I am beyond excited to have found your blog Janet, and this debate has been so revealing for me. My daughter is almost 1 year old and I have been practicing Attachment Parenting because it has made sense to me. This blog is my first more formal introduction to Magda Gerber‘s approach and I am having a huge A-HA moment! Thank you so much, I can’t wait to learn more about this thinking and approach. I have a question I wonder if you would address. From Magda’s approach how does a parent approach changing a pattern that has been set into place?
In our case I have gotten my daughter into being solely dependent on my breast during the nighttime hours. She still wakes several times every night and “needs” to have my breast to calm and return to sleep – sometimes this return to deep sleep happens INSTANTLY, and other times she actually nurses although she is usually in a certain level of sleep the whole time. That is to say, she is rarely truly awake. If I do not give her the breast she wakes fully and is soon screaming until she is returned to the breast. She always quickly returns to deep sleep after being put to the breast. Although most of the hours of our nights are spent in sleep, I am tired of waking so many times in the night, every night, and can clearly see that this is a pattern that I have created. But how to change it? Thankfully, I have not been so indiscriminate in daytime hours, although I have used the breast to comfort when I might have paid attention differently and tried other methods.
I am fascinated by human development and with the parenting process, so I can’t wait to start using Magda’s insights to help me parent better.
Thanks in advance for any help! Megan
First, I just want to mention that the pattern you recognize (so astutely) you’ve created is a version of what most of us do — a perfectly understandable response to our baby’s cries, especially during the night. A baby’s cries are heart-wrenching for us to hear, designed by Nature to arouse us from a deep sleep. We are inclined to believe that every cry is a call to immediate resolution, and breastfeeding (or a pacifier) can appear to be the immediate answer. Our instincts tell us to make the crying stop, rather than to support our baby’s emotional health by hearing, acknowledging and understanding cries before we act. Crying babies make us feel like bad parents.
When babies cry in my parent/infant classes for whatever reason, I try to reassure parents that crying is allowed here, and that a baby’s cries are not a judgment against them — quite the contrary. It takes a brave and enlightened parent to remain calm, listen to their baby cries and offer an attuned, accurate response. Babies cry to communicate a variety of needs – and sometimes the need is to complain, or otherwise express feelings that the parent cannot necessarily “fix”.
Struggles at bedtime are particularly difficult for parents to endure. We’re tired and weary, and keeping the peace at night — getting everyone back to sleep as quickly and easily as possible — is a priority. We nurse, rock, use a pacifier…whatever it takes.
Some babies will eventually transition on their own to un-aided sleep, but others might want to continue (and continue, and continue) going to sleep the way they are used to…who can blame them? And if the arrangement is comfortable for the parents, and the baby seems to be functioning well during the day, there’s little reason to make a change.
But you are an insightful mom (and tired), and you sound ready to help your baby find a new pattern. The great news is that babies are extremely adaptable, and once we commit to changing a habit of any kind and project confidence in our decision (the most important element for success) babies usually only need a few days to make a transition. I only wish that I could tell you it will be seamless and soundless!
Actually, helping our child change habits of any kind is usually much easier than we imagine it will be, once we are sure that the change is best for all concerned. But if we (our child’s leader) are tentative, uneasy or uncertain, it is much more difficult for the child to transition comfortably. Children sense our ambivalence a mile away.
So, first make a plan and proceed with confidence. Since your baby has become accustomed to many feedings, I suggest reducing them gradually, one at a time.
Then, give your baby a little preparation in advance. Magda Gerber encouraged parents to talk honestly to babies about changes in their routines (and every other aspect of their lives, for that matter) and to include them in the process. “Tonight, if you wake up, we won’t be having milk each time. I want you to go back to sleep, so you get a really good rest.”
Believe your baby capable of falling asleep independently with your support rather than worrying, or pitying her.
Then do less, and allow your baby to do more. Instead of nursing in the night, you might stroke your baby and talk softly, allow her feelings to be expressed and acknowledge them. “I hear you. You want milk to help you sleep and you’re upset. It’s time to go back to sleep. You can do it.” And she really and truly can with your support and belief in her.
For more support and information about crying and emotional health, sleep, and changing patterns, I highly recommend these articles:
Allowing Crying Without Crying It Out on Natural Parents Network and How Respect Is Getting Me More Sleep, both by Suchada Eickemeyer from “Mama Eve”, another Attachment Parenting enthusiast who has been recently introduced to and inspired by RIE.
Emotional Health And Development Of Self-Esteem In Infants by Roseann Murphy at Little River School Online
I love your enthusiasm for Magda’s approach, and I’ll do all I can to help.
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