Friday, October 17, 2014

How I Changed My Mind About Sleep Training

There are people who have blogs who eventually learn that there are things you're just not allowed to write about on the internet: vaccines, spanking, breastfeeding in public, crying it out, etc. I am not one of those people. And I get a lot of reader questions about those things, especially about crying it out. A lot of mothers worry about sleep training. They worry that allowing their baby to cry it out will have long term adverse effects on their relationship with their child and on the child's personality and temperament. I had those same concerns as a new mom. I'm not someone who ever, ever thought I would let my baby cry. But, I changed my mind. So, here we go again.


When I was pregnant with my first, I read all the parenting books and I knew I was attachment-parenting for-evah. Because, obviously, anyone who did anything else was just not trying hard enough.

So, since God is funny, I got a baby who was a terrible, terrible sleeper even though I did all the things the books said. And, since I am stubborn, I just kept doing those things, even though they weren't working.

It took a few babies, actually, for me to figure out what works for me and my particular brand of baby.

I'm still an attachment parenting-type. I sleep with my babies, and wear them during the day, I've been able to exclusively breastfeed seven children. I find that the convenience and flexibility of attachment parenting is worth sacrificing baby-free date nights, and regular bathing, for a few months.

I cannot put my sleeping babies down. If I do, they wake up. Almost immediately. I also mostly can't nurse them to sleep in bed and sneak away from them. (Except on the day when I wrote my Day in the Life post!) I just wear or carry them all the time.


We sail right along, with them sleeping on and with me, until right around nine months. Then, for me and for my babies, it stops working. They stop being able to sleep for long periods in the carrier, and they stop sleeping well with me at night. They get reeeeeeal wiggly.

So, eventually, painfully, stubbornly, over many months and years and babies, I figured out that when the thing I was doing before stops working, I need to do something else. I need to do something that works, even if books and people on the internet try to scare me and insist that the way they do it is the only acceptable way. 

They are wrong.

That's why I'm not here to tell you to sleep train your baby. Co-sleeping and babywearing is awesome. That "parenting to sleep" thing is fine with me. If it is working for you and your baby, if you are both well-rested and functioning then keep right on keepin' on. BUT. If you and your baby are tired and grumpy, or even if you just sometimes need two hands and your back free all at the same time, or to be able to go out to dinner with your husband and not have anyone grab a handful of your potatoes . . .



I am here to tell you that, in my experience with my many children, sleep training did not make any difference in the temperament, personality, or attachment of my babies. Even when it included long periods of crying.

No difference at all. My outgoing babies were outgoing before sleep training and they were outgoing after. My reserved babies were reserved before sleep training and they were reserved after. My grumpy old man baby was still grumpy. My happiest baby on the planet is still happy.

And all of them still have a very strong attachment to me, both before and after sleep training.

Not responding to their cries while they learn to fall asleep on their own has also in no way lessened their predilection to ask for help, they pretty much do that all the livelong day. Nor has it made them withdrawn and wary of the world around them. They are very friendly and outgoing. Except for the ones who aren't. They are as God made them.


Sleep training did not make a difference for my babies, but it did make a difference for me. Once I figured out that I could get my babies to sleep in a crib, and I worked up the nerve to actually do it, it made a positive difference for me as a mother. Once I begin sleep training, I am able to get an uninterrupted, or at least a less-interrupted night's sleep. I am able to get out of survival mode in cooking, household upkeep, and meeting the needs of my other kids. I am able to spend more quality time with my husband.

Sleep training my kids has run the gauntlet from very easy to very, very hard, but every one was worth the trouble and stress it caused my husband and me at the time, because it's such a beautiful thing when it's accomplished. There are few things in the world that are better than holding a newborn baby. But also in my top ten, is putting a ten month old down to sleep . . . all by herself, and just walking away.

p.s. Just for the record, I don't have any experience with attempting to sleep train babies younger than about six months old, so I can't speak to how that goes.

For more on this same topic, but with less-soothing pictures, see this post:

HAVE A BABY THEY SAID . . . IT WILL SLEEP LIKE A BABY THEY SAID

For my thoughts on babywearing, see this post:


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41 comments:

  1. That's just what we do, but the change happens at ten months for us. Thanks for describing it so articulately!

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  2. The change has been different for each of the three I've sleep trained - somewhere between 6-8 months. Some are ready early, some just aren't (and are still difficult when the time comes). I have the same balance of baby wearing, nursing on demand, etc, but in my experience with my kids, there does come a time when it's better for everyone to learn to sleep. My snuggliest toddler was my earliest to sleep train, so I definitely agree that they have the temperament that God gifted them with, sleeping on their own or not.

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  3. I think I could've written this post. This is how we do things, too. Our babies need to be held, so that is what we do, even though it can be challenging. However, then they get too big for me to carry around all day, and like your babies, start sleeping worse with me. That is when they have to learn to sleep on their own. I hate it every time, but we all make it through and come out the other side of the sleep training more rested and peaceful.

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  4. I do mine totally differently - they stop sleeping well on me at 3-4 months, and sleep best propped up. But I love this, because you're so great about encouraging everyone to do what works best for them. When my first was 14 months old and I still couldn't get him to sleep even a tiny bit and he stopped us from sleeping and I wanted to pull my hair out - I finally put aside the guilt attachment parenting reading had given me and let him cry it out. It revolutionized my life - he was happier, I was happier, and he didn't act like I'd betrayed him.

    Also, my babies don't nurse well to sleep after a few months, so they self-soothe to sleep (ok, cry, at least for a couple days) earlier, and it's fine. No damage done.

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  5. As a mom who has had c-sections (I refuse to call myself a c-section mom because that's obnoxious. And how my babies came into the world doesn't define me.) it really puts my kickers in a knot when people guilt-trip about kids being attached. My kids are really attached, happy and loving. And they both sleep independently and have from 6 weeks on. I had to sleep train my daughter a little at 4 months and I'm counting on having to do a little with my son at some point, but so far he is fine to just lay in his crib and fall asleep. Granted, they're both pretty laid back; if I had a fussier kid I know I'd have to adapt, but I have no qualms about helping them learn how to sleep independently. It restores my sanity and helps my marriage. And my kids still love me!

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  6. I had major fears and guilt before sleep training my first. Then I did it, he cried maybe 20-30 min total for the night (at different times), and slept through the night. And we were BOTH so much better off getting a full night sleep, and I was better able to give him love and affection during the day because I wasn't doing it all night too. And I just don't think I'll ever have one of those babies that just decide to sleep all night on their own. So it takes a little coaxing, a little change in routine for them, which they may not like at first (hence the crying). And it's heartbreaking for a little bit a couple of nights, if they are on the easy-to-normal range (maybe more if they are a little more stubborn). But after all of the fretting and guilt I have before I "sleep train," I am MORE than happy/relieved/GLAD I did it. There are lots "fear" put out there, but from 100% of the moms I know that have done it, none reported anything than a more happy baby and family!

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    1. Yes! Frankie cried a lot. A LOT a lot. Like over an hour at night for two months. And multiple wake ups during the night. But we stuck it out because he was either going to cry on me or cry in his crib. And he's a really great sleep now.

      I was really dragging my feet on sleep training Lulu because Frankie had been such an ordeal, but the very first time I ever laid her in her crib, she was asleep before I made it to the door and slept for six hours straight. The next night she slept straight through until morning as has been ever since.

      I actually feel a little guilty for not starting her earlier. Frankie's process was so miserable, I just kept putting it off. But poor Lulu was SO sleep deprived by her sociable little nature. She just couldn't bear to sleep when there were people around. Now she is getting literally twice the sleep she was at nine months.

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    2. Yes, how do you deal with night night wakings?
      My son (frankie lol I have an august too!) is 6 months and he is a screamer, he will nurse all night then not nurse in the day (vicious cycle)
      I have found on the two nights he didn't nurse he was soo much better in the day, eating and napping well.
      We don't co-sleep as he just crawls everywhere.. never had to sleep train my others...

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  7. As always Kendra, great post that I can relate to! I'm in the "sleep-training" process with our 14 mo. old, the youngest of 5. All my babies have been such different sleepers so what works for one didn't work for all. Currently, my 14 mo. old ALWAYS cries when I put her down for nap and asleep at night, but with a full belly of mama's milk and a clean diaper, she usually always puts herself to sleep (except for last week when she woke in the night and I heard the "vomit" cry and we found she threw up in her crib) Yikes! She still wakes up at night (with or without vomit) and I'm still in the process of letting her cry it out. I've been sleep deprived for so long and I'm looking forward to a full night's rest....one day!

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    1. Oh, I know that cry. Frankie still does it now. If he bursts in to tears for no reason in the car . . . we all start scrambling for the barf bucket.

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  8. I need to clarify that she threw up not from crying so much, but from a stomach bug she had because we were up ALL night with continuous emptying of the stomach. Oh that was a long night/day!

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  9. Well said!

    I was somewhere in the middle between wanting to sleep train and wanting the attachment parenting. By 6 months sleep wasn't happening for anyone. I finally decided to sleep train and the whole world turned around! Because all three of us were actually getting sleep I felt like we were able to bond better. I enjoyed my baby more. My baby wasn't cranky all the time and he still liked me after sleep training. The zombie versions of us left and I felt like I had some of my brain left and much more rational emotions and time to devote to all of us.

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  10. I sleep train from the start but rarely CIO ever. In fact my second one never really did CIO at all, but he's always been high on the sleep needs spectrum in spite of being a colicky and reflux infant. I joke that I'm the anti-attachment parent, lol! I have lots of friends who attachment parent and that's cool but this works for us. We have them in our room for 2 months in a bassinet, start an eat, play, sleep routine from birth (literally, I mean my baby is born and I nurse right away and then we take a nap together once the homebirth midwife gives me the okay and then we just sort of repeat that for the next several months). We do naps in the bassinet nearby for almost every nap unless they have a nighttime witching hour when my husband and I alternate carrying the baby and for this I use my ring sling. Nighttime is again swaddled in the crib and I feed whenever they wake. But because we do a routine from the start and I make sure they nap independently (even if they fuss a bit) my babies all STTN between 8-12 weeks, even the crazy colicky one (he was the 12 week one). It's magical, they just one night start sleeping longer. I don't call it sleeping through the night until they're going 10-12 hours with no wakings. So yeah, we cloth diaper, home birth, exclusively breastfeed, and all that jazz, but we sleep train too and it works for us. My 6 year old can tell you what we do with babies...."feed them, play with them, change their diaper, put them to sleep". It's part of our family culture and I always look forward to each new baby and the cuddly newborn stage as well as the sleeping-longer-2-month-old stage when I get to catch up on all that lost sleep from the first two months :)

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  11. You are so right. Everyone needs to know their babies and their personal limits. My daughter went through a major sleep regression at 4.5 months and we had to train her. Full on CIO. But she is a happy, healthy, thriving good sleeping 4 year old now. But we will see about this baby we have now...6 weeks today and sleeping in the swing now and likes the bouncy chair at night and sometimes the crib. But I will do what he needs. ;)

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  12. I am so thankful for your "Have a baby they said..." post. I felt like it gave me permission to sleep train our six month old who started waking up every hour while co-sleeping. The three of us were miserable but we were scared to try sleep training because we thought it would make our smiley baby turn into a sullen teenager. Enter your post and some research about the pick up/put down method and everyone has gotten three nights of a full night sleep after three nights of sleep training. Smiley baby is even smilier with some good rest and I don't feel like a human disaster. So thank you, thank you, thank you.

    My husband and I were also thinking how sleep training put us on the baby's side, so to speak, while his frequent night wakings felt like a battle. Instead of that horrible angry feeling we would have at 3am when he's awake and sad and we're miserable and sleep deprived, we all are on the same side trying to embrace something good - sleep! It is helping us be better, more patient parents and, dare I say it, it removed a near occasion of sin that came up from being constantly tired.

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  13. I just wanted to give the other side of this even though I agree that people need to do what they feel is best. It is your baby so it is your decision. Something in me just disagrees... I have looked at all the research and it varies depending on the study... However a big lesson I have learned as a young parent is that I need to trust the instincts God has given me as a mother. He gave those to me for a reason and I need to trust that they are right. A big one of those instincts is to go to my baby when he is crying and to know the differences in his cries. Another lesson that I really believe in is that I need to do the thing that I know I will not regret... I know for a fact that I will never regret going to my baby when he needs me but I may regret letting him cry for hours and hours. I only get one shot at this with him and I really want to do it right. They are only little one time and I don't want a big part of my memories with them being that he cried for hours in his crib.

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    1. I understand this completely, and you have to do what you have to do. But eventually, for the majority of my babies, I realized that there was never going to be that time I was waiting for that they would magically stop waking and crying during the night. I think it was the more compassionate choice to allow them to learn to sleep so that they don't HAVE to wake up at night and cry for me to get them back to sleep, they can do it on their own.

      For all but Lulu and Frankie, sleep training took less than a week. Lulu was one night, Frankie was two months. But in each case I think that three or so nights of crying, then no more night crying, added up to a total amount of much less crying than when I was trying to night parent.

      But if I had babies who just . . . slept, without crying it out, I would definitely do that.

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    2. Yep, that's how we are, too. The few times where I was so fed up and I thought I would try it, I cried the whole time they cried. I was miserable and it served to just make everyone else a frick fracking mess. So, we hold and rock the babies while they cry. It sucks sometimes, but it's what works for us and I don't feel strung out. Thanks for so very diplomatically stating the other side, SaraLynn.

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  14. Kendra, thank you for posting this without making it combative. It's a fine line to post something this controversial with the mothering universe and I think you did a fine job of not offending. Thank you for sharing your story. :)
    I'm really enjoying your blog!! So glad to have found you!!!

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  15. It's nice to hear "this side of the sleep issue." Sometimes it feels as though the only people I see talking about baby sleep online are those posting memes and articles on facebook about how letting your baby cry will turn them into Romanian orphan-psychopaths. it can feel as though the anti-CIO people are politically correct and that sleep-training people kind of hunker down and keep mum. I realize that others (those of you with different facebook friends!) may have the opposite experience, but again, thanks for this article!

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  16. Thanks for this post. It was just what I needed today. My 13 month old is still sleeping with us and nursing all night and I'm SO tired of it. I'm exhausted all the time and so is he. I am to the point where I need to figure out what to do about sleep training him. I'm worried he'll scream for hours though. Glad to know your kids weren't harmed from it. Gives me something to think about.

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  17. Get ready for the hate in the comment box! But know that there are MANY fellow Catholic mamas who LOVE sleep training.

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  18. I so agree with you. My boys are 8 and 9 now, and I sleep trained around 6-7 months. They didn't ever sleep in my bed (as I just can't cosleep... I lie there awake, worrying), but they did sleep in a cradle next to the bed and woke a lot to nurse. Around 6-7 months I was done. Exhausted. And dh wanted them in their own room because the frequent night wakings woke him up as well. In my experience, it only took 1-3 nights to get them trained. And I don't notice any negative side effects to training them either.

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  19. Good post Kendra. This is a lot like what we do. Co-sleep and baby wear until it doesn't work anymore. The kicker for me is always that it gets to a point (10-14 months) where my babies are just so very sleep deprived and miserable. So. Very. Sad. And yes they get a bit sadder when I put them in the crib by themselves that first time, but I don't think anyone could actually look at those miserable baggy eyes compared to the happy well rested ones and tell me that my child is worse off because of those 10-15 minutes crying. Now it may be some sort of poor parenting on my part that gets my kids to such a sleep deprived state, but I can't figure out where the problem is so I don't know how else to solve it.

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  20. Great post! I'm a fan of this method of caring for our kids. While I get that it's an individual choice, I wish there weren't so many books/people/professionals pushing the "your babies will be mal-adjusted, fearful, and resentful if you let them cry, or don't wear them, or don't let them sleep with you." I think those are valid options for some families. I wish that more people would acknowledge that the alternatives aren't neglect/cruelty but are valid options also. We have always started sleep training around 5 months with great success. I think it does make a difference for the babies, in that I think they're much calmer and more delightful when they're well-rested. I love the full night sleep that I get and the fact that it helps me be a better parent, ready to go in the morning. In addition to good sleep and energy to face the day, I actually can express my love for my babies more when we've both slept all night. Nearing five months, I start to get very weary of being up a lot at night and nursing on demand, and come the morning, I can be somewhat cranky with, and resentful of, my babies (sad, but true, and not something to be ignored..) When they start to sleep all night, I have the mental and physical energy to love being with them again in the mornings!! I love that we can choose what's healthiest for our families and for the mother-baby bond :)

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  21. I LOVE you! Haha! I'd been stewing for a while over Dr. Popcak's post about "There IS a Catholic Way to Parent." I know he says there's not "one approved method." But by the end he obviously thinks that there's just one way to do this thing! Our experience pretty much matches up with yours. Except we started out more scheduled with the first one, but our last three have been way more "attachment-y" for the first many months...But we got to just about the same place. We still CIO, but not at 4 months like they do in Baby Wise. Usually between 9-12 months. THANK YOU! It's funny. I just posted about this topic today too. Keep up the awesome. - Marcy

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    1. Marcy, I didn't even read that post by Dr. Popcak because I KNEW it was going to make me mad. There are as many "Catholic ways to parents" as there are "Catholic parents."

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    2. Exactly! I took my husband's advice and just read the catechism. There's very good parenting advice there, and it doesn't limit you to one method or another. So, sorry, Dr. Popcak, you can "do what works."

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    4. Agree with thoughts on Dr Popcak. I think how he interprets Theology of the Body into attachment parenting always and only can be very dangerous

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    5. I like how he points out that love is intimate, love is embodied, but these don't turn into methodological absolutes! As my husband pointed out: the true nature of love is that it seeks the good of the other. And as parents, seeking the good of our children isn't always the thing that is going to prevent tears.

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    6. Yes! Seeking the good for us means doing what needs to be done so that our children are well rested. A tired baby isn't a happy baby and I feel cruel when I let them get the point where they are overtired.

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  22. What I love about what Kendra said is that neither way is wrong. You have to find the way that works. And that might be CIO. And that is ok.

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  23. I liked this post, even though I am currently way on the other end of the spectrum. I currently have a. 14 month old who falls asleep in my arms every night and cosleeps ( and most importantly, we are doing this because trial and error has shown that for us, this gets us both the best sleep).

    Just wanted to point out for those with wiggly babies, what worked for us was to "sidecar" the crib to the bed to make a bigger sleeping surface. That has stopped us all from multiple wake-ups do to bumping into each other, so other moms might want to give this a try too.

    Also, I really hate it when parenting gurus (like Dr. popcak or others) try to say their methods are God's best way of parenting. Um, no, God isn't like that, and I doubt there are going to be any encyclicals on sleep training any time soon :)

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  24. I have large babies and a bad back, so I don't wear my babies well past a certain age (even though I keep throwing money at potential miracle slings). What I can do is lay down with them and spend time that way. Or sit down and let them sleep in my arms. I don't get as much done, but that's the way I attachment parent. I sit and sit and sit and rock and rock and lay down with them. My older children are now teens and I have many, many parenting regrets, small and big. One thing I do not regret is the time spent with those babies. And it is very important for me, as a busy mom, to be forced to stop, even if it is just patting a little back.

    So you and I end up on the same side of attachment but our needs dictate different forms. What I think neither of us do is run from our commitment to be physically present at that age. I do hope people read instead of just skim here. Sleep training breastfeeding infants (below the age you write about) is never medically advisable. My own attempt at CIO with my first always crying baby (recommended by a faithful large Catholic family) nearly resulted in failure to thrive. I wouldn't wish that situation on any baby or mother. His cries were not fussiness but underlying medical issues and extreme hunger. You have your disclaimer in there but again... people skim.

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  25. Love these posts Kendra - even though we do things differently! We've done a little bit of everything with H. over the last 3.5 years; just going with the flow. He's slept in a crib in our room, a crib in his room, in our bed (a lot), on a mattress on the floor in his room, falling asleep in one room then moving to another over the course of the night, etc. and everything in between.

    He still falls asleep with us most nights (luckily he's a heavy sleeper so we can move him to his room whenever we need to), but since I'm often gone to work when he wakes up, those extra hours of physical closeness really seem to help right now.

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  26. I am so out of the loop that I didn't even know there was a phrase called "sleep training." Lol. At about 3 months old, we put our babies on a 10,2,4, and 6 feeding schedule (so they are eating 8 times a day). After the 6pm feeding, the baby goes to bed (crying or not..) and then we pick the baby up at 10 for one last feeding for the night. At the very beginning, we do keep getting up with the baby to feed her if she cries, but starting at around 6 months, we stop that that too. Is that sleep training???

    Anyway, with 5 little kids (the oldest is 7) and my husband and I both working full-time, it would be very difficult to get through the day with interrupted sleep every night.

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  27. This is so good! I have 2 year old who has been a very difficult sleeper. Naps are my enemy!

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  28. Hi Kendra! Another great post.

    Like you we co-slept for about the first 6 months, then nursed/rocked our daughter to sleep at the beginning of the night, co-slept in the middle of the night, then put her back in the crib in the early morning hours.

    Around 12 months, I felt in my gut that she needed to learn how to sleep on her own, but didn't feel right shutting the door and leaving her to cry by herself. I know plenty of moms who use CIO, and it doesn't harm their kids. I was also sleep trained this way, and as far as I know, I didn't turn out to be a psychopath! :-) But I just didn't feel like it was the right thing for us.

    So one night, after bath-time and some nursing/rocking, I put my daughter to bed crying, but stayed in the room to rub her back or say something soothing. After about an hour of crying, I got tired and fell asleep in the trundle bed we keep in her room. Within 30 minutes or so I woke up to find she'd fallen asleep on her own. I tiptoed out of the room, and she slept through the night for the first time in her life.

    The next day I started researching, and discovered that I had unwittingly started "parent presence" sleep training, a method that is apparently hugely popular in Australia and New Zealand. http://www.honestparenthood.com/parent-presence/

    So far I really like it, as I feel it's a nice, happy medium between CIO and attachment parenting. I'm just not sure why it hasn't taken off here in the US, where I feel so many parents are unhappy/sleep-deprived with either CIO or attachment parenting.

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  29. Great post, Kendra! That's exactly how we dealt with our kids. Until they are nine months old, more or less, I am not able to teach them anything. But at that age, they learn so quickly to sleep through, and it is such a great advantage in our lives! We have six children (a seventh in heaven since he was one and a half years old) and we sleep the night through, and we thank God for that. Kendra, you have a great blog and a very simple and direct way of passing the message. Congratulations! Teresa Power (http://umafamiliacatolica.blogs.sapo.pt/)

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