Baby Gwen turns six months of age today. My once tiny baby is now at her halfway mark to her first birthday!
There are big decisions for us parents to tackle at this milestone age - what solids should we start Gwen on? Should we do spoon feeding or baby led feeding? How should we clean baby's first tooth?
And the biggest nagging question at the back of my (and many other modern mothers') mind since she turned four months of age - should we sleep train her?
Experts believe most babies have developed the ability to self-soothe by six months of age, making it an ideal time to begin any sleep training programme. After 2 months of reading up on this hotly debated topic, mulling over whether we should get onto the sleep training bandwagon and discussing at length with the husband, I have reached a conclusion at long last.
I have decided NOT to sleep train Baby Gwen.
This decision didn’t come easy and I really struggled to weigh the pros and cons. I would say I eventually made the decision with both my heart and mind. Right from the beginning I was firm on what I wanted - no crying, no restricted parental responsiveness and helping Gwen to feel safe, secure and positive about sleeping.
After looking into the various sleep training methods, I couldn’t find one that I was entirely comfortable with, that fulfilled these criteria. Not sleep training - but instead practising good sleep hygiene - felt like the right thing to do for our family.
Sleep training gained popularity in the recent decades and while many studies state that there aren’t negative consequences to letting a baby cry (it out or in a controlled manner), what bothered me was the insufficiency of studies tracking its impact to adulthood. Who’s to know if there is any adverse, long lasting impact that only shows up in later life? There appears to be more than what meets the eye too. One study pointed that babies on Day 3 of the sleep training programme cry less than they did on Days 1 and 2 but still had elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in their bloodstream. On the surface it might seem like baby is adjusting to sleep training by crying less but the stress could just be pent up. To me, that is a terrifying possibility.
From what I gathered, sleep training works by conditioning baby to rely on themselves (self-soothing) instead of their parents, and that is in conflict with my parenting philosophy. I want Gwen to know that I always have her back as long as she needs me. When we as adults find ourselves unable to sleep, we can easily make a cup of hot cocoa, turn on relaxing music and perhaps light an aromatic candle to put ourselves back to sleep. But babies are unable to do any of these on their own. To my helpless baby, I want to be as sensitive, compassionate and empathetic as I can when she cries for me during her night wakings (whatever my 3am sleepy self could be capable of.)
In today's society, a baby sleeping without interruptions is thought to be good parenting. But in actual fact, night wakings are natural for infants. The Wonder Weeks (TWW) explains why some babies wake frequently through the night. Apparently, this traces back to primeval times when human babies who are not kept close to their parents are targeted by predators. Night wakings confer a survival advantage for babies. If it isn't broken, don't fix it. If it's normal for my baby to wake frequently, so be it.
I initially wanted to embark on sleep training because I worried that my baby’s sleep wouldn't be restorative if she were to wake frequently in the night. TWW debunks this by elucidating that babies have different sleep needs vs adults. A baby can wake multiple times a night but is considered to have had a good night’s sleep if her total hours of shuteye matches what’s advised for her age. Gwen clocks a cumulative 14.5 hours per day, which is the recommended sleep duration for her age. Since she seems to be sleeping sufficiently, I felt sleep training wouldn't be necessary for "better" sleep.
Finally, I saw it as a sign that not sleep training Gwen is the right decision for her when I came across a Facebook post by a first-time mum who shared an amazing testimony. Like me, she had held her baby to sleep from birth and used all kinds of sleep aid, rocking, singing, bouncing and swaying. When her baby turned 9 months, one day she rubbed her eyes, reached for her lovey and pointed to the bedroom. As her mum got ready to rock her, she gestured for her mum to lie down beside her instead and... closed her eyes, promptly falling asleep. Her mum believes through her past 9 months of efforts, she'd finally gotten her baby to feel relaxed, safe and secure enough to fall asleep on her own. This story blew my mind, and gave me so much hope.
These days, Gwen no longer cries as much during daytime naps for my help to connect her sleep cycles. She has started to connect them on her own. Her brain's maturing!
So I have absolute faith that one day (hopefully in the near future), Gwen will eventually sleep without so many night wakings or even STTN when she is developmentally ready. More haste, less speed.
I shall let nature take its course, bid my time and wait for her to be ready at her own pace.
Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece by a first-time mum, who is no sleep expert (she just reads and Googles a fair bit). It portrays a one-sided and skewed view but the bottomline is that there is no right or wrong in sleep training. All parents ultimately know what's best for their family and their decisions should be respected.
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.