Allowing your child to soothe herself and put herself to sleep unassisted are critical to establishing good sleep habits, sleeping soundly, and preventing future sleep problems. As Mark Weissbluth, MD, says in his book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, "The failure of our children to fall asleep and stay asleep by themselves is the direct result of parents' failure to give their child the opportunity to learn . . . self-soothing skills. . . . Some parents can't leave their kids alone long enough for them to fall asleep by themselves. . . . The major sleep problems in babies 4-12 months old develop and persist because of the inability of parents to stop reinforcing bad sleep habits" (source).Dr. Weissbluth wouldn't think too highly of us! I might start feeling like a failure... except that my 3-year-old and 5-year-old take a mere 3-10 minutes to fall asleep most nights (without crying) and then stay peacefully asleep until 10-12 hours later. Perhaps I haven't irreparably damaged their "healthy sleep habits" by soothing them to sleep as infants (and toddlers) after all? (Can a 4-month-old really have "bad sleep habits" to reinforce?) Some of my fondest early childhood memories are of my dad singing us lullabies while we fell asleep and my grandma lying down with me until I fell asleep so I wouldn't be scared. Those were moments when I felt an intense sense of peace, security, and love... things I desperately needed at that time in my life (I had an emotionally traumatic early childhood). I'm so grateful my caregivers didn't fret over "reinforcing bad sleep habits" when I needed or wanted their assistance falling asleep.
Thank goodness we can pick and choose our experts! Isn't it funny how you can find opposing "expert" opinions on just about any topic? In terms of infant sleep, I much prefer Dr. James J. McKenna's take on things! He says:
[I]rrepressible (ancient) neurologically-based infant responses to maternal smells, movements and touch altogether reduce infant crying while positively regulating infant breathing, body temperature, absorption of calories, stress hormone levels, immune status, and oxygenation. In short, . . . cosleeping (whether on the same surface or not) facilitates positive clinical changes including more infant sleep and seems to make, well, babies happy. In other words, unless practiced dangerously, sleeping next to mother is good for infants. The reason why it occurs is because... it is supposed to ("Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives: Why Human Babies Do Not and Should Not Sleep Alone").Of course I couldn't help feeling smug about this one:
Western parents are taught that "co-sleeping" will make the infant too dependent on them, or risk accidental suffocation. Such views are not supported by human experience worldwide, however, where for perhaps millions of years, infants as a matter of course slept next to at least one caregiver, usually the mother, in order to survive. At some point in recent history, infant separateness with low parental contact during the night came to be advocated by child care specialists, while infant-parent interdependence with high parental contact came to be discouraged. In fact, the few psychological studies which are available suggest that children who have "co-slept" in a loving and safe environment become better adjusted adults than those who were encouraged to sleep without parental contact or reassurance ("Babies Need Their Mothers Beside Them").Thank goodness for access to information. With libraries and the internet, we can examine the differing view points about child-rearing (or childbirth or any other topic) and find what feels right for us. I'm grateful to have found what works for me and my family.