night, but she was a nursing junkie who woke nearly every hour. Whatever sleep reserves and new mama hormones had gotten me through the early days were now thoroughly depleted. I was crying more than my baby, deranged from lack of sleep, and finally ready to try something different.

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With the help of a kind-hearted doula, we came up with a gentle plan for sleep training, including frequent check-ins, holding and rocking, singing and murmuring, and still…. tons of crying. (I knew my strong-willed bambina was not going down without a fight.) Yet, as many other mothers had promised, after just a few nights of sticking to the plan, we saw a radical difference in our daughter’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Our entire family dynamic changed, practically overnight. I was rested. The baby seemed happier. She did not lose her trust in me. And I had so much more to give.

What I want to know is, what happened to self-soothing? That’s the line I bought when I agreed to sleep train in the first place.

So from seven months old to age three—and that’s a nice long stretch—my child slept 11 hours a night. During that time, she learned to walk and talk and sing and dance and—uh oh!—climb right out of her crib. When her escapes became a nightly event, I reluctantly moved her into a big girl bed. And then all hell broke loose.

Given the freedom of mobility, my daughter decided not to go sleep at bedtime anymore. If we said goodnight and closed the door, she opened the door and followed us around the house. We tried to “retrain,” walking her back to bed over and over again. While this proved a great way to get in our daily 10,000 steps, it did not result in sleep.

For the past year, the only way we’ve been able to get her down is by laying with her and waiting, a process that can take well over an hour because she wiggles, pops out of bed, turns on the lights and complains, “I don’t know how to shut my eyes.”

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What I want to know is, what happened to self-soothing? That’s the line I bought when I agreed to sleep train in the first place. “You’re teaching your baby to self soothe, so she can put herself back to bed,” the experts said. So how come she doesn’t know how to shut her eyes anymore? It occurs to me that maybe all she “learned” during sleep training was that if she cried, I wasn’t coming to help, at least not promptly.

That’s kind of crappy, I know! But since I’m expecting another baby, and I have no idea what kind of sleeper this baby will be, I can’t rule out sleep training. I may have my doubts about the underlying philosophy, but as a mom, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

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