This is going to be a train wreck because I haven’t slept in months. So my mind is about as sharp as a Boppy pillow and organizing a cohesive thought is not my strong suit these days. But I need to speak from these depths of exhaustion and bleariness, to give a voice to my fellow sleepless parents and to warn them of the trap that is the baby sleep book. It lures you with its false promise of more sleep, a serene woman who is referred to as a magical “baby whisperer” and its boasting of gentle methods of getting your baby to sleep better (cough: bullshit).
With my first baby, I subscribed to attachment parenting, so I never ever let him cry or fuss and any sort of sleep modifying or nudging to self-soothe was looked at as pure blasphemy. After two years of living like a perpetual doormat and feeling like a shell of a person I once knew, I vowed that I would do things at least a little differently the next go around. By the time my daughter arrived, I had thrown the idea of having a parenting philosophy out the window and I had high hopes that the sleep books I shunned the first time around would now give me the information and strategies to help mold a good sleeper and help keep me sane-ish. I wasn’t all in, but I was willing to test the fussy waters.
But the truth is I found little to nothing in these books that helped my baby and I sleep any better. In fact, these books were full of intangible promises and even misinformation that perpetuated the lie that I could outthink my baby’s sleep needs. They wreaked complete havoc on my already frayed emotions and so here is why they can suck it, specifically:
#1: They sugar coat everything. I don’t care if the book is called The Gentlest Easiest Calmest Most Happy Peaceful Sleep Solution, there will be crying involved. A shit ton. There is not a gentle way to get your baby to do the thing they don’t want to do. If there were a way to make the process be tear-free, well then we wouldn’t need the book — we would’ve just put the baby down and patted his back until he went to sleep. We all tried that already — it didn’t effing work so now we bought this crappy book! The very lack of real talk about the impending crying is deceitful. And there’s always a little anecdotal quote from the one parent it worked for, “I couldn’t believe it, little Jimmy didn’t ever cry at all and we’ve been sleeping great ever since!” If you could put your baby down and have him not cry, then you didn’t actually have a problem to begin with, friend.
#2: Their contradictory advice makes a tired, sensitive parent’s over-analyzing mind go berserk. Sleep begets sleep, but don’t get too much or you’ve upset the perfect harmony of the sleep to wake ratio. Don’t pick up your baby and send them mixed messages, but do comfort them when they are sick or teething. Feed them on demand, but not when it’s inconvenient for you at night. Don’t let them sleep next to you, but you might get more sleep that way. There is no winning. Whatever I did was both right and wrong. This is what was going on inside my mind for those months I was reading sleep books.
#3: They never validate that formula fed babies and breastfed babies metabolize food differently, which affects sleep. It is a scientific fact that breast milk is digested more easily and faster than formula, so breastfed babies tend to eat more frequent meals than formula fed babies do. And wouldn’t you think that would be noteworthy when talking about a baby’s ability to sleep for longer stretches without being fed?? But these books gloss over that part. It would be helpful to have a disclaimer on the front of these books that says, “If you’ve decided to breastfeed your baby, pretty much none of this is going to help you. You can try anyway because you’re so desperate, and we’ll take your $16.95 just the same, but prepare yourself for your ears to bleed from the amount of sustained crying you’re about to hear.”
#4: They make you fill out a sleep log that makes you certifiably insane. The books urge you to fill out sleep logs to assess your lack of sleep with a minute-by-minute specificity that makes you feel like you can control something you can’t. If I can make a spreadsheet out of it, I can fix it, right? Wrong. And about day five into those logs, you will want to drive your car into the ocean when that data glaringly shows just how bad your sleep/life sucks. And the irony is that you’re getting even less sleep because you’re having to take the time to log it all. It does come in handy though to use as talking point when having a meltdown with your partner. I haven’t slept for more than two hours in five days — look at the data!
#5: They talk about teething, illness and developmental milestones like they are the rarity instead of the norm. They say, “Of course, if your child should become sick or is teething, do whatever you need to comfort them and then resume your sleep training program once they are better.” Once they are better? They’re never better! Teething leads into a cold which leads into a developmental milestone which leads into a stomach bug and then back to teething — this is an endless cycle. So I’d like to see an entire chapter — or book even — dedicated to deciphering what the hell is teething and what the hell is sickness and what the hell is just a baby being a baby. Oh wait, there’s no book for that, it’s just one of the hardest parts of parenting. Damn.
#6: They don’t realize that you might have other things to do in life, aside from obsess about your baby’s sleep. And God forbid you have other kids to put to bed or care for, because they are really going to get in the way of this drawn out, perfectly executed bedtime routine that these books seem to think is the holy grail of sleep. What about if your partner works late and you have to do two (or more) bedtimes simultaneously? What if you are a single parent? What if you have a sleep deprivation-induced migraine and you must get the baby to bed right this second before your head explodes, but you’ll have to forgo the crucial bath time, books or lavender-infused full-body massage? What if you just want to enjoy this whole parenthood thing and not have to micro-manage every last detail of it? Where is the chapter about that, huh?
#7: Their methods actually seem to have the opposite effect. One of the so-called “no-cry” methods I tried entailed picking up my daughter every time she “fussed” (read: cried), but then putting her down the second she stopped, which is basically the baby equivalent of getting blue-balled. I abandoned this tactic about 45 seconds in. That chapter in the book should be called “Do You Want to See Your Baby Rendered Inconsolable?” Another method from a different book included a cutely-named “Shuffle” technique where you start out next to their crib so they at least know you’re there while they scream like an air-raid siren and then each night you shuffle further and further away until they’re okay with you being out of their sight. Oh sweet baby, are you mad that I won’t hold you or feed you? Well how about I rub some salt in that wound by sitting by your bed so you can alllllmost get to me. What’s that – you’re vomiting from crying so hard? But I’m just right here, doin’ my little shuffle. Isn’t this fun?
#8: They fail to mention that we are biologically programmed to respond to our babies’ cries and a failure in doing that will make you rock back and forth in the fetal position in your bed, completely burrowed under the covers with tears running down your face while texting your one non-judgmental friend panicky things like, “I feel like I’m breaking her!” and your friend will respond with, “She’s not a horse, you can’t break her,” and you will want that friend to keep making you feel okay about your choice but at the same time, all you want is for them to tell you, “Just go get your baby and hug her tight and forget this bullshit you’re reading.”