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THURSDAY’S THOUGHTS: Setting Boundaries

by Sarah on June 9th, 2011

I’ve spoken quite often before about my views on sleep training, mostly on letting babies cry-it-out. The idea of leaving Lily to cry alone in the dark, so that I could get some sleep, just didn’t sit well with me. It still doesn’t. But about three weeks ago, I made the decision that something needed to be done about  her sleeping habits.

She used to be a brilliant sleeper, but somewhere at about 4 months old, whether it was because of the reflux or the fact that she became more “aware”, she started to wake up more often at night. This slowly worsened until I realised recently that she was waking up more often than when she was a newborn. At least every two hours, sometimes staying awake for two hours at a time. I kept making excuses for this, saying she was teething (no teeth appeared) or that she was hungry or perhaps was getting a cold.

One night, when I’d gone to sleep at ten, she’d woken up half an hour later and I could not settle her. I began to feel angry and I shook her in her arms. I scared myself. It would do neither of us any good to be awake half the night and have me feeling angry and resentful towards my child. A conversation that I’d had with a Wise Women months before suddenly popped into my head, all about the importance of parents setting boundaries.

Something clicked inside me, and I knew that I was going to have to “sleep train” Lily. It took two nights, and I haven’t looked back since. Because I don’t believe in leaving babies to cry-it-out on their own in the dark (or daylight) I decided to do it a little differently. Instead of picking her up and rocking or feeding her back to sleep, I helped her lie back down on her side, pressed one hand on her shoulder and the other on her hip and sang my lullaby to her. Over and over. The pressure of my hands kept her still, and my singing was to send her love, and to let her know that while I was not giving her what she wanted, I was still there for her. Something I imagine I will be teaching her more often later in life!

Yes, she did cry, and I did find it incredibly difficult not to pick her up, but it worked so well and so quickly that it became easier and easier. What I was hoping was that she would realise she could go back to sleep on her own, so each time she woke up, I’d lessen how long I held my hands on her and how long I sang for. By the third night she slept right through until five thirty and has been doing so ever since. At this time,  I pick her up and put her in our bed for a feed and family cuddle :)

What’s so great about it all, is that she’s also easily putting herself to sleep during the day (after I’ve read her a story and after playing with her teddy in her cot!). And, she’s having longer daytime sleeps too. We’re both getting more sleep than we’ve had in almost a year, all because I decided it was time to set boundaries.

I used to be worried that if I didn’t pick her up, comfort her and feed her, she would distrust me, distrust how the world worked. But the Wise Woman’s words keep coming back, how our role as parents is to guide our children through the world as it stands today and that if we don’t give our children boundaries, they can become distructive.

The truth is that although I want to be a Natural Mama, I don’t live in a mud hut, or the forest. Lily doesn’t sleep in our bed, and I do want to be able to do work during the day which fulfills me. And so, because of this all, I sleep trained my baby (a week short of a year old) when I never thought I would. I have no regrets, because I now accept that life as a parent in this day-and-age is going to be filled with difficult decisions. And I know that what really counts, is that my decision is made with love, and has the best intention behind it for both Lily and I.

  • Laura

    Hi Sarah,

    i randomly came across your blog and really enjoy reading your posts.. this last one actually pick up an issue i am trying to cope with my self.
    my problem is that my son will only fall asleep while breastfeeding. that was cool with me for a long time, as i love cuddling in bed with him, but i will start work soon and i ( or my boob ) wont be able to be around anymore..
    so i tried with exactly the method you described above, but after 20 minutes my heart starts crumbling and i give up.
    how long at a time did you go on singing? if i had any hope that after 25 minutes hed just magically fall asleep maybe i could do it too..
    anyways, i really like your aproach on motherhood and will be sure to keep on checking in!!
    all the best from germany

  • Anonymous

    Hi Laura,

    Thanks for getting in touch. I think what might be happening for your Bubba
    is that going from falling asleep on the boob to no comfort at all is too
    big a jump to do right away. The best thing is to ease them gently. Lily had
    weaned herself off most of her feeds, only needing in the mornings and
    evenings and sometimes during the night. The difference is that she had
    stopped depending on the milk to fall asleep, she probably depended more on
    motion.

    For your situation, I’d suggest reading the No Cry Sleep Solution – I’ve
    written a post on it. It explains how you can ease your baby off the boob,
    by breaking them off earlier and earlier each time, as they’re getting
    drowsy. It’s such a great book, with the focus being nice and gentle.

    You’ll need to keep lessening the amount of comfort you give in getting your
    baby to sleep, until they eventually learn that they can do it themselves.

    Shout if you have any more questions :)

    *Sarah

  • Robyn

    I just love reading your blog posts – as an expectant mom it has become my most treasured resource! So fantastic to find such real information, mixed with all the necessary practical natural momma stuff. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!