Ask Naomi: Get a good night sleep for you and your babyClick here to view the full magazine article
My husband doesn't want me to let my 8-month-old baby "cry it out" during the night. He complains that he can't sleep when she is crying, so he wants me to hold her throughout the night so that he can be well rested for work. She isn't learning how to sleep on her own though, and I am getting more and more sleep deprived every night.
I understand your frustration; you must be tired and feeling at a loss. I want to offer a solution that comes from meeting the baby's need first and will end up solving your husband's issue and giving you a better night sleep as well.
The solution I would like to suggest is one that will prevent your baby from crying in the first place. Why is she crying? What does she need? What is the fear or pain she cries about? Babies always cry for a valid reason. When we don't notice their gentle signals, they resort to crying to let us know that they are in emotional of physical discomfort or pain. You, as a mother, are endowed with hormonal and emotional responses to meet your baby's needs. When we trust and respond to the baby cues, she won't cry and our life becomes peaceful. In our modern society, we often dismiss our own natural God given responses due to beliefs that are not ours and not really what is best for the baby.
I would like to invite you to listen to your baby and to your own heart. What your heart tells you deep inside is right; you can trust your baby's cues. All the other voices; family, friends and well meaning doctors will never match your innate, God given yearning to respond to your baby. Notice how you feel when she cries. Your heart goes out to her and you really want to hold her, yet, you believe that loving her means resisting your own natural responses and following an idea that isn't even yours.
There is no animal that would not respond to the cry of its offspring. Similarly, human mothers have been given this same natural instinct to respond promptly to their crying baby. Intentionally ignoring one's baby's cries is new in history and is a deviation from nature's plan. So, as you reconsider, ask yourself: Do babies really learn to sleep alone by crying for their mom until they give up in exhaustion and despair? Should they sleep alone? More likely, their cries are for a real need and their will is our guide.
Your baby is lucky to have a mother who asks questions and wants to learn. Please be kind to yourself as you consider changes. There is no need to feel guilty. You always do the best you can with what you know. You love your baby and want to do the best for her. She is counting on you to learn on the job and to be open to change.
Many mothers are worried that they may have already caused harm by letting their baby cry herself to sleep. Luckily, babies are designed to be raised by humans and to withstand human errors that come from love. They also heal very quickly when we change our ways and they forgive right away. It is never too late to love but always unnecessary to have regrets. Each baby and mother's path is unique and includes human trial and errors. Your baby or toddler who is invited to sleep with you will be grateful and will forget the past very quickly.
Baby care seems much easier in natural societies because parents simply believe that it is best to respond to the baby's cues. When they do, everything is very simple, peaceful and calm and the baby does not need to cry. These parents have none of the common difficulties we encounter and the children are well behaved and peaceful, as they don't experience struggle or stress.
In her soon to be goopublished book, Laurie A. Couture reports that researchers have observed peaceful tribal societies where babies don't cry and toddlers seem calm and responsive. They noticed that infants are carried constantly and nursing as they wish and that during the nighttime, the baby sleeps by the mother, so the baby is able to breastfeed and feel comfort as much as needed, often without waking up the sleepy parents. Couture goes on to say, "What strong contrast to the hassles of modern Western cultural parenting which include parents running to pick up a crying baby... waking up several times in the night groggy and frustrated to tend to the screaming baby... No wonder mothers in our culture are so exhausted and resentful!"
There are no mistakes in nature. If the baby cries when left alone, she is not supposed to be left alone. Her crying tells us so. Responding kindly and lovingly helps babies develop into kind people who feel worthy and secure and sleep well because they have no anxiety associated with sleep. Not only she learns to be kind; when you are by her side, your baby does not need to resort to crying to signal you, and so she learns to communicate gently.
Babies feel terror away from a human body because they have no way of knowing that they exist other than through the experience of body contact. We wouldn't want to be ignored when we cry and babies are even more vulnerable. They are physically helpless and cannot survive without us, so the absence of mother (they have no concept of future) is equal to fear of death and total terror. Falling asleep resembles death and so it is especially scary. And so, babies cry because they are frightened and need parental physical contact to feel safe. Meeting their needs eliminates the crying and helps them develop trust and self-reliance in all areas of life.
The baby who is left in a crib to cry is eventually too tired to fight for her life and falls asleep in a state of despair and resignation. If this experience is repeated, the baby will reduce the crying, realizing that she is not worth the care and giving up on her natural need because, for reason unknown to her, she is not getting it. We think that she learned to sleep by herself without realizing that in truth she learned to discount her own needs with a high price to her sense of worth and of feeling loved.
Taking the struggle out of sleep
Babies are born knowing to fall asleep. They fall asleep in our arms with ease. Independent sleep develops as a result of feeling peaceful and free of anxiety about sleep. Nature dictates the timetable, not us humans. If your baby can be sure that you are next to her when she sleeps, she will sleep contently. She may wake up as often, or even more often which is nature's way of protecting her from falling into apnea when sleeping too deep. Her breathing system is not mature yet and nature protects her life by designing these wake ups.
Just like we don't take the infant out of the belly to learn to breath, we don't need to take the baby out of the need to sleep by mom when she is not ready. Nature designed the timing just like it does for birth. Each need has to be fully satisfied before the child can move on effortlessly.
So let your natural untainted loving responses surface freely. The good news is that you do not need to struggle against your own inclinations or against your beautiful baby's needs. We are not here to correct creation, but to respond in the most kind and loving way we can. Happily, this makes life easy and children grow up content, cooperative and peaceful.
Mothers tell me how relieved they feel when they learn that sleeping with their baby is beneficial. If you listen to your baby and to your loving heart, you will find the answer to be simple and obvious and your baby will learn, "what I feel is right, I can trust myself," which is the ground for developing self-reliance and independence.
Taking the struggle out of sleep
In the USA there is a trend of returning to co-sleeping as more and more mothers decide to listen to the baby and to their own yearning. Not only it is very pleasant and loving, but nature created another miracle: When your baby is by your side, your sleep patterns matches hers and you will often be in a light sleep cycle right before she wakes up so you respond fast, and your own waking is gentle.
Research shows that children whose early years were content and responsive are better behaving and have higher learning scores. Indeed, a child whose needs are met without having to cry first, learns to ask for what she wants without a tantrum, whining or demanding. With your baby by your side, you won't have to get up, she won't need to cry, and your husband will be able to sleep well. She will keep waking up as she should, and will be able to sleep on her own when she is ready to and not prematurely. Initially, your baby may still cry due to habit. With time she will regain her trust in your presence and realize that a quiet signal is enough to get your attention.
If co-sleeping seems beyond your readiness, you may want to consider a cot right next to your bed, where you can respond quickly before your baby has to resort to crying. If you have safety concerns, read the following safety guidelines and consult the books and articles suggested at the end of this column.
Safety guidelines for co-sleeping:
Copyright Naomi Aldort
Naomi Aldort is the author of, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves. Parents from around the globe seek Aldort's advice by phone, in person and by listening to her CDs and attending her workshops. Her advice columns appear in progressive parenting magazines in Canada, USA, AU, UK, and translated to German, Hebrew, Dutch, Japanese, French, Chinese, Indonesian and Spanish.
Naomi Aldort is married and a mother of three. Her youngest son is fourteen-year-old prodigy cellist Oliver Aldort www.OliverAldort.com. For free newsletter, information on teleclasses, phone sessions and products: www.NaomiAldort.com or, www.AuthenticParent.com
Helpful Books, articles and sites:
The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff
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