On Sleep Training and Armchair Parenting

2013-12-03 10.11.58Natalie had her 4-month checkup this week, and homegirl is still blowing up the growth charts. At nearly 19 pounds and 27 inches, she is over 100th percentile for both weight and height. Well done, baby girl.

Her pediatrician, as usual, was completely enraptured with our little butterball. The doctor ran down her standard list of questions (Is she sleeping on her back? Rear-facing in the back seat, or joyriding in the front seat? Been licking any driveways lately?), and all was well.

Until she asked how Natalie was sleeping.

We had just come off a horrible night where bedtime was a 2+ hour affair and Natalie woke up about every two hours. That’s not the norm, we explained to the doctor, and said that usually she sleeps well, waking once or twice a night to nurse and going back to sleep easily.

The doctor’s eyebrows shot up. “She’s only sleeping for four or five hours at a time? At her age and weight, she should be sleeping straight through the night. Eight or ten hours, easily. Try ignoring her the first time she wakes up and see if that helps.”

Despite explaining repeatedly that Natalie is actually hungry, that we don’t pick her up at the first sign of stirring, but rather wait about five very long minutes to see if she’ll go back to sleep on her own, the doctor’s advice was still the same: It’s your funeral house, if you want to keep indulging your baby by doing something as outrageous as feeding her (I’m paraphrasing here), then be my guest. Just be prepared to feed her at night until she goes off to college.

And then she laughed. “Sometimes,” she said lightly, “we just need to bend them to our will.

*record scratch*

Excuse me?

It’s possible that was poorly phrased, that she didn’t mean it quite like that. I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. But then she went on to say that when her kids were this age and they were crying to be picked up, she’d go take a shower so she wouldn’t hear them cry. If they were still crying after her shower, then she’d go see if they actually needed something.

This is where I add my disclaimer that different things work for different families. Her babies were in their cribs, in their own rooms, from day one, and that worked for her. I have friends who transitioned their babies out of their rooms and into their own cribs at all different ages because it was the right age for them. We are fast approaching that time, but not yet. Different strokes, and all that.

But the thought of ignoring my child when she wakes in the middle of the night, of walking out of the room so I don’t have to hear her cry? Of denying her food and waking the entire household just to make sure she’s not spoiled?


Parenting is hard, and everyone is an armchair quarterback. A friend of mine posted a great article on facebook from Nurshable on dealing with stress and extended family during the holidays, and one of the tips is this: you need to ignore a lot of advice. Oh, lord, did I love this quote. So very, very spot on:

If you start trying to follow everyone’s advice you’ll be exclusively breastfeeding with bottles of soy-dairy formula while using CIO to rock your baby to sleep in a crib that’s in your bed in a car seat balanced on top of your drier with white noise silence playing loudly but quiet in a very dark room with a night light.

This is easy when it comes to random strangers on the internet and old ladies in the grocery store who insist, no matter how warm it is outside, that your baby needs a hat.

Not so easy when it’s your baby’s doctor.

I admit that I have flagrantly disregarded the doctors advice before. (TL;DR: She wanted me to supplement with formula until my milk came in. I didn’t do it. Clearly Natalie’s growth was not stunted.) Vaccines? Yes, totally on board. Medical advice about caring for an umbilical cord stump or instructions about applying eye ointment? I will follow those to a T.

But when it strays into parenting advice rather than medical I trust my gut. I like to think of myself as a reasonably well-informed person and trust myself not to do anything that’s actually harmful to my kid. I’ve read lots of books about parenting, absolutely none of which my child has read, and I think that’s where we’re running into problems. If only she knew what she was supposed to be doing, maybe she would do it. I need to have a serious talk with her about that.

Some things are cut and dried. Fostering independence by encouraging your kid to play in the street, for instance. Not ok. Letting your toddler drive your car, even if you push the pedals for them. Not ok. Starting a family tradition of snorting cocaine together on Christmas Eve. Definitely not ok.

Sleep training is not so black-and-white. There is no one way, no Holy Grail, no perfect age at which to start, and not even a general agreement on whether or not you should sleep train. One hundred twenty-three million results on google for “sleep training” attest to that.

Sorry, doctor, but I need to trust my instincts on this one. And my instincts say that now is not the right time for cry it out, and it’s certainly not the time to bend her to my will.

So I will hold her at night while she nurses, and I will pick her up when she cries. There will come a time when she doesn’t need me to do that anymore.

But not yet.

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