There is this idea that I hear every so often that still catches me off guard every time I hear it.
The idea is that babies are supposed to sleep through the night, and that if they don’t it’s because of some choice the parent has made. As though we checked some sort of box at the hospital to choose sleepless nights. I didn’t, by the way.
Babies are biologically designed to be light sleepers. This is so that their immature respiratory systems don’t shut down, causing them to stop breathing and die. This is a good thing.
What this means is that no baby, ever, actually sleeps with a consistent depth of sleep through the whole night.
Some babies are innately able to get themselves back into the deep part of their sleep cycle without any outside help. This is a good thing.
Some babies are confused when they wake up and need help to figure out how to get back to sleep. This presents parents with a choice.
In my family, we (my husband and I, together) have chosen to respond to our babies’ cries each and every time. I don’t have the kind of infants who fuss for a minute and then go back to sleep. Sensitive and loving cry-it-out moms that I know and respect tell me that there are different types of baby crying. There is a little fussing kind of cry that lasts for a minute or less, and then baby is back asleep. I have been at a friend’s house when she has done this, and it was shocking to me how quickly the baby just went back to sleep. It wasn’t shocking that she was “neglecting” or “ignoring” her baby (she wasn’t doing either of those things at all, in fact–contrary to what some of the more hardcore and judgy “attachment parenting” websites might imply), but it was shocking to me that the baby worked it out. Why? Because my babies don’t do that. The longer I let them cry, the worse it is by the time I get to them. We’re talking about 30 seconds from waking up to “someone-is-pulling-out-my-toenails-dear-God-please-help-me” full on screaming. So I am not a cry-it-out mom. And it’s ok that I know that about myself.
I think that any parenting philosophy, taken to its extreme, is not a good thing. I also think that finding out someone is interested in certain aspects of a particular parenting philosophy does not give me license to assume that he or she will take it to its ridiculous extreme.
So to my dear cry-it-out mama friends, I promise not to assume that you put in earplugs and drink wine on the couch every night, enforcing 3-4 hours between feeds and causing failure to thrive. If you want to, you may promise not to assume that I will follow my son to college and breastfeed him in his dorm room.