Liz Talks Podcast, Episode 12: sleep “training,” part 2

The one where I talk about ACTUALLY sleep “training,” and the one where I hope people don’t get mad at me.


Liz Talks Episode 12

This is episode 12, topic: Sleep training, continued

In case you missed it, episode 11 was about:

  • My sleep and sleep training journey with my first child 
  • Discovering the aware parenting philosophy, and some other podcasts I did around that philosophy 
  • The sleep consultant I used with my first, and why it didn’t work out so great

Today, I’ll continue my series about:

  • Our experiences with sleep and sleep training
  • Today I’ll talk more about my experiences with my second child who is not yet two 
  • Research that my teammate and researcher, Amanda, the amazing neuroscientist and researcher from The Curious Coconut, has done on the topic on my behalf 
  • Where we stand now with sleep in our house. 

And I said, in the previous episode, that some people might feel a little bit disappointed in some of what I’m about to say in this podcast. But the note that I want to make before I launch into this is; again. This entire parenting journey is unbelievably humbling for anyone with a shred of self-awareness. And I have come to realize that there are very few black and whites among loving parents. And those who are approach their parenting journey with as much love as they can muster in their hearts.

That doesn’t mean being a perfect parent all the time. It means always knowing that when the rubber meets the road, you’re coming to your children with love. That’s really all any of us can ask for. That’s all I can ask of my daughter’s friends parents. And my friends, and how they interact with their children. It’s the only, I think, clear path to raising children who are kind and compassionate and understanding of different points of view. And that are assets to the world and to the broad conversation around parenting more so than whether you checked the right boxes of attachment parenting, or whatever the philosophy is that you adopt to create good, satisfied, deep thinking children. 

Ok. So how do I even tackle this? Again, I know I’m going to disappoint some people with this. And so I said in the previous episode, and I reiterated it here; that I support all parents. This is a really, really tough journey. And I’m going to say a little bit about what led me to make different decisions with my second, and what I’m going to say is going to sound as if I’m saying; I was a broken person, so I decided to, spoiler alert, sleep train. 

I don’t want anyone to think that what I am saying here is painting with a broad brush. I’m not saying that broken people sleep train. That is not what I’m saying at all. But what I’m saying is that even having been so, so grateful for and in love with aware parenting; and even implementing it with my second daughter, the crying in arms philosophy. Even having implemented that from birth. And when I say that, I don’t mean I let her cry a lot from the time she was born. I fulfilled all of her needs. I fed her as necessary. 

But when she would have those spells of crying and nothing could stop it; because I admit, when my newborn cries, I will always offer my breast. That’s not a question. But there were times when she clearly didn’t want it, so I stopped trying to force it. So we had many crying in arms sessions with my daughter as a newborn. And I will say; she still cries a lot. And we’re present with it. We let it happen. It doesn’t worry me, the way it used to with my first, because I was so concerned about crying and what it means and what’s wrong, wrong, wrong. There’s nothing wrong. Kids need to cry. 

But when I say that we made different decisions, because in some ways I was; traumatized is not the right word. And I’m not going to take the time to open right now. I think traumatized is a very heavy and very meaningful word and I don’t want to use that. But I was certainly, I guess a little gun shy, and I didn’t even realize it. 

So, backing up. I’ll have to start a little bit closer to the beginning for you to understand exactly what I’m saying. Basically, here’s what I think happened. At the time, my daughter was young; probably at the very early edge of what people who advocate for sleep training would recommend. Around that time, I was thinking; huh. You know; I’m kind of clued in. I get the aware parenting stuff. I’m a lot more confident as a parent this time around. Maybe I don’t have to go through all that work, again. And by work, I mean many, many nights of crying in arms. Not crying it out. Crying in arms. 

If you didn’t listen to the first podcast in this series, episode 11, go back, learn what crying in arms is, how it relates, how it’s a part of aware parenting. It’s the idea that your baby needs to cry and that’s ok, but you don’t allow them to cry alone. If your baby needs to cry, it’s in your presence. Ideally, in your arms. 

So, I guess I just had maybe a shred of overconfidence. Maybe it was something else, and I’ll talk about that in a moment. But there was a moment where I was like; maybe we don’t have to do that again. Maybe it really is ok if we just try sleep training and see if it works? 

I had gone through so much stress around the sleep issue with my first. Even though we figured it out, and even though we figured it out with a tool that I sang the praises of for years and years after the fact. I still had this resonance. I still had this echo of the difficulty; the impossibility of the whole experience that sort of echoed in my mind. And I think that’s part of the reason why it took us 5 years to have another one. It was just so hard. And, despite the fact that I found that solution and it was a beautiful process, that didn’t mean that I wanted to go through it again. 

Having said that; I don’t know that I had the self-awareness at the time to realize that my desire to move on and do something different, and my sort of less fraught approach to parenting my second might possibly have been a component of not having fully integrated the experience. 

So; this is something I’m learning I just have to be careful with. When I think I have fully integrated an experience, what I’ve actually done is maybe finally found a way to forget to shut things down. To wall them off. To smash them down real deep. And I think I’ve come to realize that I have a little bit of that going on with my second baby. And I think some of my decision making around this comes from that. 

So I ask myself; and this is something that I’m only starting to kind of work through in my mind. So this is new. This is new; and it’s part of the reason, I think, that I’ve waited a little bit to do the sleep training episode. I’m wondering; what am I smashing down; right? And I guess the emotional toll of sleep issues with my first, yeah, where I was like; I can’t go through that again. But that can’t be it entirely, because like I said, I found a solution.

And what I think it is, or what I think part of it is, is that aware parenting and crying in arms actually does take an emotional toll. When you are listening to your baby cry; as much as they need to cry, depending on the baby, that can be a lot. Not just the noise. Not just the decibels of it, but for example, if you weren’t allowed to cry or experience the fullness of your feelings as a child. And most of us weren’t. Because even those of us who had “attachment” parents, or hippie parents, as they probably would have called them when we were kids; there is that possibility that attachment parenting. This idea of attachment parenting, is implemented in a way that is actually not any more conducive to the expression of feelings than traditional cry it out, put them down and walk away type of sleep training.

So in a brand of parenting where you’re concerned with never letting your baby cry; right? The risk of sending the message that those feelings are not ok ever, and at what age did it become ok? I don’t know. All of a sudden at some point we start letting our kids cry. Maybe when we think they should have the ability to integrate their own emotions. And then we’re like; you’re crying, but it’s annoying, but there’s nothing I can do about it.

But this idea that I talked about in the last podcast of control patterns. Where we can’t stand to hear the noise; and/or we feel like we’re a failure as a parent if our baby is crying. And it means something other than; I need to cry, mom. I need to tell you this stuff that I’m telling you by crying. And we stop it with a control pattern. Whether a pacifier, a breast, whatever it might be. Something more subtle. That lack of receiving that communication could potentially be on par, in some moments, with; I’m not going to listen to your cry. I’m going to leave you here and walk out of the room. You figure it out for yourself. And that idea of; kids have to be able to “self soothe.”

And children are not capable of actually regulating their own emotions until much later than we think. I think it’s at least; I mean, 25, right? But the idea of a child to be able to sort of regulate and manage their own emotions certainly doesn’t happen before 4 years old. So what you do when you put your child down and you walk out of the room and you say; oh great, look, they found their thumb. Their sucking their thumbs. 

And again; as I said in the last episode; thumb sucking is not always representative of this. But; if you’re not hearing a baby, and they start sucking their thumb, that becomes similar to the idea of here, take this breast. Or here, take this pacifier. Right? Let’s plug up that noise. Let’s stem the flow of emotions. And that’s that. Right? 

Now, I do think probably the attachment parenting philosophy is superior in that you’re generally present. You’re with your baby as they work through these feelings and these emotions. Because at that age, scientifically we know that we as parents are our baby’s external regulators. But my point is, we can eff that up whether we’re attachment parents or cry it out parents. 

Ok; so, back to this emotional toll. If you’re very sensitive parents, and you have even come to this concept of aware parenting, you probably are a very emotionally sensitive parent. And you are listening to these sounds that, for our entire lives, we have believed are indicative or representative of something negative; of something bad; of something that needs to be stopped or fixed. Just being present with that is really, really difficult. 

And in the moment, I think it probably involves some smashing down of personal trauma. And personal difficulties. And individual reactions to these sounds. In order to be there for our children. That’s a sacrifice. That’s a big sacrifice in the moment, and it’s a sacrifice to the process. And I think that that stuck with me in a way that I didn’t realize. Because what I thought; if I thought anything, was if I have another one, I’ll have these tools. And I’ll implement them from the beginning, and we’ll never have sleep problems. And it will just fix it.

Which is so funny, because it’s no different from me thinking; oh, if I do all the attachment parenting stuff. If I nurse on demand; whatever on demand means, right? Does that mean when the baby makes a noise? Or does that mean with the baby is actually hungry? And how do we even know? 

Anyway. This idea that if you have this set of principles in mind, and you do them to a T, that you won’t have any problems. It’s just nonsense. Right? Because children are who they are. Adults are who they are. And in the beginning, we’re all doing this dance of figuring each other out. 

So, that emotional toll of being present over time for all of these things that eventually led to us having a really, really good sleep scenario with our first I think stuck with me in a way that I didn’t acknowledge or I wasn’t ready for. And I will say one of the 10 principles of aware parenting is; aware parents take care of themselves and are honest about their own needs and feelings. They do not sacrifice themselves to the point of becoming resentful.

And guess who didn’t read that principle of aware parenting in detail, when she was learning about aware parenting? I don’t even know if I read that or didn’t read that. But when you’re doing these things, and you’re like; I’ve got this new way of thinking. This new way of seeing. I’m going to try this thing. You ignore all things that are superfluous to you in the moment. I had no idea that I would internalize some of that, to the point that I would basically out and out reject the idea of using aware parenting principles to get my second daughter to sleep. I don’t fully know why, but I’m outlining my suspicions here of how I go to that point. 

But I feel like in general I was just, for whatever reason, really sure about the fact that I just needed the kid to sleep, and I didn’t want to do any of it again. Even though I believe, still, wholeheartedly that it was the right approach. That it is an important approach. For whatever reason, I could manage it during the day. But I could not handle it at night. And this is me working through this in the immediate, in the moment, right now, this second. Because this is a piece of the story that I didn’t recognize until very recently.

And part of that is because; I’m going to give a little spoiler alert. My second daughter is not a great sleeper. And I’ll come back to that momentarily. Again, like I talked about in the previous podcast, who knows? Maybe no matter what we did, my first daughter was going to end up a wonderful sleeper, like she is. And maybe no matter what we did, my second daughter was going to end up the exact sleeper she is. We don’t know. My gut tells me, though; and again, what does my gut know? I never know. But my gut tells me this probably had something to do with it. 

But now I’m going to go through a little bit of the thought process around this. It doesn’t have anything to do with potentially being traumatized from whatever happened 7 years ago. What I ended up doing to sort of justify this approach, that maybe I would have admitted at the time that it was slightly out of fear of having to go through all of that again, even though I knew that I had the right answer to it. Just hopeful that; if I just do this thing again, maybe it will be different this time. You know? Because this is way easier.

Because man; guys. I talked about this, too, in my birth podcasts. My birth; my home birth with my second was physically and mentally grueling to a degree that I did not experience with my first birth. I had a lot to work through there, and I had a lot of lessons learned from parenting my first, who is a very different child from my second. But I think for at least six months; it took my body at least 6 months to heal to an appreciable degree. Very specific parts of my body, in fact. And I very much believe that my physical healing preceded my mental healing from that experience. And I’m still healing.

So this idea of being able to take on an added emotional tax at that moment was too much for me to handle. And it wasn’t something I could articulate at the time, either. There are people from my aware parenting journey that checked in with me multiple times, and I just didn’t have the words for it. I didn’t have the words for myself. I certainly didn’t have the words for them. 

And on the surface; everything looked and felt great. So that’s where I was at. But right around that 4-month mark; which was the same mark in my first parenting go-round, I started to just feel antsy. Like, I needed a plan. And it was going to be something different. We were going to try something different.

So I actually did do my best to dig through some of the literature on things like cry it out. Because I knew certain things to be true. For example; that some of the science that is cited in attachment parenting circles, that is used to indicate the perils of cry it out, are not necessarily structured or designed in a way to actually show what they are said to show.

So for example; one of the studies is on orphans who have above and beyond the type of abandonment that children whose loving parents subject them to cry it out, than what is going on in those homes. So there are just certain things that are not actual parallels. However, I will say that over the last few weeks, I’ve been a lot more ready to receive the clinical scientific picture. 

So Amanda, my friend and researcher from The Curious Coconut, has put her amazing research skills on this question. And I’ll talk about sort of what she and I talked through and what she concluded momentarily. But because chronologically, my experience with sleep training my second came first, I’m going to talk about that first. 

The first thing I did was to reach out to a sleep consultant that I had found on Instagram, who was local to me. And I never actually got to meet her or see her in person. I kind of thought, when I first reached out, that I was going to be able to interact with her in person. That she was going to come to my house, and I would have that feeling like; ok, this person knows me. This person has met my baby. And she’s going to know the plan to personalize for my child. So kind of like a personal trainer, but for sleep; right? 

So I never actually did get to meet her in person. And of course, I understand that, because COVID and all of that. It’s just a little bit safer that way. So what ended up happening was; I went for the whole shebang. I had her write a sleep plan for us, based on all of the information that I gave her about my daughter. And then I also hired a sleep doula to help me with the process. Because I figured that I also could not tolerate the emotional toll of listening to any crying. So I was just kind of trying to prepare myself and put myself in a situation where I could be in complete denial of what I was doing. {laughs} 

And that’s sort of how I felt about it. Now, I had hired an overnight doula for a couple of nights early, early on. Where she does the swaddling; the baby wakes up, she brings me the baby, I feed the baby, she takes the baby back. We did that for a couple of nights, just to get some added sleep. But I even found that too stressful. I still couldn’t sleep. Because you hear phantom cries. I just can’t. She was a wonderful, wonderful human being. But I knew it wasn’t something I could continue to do. And of course, that also is impacted by the type of situation you’re in; right? If I had had twins, I probably would have been like; somebody else gotta do this. But for me, it wasn’t the permanent solution.

But I did feel like I needed somebody else there to help me, and to make me feel like whatever was going on in the moment was, or wasn’t, if that were the case; normal, expected, etc. So basically a plan was written for us. And it was a little bit kind of like plug and play. Some preferences were taken, whether I was comfortable with. Basically fully on extinction method or if I was comfortable with more of a graduated extinction. And this wasn’t necessarily the language that was used. But the idea of extinction, graduated extinction, and then the other one, which is escaping me right now. Ah, I remember. Extinction with parent present. 

So, unmodified extinction means the baby is put to bed and basically; put to bed at 7, parent walks out; see you tomorrow morning at 7 o’clock, or whatever the set wakeup time is. And that’s basically cry it out. 

Graduated extinction is also called controlled crying; controlled comforting, which is such an oxymoron. Controlled comforting. Checking in; graduated sleep training. And that’s when you have intervals. Maybe you’re outside the room, and you repeat these intervals over time until the baby falls asleep and stays asleep.

And then the last one is extinction with parent present. So that, in my opinion; and this is a discussion I’ve had with an aware parenting coach. This idea of you stay near the child, even though the child is crying. And to me, it feels like that’s what people like me do, who really, really don’t feel right personally about cry it out, for whatever reason. Again; no judgement of loving parents. I understand that every parent feels differently about these things. 

But feeling like; oh, I’m not comfortable with walking out and them crying. But I could be in the room. To me, that was kind of like a way that would make myself feel better, but maybe more confusing to the kid. I don’t know; like, you’re here, why aren’t you coming to me? I don’t know. So I had some weird feelings about that, too. 

But in general, in the very limited amount of quality literature there is around “sleep training”, whether unmodified extinction, graduated extinction, or extinction with parent presence, I just wasn’t super comfortable with any of it. But I went ahead and hired this sleep trainer, because I felt like, at the very least, I could give all these details about my baby and she could look at all of them and if she saw something in there that meant I shouldn’t do this, she would be able to tell me. Right? And that’s not really what it was.

But we got this plan. The doula came and helped us for several nights. And I will say, she tolerated it ok. The baby tolerated it ok. And one thing that I feel simultaneously guilty and gleeful about, is that from very early on we were able to start putting her down and saying; goodnight, I love you. Leaving the room, and having her fall asleep without crying. That has been wonderful. It took much, much, much longer for us to get to that point with my first. 

So it was kind of like; ripped off that Band-Aid. Did some crying at the very beginning, but got to that point a lot sooner. And I will say that has alleviated a lot of stress. Maybe I should regret it; I don’t know. But as a direct consequence of the sleep training, bedtime is a breeze. 

Now, the baby did pretty well. Well as in; responded quickly. There wasn’t a huge amount of crying. The plan kind of involved; you assess the level at which the child is crying. {laughs} And then you go in at certain intervals. And you go from there. Like I said; baby number two can put herself to sleep. She’s not scared. But I will say; she never really got it after the hours of like 3 a.m. So that first stretch of sleep is great. And that sort of later part of the night has not been good, from the beginning. 

And I’m sure the customer service answer to that would be; well, you needed to have done this, this, and this as was articulated in the plan. We did. We did the plan. We did the plan; gave it a lot of time. It just didn’t take in that latter part of the night. And you know; there is a line. Right? And even if you don’t go in; if your baby is fussing for an hour and a half, two hours, you’re still awake. You know? I can’t not hear it. 

So, this idea of completely ignoring it; it just doesn’t; to me it is no longer reasonable to say that the implementation of the plan was poor, and thus the outcome was not what was expected. I think what I learned from that was it wasn’t the right approach for us. I mean, if there was only one way to handle this, we would have all heard about it by now. If there was one thing that worked for all babies, we would have all heard about it by now. And it would work for all babies. And that is simply not the case. Again; you have to define what you mean by work. 

So the question; does she suck at sleeping because she would have no matter what, or because of something I did? I don’t know. Perhaps sleep training actually made her a worse sleeper. Yeah, she can put herself to sleep in the first two-thirds of the night is great, but that last third of the night, not so great. It could have been something went amiss with an ear infection she had. Or something went amiss with teething. There’s always some kind of excuse where you think; oh maybe this is it, or maybe that is it. 

Maybe it’s just that the approach was incorrect. Maybe it’s that; and my suspicion is this; I should have implemented aware parenting from the beginning. But I also have to have compassion for myself. Because there was a lot going on to my choices and these moments. 

And, I truly don’t know. I truly don’t know if this is something I should regret. Right? I’m not sure I can convince myself that this should be one of those regrets that I have. Because it’s possible, again, that this was just going to be how it was, no matter what. There are also people who would say; if I had just co-slept and breastfed, and aware parented my second, things would be different. And there are people that would say; if you had implemented the sleep training plan properly, that things would be different. 

I’m sort of inclined to say that if I had aware parented a little bit harder during the hours of 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., that we probably would have been in a different scenario today at around 18 months old. I don’t know; that seems to make sense. Maybe I’m lucky that my first ended up such a great sleeper despite the fact that we did those things with her. Who knows? 

But I don’t think I can live with regret or shame around it. I don’t think that at all. And truthfully, I’m not looking for more sleep advice, or more ideas. It just is what it is right now. We are where we are. And going forward, I’m figuring out what the right thing to do is. I’m older this time around. And maybe there’s some of that in there, too. Where I truly cannot fathom months of being up multiple times throughout the night to do crying in arms. It’s just tough. 

And I know; too bad, so sad. But this is where my head is now; right? When you’re tired, when you’re dealing with two kids with very different needs. Especially when it’s the wintertime. All of these things that go into all of this context to why it feels difficult for me right now to disentangle myself from the place where we are now, how we got here, and what I should be doing.

Ok; so I started to think more about this stuff. As I started to think to myself; you know? By this point with my first, with whom we did aware parenting, particularly as it pertained to sleep. At this point in our journey, my first was sleeping soundly throughout the night, no problem. Maybe not always. There were times when we brought her into bed with us, of course. But I don’t remember being in this scenario where we still felt like we had stuff to figure out. 

I imagine that we probably should not have sleep trained. We probably should have been a bit more introspective, about what worked the first time around with our first daughter, with our personalities as parents, with what I feel that I know about my parenting journey. If we had just thought a little bit more about that, versus just sort of been in that survival mode where I was like, I just need this to be done fast. And expecting that if I got a plan; if I had somebody come implement it, that it would be done. Fast. That we could just move on to the next phase in our lives. That it wouldn’t have to take up all this space and time and energy and emotional capital.

I understand why we did that. But at the same time, more than a year later, it’s like; we’re still trying to figure things out. And that’s kind of a bummer. And I’m still dancing around this idea of not feeling like I can handle aware parenting. And look; I can handle aware parenting during the day. It’s at night. I have to drive my kid one hour round trip to and from school; twice a day. And that’s a story for another day why we picked the school that we did. But it’s a lot. It’s a lot from just the functional stuff, right? If you’ve got to be in the care for an hour there and back and an hour there and back, I’ve got to be awake. Those types of things.

Those are the types of things that run through my mind when I think about the practicalities of using this approach again. And like I said; I know people are going to be disappointed in me about this. I can handle that. I’m sort of disappointed in myself. But when you’re in it, it’s sometimes hard to see with accuracy. 

So, anyhow. Over the last months and few weeks, I’ve been really ready to delve into this. To dive into this more. And to learn more about it. I think I made some excused to myself, in saying; well, we don’t really know that cry it out is detrimental. Controlled crying, graduated extinction, whatever you want to call it. So, let’s just do it and hope for the best. Right? Let’s just give all the love in all the other hours of the day, and we’ll just trust that baby will be fine. 

So, what I was finally ready to do was to reach out to my friend Amanda who does a ton of research on my behalf. She’s The Curious Coconut on Instagram, and she’s wonderful. She’s a neuroscientist. I’ll continue to talk about her frequently on this podcast and in my work, because she does so much for me. But I addressed this question to her. I wanted to hear about what we really know about sleep training. The detriment or lack of evidence of detrimental effects of cry it out, or any type of crying, controlled crying, graduated extinction. I wanted to know what we actually know and what we actually don’t know.

So I posed the question to her. And I hope to talk about this in more detail in a future podcast or post on my website, or article or something like that. But for today’s purposes, here’s what I would like to outline. There is absolutely research that proves that early childhood trauma and adverse childhood experiences have lasting lifelong effects on human beings. That is not in dispute. What is slightly less clear is that any sleep training method fits the bill for trauma or adverse childhood experience.

There are certainly people who would argue common sensically that of course it is, to put a child down and walk away. But another thing that also contributes to adverse childhood experiences is parents who are checked out, resentful, out of control, depressed, and those are huge, huge profound realities for sleep-deprived parents. And the degree to which I was sleep deprived was nothing close to what so many people who have reached out to me in the interim between when I first started talking about aware parenting and now. The level of sleep deprivation that people go through is stunning. It is absolutely unfathomable to me. 

Particularly; and I come from a military family. Particularly talking to friends in the military who have literally gone without sleep; spouses deployed; multiple children, in strange new places. Sometimes places they don’t even speak the language. With children that cannot seem to sleep. Or give them the opportunity to sleep. Add in two, three, four more kids, and the level of sleep deprivation, even in these privileged countries that we live in is just beyond comprehension. And that can send people spiraling. 

And to have a parent that is so checked out, and so unable to function because of sleep deprivation; which, as many people will say. And it is true. Is a form of torture. It is perfectly reasonable to weight that against a few nights of your baby crying. And I’ll say it again. 

Weighting your needs as a parent; not even necessarily getting so desperate that you become depressed, despondent, and unable to parent; but to prevent yourself from ever getting to that point, to sleep train to me, sounds like a reasonable option. I’m not saying that’s where I was. I think I was probably afraid of getting there. Maybe afraid in advance; didn’t quite need to be. 

But whatever leads people there, it’s never because they don’t care. It’s because they have this concern for the entire family. And again, one of the 10 principles of aware parenting being; aware parents take care of themselves and are honest about their own needs and feelings. They do not sacrifice themselves to the point of becoming resentful. For some, this idea of not sacrificing yourself to the point of becoming resentful means sleep training. In aware parenting, it doesn’t. Obviously. That is not at all what this tenant of aware parenting is saying. 

But the one thing that I think I needed that I might have benefited from was some sort of outlet for the difficulty that I experienced listening to my daughter crying and being there for her and being present for her emotions and holding space for them. If I had not only truly acknowledged how difficult that was, but also had some kind of outlet for it. Some kind of self-care, self-repair. And I think that would have started with being able to articulate or even being aware of the emotional toll that that can take on people. I think I might have been able to approach this in my second go-round with a little bit more self-awareness. Maybe I wouldn’t have gone straight for the plug and play plan. Or somebody else doing it for me. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But my thought process. My experience going into that was certainly shaded in by all of this. 

Now, there’s a parenting philosophy called hand in hand parenting. That I discovered probably when my first was like 3. And at the time, I don’t think I “needed” it. I felt like what I needed to get out of hand in hand parenting was very similar for what I needed to get out of aware parenting and RIE. So I just felt like, at the time I had the tools. But I recalled one of the things that hand in hand parenting is very specific about is that you need a listening partner. You need someone that is with you in that journey that you can unload on, that you can talk to, that you can process through the experiences of hand in hand parenting with. 

I didn’t recognize at the time what that really meant or what it could mean for me. But now, in hindsight, looking back and thinking about that, wow. What a brilliant aspect to hand in hand parenting. I think that is such a good idea, to make sure that parents get the support that they need while they’re being there for their children.

because, again; this entire process is this delicate dance between two humans beings. One, who is older and has an entire map of early childhood, childhood, teen, young adult, adult experiences that has crafted and filled in who they are. And this other little person that’s just a ball of instinct that is so new, and these two people trying to figure each other out. What one of them needs, and what responses you’re going to get. And it’s just this intricate, beautiful, dangerous dance sometimes between two people that are just trying to figure it out while still ending up ok. 

So, back to the literature. The critics of sleep training approaches that involve crying say that just because a baby stops crying doesn’t mean they’re soothed. Right? It doesn’t mean that the fear or the thing that is making them cry has gone away. And I think it is important, and something that I learned from aware parenting, is not to misinterpret silence for a resolution of the underlying feelings. 

It could, on the very scary end of things; silence from a child could mean that they have dissociated. As is their protective programming in the moment. They’ve gone into, what Amanda referred to as a freeze state. It doesn’t mean this happens every time, but it likely does happen. And that is probably what is strongly associated; or predictive, or representative is probably the word I’m looking for. Representative of an adverse childhood event, or childhood trauma.

Now, some of the studies that so-called, supposedly, support sleep training methods use ceasing of crying as proof that the method has “worked”. But this is a proxy for an outcome. It’s not an actual outcome. It’s kind of like saying; this is an entirely other topic, but how cholesterol measures are often used in scientific studies, or have been used in scientific studies as a proxy for lowering heart disease risk. So basically saying; our statins lowered cholesterol from here to here. Meaning, or using that in a study as proving a reduction in death from heart disease. The actual outcome would be death from heart disease, not whether or not your cholesterol is here or here. It’s not whether you’re hearing a noise; it’s whether that feeling is actually present or not present. 

So, as far as the main question that I think most people want to know. As in; is there no evidence of harm, or is there evidence of no harm? And there’s a big difference there. Just because you say we don’t have any evidence that something is true or not true. That could just very simply mean it hasn’t been appropriately studied. Now, saying there is evidence of no harm means something has actually been studied extensively, and we can say without a doubt that we have seen no harm. And even then, there are some limitations. Which I’ll talk about in just a second. 

Now, here’s what Amanda relayed to me. There are no large scale randomized controlled trials that look at the effects of sleep training. There was one trial out of Australia that was used by both sides to prove a point; and it had like 7 kids in, no control group, and babies were followed up for like 3 months. And early childhood trauma can take decades to show up. 

In this study; again, by both sides to prove their point. So clearly, it’s not a solid study. And one of the problems with the pro-sleep training research, which again, sleep training is not a well-defined term. There are multiple levels of sleep training. None of which have extensive research behind them. But one of the problems with the pro-sleep training research is that they don’t actually measure signs of physiological distress, like adrenaline and cortisol. They don’t do brain scans. Things like that.

So if we really wanted to look at something, and be meticulous about it, we would look at things like adrenaline and cortisol and brain scans in environments like home. Because you know, when you take a baby out of their home environment, and you do all these things to them and try and say yes; we have proven something, it’s really not valid. Because unless you’re in the baby’s environment, with the baby’s people, you can’t really measure why something is stressing them out. So even if you had elevated adrenaline and cortisol, it could be because of the environment you’ve put the baby in. Right? So that’s another problem. 

Studies that controlled for parental motivation for enrolling in a study would be necessary. With endpoints that are objective. And this type of research would be incredibly complex, but it would answer the lingering questions. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s even possible. So I truly believe, from what Amanda has relayed to me. And I do hope to talk about it more in the future. Is that not only don’t we know; but we may never know. And anyone that claims that the current research supports a sleep training protocol is really kind of a specious argument. It doesn’t quite hold up. Because the literature is just not high enough quality.

Maybe there are children that really don’t mind being laid down and walked away from. They’ll fuss; they’ll cry a little bit to show their frustration, and they’ll slip into sleep, no problem. But the parents of kids like this would probably say, sleep training worked for us. Just as a parent of a child who dissociated and just quit crying for that reason would also be able to say; hey, it worked for us. Because both of them had children that stopped crying and went to sleep. Maybe for entirely different reasons, but there’s no way of knowing.

So what we have is common sense. And again; as a person that sleep trained my second child, and feels like it didn’t really yield the results that we would have liked. As a person that did that, I think that common sense would say that it’s probably not the ideal approach. I think as a parent, you know your baby best. And if you feel like; my god, I’m just going to walk away. I need a few minutes. Or if you even say; we’ve got to sleep train. It’s the only option. That’s great. Give all the love at all the other moments of the day and night. And try not to worry. Right? Because we all have to make these kinds of gut wrenching decisions at some time or another.

Or maybe you’re a parent that’s like; it’s worked for every single one of my kids and we’re all fine. Great. That doesn’t mean it’s the same for every kid that goes through that experience. Or for every parent that ever goes through that experience.

And again, as I said before, the toll of some of what I did as an aware parent in implementing the aware parenting approach; listening to so much crying, I needed more support. And I didn’t even know I needed that. I really didn’t. I had an outlet for making the experience feel purposeful, after the fact, in being able to spread the ideas of aware parenting through the Modern Mama’s podcast, and through my Facebook group, and through my Instagram and my various channels. Because aware parenting is freaking amazing. It was life changing for us. 

But I guess I didn’t realize that my half of the journey was not over. And now in evaluating it again, as I will do a million times in my life, new information is bubbling to the surface. So I’m realizing certain things. I didn’t realize how impacted I was by that journey until it was time to figure out sleep with my second. And again, like I said, we’re still figuring it out. because she’s not a great sleeper the way my first is and was by the time.

So again, what we have is common sense that it’s probably not the greatest. And at the very least, we can’t say that it’s a completely safe approach for all children. I also don’t think that not allowing a child to fully express their negative emotions is a healthy option, either. I think there are downsides to that, as well. None of this exists in a vacuum. There is context. There is nuance. There is contributing factors in every situation. And that’s what makes it hard; right? We’re all just looking for the approach. Tell me what to eat; tell me how to work out; tell me what to do with my kid. There’s got to be a framework. Because life is so complicated, on all levels. Even, again, in privileged western countries. Life is complex and complicated. And we have worries and stressors and jobs and families and kids and sadness and problems. And we’re all dealing with that. And we’re just trying to move all of the pieces in a way that doesn’t cause everything to fall apart. 

So I have compassion for myself; both aspects of my journey. With my first kid and my second. And I hope you have compassion for yourself and others, as well, as it pertains to this journey. Because it’s just a lot. It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re a sleep consultant who has had great success with both of their kids. It doesn’t matter if you’re an aware parenting coach, or an attachment parenting coach, or a Ferber method coach. It doesn’t matter. There are complications and difficulties for all of us. 

And I think we all just need to learn to not just trust ourselves to always make the right decision, but also trust that there will be many times that we make a wrong decision. But that love, and care, and everything else that we’re pouring into our kids on a daily basis at least as much as we can is going to hopefully pick up a lot of that slack.

So that’s where we’re at sleep-wise in my house right now. That’s our sleep training journey. I hope you listened to episode 11 as well to learn a little bit more about what we did with my first, and aware parenting. And I hope this was helpful for someone. 

As with the last episode, this entire episode was basically an overshare, so we’ll skip that. If you have any questions, always feel free to reach out to me on Instagram, @RealFoodLiz. That’s probably the easiest way to find me. And I would love it, also, if you liked this podcast, to share it with someone and to leave a review. It really, really helps. I would love to reach more people like you and me who would appreciate this podcast. So please, help me spread the word. It really helps so much.

That will be it for episode 12; I’ll see you next week.

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