Sleep: Attachment Parenting vs Sleep Training

Spotlight Series: Birthlings
June 3, 2018
Baby Carriers in Brunei
June 17, 2018
Show all

Sleep: Attachment Parenting vs Sleep Training

As with most new mothers, when Mel and Kristie first met they skirted around controversial subjects like baby sleep. They established pretty early on that they had very different views on sleep for their kids so avoided discussing it in detail. Mel is very much in the attachment parenting school of thought - co-sleeping with her daughter and nursing several times a night. Kristie sleep trained her daughter at about 6 months and she now sleeps through the night in a cot in her own room. They sat down for a open and respectful discussion about baby sleep.

The first 6 months

I never really planned on bed-sharing but when I was pregnant I read The Baby Book by Dr William Sears who coined the term “Attachment Parenting” so I think that influenced me a lot. When my daughter was born she hated sleeping in her bassinet and we had to hold her to sleep. For the first month of her life she was pretty much held the whole time. I had a great support network though - my husband wasn't working at the time and my mum and mother-in-law were always there to help. We transitioned to bedsharing pretty early on. I read all the safe bed-sharing guidelines and did all the things - like not using a blanket, keeping pillows away from her, sleeping with her on my side only, not taking drowsy medication, etc. I held her for all her naps.

For the first 6 months, I was pretty much an attachment parent attending to every single of my daughter’s needs. I would babywear for all her naps and night sleep. But holding itself wasn’t enough! She had to be bounced and rocked, walked up and down the stairs, sing lullabies, patting, bounce on a yoga ball or whatever works to stop her cries and screams. And what works today might not work tomorrow. She was just so inconsistent and demandingly fussy! She was notorious for being known as the difficult baby. It was very, very hard for me as a new parent, but with just me and my maid who was at the verge of losing it, it was just not feasible for the long run. Plus, I had to exclusively express breast milk for the first 7 months due to latching issues.

Sleep training

I can't imagine having to pump exclusively! I hate pumping with a vengeance - it's so much easier to direct feed. I hate the washing and sterilizing and the whole feeling of pumping. So you're a real hero for sticking with it for 7 months. So how did you sleep train?

I read a lot of sleep related articles and skimmed some books. I experimented with some of them, from “the fading method”- a very gentle and little to no-cry way of sleep coaching, then the “pick-up-put-down method”, “Ferberizing” method to the other end of the sleep training spectrum- “The Extinction”. With her temperament, I felt there would be a lot more cries with the gentler methods because it would take a longer time for it to work, or to even work at all.

With the guidances from the website “Precious Little Sleep” and the book “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” by Dr. Weissbluth, I decided to stick on the “Extinction Method”- the most straightforward and quickest way to sleep train. He explained that sleep is linked with the child’s temperament and sleeping issues such as colic, and gave specific ways how to deal with these children. He also advised to sleep train at earliest six months old, while any age younger should be given as much comfort and care as needed.

So, there are a few things that the parent must fulfill before leaving the child by themselves to fall asleep. The room must be completely dark to avoid any external stimulation and to follow age appropriate wake times, together with observing the child’s sleeping cues so the child does not get overtired/ undertired.

The first 3 days were the worst, but after that it got less and less. The first night she cried for about an hour. One hour is the maximum when doing extinction. It was very heartbreaking. I can’t tell you how it felt. My heart was racing and even my palms were sweating just listening to the baby monitor. I felt so guilty.

The Science

For me, that’s quite hard to hear. I’m part of all these attachment parenting and gentle sleep Facebook groups that say this was is method is wrong. I definitely just live in this echo chamber, but for me… I’ve read all these studies and articles that say sleep training can be harmful. [Editor note: Example can be found here and here]

Well this is a very debatable topic. There have been a widespread claim on the negative impacts of sleep training, but there is no real evidence to back it up. Yes, there is proper data supporting the claim that long term abuse and neglect is detrimental to the infant. But there are no evidence looking at brief periods of crying in a loving family. And sleep training doesn’t involve sustained crying for long periods of time.

In fact, I read a recent study that concluded that there were no differences in the comparison of two groups of six years old who were sleep trained and the other who weren’t sleep trained. Thereby, the outcome of this study suggest that there are no negative outcomes whether you sleep train the child or not, they sleep well by the age of six. [Editor note: An article about this can be found here and here]

How do they sleep now?

At 17 months, she still never sleeps alone. With me she usually nurses to sleep and sleeps next to me, even for naps. With others, she naps in a baby carrier - so basically still held the whole time. At night she still wakes up several times a night, though recently she's been sleeping longer and I usually get at least a 4 hour stretch in there somewhere. I usually just nurse her and fall back asleep so sometimes I don’t even notice. She doesn’t fully wake up and just nurses back to sleep. At night though she only wants mummy, which can be quite hard for me. I never get to go out past her bedtime and I do miss my sleep … I don't remember what a long stretch of uninterrupted sleep feels like. I miss spending alone time with my husband which I rarely do now. I also worry that we're “spoiling” her - I hate that word so much but others love to use it.

It helps that my husband is super supportive of bedsharing and holding her for naps. He loves the closeness and is of the view that she'll only be this small for a short while. She’s not gonna sleep in my bed forever. She’s gonna become a teenager and won’t even want to see me much or be around me. And when she’s an adult she’ll be gone and have her own family. So for me, the few years I get to hold her and cuddle her… I want to make the most of that.

Chloe sleeps in her own room and I can easily put her down in the cot awake to sleep independently. When I get her in the morning, she always has that cheerful smile that warms my heart. At times when she is sick, we co-sleep and put away sleep training. And because of this we would have to occasionally retrain so they don’t stay dependable on inappropriate sleep associations.

I don’t think I belong to the authoritarian parenting style because during her wake times, we constantly respond rapidly to her needs and nurture her with lots of love and positive assurances, to make sure she has a strong sense of security and know that we love her.

I feel great to see her developing self-soothing skills and sleep independently so we can get proper rest ourselves. It’s especially nice since I don’t have family around… even though my parents are in Brunei but they are busy with their own thing. So sleep training allows us to be a well rested family and function better.
All views expressed are our personal views and are put forward to highlight some different viewpoints. Each parent is entitled to pick the parenting style that works best for them and their family
Mel Poh
Mel Poh
Mel moved from Singapore to Brunei in 2016 to give birth and raise her now rambunctious toddler. The move from the world of business and law to being a stay-at-home mum ignited her passion for all things baby and child related. She founded Baby Brunei in the hopes of sharing this passion with other parents in Brunei.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.