Mom Guilt and Baby Sleep: 3 Tips from Nicole Johnson

mom guilt baby sleep

We receive emails on a regular basis from parents who tell us some version of the same story: they feel TERRIBLE because they have just read something on the internet (or heard something from a friend) that makes them feel terrible about their sleep coaching choices.

Nicole remembers one email in particular:

I received an e-mail from a client upset about this article expressing frustration about the difference between “cuddlers” and “tamers.” (Disclaimer – I don’t endorse this article, and it does contain profanity, so use your judgment before reading.) In the article, the author berates the “tamers” for treating their babies like objects and having expectations that are too high. The tone of the article implies that it’s cruel to help your baby learn to sleep in any way that involves any crying. The author was clearly exasperated at receiving e-mails from parents at the end of their rope/tether, looking for “quick fixes.” But the tone was so judgmental, I doubt it truly helped many people at all!

So, how do you handle the judgmental tone of those around you unable to understand why you are sleep training your baby? Keep reading to hear Nicole’s response.

Mom Guilt & Baby Sleep: 3 Tips from Nicole Johnson, President of The Baby Sleep Site®

While the author of that article I mentioned earlier did explain later why she “flipped her lid,” the damage was done with the judgmental tone of her piece. In the end, some of us/you are still considered “tamers” rather than “cuddlers.” And, it’s still assumed that if you employ certain sleep training techniques with your baby, it says a lot about your character and how you treat, view, and even love your child for years to come.

What is a mom or dad to do when your decision now could be speaking about your character even 15 years from now, according to other people? The pressure is insurmountable! That reminds me of those people who said cry it out sleep training will change your baby’s personality irrevocably.

So, What’s My Advice?

I’m breaking it down into three tips:

  1. First, recognize that just because another mom feels parents can be divided into one group or another, that does NOT mean you need to be a part of either of those groups. I, for one, am a big-time cuddler (and I cuddle with my boys just about every night still) and we are very affectionate and a close family all around, but that doesn’t mean I accepted my son’s (and my own) sleep deprivation as “normal” or as something that my son would “just outgrow”. Don’t let someone else lump you into an arbitrary group meant to divide rather than to unite. The mommy wars rage on as to whose “way” is better, but you don’t have to be part of that if you don’t want to.
  2. Second, remember that unique factors matter so much. I am always reminding parents that one-size-fits-all advice doesn’t work. That’s true for those sleep consultants who tell every family to cry it out….but it’s also true of consultants and experts who tell every family to co-sleep and never ever work on sleep habits! Both of those are two sides of the same extreme, one-size-fits-all coin. Focus instead on your unique parenting goals and style, your unique living situation, and your baby’s unique temperament and personality. The truth is, you may not have the option to spend 2 straight years being sleep deprived! (Most of us tired working moms don’t!) That doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you. It simply means that you need a different approach to handling sleep.
  3. Third, find a middle ground. As you may know, the internet can be a pretty scary place for parents. You can find articles heralding the “dangers” of sleep training your child. I kid you not, you can find articles explaining that if you allow your child to cry it out, your child will be damaged emotionally forever! But on the flip side, you can find pro-CIO articles that suggest babies who are never sleep trained grow into spoiled, selfish adults. Now, I’m here to tell you that I don’t believe either of these extremes are true (because extremes rarely are). Instead, I urge parents to find a middle ground. You can find a middle ground between extreme CIO and extreme sleep deprivation that works for your family. When you find it, hold on to it, and don’t let anyone else make you feel bad about your decision.

A Sane, Guilt-Free Look At What Sleep Training REALLY Is 

So I’ve laid out what I see as the extreme, guilt-riddled versions of what sleep training is and what it will do to your child (or what will happen to your child if you DON’T do it). But that’s not really helpful unless I have a saner version to offer. So here it is:

While there are certain things babies need to grow into, such as sleeping through the night and being able to go 12 hours without eating, there are other things that we can generally agree are habits and behaviors that must be taught. No one would suggest that a child “outgrows” being rude at the dinner table or not using their manners. We teach them the “rules”.

So, if your 2 or 3 year old is still expecting milk or food at night, perhaps you simply haven’t taught her the rule that you eat in the morning at breakfast, not in the middle of the night? Or, perhaps your 12 month old waking up for the 10th time for you to grab the pacifier that is right next to him needs to learn how to maneuver the pacifier himself (or learn to sleep without it). And, maybe a 6 month old baby actually can learn to nap in his crib rather than your arms 3-4 times a day with some direction from you.

No More Guilt, Moms! 

What I’m trying to illustrate here is that sleep is kind of a cross between developmental behaviors and learned behaviors. Development matters with sleep. We can’t expect a newborn to sleep through the night without feeding, right? Your baby has to grow into that. But at the same time, sleep isn’t all developmental. Lots of sleep habits are learned, and require a little nudging from mom and dad to change. This is that middle ground thinking I mentioned earlier. Think of sleep as both a developmental behavior AND a learned behavior. This way, you’ll be closer to being able to make sane, rational, personalized choices about how you want to help your child sleep. You’ll be that much closer to having the confidence and security about your choices that you need in order to combat the mom guilt!

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8 thoughts on “Mom Guilt and Baby Sleep: 3 Tips from Nicole Johnson”

  1. I was so against sleep training with my first two kids because of articles like the ones you mentioned. I just lived in a permanently exhausted state, not realizing how badly my sleep deprivation was affecting the whole family. After 8 months with my third child, I realized that if I don’t get adequate sleep, I can’t care for these three little ones with patience and love and the energy and attention that is needed. Even though sleep training is hard and we are in the throws of it right now, I know this is the best thing for the whole family and that what’s more damaging than some crying is an angry, irritable, sick mama.

    • Hi Whitney,
      Thank you for your comment! I’m so sorry to hear about your experience with your older kiddos, but I think you are right on – few people enjoy sleep coaching, but it can be so worth it for the health and well-being of the entire family, including the baby who is now getting so much more quality sleep! I hope your current efforts go as smoothly as possible. Let us know if we can ever be of any help. Hang in there!

  2. Hi,
    I’ve followed this website since my baby was 3months old, he’s now 14months. I’ve used all your free resources and schedules and sleep trained him based on this site, my own little research and going by him too. Whenever I have felt a bit lost i have come back to the site to get me on track and he always gets back into a good routine. Just wanted to say Thank you so much. Lots of today’s advice goes against sleep training but we are so much happier and chilled because of it.

    • Hi Jr,
      Thank you so much for your comment! I am thrilled to hear that we’ve helped you and your family, and I will certainly pass your message on to Nicole. Congratulations on making such a big change for your little ones – sleep is so important for everyone in the family!

  3. Very useful tips. I am having difficulties to put my baby on sleep lately and I hope that these tips will help me.

    Thank You!

    • @ Tina – so glad you found these tips helpful! Best of luck to you, and remember – we are always here for you! 🙂

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