Pre-sleep training, Ariel nursed 11-week-old Kai upwards of five times per night and they were both exhausted. Photo: Ariel Rivera.
When my family moved to a new neighborhood in Brooklyn last summer, I joined a local Facebook group for parents and immediately noticed a pattern. Moms of babies who weren’t sleeping through the night were begging for advice and were often made to feel like monsters for resorting to sleep training. But these parents were sleep-deprived and their babies were suffering. Being a martyr wasn’t benefiting anyone.
Then suddenly, I found myself in the middle of my own sleeping nightmare. Our 14-month-old son, who slept through the night thanks to sleep training at four months old, was awaking every night to sob uncontrollably until either my husband or I picked him up, played with him in the living room, gave him another bottle (or a cookie) or let him fall asleep in our bed.
We needed a solution so I called up Elizabeth Ruebman, a sleep consultant at Dream Team Baby, a company that teaches families how to sleep train. “[Your son] is testing limits and his behavior is more about control than anxiety,” she said, when I speculated that he was just sad to leave us at the end of the night. “Be decisive,” she said. “When it’s time to say goodbye, just do it.” Ruebman also recommended a consistent bedtime routine and later afternoon nap time and she remained positive and nonjudgmental. “Don’t put him in your bed,” she said. “Tonight is a new start.” Her method worked and our son was sleeping through the night after only two days.
If only other moms could be as accepting as Ruebman. If you find yourself battle-weary from sleep training your kid and in the unsavory position of having to defend that decision, here is a list of comebacks.
“I believe in the value of a good night’s sleep.”
Sleep deprivation impairs mood, reasoning, problem-solving ability, productivity, and attention to detail, according to Dr. Merrill Mitler, a sleep expert and neuroscientist at the National Institute of Health. Same goes for stress hormones, the immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure and cardiovascular health.
“Babies grow while they sleep.”
The human growth hormone is released largely during sleep. The more babies sleep, the bigger they’ll become.
“I have postpartum depression.”
PPD is largely linked to immediate physical changes following childbirth such as dips in hormone levels and changes in blood pressure and metabolism. And, according to the Mayo Clinic, “When you’re sleep deprived and overwhelmed, you may have trouble handling even minor problems.”
“My partner and I are in a bad place.”
For the first few months of our baby’s life, my husband and I would stand in the kitchen in the middle of the night and take turns bouncing the baby and threatening to leave each other. It’s funny now and (sometimes) the next morning, but it’s not healthy humor.
Sleep is the pediatrician’s orders.
“I’ve worked with kids who have developmental issues and need to be rested to complete therapy,” Ruebman says. ”We also get referrals from doctors and schools for other children whose behavior or learning ability is being negatively impacted by sleep deprivation.” She adds that she’s seen babies even fall off the growth chart due to exhaustion interfering with their appetite.
“I can’t do my job on no sleep.”
I don’t know anyone who can be productive at work when they’re exhausted, but Ruebman has worked with “doctors, an air traffic controller, a pilot, and other professionals who all had people’s lives depending on them.” For them, and for other shift workers, staying up isn’t an option.
“Sleep deprivation is life-threatening.”
Ruebman has had patients who’ve fallen asleep while standing and holding the baby, and one who even nodded off while driving. Enough said.