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I recently saw a post on a facebook group I’m on, offering services for a “Twilight Nanny.” She stated that by 6-7 months old a baby should be sleeping through the night, with the assumption that weaning from the breast should have already occurred. If this was not the case for your family, then she could be hired to assist parents with sleep training their baby.
This ad created quite a stir on the page, with many people asking her to explain just how she could make such a statement as “Babies should be sleeping through the night by 6-7 months old.” After all, science clearly shows otherwise. It is in fact normal and healthy for babies to continue to wake during the night for many years, and in fact, most adults wake a few times during the night too.
I decided not to join the discussion, but to write this post instead.
The woman who posted the ad was clearly surprised at receiving such a negative response, and claimed that she had never had such a response to an ad before. She said that if a weaned baby was waking, it was a case of learning the difference between a cry of real need, and one of attention (which would go unanswered by the parent). And this is the point where I had real empathy for her.
You see, looking back seven or eight years, I would have been making all the same claims. I was qualified in childcare and well practised at sleep training babies. And I truly believed that it was important for babies to learn to self settle, to have a healthy and uninterrupted stretch of sleep and to not be over indulged and spoilt with attention every time they cried.
I could have easily been a “Twilight Nanny” myself.
Thankfully for myself, my son and the numerous children I have cared for since then, my way of thinking was changed dramatically.
Rather than listening to the mainstream and soaking up the word of Supernanny and my colleagues, I began doing my own reading. I took responsibility for my actions and I found out what exactly the effects of Cry it out techniques and letting a baby’s cry go unanswered were.
And the findings? Not good.
Leaving a baby to cry themselves to sleep goes against nature. A baby is thrown into a situation they are not equipped to deal with – nature has given them the ability to communicate their needs by crying (as a last resort) and when that brings no relief, they are stumped. This results in a surge of the stress hormone cortisol flooding their brain and potentially causing lasting damage. They become more anxious, less secure, more clingy and less happy. As a result of the baby focusing so much attention on being heard and getting their needs met, something which should come naturally and promptly, their brain can’t focus on the important developmental progress that it should be working on. As a result they are not able to develop to the best of their ability.
Other issues include (but are not limited to):
- Increased behavioural difficulties.
- Loss of trust and connection in the parent child relationship.
- The baby sleeping for longer and deeper, which is contrary to nature and increases their chances of SIDS.
- A lower level of self worth and belief that they are lovable and worthwhile.
The trouble is that we are so conditioned to believe that some cries are more valid than others. That hunger and wet nappies trump loneliness, fear or the need for attention. But that belief is just not valid.
Babies have spent the past two million years or so being held close, sleeping with their parents and never being alone. They are evolved to be cared for and to be with others. Babies emerge from the womb as unfinished beings. Their brains are undeveloped in order to ensure safe passage out of the womb – any bigger and their heads would be too large for them to get out – and in order for them to survive this period they need to have a forth trimester, remaining attached to the mothers body and feeding as and when they need to, imitating the conditions of the womb as closely as possible as they work through this vital development.
So it is no wonder then that they cry out for attention when placed alone. They sense something is terribly wrong in their world, they feel vulnerable and their entire being screams to “fix it!”
By ignoring this need or passing it off as unimportant we are going against millions of years of evolution.
Attention is most definitely a valid need.
I have no doubt that this Twilight Nanny, along with all the others who subscribe to the practice of sleep training, care deeply for the children they work with and have their best interests at heart. After all, I always did when I was doing the same thing. We are all on a journey, and always learning and changing, hopefully for the better, but we should take every opportunity to be open minded and be responsible enough to inform ourselves of the consequences of our actions. Whatever the topic, it is important to always do our research and find our own answers, rather than blindly following methods without question. Much harm can come from that and we all deserve better.
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