You know a myth we hear often, that really gets us riled up? It’s the myth that attachment parents can’t, or shouldn’t, sleep train. We’ve worked with many attachment parents over the years who’ve told us that initially, they were very, VERY hesitant to sleep coach because they felt that it would surely mean they had to compromise all their AP values and principles. Some of these parents struggled with chronic exhaustion and sleeplessness for years before finally reaching out to us for help.
Well, we’re ready to set the record straight: attachment parents CAN sleep train in a way that is both effective and that prioritizes their parenting philosophy.
Miriam Chickering, an experienced sleep consultant, can vouch for that as she has spent several years helping other families sleep coach in a way that aligns with their philosophies, and believes wholeheartedly in the value of sleep coaching — AND she practices attachment parenting principles in her own home, with her 6 kiddos! So she’s the perfect person to discuss this topic.
Keep reading, and hear Miriam’s thoughts on how attachment parents can sleep coach effectively and gently, as well as her tips for helping attachment parents get more sleep, and build healthy sleep habits in their little ones.
How Attachment Parents Can Sleep Train WITHOUT Compromising Their Values and Beliefs
You may be thinking that attachment parenting and sleep coaching won’t mix, but they really can go together very well at The Baby Sleep Site®. How is that possible? Because we use a holistic approach to sleep – one that accounts for all elements of a child’s emotional, mental, and physical development. This holistic approach allows crying to be minimized, which is crucial to attachment parents who are embarking on sleep coaching.
One of the first steps in working with attachment parents on sleep coaching is to do what is called “setting the stage for sleep”. Here are a few things we look at to make sure we’ve properly set the stage:
- Is the schedule right? (We look at the timing of naps and feedings in relation to morning wake time and bedtime, and we see how overall nap amounts match up with nighttime sleep amounts.)
- Do we have a solid routine? (Nap time and bedtime routines are key for signaling to your kiddo that it’s time to settle in and sleep.)
- Any medical concerns? (We address these right away, before we begin sleep coaching, to ensure that your little one is in excellent health before we start working on sleep.)
- How is feeding going? (If you’re nursing, we’ll take a careful look at how breastfeeding is going, and address any concerns you may have about milk supply, etc. Similarly, if you’re formula-feeding, or if your little one is on solids, we’ll examine feeding amounts and timing to ensure that your little one is properly nourished.)
Often, making small changes in one or more of these areas goes a long way towards improving sleep, and it ensures that we aren’t overlooking anything when we begin working on sleep habits. It also means we have less work to do in sleep training, and that in turn means we will likely have more success using gentle methods with minimal crying.
Additionally, I always like to point out that working on these elements is a great way to increase your communication and bonding with your baby. And who doesn’t love that? 😉
Once we’ve properly set the stage for sleep, we want to move on to resolving unwanted sleep associations. This is really the “sleep coaching” part of what we do – and this is what tends to scare attachment parents away, honestly. But here’s what I want to emphasize: there are very gentle ways to resolve unwanted sleep associations. I know that many attachment parents hear “sleep training” and immediately think crying baby, who screams for hours, but that absolutely does not have to happen…there are so many options between ‘sleepless nights’ and ‘screaming baby’!
Now, speaking of resolving unwanted sleep associations – let’s first define ‘unwanted sleep associations’. An unwanted sleep association is something that your baby relies on to go to sleep that ALSO causes sleep problems throughout the night. If your baby is rocked to sleep and then sleeps for 5 hours, you probably do not have an unwanted sleep association; however if your baby is rocked to sleep and wakes the moment you stop providing the movement, that’s when you have an unwanted sleep association, since you’ll likely have to spend your nights rocking instead of sleeping!
Similarly, if you’re co-sleeping, and your baby wakes periodically through the night needing to nurse, but then falls right back to sleep, this may not be a problem for you at all. But if your baby is waking every hour needing to nurse, and then wants to stay awake and hang out with you for awhile, that is almost certainly an unwanted sleep association!
For some parents, a sleep association will become unwanted only when it causes 5 or more sleep interruptions, or when it keeps them awake virtually all night. For other parents, a sleep association becomes unwanted when it causes just 1 or 2 unnecessary sleep interruptions. Really, the line between ‘okay’ and ‘unwanted’ is personal, and varies from family to family.
Once you’ve identified the sleep association that’s causing a problem – be it nursing or holding or rocking, or perhaps another association – we focus on gently fading out that sleep association and providing comfort in other ways, while also gradually helping your baby to learn to fall asleep without any help from you. It’s amazing how well this can work when all the groundwork has been laid in a very methodical and comprehensive way and then each step is broken down into easily attainable goals.
Advice For Co-Sleeping Parents Who Want To Sleep Coach
Obviously, as attachment parents, we have the goal of limited crying and plenty of soothing and comfort for our babies during the sleep coaching process. But if you are currently sleep coaching, and want to continue to co-sleep while sleep coaching, you’ll need to follow a few unique tips to ensure you see progress.
For starters, end your “hands-on” soothing about 5 minutes before you want your child to fall asleep. This ensures that you aren’t inadvertently putting your baby to sleep; remember, the goal of sleep coaching is that your child learns to fall asleep on his own.
I also urge parents to choose a 4 to 5-hour sleep stretch that belongs to them. For some parents this will occur at the parent’s bedtime, after a final Fill-Up feed (if your baby is still young enough/needs to receive a fill-up feed before you go to bed). For others, it may be from midnight to 5 am. The important thing is not to feed your baby in this one time slot. Let your spouse or partner give comfort if your baby wakes, but do not offer a feeding. Within a few weeks of beginning this “sacred slot of sleep”, your baby will most likely stop waking during this time, and everyone will get at least one lengthy stretch of sleep at night. Remember that you may have to offer an extra feeding at another time of the day or night to make up for a missed feeding at this time, but you NEED your “Sacred Slot of Sleep”. It will help you become a better parent during the other 19 hours of the day!
4 Tips All Attachment Parents Can Use To Gently Build Healthy Sleep Habits
I wanted to end by sharing some really easy, basic tips that any parent can do to help promote better sleep and healthier sleep habits. Use these in conjunction with sleep coaching, or – if you’re not quite ready to sleep coach yet – use them on their own.
- Start your day in the same 30 minute time window each day, even if you and baby had a rough night. Utilizing a fixed point like this keeps your schedule from getting too far off track.
- Mind your child’s “nap gaps” (the time between daytime naps) and be sure to use the schedule that’s appropriate for your child’s age
- Many attachment parents use the ‘Pantley Pull-Off’ to gently transition their baby away from the breast. It works like this – you allow your baby to keep sucking at the breast until he’s drowsy, then you gently break the seal with your finger and pull your breast away. It works for many moms, but if the Pantley Pull-Off isn’t working, I recommend you stop using it and try a different method. Consider fading, or pick-up put down.
- If you are co-sleeping, at bedtime, stop a feeding at least 15 minutes before your child falls to sleep, and – as mentioned earlier – stop your hands-on soothing 5 minutes before your child is due to fall asleep.
Still Not Sure If You Can Mix Attachment Parenting And Sleep Coaching?
Meet Rebecca, a lovely mom from Massachusetts who follows attachment parenting principles, but was drowning in exhaustion from her son’s frequent night waking. Rebecca wanted her son to sleep better, but she was absolutely not willing to resort to crying methods. Read Rebecca’s story below, and learn how Nicole and the team at The Baby Sleep Site® were able to help Rebecca and her son get the sleep they needed, in a way that matched Rebecca’s parenting philosophy…
“When I came across The Baby Sleep Site, it was quite by accident. I wasn’t looking for it, but I stumbled across it while searching for websites that addressed sleep issues. At the time, I had a 10-month old son who was sleeping in a sidecar arrangement (crib up against my bed with one side missing) and waking 4-6 times every night. He went through a bad time early on: he had reflux for the first 9 months of his life, plus around month 5-6 he had a bad reaction to an antibiotic treatment and wound up with serious gastrointestinal issues (waking every 2-3 hours with diarrhea). Nursing was always a method of deep relaxation leading to sleep and had now become a necessity to get my son to sleep even after all the physical issues were over. His napping was always very poor and then around 7 months of age the only time he slept for naps was in the car. If I tried to put him in his crib or even lay with him in bed, he’d only sleep for 30-45 minutes once a day, twice only if I was very lucky. While I had done a ton of reading on the subject of sleep issues and Attachment Parenting (the methodology I had followed since birth) and tried to believe that someday my son would “grow up” and would grow out of this stage he was in, I was feeling a tremendous uneasiness about how things were going. Deep down I felt like he was missing out on precious sleep, even though his attitude was positive most of the time. Something in his eyes told me he was more tired than he let on.
When I first entered the site, I was more skeptical than I can ever express in words. The first thing I did was download the “5 Ways To Help Your Baby Sleep Through The Night” and “7 Common Napping Mistakes” figuring they’re free and maybe they would help. No dice – not for my situation. I started receiving the newsletter and reading Nicole’s in-depth commentaries. At the end of each newsletter is the invitation to visit the services page and/or to contact Nicole with questions. For weeks I saved these newsletters and kept mulling over and over whether I wanted to spend the money to start emailing Nicole. Although everything sounded legitimate, I thought there had to be something I was missing and that it would be a mere waste of money. Another online scam. Finally I couldn’t take it any longer – I decided simply to start by taking Nicole up on her continuous offer to “email with questions.” I gave her a very brief synopsis of the situation and asked if she felt it was something she could indeed help me with. Her email back to me was quick and left me feeling very positive. I decided to purchase an email package and get to work trying to help my son, and myself for that matter.
What transpired from that point on (we started our work together at the beginning of August) was nothing short of miraculous. Granted, the first day or two was the most difficult but in retrospect, there were close to no tears from either my son or me. Being a Christian woman I’d been praying for something to happen to bring the needed rest for my son. I would pray daily, before every nap and before every bedtime, to “please let Ben get the sleep he needs.” Enter Nicole and The Baby Sleep Site. I can honestly say that “meeting” Nicole and taking the financial and emotional risk that it felt like at the time, was the answer to prayer that I’d been looking for. Nicole had given me a multi-step approach to getting my son to disassociate the breast with falling asleep at nap time (we worked on that first, which incidentally is opposite to what Nicole would normally do) and from there another step-by-step approach to get him disassociating the breast with falling asleep at night, and then to get him into his crib completely away from my bed. From there we were going to work on getting him into his own room and getting him to allow being put to bed by other people (his own father included). I am grateful to report that within 3-4 weeks, my son was taking two 1.5-2 hour naps in his own crib (with all 4 sides up) and being put down with NO breastfeeding at all and completely awake/sitting up. NO TEARS. Not only that, but the bedtime issues were resolved almost on their own, just utilizing some of the same methods we’d come up with to fix the napping issues. Something I expected to take months, took mere weeks, days even. My son is now, and has been for quite some time, sleeping 12 hours a night and two 1.5-2 hours naps a day. No more night waking or nursing to sleep. All 98% tear-free. Any change as major as the one my son experienced is most likely going to cause some degree of sadness, and invoke tears, depending on the sensitivity of the child. For the changes and benefits I see now in my son’s sleeping habits, the 10 minutes he cried for a couple of days is so worth it – and I was completely against ANY amount of crying around “sleep training.” With Nicole’s help and understanding, something you’ll never find in a book, I was able to truly “train” my son in the most gentle and personalized manner I could ever find.
God bless you, Nicole, for the help you have provided to me and countless other families. You were the answer I was seeking. I wish you continued success in your endeavor to bring peace in the form of needed sleep to many, many more babies and parents to come!
Personalized Sleep Help For All Parenting Styles
You don’t have to sacrifice your parenting philosophy in order to sleep train – there is a sleep training style to suit every parenting style! Our consultants at The Baby Sleep Site® specialize in creating Personalized Sleep Plans® that are customized to your own parenting philosophy, and that will NEVER make you feel guilty or pressured to give up your unique parenting style. Even better, once you have your Personalized Sleep Plan®, your consultant will walk you through each step of implementing it at home.
Browse our list of consultation package options here.Once you make your choice and purchase, you will immediately receive an e-mail with your Helpdesk login information. You’ll be able to log in and start right away – it’s that simple!
Sleep Resources That WORK
Our Members Area is packed with exclusive content and resources: e-Books, assessments, detailed case studies, expert advice, peer support, and more. It actually costs less to join than buying products separately! As a member, you’ll also enjoy a weekly chat with an expert sleep consultant.
Essential Keys to Your Newborn’s Sleep is THE newborn sleep book that will help you to not only improve your newborn’s sleep using gentle, sleep-inducing routines – it will also answer your feeding and newborn care questions. You can even buy a bundle package that includes the e-book AND a Personalized Sleep Plan® PLUS a follow-up email to use for further support!
For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3 Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep. Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your baby sleep through the night.
If you’re looking for ways to get your baby or toddler into a healthy sleeping routine during the day, I encourage you to explore Mastering Naps and Schedules, a comprehensive guide to napping routines, nap transitions, and all the other important “how-tos” of good baby sleep. With over 45 sample sleep schedules and planning worksheets, Mastering Naps and Schedules is a hands-on tool ideal for any parenting style.
For those persistent toddler sleep struggles, check out The 5 Step System to Help Your Toddler Sleep. Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your toddler sleep through the night and enjoy a better daytime schedule.
So, what do you think? Can you mix attachment parenting with sleep training?