We were at a family picnic recently. It was our first picnic as a family of three.
I like to prepared for anything so we arrived laden with baby gear: snacks, sippy cups, sun hat, sunscreen, organic bug repellent, picnic blanket. You name it and i had packed it. However, what I wasn’t prepared for (and never am, really) was a little one who quickly became over stimulated and too excited to nap! No naps leads to a very cranky A.
Late in the afternoon, after having so much fun splashing around in a baby pool with 2 older toddlers, my little A started to melt down. She whined and cried and looked to my husband for comfort when another parent nearby said, “Oh, just let her cry! It will make her stronger!” My husband I exchanged a quick glance, our eyes speaking for us, and my husband scooped up our daughter and cuddled her close to him.
We don’t let our daughter cry.
This sounds crazy. Babies cry. Toddlers cry. What exactly do I mean? If she is screaming, inconsolable, or hysterical, if her face becomes red and she is so upset that she is gasping for air, I will go to her and do my very best to calm and comfort her. I will make silly faces, sing songs, try to distract her with a toy, play her favorite Taylor Swift song, hug, cuddle, rock, and give her a pacifier. I will not ignore her. Of course, there are times when she lets out one small cry or whine and then stops and that’s it. If it’s clear she is calming herself, those are the times I will let her be. It took one awful night for my husband and I to realize we were truly against crying it out.
As first time parents, there have been times when we have been given a lot of unsolicited advice. Have you ever seen this BuzzFeed video? It’s hilarious and so true.
For the first 8 months of A’s life, she was a terrible nighttime sleeper. We never had any problems getting her to nap during the day but the night’s were pure torture. I was breastfeeding at the time, and so, I was really the only one who could nurse her on demand and soothe her back to sleep. My husband would sleep soundly through her cries. Not mama.
Everyone had suggestions on how to get A to sleep through the night:
Rice cereal at 6 weeks. Rice cereal mixed with formula in the bottle. A bottle of water before bed. Check her wonder weeks. Let her cry, you don’t want to spoil her. Maybe she’s teething, give her Tylenol. Back is best. Put her to sleep on her side. So-and-so always slept on his tummy. On and on.
After 4 months, I was desperate for a good night’s sleep. The pediatrician suggested sleep training so I bought and read, “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems” by Richard Ferber. I thought if the pediatrician recommended it, it must work and it must be OK. The Ferber Method sounded amazing to my tired, sleep deprived self. In a nutshell, it allows the baby to cry for a set amount of time before a parent intervenes. The parent would decide on the intervals, say 5 or 10 minutes to start. After the 5 or 10 minutes of crying, the parent goes in to soothe the baby, then leaves. The idea is to gradually increase how long the baby cries before intervention until they soothe themselves and sleep through the night.
We tried it one Friday night. I decided I would put her to sleep, without her pacifier, and let her cry for 3 minute intervals. It took her over 3 hours to finally cry herself to sleep. 3 long hours! It was heartbreaking. I was crying and doubting myself. My husband, who had initially agreed to try the method but hadn’t read the book, started googling and doing his own research on sleep training. After that night we agreed we would never let our sweet baby girl cry herself to sleep again.
Our baby needs us for absolutely everything. We feed her. We change her diapers. We play with her. We comfort her when she is hurt or tired or sad. We do these things, day after day and night after night, and she has learned to trust us. She knows that mama and dada will take care of her, no matter what. I do not want her to lose that trust in us by letting her cry. After all, crying was the only way our 4 month old baby could communicate her needs. We caused her so much unnecessary stress that night.
So, I don’t agree with “Let her cry. It will make her stronger.” I don’t think it will make her stronger. It will make her sad, hopeless, and defeated. While sleep training works for some families, it didn’t work for us. If you can listen to the crying and get your baby to sleep, then, good for you! I simply couldn’t do it.
Around the time A turned 8 months old, she had transitioned to formula and was no longer comfort nursing in the middle of the night. She started to sleep better, waking up only once or twice each night. Now, at 13 months old, when she does wake in the night it’s brief and she has learned to soothe herself back to sleep. I rarely have to get out of bed to check in on her anymore. It happened when she was good and ready.
If my daughter needs me, I will always be there for her.
I am her mama.