This is a tricky scenario that I see a lot of parents dealing with. They want to move their youngest into a room with their toddler, but are unsure how to sleep train without waking up the older child.
That’s a valid concern, and I wish I had a magical solution for you that would ensure your toddler will enjoy the same uninterrupted sleep that they did when they had the room to themselves, but unfortunately, that’s just not realistic.
(Before I get into this next paragraph, let me just say that I do NOT use a cry-it-out approach when sleep training. I will never ask you to leave a crying baby alone until they fall asleep, if you’re not comfortable with the idea.)
Having said that, sleep training is going to involve some amount of protest (i.e. crying). Our babies, like us, are protective over their sleep environment and will likely protest against a change in their sleep habits. And sleep training one baby in a room with another is going to mean some wake-ups on the part of the older child.
But ask yourself, is it better to cause an interruption in this child’s sleep for a week or so in order to get the whole family sleeping through the night, or should we ride out a few years of nightly wake-ups instead? I’m sure you’ll agree it’s an easy answer.
So once you’ve decided to go ahead with the process, it’s time to examine how you can minimize the impact it’s going to have on your toddler, and on that note, I do have some great tips for you.
First off, if possible, start the program in your own room. Put baby in a bassinet next to your bed and, if possible, separate the room by hanging a curtain or a blanket between your bed and the bassinet. It’s not going to look terribly stylish, but it will keep baby from being able to see you, which is important.
Once baby has learned some skills and seems to be able to fall asleep independently, then you can move her into your toddler’s room.
Now, unless you’re extraordinarily lucky, this is going to be met with a little resistance, both from baby and their sibling. It’s a change to the routine and that’s usually going to make bedtime a little harder for your little ones, so try to plan this transition for a weekend, or better yet, a week when you’re not facing a lot of other obligations. (Preschool, birthday parties, etc.)
Take the time to explain to your toddler what’s going on, and let them know that when baby wakes up crying, you’ll be in shortly to take care of things. The more they understand what’s going on, the less they’ll be agitated by their new roommate’s night-time shenanigans.
As for naps, I recommend you keep your little ones separated. Put one in the bedroom and put the other in a Pack n’ Play in another room. The fact is, naps tend to be the toughest part of the program, and you’re probably better off just making an accommodation in this situation in order to ensure they both get the sleep they need.
One last thing to add on this topic... I know some parents tend to take this approach despite having an extra bedroom because they want to hold on to the spare room for their in-laws or other visitors who might need to spend the night.
If the extra bedroom is an option, I strongly suggest you use it. Sleep training when siblings share a room isn’t impossible, but it does add an extra layer of difficulty to the process, and you’re much better off moving one child into the other’s room on those occasions when you have company than trying to get them both sleeping in the same room on a permanent basis.
In short, it’s difficult, but it’s far from impossible, and it’s a much better option than not teaching your little ones to fall asleep independently. I can assure you that the outcome will be worth the challenge.
I used to think that snoring babies were absolutely adorable. After all, what better indicator is there that your baby is fast asleep and getting the rest they need than the sound of them purring away in their crib? As a mother, the sight of your baby sleeping means they’re relaxed, feeling safe, and content with everything around them. I always get that “I’m a good mom” feeling when I look at my babies sleeping peacefully, and a little snore seemed harmless and cute.
Unfortunately, that sense of peace and serenity I used to get at the sound of a snoring baby turned out to be misconstrued. Now that I’m a sleep expert, I know that snoring and mouth breathing are both cause for concern.
That might sound inflammatory, but I assure you, I’m not fear-mongering here. Now, anyone who has ever taken a meditation class, dabbled in yoga, or trained for an athletic challenge of any kind will tell you that proper breathing has incredible benefits, and that proper breathing, by definition, is done through the nose.
There are a few reasons why nose-breathing is better for you than mouth-breathing, and they are not minor benefits. Breathing through your nose increases the amount of oxygen we get to our lungs, expels more carbon dioxide, lowers our heart rate, increases lymphatic flow, and reduces stress on the heart. It also produces nitric oxide, which helps expand blood vessels and increases blood flow, and all the hairs and mucous in the sinuses help to filter out impurities from the air. Mouth breathing, on the other hand, has some pretty nasty downsides. Long-term, chronic mouth breathing in children can actually affect their facial growth, mess with their teeth, cause gum disease, throat infections, stunted growth, and a little closer to my heart, lack of quality sleep.
So, again, I’m not trying to make anyone paranoid by writing this, but out of all the conversations I’ve had with parents, I would have to say that mouth breathing ranks somewhere below “abducted by aliens” on the list of parental concerns, so I wanted to call some attention to it.
Facial deformities and TMJ disorder aren’t really my area of expertise, but when it comes to sleep, I know my stuff, so allow me to expand a little on why snoring can ruin an otherwise wonderful, rejuvenating night. As you probably already know, we all sleep in cycles. We go from a very light sleep into deeper sleep, then deeper still, and then into the dreaming stage known commonly as REM sleep. During that first stage of light sleep, as well as in the REM stage, we’re very easily woken up. The cat jumping on the bed, your partner rolling over, or involuntary muscle twitches can startle us out of our glorious snoozing session, and then we’re back to the starting line, trying to get back to sleep. In adults, these cycles last around 90 - 110 minutes, but in babies, they’re closer to 45, so the opportunity for them to wake up occurs more frequently over the course of a night. (Which, I’m sure, isn’t news to anyone reading this. Every parent knows all too well how often babies tend to wake up. Most delivery drivers probably know it as well, given how many mothers they’ve seen with the death stare in their eyes after ringing the doorbell at the wrong time.)
And what causes baby to wake up in those light stages of sleep? More than anything else, noise. Barking dog, garbage truck, washing machine getting thrown off balance during the spin cycle, and quite often, the sound of their own snoring. That’s not the only reason for waking up, mind you. If their airway is obstructed to the point where they temporarily stop breathing, what’s known as an obstructive apnea, the body tends to startle itself out of sleep. (And I’m sure we’re all happy for that little fail-safe, even if it does lead to night-time wake ups.)
I have elaborated in detail in earlier blog posts on the benefits of solid, consolidated sleep, as well as the detriments of sleep deprivation. Suffice it to say, your baby needs a lot of sleep, and it’s bad for them in a whole lot of ways if they don’t get it. So if your baby is snoring, you should absolutely, positively take action.
So that brings us to the question that every person who’s ever slept next to a snorer has asked themselves. “How on earth do I stop this person from snoring?” The first thing you should do is grab your phone and make a recording of your little one breathing while they sleep. The second step is to take that recording to your paediatrician and play it for them. Just going to the doctor and telling them your baby’s snoring might not spark a lot of concern on their part, but being able to demonstrate the severity of the issue can light a little fire under their butts and prompt them to refer you to a respiratory specialist. Removal of the tonsils and/or adenoids is often the next logical step if their airways are significantly blocked. Don’t panic though. The process isn’t nearly as intense as it might sound and is quite commonly performed.
If your little one’s snoring isn’t severe enough to warrant surgery, however, you might benefit from some nasal strips, which you’ve probably seen advertised. They’re just thin strips of metal in a cotton sheath with adhesive on the back that stick to the outside of the nose and gently pull open the nasal passageways. It’s not the most elegant solution, but it does solve the problem temporarily. Just a final note to add here. If your baby is sick or congested, don’t jump to the conclusion that their snoring is permanent. A little nasal congestion due to illness can cause baby to snore, but it should clear up when they get better. Try using a nasal bulb to suck the ickiness out of their nose and then a saline solution to clear up the passageways.
I know that, as mothers, we’ve got plenty to worry about without throwing unnecessary concern into the mix, but if your baby’s snoring, it can have some serious consequences, and you should take it seriously. It’s preventable and a better night’s sleep is waiting on the other side of the solution for your baby as well as the rest of your family.
There are several parenting theories out there – but no one perfect way to be a good mother or father. What works well for one parent or family, doesn’t necessarily work well for another.
Take my best friend and I, for instance. We are both fiercely devoted mothers, dedicated to loving and nurturing our kids.
But our family sleeping arrangements couldn’t be more different. She subscribes to the attachment parenting theory and bed-shares with her children in their king-sized bed. Her husband sleeps in another room. She nursed her kids during the night for more than 3 years. It might sound slightly unorthodox, but so what? They are happy, and it works for them.
Me on the other hand? That situation would push me over the edge. I like structure, and my personal space while I sleep. And sleep is important to me and my family, as we are all a little cranky when our sleep’s been disturbed. So, our kids have a 7.30pm bedtime involving plenty of cuddles, then they fall asleep on their own and sleep through the night in their own beds. This is what works for us.
Like I said. What works for one, doesn’t always work for another.
I am not here to push any agenda, or to put down anyone’s way of parenting. I am only here to address the question which I have been asked repeatedly by subscribers to the attachment parenting theory:
Are Attachment Parenting and Sleep Training mutually exclusive?
My answer is no. Here’s why.
What is Attachment Parenting?
For anyone who’s not familiar, attachment parenting is a parenting philosophy that was popularized by Drs. William and Martha Sears in their 1993 publication, “The Baby Book.” The idea, in a nutshell, is maximum closeness and responsiveness. You wear your baby, you share a bed with your baby, you breastfeed on demand, and you answer their cries immediately. If you want more information on attachment parenting, a quick Google search will provide you with more material than you could possibly take in over a dozen lifetimes.
In theory, attachment parenting creates a strong attachment between mother and baby, which results in well-adjusted children who grow up to be happy, healthy, contributing members of society.
Now, all of these parenting theories have been debated endlessly and passionately, but there’s no strong evidence to show that attachment parenting is better or worse than other parenting styles. As a parent you are entitled to choose what makes your family happy and function well. For some it is attachment parenting, for others it is something else, or a combination of things.
Are Attachment Parenting and Sleep Training mutually exclusive?
As I said, I do not believe that they are.
Attachment parents can teach their babies to fall asleep independently in a crib, without being nursed or rocked to sleep, and to sleep for a rich and continuous stretch of 11-12 hours.
In other words, attachment parents can sleep train their babies. And they can do so without any shame or guilt.
In Dr Sears’ own words, attachment parenting is not a strict set of rules which must be followed at all cost:
“Attachment Parenting is an approach, rather than a strict set of rules.”
“Parenting is too individual and baby too complex for there to be only one way.”
“Stick with what is working and modify what is not. You will ultimately develop your own parenting style that helps parent and baby find a way to fit.”
“Attachment parenting is a tool. Notice we use the term “tools” rather than “steps.” With tools you can pick and choose which of those fit your personal parent-child relationship.”
With that in mind, let’s look at Dr Sears’ list of tools which he refers to as the “seven Bs”. Remember, Dr Sears himself says these are not rules to be followed, but simply tools which you can pick and choose from to suit what works for your family.
- Birth Bonding
- Baby Wearing
- Bedding Close to Baby
- Belief in the Language Value of Your Baby’s Cry
- Beware of Baby Trainers
So the first three tools have nothing to do with sleep training. You can bond with your baby as much as you want, breastfeed for years, and wear your baby in a sling everywhere you go, and as a paediatric sleep consultant, I would tell you that’s all fine and dandy.
The three that follow are the ones that tend to give attachment parenting advocates pause when they think about sleep training.
“Bedding close to baby”
Strange wording, I admit. But hey, he was trying to get everything to start with B, and the man is a paediatrician not a poet.
What Dr Sears means is bed-sharing or, as an alternative (for parents worried about the potential risks related to this) having baby in a crib/bassinet near the parent’s bed.
A common myth about paediatric sleep coaches is that we’re firmly against bed-sharing, and I won’t act like I don’t know where that came from. The consensus from most of my colleagues is that babies sleep better, and so do their parents, when they aren’t in the same bed as you. And this makes sense. More people in bed means more movement, more movement means more wake-ups, and more wake ups means less of that delicious, deep sleep that we love to see everybody getting.
So is bed-sharing a deal breaker when it comes to sleep training? Well, yes. It pretty much is. Teaching babies to fall asleep independently isn’t really feasible when Mum is within arm’s reach at all times.
Now, I have heard a lot of parents say they get better sleep when they bed-share with their little ones, and that’s 100% wonderful in my book. If your family is all sleeping in the same bed and you’re all sleeping well, I say keep doing what you’re doing.
However, if your definition of bed-sharing is that one parent is sleeping on the couch and one of you is sleeping in bed with baby, waking every 45 minutes to breastfeed back to sleep, that’s not what would be commonly described as “quality sleep.” If you feel like you’re sleep-deprived, cranky or go to bed each night with a feeling of dread, then something probably needs to change.
If you want to keep your little one close but not have yourself or your baby disturbed by each other’s movements, I suggest sharing a room instead of a bed. As mentioned, this is something which Dr Sears himself suggests, as an alternative to bed-sharing. As long as baby has a separate space to sleep, like a crib or a play pen, then sleep training is once again a viable option.
Belief in the Language Value of Your Baby’s Cry
Children cry for a variety of reasons. It may be a dirty diaper, wind, hunger etc.
But the reason for crying which is relevant here is where a baby who is heavily reliant on sleep props (eg being rocked, given the pacifier, nursed or fed to sleep) is learning how to fall asleep without these props. That is, where a baby is being sleep trained.
The crying here is not because she is hungry or has a dirty diaper. It is because she is protesting against a change, which is an entirely natural thing to do. After all, human beings are creatures of habit. We don’t like change, often even if it is for our own good in the long run. The same thing goes for our children.
So I cannot promise that there will be no protest when you sleep train your baby. But you will NOT need to leave your child alone to cry until she falls asleep. You can be right next to him, offering him the comfort of your presence and voice, as he learns a new skill which is going to ultimately improve the quality of his sleep in the long run (and yours). And we all know the benefits of a long and luxurious sleep, don’t we?
I do suggest giving your baby a few minutes to see if she can fall back to sleep on her own, but the
idea that sleep training requires parents to close the door at bedtime and leave their little ones until
the next morning, regardless of the intensity or duration of their crying, is bogus.
So we’ve got to the last two Bs without too much difficulty, now the next one’s gonna be a tough one.
“Beware of baby trainers.”
So let me just level with you here, okay? I can’t speak for everyone in my profession, but as a Certified Sleep Sense Consultant, I am part of the largest collaborative network of paediatric sleep coaches in the world, and we all have these in common:
(a) We’re passionate about helping families;
(b) We are mothers who have been through this issue ourselves, and know what it feels to be a desperately sleep-deprived parent;
(c) We’ve found a solution, and we’re devoted to helping others the same way we helped our own babies because we know, first hand, the difference it makes in people’s lives.
And for anyone who might be thinking, “They’re just in it for the money,” I implore you to try working with exhausted parents and overtired babies for a few nights and tell me about how easy the money is. If this job were just making a buck, we would all find something else to do, believe me.
We work with people in their most frazzled, desperate moments, and it is challenging work. The reward is in the results; the smiles of those happy babies and the relief in the eyes of the parents who are feeling reinvigorated and re-energized about raising kids now that they’re getting enough sleep.
This is about balancing your parenting responsibilities with your self-care, which is a principle I wholly agree with.
Motherhood is incredibly demanding and requires a finely-tuned well-oiled machine to do it right. To be a good parent, you have to be patient, understanding, energetic, empathetic, entertaining and focused. How many of those qualities would you say you possess on three hours of sleep?
So if by sleep training your little one, both you and your child start getting sufficient sleep, then you’ve found Balance. In this case, Balance, ironically, is achieved through sleep training.
So, there you have it. The reasons why attachment parenting and sleep training can go hand in hand.
And if you aren’t convinced that I have sufficiently addressed any of the “Bs”, remember Dr Sears himself said that these are not strict rules. In other words, being an attachment parent doesn’t mean you have to comply with all of it.
I’d like to end off with one of my favourite quotes on parenthood:
“There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.”
It reminds me that we, like our babies, are unique, and all of these parenting recipes need to be tweaked and adjusted to suit our individual family’s needs.
So if attachment parenting with bed-sharing is your thing, more power to you. I would never suggest changing something which is working for you.
But if isn’t working and you’re looking for a change, then sleep training is a viable option which is open to you, even if you are an attachment parent.