Attachment parenting, which promotes physical closeness between parent and baby, empathy, and quick responsiveness, has grown in popularity. But can you sleep train as an attachment parent? While the two parenting philosophies might appear contradictory, experts say more and more attachment parents are turning to sleep training to help their babies, and the entire family, get some sleep.
“I do think it’s possible,” Christina Furnival, a licensed professional clinical counselor, tells Romper. She does acknowledge that many AP parents don't think sleep training is an option, as they believe it conflicts with their philosophy, or simply don't feel the need to sleep train because they're successfully co-sleeping.
In fact, one of the tenants of attachment parenting is co-sleeping, which uses "co-sleeping" to mean bed-sharing, or side-car arrangements. (It should be stated that, per the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants should "sleep in the same bedroom as their parents — but on a separate surface, such as a crib or bassinet, and never on a couch, armchair or soft surface — to decrease the risks of sleep-related deaths.")
But Furnivals says co-sleeping doesn't always ensure everyone is well-rested, so just because it's a tenant of attachment parenting doesn't mean all attachment parents share rooms with their babies.
“Sleep training is much more than choosing a behavioral method," Carolina Romanyuk, a certified child sleep consultant, member of the National Sleep Foundation, and author of The Sleep Trifecta: 3 Steps to Sleep Success, tells Romper. "Sleep is a combination of proper nutrition, quantity (how many hours of sleep your body needs to be at it's best), quality of sleep, and emotional wellness." Romanyuk says she has worked with plenty of attachment parents and parents who want to avoid sharing a bed with their babies.
Tracie Kesatie, a certified pediatric sleep consultant at Rest Well Baby, has also worked with attachment parents, and says that while no two families are exactly alike, many attachment parents opt for more supportive, gradual sleep solutions than the well-known "cry it out" method.
“Having worked with families all over the world, I have found that it's incredibly important to be respectful of cultural traditions, family dynamics, parenting styles, and little ones' personalities," Kesatie tells Romper. "I do not believe in a one-size-fits-all sleep approach."
Furnival recommends a variation on the Fading approach, which generally involves a parent slowly fading themselves out of the bedtime routine, either by checking in on their baby in intervals or simply moving further and further away from the baby over a period of time.
“Put the baby down when they are quite tired but not yet asleep. You can lay next to them if you want, put your hand on their back, pat them, shush them, sing to them,” Furnival says. When you come to check on the, she adds, you shouldn't be stimulating them, but continuing to create an environment that promotes sleep.
“When they seem even more ready to sleep, but still aren't asleep, you can stop the motion or quiet the sound, or completely remove the touch, and wait to see the child's reaction,” Furnival continues. Sometimes they might fall asleep on their own happily, but if not, you can just keep soothing them again until they get used to this new routine.
Parents can also try the Ferber approach or the Chair approach, though Furnival recognizes that, again, many AP parents won't be comfortable with either. With Ferber, you essentially allow the baby to cry-it-out for prescribed intervals of time. With the Chair approach, you or another caregiver sit near the baby but never intervene to soothe, despite any fussiness and crying. Over time, the chair gets pushed further and further away from the baby.
Regardless of which sleep training method you choose, Furnival says "research has shown that between 4-6 months of age is a good time to begin implementing sleep training." At this age, children experience a developmental leap, which allows them to sleep for longer periods of time, and might be eating enough during the day that they won't require nigh time feeds.
“Unfortunately, around this age span, babies also begin to experience teething, separation anxiety, and they begin to meet major gross motor milestones, like sitting or crawling which can disrupt bedtime routines and sleep," Furnival adds. In other words, things might be complicated by the other changes your baby is experiencing.
Kesatie says the four month sleep regression might complicate matters, too, and recommends parents get the "green light" from their child’s pediatrician prior to starting sleep training. “You want to make sure that the child is in good health and that there are no underlying, untreated medical conditions (eczema, reflux, tummy issues, etc.) that will disrupt the process,” she says.
Another key component of any sleep training method, Romanyuk says, is a healthy sleep foundation, ideally established from birth to 2.5 months. This could be anything from always putting your baby on their back to sleep, to keeping lights dim at night during things like diaper changes, to beginning to slowly develop your infant’s sleep routine. These are also called "sleep associations," and can help with the sleep training process later on.
There are also "negative" sleep associations, Furnival says, that can make sleep training more difficult. “If a child is usually nursed or bottle fed to sleep, this becomes comforting to them as well as becomes their 'normal' way of falling asleep," she explains. "Now imagine that child wakes during the night, whether or not they are hungry, they will want to nurse to get themselves back to sleep. They are associating nursing with sleep."
While it's not always easy, Furnival says sleep training can provide a tremendous source of relief for exhausted parents. “Many parents of young babies are feeling tortured by the extreme lack of sleep of the newborn states, and as such they cannot wait for their children to finally sleep through the night." The key, of course, is to find out what works best for you, your baby, and your family.
“It's important to recognize that most every parent wants the best for their child." Furnival says. "Approaches to parenting are a result of a myriad of complex factors, and the reality is that we all are doing the best we can. That said, every parent would also like a good night's sleep."