Can You Mix Attachment Parenting With Sleep Training?

Can You Mix Attachment Parenting With Sleep Training?

Before I had a baby, I did not know anything about “attachment parenting” nor had I ever heard the term. It is a little “weird” considering I am an avid reader (well, before kids and this website when I used to have time). I guess none of my friends ever mentioned it and I was never exposed, even though Dr. Sears coined the term with his wife over 20 years ago. I did know I wanted to breastfeed. And I knew I didn’t want to co-sleep (though we did anyway out of necessity for a short time). If there were Attachment Parenting Police, I’d probably fail at least two and two halves of the Eight Principles of Attachment Parenting (as I understand them). Read on to learn what I’ve learned and how I’ve helped others!

Eight Principles of Attachment Parenting:

1. I prepared for birth and educated myself on newborn care. I was flexible and set realistic expectations. (PASS)
2. I breastfed for the first year. (PASS)
3. I tuned in to what my children needed and responded appropriately, but we did work on self-soothing. (PASS AND FAIL)
4. I carried my babies in a sling or Bjorn and had lots of skin-to-skin contact. And yes, I even let them sleep there when they were young! (PASS)
5. I only co-slept for eight weeks and sleep trained. (FAIL)
6. I did not stay home with the kids, though I worked from home. I did breastfeed during the day, at least. (PASS AND FAIL)
7. We practice positive discipline, but not completely. We did use time out, too, along with loss of privileges. With my persistent and strong-willed son, positive tactics just didn’t always work for us. (FAIL)
8. I try very hard to balance personal and family life. (PASS)

I would argue that my boys have still formed a healthy attachment to us, but I’m not here to debate the philosophies or theory of Attachment Parenting. Anything that promotes healthy and positive relationships is a great thing in my book and, as I always say, you need to find what works for your family. I am all about balance. I eat fast food, but not every day. That sort of thing. So, it doesn’t surprise me that my instincts led to some attachment parenting principles and not others. I doubt I would have done anything differently had I researched attachment parenting more than I have to date. We simply could NOT function how we were in the subject of “baby sleep.”

I am continually happy when parents say something to the effect “Thank God you gave me advice that actually comforts my baby.” I don’t know everything about Attachment Parenting, but one thing you can’t NOT learn is that it is frowned upon to do sleep training when you are practicing attachment parenting. And, I take it very seriously when someone shares with me they practice AP in their communication with me, because I do know how passionate AP parents are.

But, what is a mom to do when she’s waking up 10 times a night with a breastfeeding, pacifier-demanding, or rocking-addicted baby? I say sleep train!

But, I am here to change the definition of “sleep train”. Sleep training does NOT have to mean controlled crying or cry it out or any other variation of it. I’m pretty sure that attachment parenting parents potty train (baby-led mostly), so why can’t you sleep train? Well, yeah, you potty train a toddler, not a baby (unless you practice Elimination Communication). I get that. If you can potty train gently, you can sleep train gently, too. Once you understand the mechanics of sleep associations, you don’t necessarily want to wait for two, three, or four-plus years later for baby-led, though, in my opinion. I think it’s always worth a try and you can always re-evaluate if it doesn’t go well. Just because the baby hasn’t self-soothed, doesn’t mean he CAN’T self-soothe, does it?

I received an e-mail one day from a woman named Rebecca and she wanted to know if she thought I could help her. She sent me an overview of her situation, a little bit about what she had tried, and her parameters. She shared, “I practice attachment parenting and I can’t let him cry at all.” I wrote back that I felt I could help her, but could not promise NO tears. Limit tears? Yes. Do you have to leave him alone? No. I explained how babies cry to communicate, just like my son cried when he wet his underwear when he was first learning to use the potty.

It’s not like your baby is going to calmly say “Mommy, why aren’t you feeding me to sleep anymore? I don’t really like that. I’m sleepy and now I can’t sleep because YOU decided you were going to make some changes to my routine. I’m not liking this change in my routine much, even if I might be fine with it in a week.” I go over in detail why I can’t promise NO tears in my article How Crying Can Lead to Babies Sleeping. So, I won’t fully go into it here.

I must have said something right to Rebecca because she bought an email package and a small add-on one once we were in full swing (to keep her momentum going). She was so nervous about this process that she gave me permission to give up on them in her first e-mail. Luckily, I don’t give up easily. 🙂 I’m not going to tell you everything that happened because I thought it might be better for you to hear it from her (see below). She wrote such a nice letter to YOU, that it seemed better to share it here. (You can also hear her at the end of my Basics of Toddler Sleep Audio Course saying thank you.)

This is NOT to tell you to hire me as your sleep consultant (unless you want to, ha!). This is to give you hope. You CAN make a difference in your and your baby’s life by “sleep training” even when you are “attachment parenting.” Truth be told, success will NOT come as quickly for everyone as it did for Rebecca. Only some will succeed without sacrificing anything, but until you try, you just never know.

Rebecca’s Story:

Without further ado, here is Rebecca’s story, in her words (non-edited as it will be on the Parent Stories page):

“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!

Westfield, MA

Yes! Attachment Parenting and Sleep Training CAN go together! 

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