Or maybe you just accidentally fell into having baby sleep in your bed. Lots of babies don’t sleep well in the first year, and we’re so tired that we’re willing to do anything to get a little rest. Plus, it really can be dee-lish to snooze with that little sweetie right there.
But eventually, your little baby grows — into a toddler. And realizes that she can 1) keep herself awake on demand, 2) insist on nursing constantly through the night, and 3) crawl, climb and play all over Mom and Dad, who are trying (in vain) to sleep.
So I get a lot of desperate emails from readers like Amy who are re-thinking the Attachment Parenting thing. Maybe not the WHOLE thing, but the “not getting any sleep at night after umpteen months” thing. Is it possible to transition a toddler OUT of your bed, and INTO her own crib? (Or is a toddler bed in your room better?)
This is such a complicated situation that I’m devoting an entire chapter in my book to it. But until that’s available, here are some things to consider:
- Toddlers don’t associate cribs with “jails” or “cages”, as some might suggest. That’s an adult projection. Toddlers feel relieved to have a safe, cozy, predictable place of their own to retreat to, after a long day toddling, climbing, and falling.
- Letting a toddler have free access to your room (or the whole house) at night while co-sleeping (or sleeping in a toddler bed in your room) is enough to cause most parents to sleep with “one eye open”. Too much freedom, not enough sleep — and maybe not safe, I say.
- Parents who aren’t getting much sleep after many, many months risk SERIOUS health consequences (think: life and death), plus the obvious negative impact on the relationship. Parents need some sleep to stay healthy and sane — plus their own time — together — to be “on the same page” and have a strong relationship. Even babies and toddlers can absorb — and accept — this message.
But how to do it? This depends on your family’s needs, the setup of your home, and your kiddo’s temperament. If you’re struggling with this, let me know. We can problem-solve in the comments section.
Mom of Four, Parenting Expert
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One of the most primitive, innate reactions any mom has is to comfort her crying child. But as we’ve talked about here before, many babies can tolerate — and thrive — with some crying, when their parents thoughtfully decide why and when that might be necessary.
That’s why articles like this leave me mystified — especially when they come from one of my shrink colleagues. Her bottom line is that CIO is dangerous. She trots out all the old arguments, hailing the Dr. Sears “science” behind her claims, and providing one of the most common misinterpretations of infant research. She makes the mistake that clinical research findings about abused and maltreated babies — babies who were pervasively denied their needs over the long-term — should be applied to NORMAL babies in NORMAL families.
The fact is, there is no evidence whatsoever that occasional CIO in typically developing babies causes any damage. PERIOD.
More importantly, there IS evidence that severely sleep-deprived mothers are at much higher risk of developing an already common –and dangerous — condition: postpartum depression. And PPD certainly CAN lead to long-term damage to both baby — and the entire family. CIO is a method that, when implemented thoughtfully, can often lead to improved sleep (and health and happiness) for everyone.
Firebombs like those thrown in the Psychology Today article only make the burden heavier on moms. What a shame.
Aloha as always,
Mom of Four, Parenting Expert
PS: Wow, what a response! After commenting here, please also see the comments developing over at the Fussy Baby Site.
We’ve had a lot of action around here regarding Attachment Parenting. The issue doesn’t end at sleep training, babywearing, or extended nursing. It also is smack dab in the middle of one of the most contentious issues in parenting today…the issue of the safety of vaccinations.
If you’ve read my posts here for long, my thoughts won’t come as any surprise to you. I’m strongly pro-vaccination. And I evaluate toddlers all the time for autism. I realize that I may incur the wrath of some sadly misinformed readers out there, but I gotta tell ya: Vaccines have saved millions of lives. Case closed. (To me, at least.) If you haven’t already, check out this post stating my thoughts on the issue.
Along with a mini-flood of reader questions about infant sleep, reader Julie posted this comment today, and I thought I would write about it because there’s a lot of momentum going in this direction in the parenting press these days:
Hi, I also have a 7-month-old and I just did the sleep training with the Sleep Easy Solutions book. It has been a great experience! We actually bedshared for a bit, but it became very taxing in the evenings, as he could not go to sleep without me. He now sleeps longer and better and gets himself to sleep. We are now working on naps. Interestingly enough, he used to nap so much better next to a parent, but now he sleeps better if he gets himself to sleep. I think seven months was the perfect time for us to transition him to his crib and help him learn to sleep on his own.
I wrote about this on my personal blog, ilovemonsters.blogspot.com.
I’m very interested this whole AP thing–I have some major issues with Sears. So I was looking at your articles on this in preparation for my own post.
After reading her comment, I pulled a link to a fantastic article in the New York Times from the Mainstream Parenting site. It broadens the issue of Attachment Parenting into the issue of vaccinations. Check it out.
Can’t wait for the fireworks.
There’s an interesting discussion that’s taking place on several sites simultaneously, and rather than responding to comments down below one of my more recent Attachment Parenting posts, I thought I’d highlight the discussion here, since lots of us are interested.
Many of us are confused when we read parenting advice by “gurus” like Dr. Sears (who coined the term “Attachment Parenting”), because it makes us wonder whether we’re doing a terrible disservice to our children if we use some form of “Cry It Out”, DON’T co-sleep, engage in “babywearing”, or do “extended breastfeeding”. Poor Susanna came over to BabyShrink, after feeling scolded by AP proponents when she tried the “Cry It Out” (CIO) approach in a desperate attempt to get her son to sleep. We’ve continued to discuss the issues, with Annie at PhDinParenting bravely supporting her beliefs here, and elsewhere.
Annie left a link on a fascinating, very thorough anthropological review article looking at aspects of “natural parenting” worldwide. If you’ve got the time to read through the 82 page document — go for it. Seriously, it’s extremely interesting. I certainly find very little to quarrel with in the report. Perhaps Annie doesn’t realize it, but here at BabyShrink we agree that responsive, “tuned-in” parenting is crucial in child development, and that physical — and emotional — contact, and very involved care, is an essential component in the ultimate well-being of a child. And that the lessons learned from in-depth study of attachment — via well-accepted research — informs our approach and intentions.
But the research review that Annie showed us mainly focuses on the young infants we ALL agree need to have close, physical contact and deeply involved parenting. It doesn’t extend much to a discussion of toddlers and preschoolers, which is the group most often asked about at BabyShrink. It also doesn’t tell us that the “Attachment Parenting” approach is somehow BETTER than the “Good Enough” parenting we strive for.
My beef is with those who take excellent research, and make unwarranted generalizations about it. The research shows us that excessive crying and non-responsive parenting is bad for the development of babies. –Well, duh. The research does NOT say, for instance, that a certain amount of crying, in the service of getting an older baby or toddler to sleep through the night, in their crib — is a bad thing.
The bottom line here is that I’m against any sort of “holier than thou” parenting approach that doesn’t respect individual differences in babies’ temperaments and family circumstances. Good Enough is GOOD ENOUGH — and there’s research to support THAT. You don’t have to be a perfect parent, and in fact in trying, you can make everyone nuts. There are far too many parents out there on “information overload”, worried that they are daily making bad decisions for their kids, and in the process, not learning to trust their own best instincts as parents. You know your child best. I’ve always said to take what I say, or what any “expert” advises, with a grain of salt. Take what makes sense, leave the rest, and improvise from there.
Do I think Attachment Parenting can be applied with excellent results? Of course. Are there AP parents who are doing a fantastic job? Absolutely. But there is a vocal AP minority who insist on spreading the “gospel” to those of us who don’t appreciate the prosteletyzing — and whose children are turning out pretty great, thank you very much.
Mom of Four, Parenting Expert
Dear Dr. Heather,
Does breastfeeding past 2 years of age encourage dependency? I know a child who is still breastfeeding and has become very whiny and attached to her mother. The mother is making no effort to wean the child. Is this type of emotional attachment healthy for the child? She still wakes up to nurse during the night and sleeps in the parent’s bed.
Concerned about a child
This is a polarizing issue that tends to bring out strong opinions. There is a community that promotes an approach called “Attachment Parenting“, based on the work of well-known pediatrician and author William Sears, MD, and one of they key tenets of this approach says that “extended breastfeeding” (past the age of two years) is recommended and important to the development of a child to promote a solid sense of safety and security. However, their key tenets are only based loosely on well-known child development research, and Attachment Parenting certainly has it’s critics.
One of the things I do like about Attachment Parenting (AP) is it’s understanding of the cultural differences that exist in families around the world, and the promotion of various ways of raising a family that can resonate more fully with various non-Western cultures. For instance, many Asians traditionally — and happily — share a family bed, or a family bedroom, as is suggested by AP. I also like the fact that AP promotes the reliance on the family’s own resources to know what is best for their children; we don’t have to rely on outside “experts” for everything. AP is also well-known for it’s insistence that the attachment between infant and mother is essential to the development of a healthy baby, both physically and emotionally. That message sometimes gets lost, or diluted, in Western cultures.
The problem I have with AP is that it’s adherents often tend to be quite orthodox in their beliefs. I myself have been sternly lectured for simply using a stroller (as opposed to “baby-wearing”, another AP belief), as well as for using a bottle to feed my baby in public. Of course, this is the opposite of the intolerant demagogues who criticize breastfeeding in public — it’s their shared judgmental strictness that bothers me most.
The other concern I have is that it takes a blanket, “one-size-fits-all” approach to all children. Some babies don’t want to be held all the time. Some babies need time without physical contact to “decompress” from all that physical stimulation. Some babies don’t do well breastfeeding either, and many babies sleep better when they’re not disturbed by the direct physical contact of their parents. And your approach to raising your babies has to be dependent, at least partially, on the unique constitution of those babies. You’ve seen me write about sensory differences here at BabyShrink, and I know far too many babies who have these quirks and preferences to be comfortable giving a blanket statement about “baby-wearing”, breastfeeding, or co-sleeping. In our family, only 1 of our 3 children enjoyed being held all the time; the other two needed “time-outs” from direct physical contact in order to look around and “process” all of that physical contact. They (and I) both felt better for a little break now and again, and I used bouncy seats, strollers and cribs regularly for these breaks. It simply isn’t fair to criticize parents who accurately judge the needs of their babies to include a little “down time”, or to make them afraid that they risk their child’s optimal development if they use a stroller or have their crib in their own room.
If you’ve read other BabyShrink posts, you won’t be surprised to hear me say that I strongly support the uniqueness of each individual family to best decide the individual needs of each of their unique babies. And to that end, I say that if it works for a family to have a family bed, or for mom to breastfeed for over two years, I’m not going to criticize that. However, I have met many families who suffer negative consequences of making those decisions, but stick with them in the false belief that it’s what’s best for their children. Often, an AP family will come to see me for a problem related to the development of their toddler. When I start to gather more information, guess what? Mom is exhausted, usually because she has been unable to sleep through the night since the day her baby was born; she’s often still nursing several times a night. And her husband is grumpy because he can’t get any “alone time” with his wife, and he’s sick of being kicked through the night by a toddler who gets bigger by the day. So mom is beyond exhausted, dad is frustrated and distant, and the toddler becomes the focus of the problem. Everyone suffers in this scenario. In this situation, my advice often includes the suggestion to transition the toddler into his own bed, in his own room, to restore some balance in the lives of the couple. The relationship needs attention, too! If the parents don’t have a strong relationship, the development of the child will surely suffer. And if the child needs to sleep in his own bed, and be weaned from breastfeeding, that is a small price to pay if it serves the purpose of bringing the parents back into a more harmonious relationship.
So, “Concerned” reader, I can’t say that “extended breastfeeding” will hurt the development of the child, without knowing all the other factors in the family. It remains the responsibility of the family to determine what’s best for them — and for their child. But I certainly don’t promote Attachment Parenting as the “be-all, end-all” guide to what’s best for your child. Only you can decide that!
Mom of Four, Parenting Expert
AND MAKE SURE YOU CHECK OUT THE COMMENTS TO THIS POST FOR AN EXTENDED, INTERESTING DISCUSSION AMONG READERS!
Aloha, I’m Dr. Heather
I'm a psychologist and Mom of four, here to make parenting easier -- and more fun. My advice is science-based and road-tested in the real world. I specialize in babies and young children through age 7. I'm also a parenting writer, national speaker, child development expert, and social media strategist.
Let’s Get This Potty Started!
Anthony T. DeBenedet, MD, co-author of The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It