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Guide Overview


Navigate this complex journey, armed with recommended resources and strategies to handle sleep deprivation, all while remembering the importance of your well-being too!
July 26, 2023
Summary Notes
  • Gain insight into the delicate balance between infant attachment and sleep, recognizing the need for nighttime responsiveness to foster emotional attachment trust.
  • Understand the potential harms of premature sleep training, and get guidance on when it might be appropriate to start considering it.
  • Receive practical strategies and resource recommendations for dealing with sleep deprivation, underlining the importance of parents' well-being in the process.
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Let's talk about infant attachment and sleep. I'm going to start this video by being honest with you that I do not think we have a good amount of solid data on this particular talk. We have some studies, but most of the studies we have are what are called Maternal Report Studies. That means is that someone grabs some data, maybe they're finding out, "Hey, how long did your baby sleep? Did you let them cry? Did you not let them cry? What did that look like? What did you feel about the results?"

And so someone can make a conclusion from some of these studies that, "Oh, this type of thing is okay because this is what happened and this is what the person said." The dilemma with that is we haven't collected any data about that caregiver's attachment style, or done follow-up on observing the attachment relationship between the caregiver and the child in an observable way that gives data towards what has happened in the trust in that relation.

So I am going to use all of my data from the attachment research in order to reference some thoughts and perspectives on sleep and the whole process for caregivers and for infants, and what you can be doing to make sure that you are giving your child what they need, but also function, being okay yourself.

We talked in the introduction about how attachment is this drive for closeness with our caregivers in order to feel safe. Well, predictably, infants tend to feel scared at night. Anybody else, when they're by themselves kind of feel a little spooky at night as well because I do. This doesn't tend to go well for most vulnerable species. Every single infant has a different ingrained skill around sleep. Just like some kids, they start walking at nine months, other kids walk at 12 months, 14 months. Each child is going to develop in their relationship to sleep differently, which is great news for those of you who have babies that sleep through the night at eight weeks, no problem.

And a little less great news for those of us who have kiddos who don't sleep for a very long time. Now, there are things that you can do to create sleep routines and sleep hygiene. I do want you all to hear that if you have a kid that is struggling to sleep through the night, the problem might not be that you're doing something wrong or they're not getting what they need. It might just be that's not their process. And it might be that you have expectations of how an infant is supposed to sleep that are driving you crazy because you feel like if you did the right thing, then your kid would find this. Or a lot of people out there that will tell you that and sell you things in order to get you to believe that. Let's start with this. Infants needs for closeness and soothing do not go away at night. In fact, sometimes they increase at night because the dark is scary and because often in modern life we separate our infants from us so they aren't right next to us hearing us breathe, feeling our body heat, having a sense that we are near.

That's why a lot of people choose to co-sleep, meaning have their baby in their room, whether that's bed sharing or not bed sharing, and that's up for everybody. And I want to make sure that no one ever feels judged in this conversation because here's the thing, every baby's different. Every family is different. Every family's value system is different. You have to figure out what is right for you. Did not bed share because my husband found it extremely anxiety provoking. We kept our infants in our bed in this little bed crib thing for maybe the first few weeks when they were small enough to do that. But then we moved them next to our bed in a co-sleeper or a bassinet kind of situation. I chose to breastfeed, and so that made the most sense for me because I found it exhausting to get up and walk across the house.

That idea was exhausting to me. And so instead I had them right next to me. I could bring them into bed, I could breastfeed half asleep, put them back down, and that worked for us. And when my kids were around five and a half months, I moved them into their own separate rooms and began to help accommodate them to sleeping in a separate room because I'm an American and I want to sleep in my own separate bedroom. But when they cried out for me, I still went. For a child who's six months of age, you are really, really, really working to develop that emotional attachment trust. So as hard as this is to hear our babies need responsiveness from us during those stages. For a lot of people, especially pediatricians for some reason, it is like a big pediatrician thing to push sleep training.

Make sure that no one is pushing that on you or your baby before they're six months of age. And definitely, definitely not before they're three months of age. That approach of extinguishing a night cry can be deeply dysregulating to a child and developmentally doesn't make sense for them or for you. I hear a lot of parents pretty traumatized by having made those choices at the hands of an expert that they thought knew the res... And I think you remember, I've already referenced this, we really don't have great research. So this recommendation is something that I think makes everyone feel better about the sleeplessness in a modern light, but it doesn't actually have any solid backup that it works for infants or for parents.

Now, back to the not judging. I have friends, I have people in my life that are deeply connected to their children who did do a cry it out or an extinguishing type of approach with their children, and I do not think that it created long-term damage to their child or to their relationship with their child. I also don't think they had highly sensitive children. So you want to think about who your child is, what they need from you, what you're noticing about their temperament when you're making decisions about how to approach their sleep process. If your child is a kind of a whine it out sort of child where they kind of go and then they fall asleep, that's not cry it out. That's just a tired baby falling asleep.

So when we talk about cry it out, my concern for parents from an attachment perspective is always a deep distressing cry from a baby. A baby who is sobbing, heaving, struggling to breathe while they cry. That level of cry it out isn't teaching a child to sleep. It's teaching a child to shut down their bid for connection in the middle of the night because they're recognizing that no one's going to come to me. That's not really what we're looking for in attachment terms. We're looking for, hey, what is my child needing? How can I help them get to that developmental stage where they can learn something new? We can try something different. How can we do that? Well, good books to recommend our Harvey Karp's The Happiest Baby on the Block and the No Cry Sleep Solution. I don't remember the author. Instagram, following @heysleepybaby is also a great resource.

You are really struggling with sleep deprivation and you are not able to function during the day. This is getting in the way of your ability to be present during the day. That is a real serious problem. I want you talking to your doctor about how do I get through this? What can I be doing? You going to talk to therapists about it. My husband and I had a kind of an arrangement for a long period of time where we would do two nights on two nights off. So he would respond for two nights and then I would respond for two nights. And so that way we knew we'd each get two consecutive nights of sleep without interruption. And that helped to kind of keep us going so that we could get to a point where our kids were developmentally ready to sleep through the night.

I want you to hear loud and clear that this is not simple. Making a decision to be responsive to your children in the nighttime is costly. It costs you something. We don't want it to cost your mental health or your functioning or your job, but we do want you to make that sacrifice for a short period of time as your child is learning to rely on you. You're going to do the very best you can with the resources you have, with the physical health that you have. And if you can't do that in a way that feels like it is up to par, then you're going to try and figure out how could this happen in a different way? What could I do differently that would allow more sleep for me and for my child?

And that's where I think a lot of people do end up in bed sharing situations as they go, you know what? This is just too hard. I'm just going to have them come sleep. They sleep better when they're with me. I at least don't have to get up. Listen to what it is that they are needing, what you are needing, make the best decision possible and know that over time you can make repair. If you look back and you're like, that wasn't really how I thought it was going to go, and that was way harder, I was less available. It's okay. You can make repairs. But in general, we're remembering that night temp is tender and it's disorienting for little people and they need us. And so we're going to be as responsive as we can. Good luck.