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Sleep Training Seemed Cruel to Me and I Don't Regret Avoiding It

Photograph by Twenty20

When my first son was about 4 months old and still waking almost hourly all night to nurse, I made the mistake of complaining about this to some moms I had met at a Mommy & Me class. They all suggested that I sleep train him.

"It only took three nights. I'd invest in a pair of ear plugs," one mom said.

"My son screamed for two hours the first three nights, but now he sleeps like an angel," another mom said.

And that was the last time I brought that up. Although I believed then, and still believe now, that parents have to do whatever works for them, I think the cry-it-out method is cruel and hurtful to babies. I never did it, and I still can’t stomach the idea of it.

Listen, I know that babies are apt to scream and cry sometimes, even if you don't sleep train them. I don't believe a few hours of crying causes babies irrevocable harm (at least not usually). I also know that some babies just kind of kvetch and complain when you sleep train them, and don’t actually wail for hours. I also get why parents feel the need to sleep train their kids. Sleep deprivation is freaking painful, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

It pains me to think of a child experiencing that kind of trauma.

But causing my child to cry—on purpose—just so I can get a few extra hours of shut-eye just doesn’t seem right to me. A child can’t understand that mommy or daddy is just standing on the other side of the door and will see them in the morning. They can't understand that all this misery has a purpose. Nope, all babies know are that their parents are gone.

It pains me to think of a child experiencing that kind of trauma. My heart just can’t handle it.

Don't worry, I've read the studies. Some say that cry-it-out doesn't cause harm to children. Other studies say it does. I think we all kind of pick and choose which to believe based on what our instincts tell us. So, I’m not really interested in any studies or advice from doctors, grandmothers, etc.

As my babies got older, I was able to gently teach them to put themselves back to sleep in the middle of the night, though it wasn’t such an issue because my toddlers slept in my bed or in their own bed side-carred next to mine. As they got older and were able to understand that Mommy or Daddy couldn’t be there every single time they woke, they naturally were able to soothe themselves back to sleep.

It was a process that happened when they were ready and mature enough to understand what was happening. That was key for me. The reason I think cry-it-out is cruel is because I don't think that a baby can possibly experience you leaving the room and not coming back as anything but abandonment. When babies stop crying after a certain number of minutes or hours, I believe they are basically giving up on you—not "self-soothing." Self-soothing happens from a place of maturity, understanding and security, and infants just are not ready to develop that on their own, in a dark and empty room.

You can argue with me all you want. If you feel differently, by all means, parent your kids as you see fit. But I never sleep trained my kids, and although I was dead tired at times, I have zero regrets. Everyone sleeps great now, and we all survived those ridiculously exhausting baby years.

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