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Practicing Attachment Parenting While Sleep Training

Updated: 4 days ago


“There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.” - Jill Churchill
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Sleep Train and Attachment Parenting


If you’re reading this, you probably believe in attachment parenting but also feeling conflicted because your baby's sleep could really use a transformation.

It may be a surprise to some of you, but practicing attachment parenting does not preclude you from sleep training. Nor does sleep training require you to leave your baby to cry to sleep alone (that's right!). The sleep training methodologies I use are all about using parent present approaches that are used to help teach your baby independent sleep. I like to think of it as responsive parenting.

The Seven B’s by Dr. Sears


Many parents I've worked with who subscribe to attachment parenting admit they are not always committed to every aspect of the Seven B's but rather choose what is best suited for their family.

  1. Birth bonding

  2. Breastfeeding

  3. Baby wearing

  4. Belief in the language value of your baby’s cry

  5. Beware of baby trainers

  6. Bedding close to baby

  7. Balance

Attachment parenting was a philosophy that originated from psychologists, Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby. It wasn't until Drs. William and Martha Sears' book, published in 1993, that the concept became popularized. Simply put, it promotes maximum closeness and responsiveness thereby producing well-adjusted children who grow up to be happy, healthy, contributing members of society. You wear your baby, you share a bed with your baby, you breastfeed on demand, and you answer their cries immediately. The above 7 points above are exactly that and are referred to as the "Seven B's."


Even with the frequent debates over parenting philosophies and theories, there’s no strong evidence to show that attachment parenting is better or worse than other parenting styles. For today's piece, I'm going to side-step away from these debates and focus on parents who practice attachment parenting but are looking to improve their baby's sleep.


Beware of Baby Trainers


Families hire sleep consultants when their sleep situation IS NOT working for them. They’re tired, no one is getting enough sleep at night, and they feel the need to make some changes. Here's the thing, because every baby is unique, every baby's needs will also be unique. Not every child needs help getting a good night’s sleep. Some babies are naturally great sleepers right from the start while others need a bit of guidance. When I help families teach their babies healthy sleep habits, I'm inadvertently trying to teach THEM to become an expert in their child's sleep and in essence fine-tuning the parent's skills at reading and reacting to their baby's sleep needs. And the byproduct of that is an independent sleeper who is often much happier, a better eater and a more predictable napper. And when a baby sleeps well, we know a parent usually sleeps decently too, making them happy, attentive, patient, and on the ball, rather than just surviving day to day dependent on coffee to function.


I 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.


Bedding Close to Baby


Not without reason, many believe that pediatric sleep consultants don't agree with co-sleeping. For the majority, both babies and parents just sleep better when they're not in the same bed. Less falling limbs, less unintended wake ups means more consolidated, health-boosting, deep sleep.


So what does this really mean for attached parenting and sleep training? It means that in order to teach babies healthy sleep habits that include falling asleep independently, it isn’t really feasible when Mom is in arm's reach at all times.


Now, I have heard of parents who say they get better sleep when they bed share with their little ones, and that’s amazing. If your family is all sleeping in the same bed and you’re all sleeping well, I say keep doing what you’re doing. But if 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.”


For anyone who wants to keep their little one close but would rather not wake up to baby’s toes in their nostrils ten times a night, I suggest sharing a room instead of a bed. 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.

What About Crying


Crying is how babies express discontentment, no question about it. Whether it’s a wet diaper, general discomfort, or just wanting something that they don’t have at that particular moment, babies cry to express that they want something.


You may have noticed that I specifically avoided saying that they cry to express a“need,” because let’s face it, not everything a baby cries over is a requirement. If you disagree, I urge you to take a look at these hilarious examples of kids crying for nonsensical reasons.


So I'll say it again, to the surprise of many of my clients, sleep training doesn't require you to leave your baby to cry to sleep alone. I do believe in "the pause" which means waiting a few minutes to see if your little one can slide into the next sleep cycle unassisted. But parents are in no way asked to leave their baby at bedtime and ignore all cries until morning; that is just not how sleep training works. This transition may appear to cause some short term stress for babies, but the research shows that it has no negative psychological impact, or effect on the relationship and bonding between parents and their children.(1)


If I could give you more reassurance about successfully sleep training while practicing attachment parenting or if you'd like to talk about how I've helped many families like you teach their little ones healthy sleep, book a complimentary call with me. I'd love to chat.


Striking A Balancing


“Wear your baby everywhere, breastfeed on demand, respond immediately to every whimper, sleep next to them, and hey, remember to take some time for yourself, because it’s all about balance.”


Balance is the fundamental principle of your parenting responsibilities, beginning with your self-care. Being a mother is a priority. It can easily be argued that it should be your main priority. Many would tell you that it’s your only priority, which I would disagree with, but let’s say for a minute that it’s true.


If you’re going to be the best mom you can be, you absolutely, inarguably, need to get regular, sufficient rest.


Motherhood is incredibly demanding and requires a finely-tuned well-oiled machine to do it right. You have to be patient, understanding, energized, empathetic, entertaining, and focused to be a good parent. Ask yourself, how many of those qualities would you say you possess on three hours of sleep?


Making the Balance Happen


The best parenting strategy is the one that works for you and your family.

“There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.” - Jill Churchill

This is a heartwarming reminder that there's no VIP in this sport. 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 familiar needs.


But if your little one isn’t sleeping and bed-sharing doesn’t seem to be rectifying the problem, I urge you to consider bending Dr. Sears’ rules a little and getting some help. A good place to start is booking a no obligation 15-min free Let's Get Acquainted phone call with me.


I won’t tell him if you don’t.


(1) Five-Year Follow-up of Harms and Benefits of Behavioral Infant Sleep Intervenion: Randomized Trial Anna M.H. Price, Melissa Wake, Obioha C. Ukoumunne, Harriet Hiscock Pediatrics Sep 2012, peds.2011-3467; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-3467

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