Attachment parenting and sleep training are often thought to be on opposite sides of the parenting styles debate. Can attachment parenting and sleep training coexist within a family?
Most would lean towards, answering, “No,” but I’m hoping that I might be able to change some minds and show that they can work together. As you read along, you will notice that the key is balance and quality sleep.
We know that as parents, we bear an enormous responsibility. We are tasked with keeping our little ones fed, warm, safe…Alive! However, we also desire to raise exceptional human beings. Many of the decisions that we make today are going to determine who they are 20, 30, even 50 years from now.
It is no surprise then that we take parenting decisions very, very seriously. And there are so many decisions to be made!
Because of this, I can understand the appeal of attachment parenting. Holding our babies close, meeting their needs, and protecting them with all our strength and determination is natural. It is born out of our unconditional love for our children. We desire their well-being. Attachment parenting centers on this desire by emphasizing maximum closeness and responsiveness to your child.
For those that don’t know the theory of attachment parenting, it is a parenting philosophy that became popular by Drs. William and Martha Sears in their 1993 publication, “The Baby Book.” It emphasizes that you wear your baby, you share a bed with your baby, you breastfeed on demand, and you answer their cries immediately. These actions are thought to promote a strong attachment between mother and baby, that results in a happy, healthy, well-adjusted child.
We all want happy, healthy children. I have worked with more than a few clients who practice attachment parenting and they usually feel like sleep training is “cheating”.
The Seven B’s of Attachment Parenting
Let’s delve deeper into some fundamentals of attachment parenting. Dr. Sears included a catchy bullet point list of the principles of attachment parenting that he refers to as “The Seven B’s.” Some of the B’s are a bit of a stretch to fit them in his list, but they convey his message
They are, in no particular order…
- Birth Bonding
- Baby Wearing
- Bedding Close to Baby
- Belief in the Language Value of Your Baby’s Cry
- Beware of Baby Trainers
The Seven B’s with respect to Sleep Training.
The first three B’s are not related to sleep training. You can bond with your baby as much as you want, breastfeed until you’re blue in the face, and wear your baby in a sling everywhere you go, and as an infant and child sleep coach, I would tell you that’s all fine.
The three that follow are the ones that tend to give attachment parenting advocates that feeling of ‘cheating’ when they think about implementing sleep training.
1. Sleeping close to the baby
This is another term for bed-sharing, which Dr. Sears is a big fan of.
The consensus from most of my colleagues and myself is that babies sleep better, and so do their parents when they aren’t in the same bed as you. More people in bed means more movement, more movement means more wake-ups, and more wake-ups mean less of that rich, delicious, deep sleep that we love to see everybody getting.
So, is bed-sharing a deal-breaker when it comes to sleep training?
Well, yeah, typically. One of our main goals as sleep coaches is to help teach our babies to fall asleep independently, which isn’t possible when Mom is always within arm’s reach.
Granted, some families are able to have quality sleep and claim that they have better sleep when they bed share. If quality sleep is present, that’s 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 bed sharing is causing one parent to sleep on the couch, while the other is sleeping in bed with the baby, waking every 45 minutes to breastfeed, that’s not what would be commonly described as “quality sleep”.
To reconcile attachment parenting and sleep training, I suggest sharing a room instead of a bed. As long as the baby has a separate space to sleep, like a crib, sidecar sleeper, or a playpen, then sleep training is once again a viable option.
2. What about Crying?
Crying is how babies express discontentment. It can be from a wet diaper, general discomfort, or just wanting something that they don’t have at that particular moment. Babies cry in order to express that they want something, not necessarily that they “need” something.
A lot of my clients are surprised when I tell them that sleep training does NOT require them to leave their babies to cry until they fall asleep. In fact, I typically don’t recommend waiting longer than about 10 minutes before responding to a crying baby.
I do encourage you to give your baby a few minutes to see if they can fall back to sleep on their own.
If you are worried about separation anxiety, read more about 8 great tips to ease separation anxiety.
There is a frustrating myth out there that states 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. That method isn’t going to provide quality sleep for anyone.
3. “Beware of baby trainers.”
This “B” is a little tougher to reconcile with attachment parenting and sleep training.
The whole reason that I became an infant and child sleep coach was because of the amazing support that our consultant gave my family. It changed our lives after our second child. It changed it so much that I wanted to help other families get more and better sleep.
If I hadn’t reached out for help, our lives would have been so different. Crankiness, weariness, and impatience. Quality sleep is mood changing… energy changing…life-changing!
Through my work as a sleep coach, I am devoted to helping others the same way that I helped my own children because I know, first hand, the difference it makes in people’s lives.
This job is not about turning profits, trust me… working with exhausted parents and babies for a few nights is not easy. It is about changing lives physically, emotionally, and relationally.
Baby Trainers or Sleep coaches 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.
So obviously, I am not supporting this “B” in the attachment parenting list. If your family is struggling, seek help. Feel free to contact me and we can chat to see how I can assist your family.
I think that my definition of balance is a bit different than Dr. Sears.
“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.” -Dr. Sears
I agree that self-care is absolutely necessary for balance. But, it shouldn’t be an after-thought.
Yes, being a mother is a priority. Some argue that it should be your main priority. If that is true, to be the best mom you can be, you absolutely, inarguably, need to get regular, sufficient rest.
Motherhood is incredibly difficult! You have to be patient, understanding, energized, empathetic, entertaining, and focused to be a good parent. Can you be all of this on three hours of sleep?
Reconciliation of Attachment Parenting and Sleep Training.
“There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.” –Jill Churchill
This quote reminds me that we, like our babies, are unique, and all of these parenting philosophies need to be tweaked and adjusted to suit our individual familiar needs.
Balance the parts that truly resonate with your family and get quality sleep!
So, if attachment parenting is your thing, AND everyone is getting the sleep they need, then don’t change a thing! The best parenting strategy is the one that works for you and your family.
But if your family isn’t sleeping, consider bending (in my opinion, not cheating) on some of Dr. Sears’ rules.
You don’t have to sacrifice your parenting philosophy in order to sleep train.
If you’re feeling ready for a change so everyone in your family can all get better, quality sleep, I’d love a chance to talk to you.