Since When Is Attention Not a Valid Need? The Issue With Sleep Training

I recently saw a post on a facebook group I’m on, offering services for a “Twilight Nanny.” She stated that by 6-7 months old a baby should be sleeping through the night, with the assumption that weaning from the breast should have already occurred. If this was not the case for your family, then she could be hired to assist parents with sleep training their baby.

This ad created quite a stir on the page, with many people asking her to explain just how she could make such a statement as “Babies should be sleeping through the night by 6-7 months old.” After all, science clearly shows otherwise. It is in fact normal and healthy for babies to continue to wake during the night for many years, and in fact, most adults wake a few times during the night too.

I decided not to join the discussion, but to write this post instead.

The woman who posted the ad was clearly surprised at receiving such a negative response, and claimed that she had never had such a response to an ad before. She said that if a weaned baby was waking, it was a case of learning the difference between a cry of real need, and one of attention (which would go unanswered by the parent). And this is the point where I had real empathy for her.

You see, looking back seven or eight years, I would have been making all the same claims. I was qualified in childcare and well practised at sleep training babies. And I truly believed that it was important for babies to learn to self settle, to have a healthy and uninterrupted stretch of sleep and to not be over indulged and spoilt with attention every time they cried.

I could have easily been a “Twilight Nanny” myself.

Thankfully for myself, my son and the numerous children I have cared for since then, my way of thinking was changed dramatically.

Rather than listening to the mainstream and soaking up the word of Supernanny and my colleagues, I began doing my own reading. I took responsibility for my actions and I found out what exactly the effects of Cry it out techniques and letting a baby’s cry go unanswered were.

And the findings? Not good.

Leaving a baby to cry themselves to sleep goes against nature. A baby is thrown into a situation they are not equipped to deal with – nature has given them the ability to communicate their needs by crying (as a last resort) and when that brings no relief, they are stumped. This results in a surge of the stress hormone cortisol flooding their brain and potentially causing lasting damage. They become more anxious, less secure, more clingy and less happy. As a result of the baby focusing so much attention on being heard and getting their needs met, something which should come naturally and promptly, their brain can’t focus on the important developmental progress that it should be working on. As a result they are not able to develop to the best of their ability.

Other issues include (but are not limited to):

  • Increased behavioural difficulties.
  • Loss of trust and connection in the parent child relationship.
  • The baby sleeping for longer and deeper, which is contrary to nature and increases their chances of SIDS.
  • A lower level of self worth and belief that they are lovable and worthwhile.

The trouble is that we are so conditioned to believe that some cries are more valid than others. That hunger and wet nappies trump loneliness, fear or the need for attention. But that belief is just not valid.

Babies have spent the past two million years or so being held close, sleeping with their parents and never being alone. They are evolved to be cared for and to be with others. Babies emerge from the womb as unfinished beings. Their brains are undeveloped in order to ensure safe passage out of the womb – any bigger and their heads would be too large for them to get out – and in order for them to survive this period they need to have a forth trimester, remaining attached to the mothers body and feeding as and when they need to, imitating the conditions of the womb as closely as possible as they work through this vital development.

So it is no wonder then that they cry out for attention when placed alone. They sense something is terribly wrong in their world, they feel vulnerable and their entire being screams to “fix it!”

By ignoring this need or passing it off as unimportant we are going against millions of years of evolution.

Attention is most definitely a valid need.

I have no doubt that this Twilight Nanny, along with all the others who subscribe to the practice of sleep training, care deeply for the children they work with and have their best interests at heart. After all, I always did when I was doing the same thing. We are all on a journey, and always learning and changing, hopefully for the better, but we should take every opportunity to be open minded and be responsible enough to inform ourselves of the consequences of our actions. Whatever the topic, it is important to always do our research and find our own answers, rather than blindly following methods without question. Much harm can come from that and we all deserve better.


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8 thoughts on “Since When Is Attention Not a Valid Need? The Issue With Sleep Training”

  1. The best advice I read was ‘dont expect your baby to sleep through the night until fully established on three meals a day’. Even then, a child will still wake for comfort, reassurance, etc. My 2 and a half year old wakes a couple of times still but all she needs is a quick visit from me or daddy and she’s fine to sleep. Not a problem for us. I wake quite a lot during the night, why should my children be any different? Im really quite disturbed by her saying a baby should be weaned from the breast by that early. Doesn’t she know even government guidelines recommend breastfeeding for the first two years at least? I didn’t know about attachment parenting before the first 10 months of my first child’s life but I couldnt leave her to cry, it was natural to comfort her when she did and I knew I could never do cry-it-out. It saddens me that there are women out there like this which simply make mothers feel they are doing everything wrong if their child doesn’t conform to these ideas (which as you said they wont, it goes against their nature).

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I’m the mother of a wonderful almost 2 year old and we have struggled with sleep since she was born. I agree with your perspective that attention is a valid need. I wonder what you suggest for moms who’s babies needs exceed sustainable limits for their mothers? For example, my daughter wanted to nurse all night long every hour or 2 hours (and continues to try and do so still when we co-sleep). I am a light sleeper and would wake up each time we nursed and had a hard time falling back asleep (despite exhaustion!). After several months of this I was totally depleted and ended up trying a “gentle sleep solutions” class which suggested to let her cry for a short period of time (this was around 1 yr old) in addition to other ideas. Looking back I wouldn’t do it again, and while it did get results, we went back to nursing at night. However, I feel I have suffered greatly from the sleep loss. Our solution has been to sleep separately and then I just go in to nurse her when she cries. She wakes up less this way than if we co-sleep but still 3-4 times a night. What could I have done differently with my daughter to follow the continuum concept ideals but still take care of my own health? What can I do differently if I have another child with similar sleeping/milk wanting needs? Thanks very much! I love your blog!!!

  3. You have my empathy – my son was a frequent night waker up until very recently (every one to two hours) and still wakes at least twice now that he is three and a half. It definitely takes its toll on your energy and patience. What worked for us was to maximise the amount of sleep I got overall, so Daddy always got up with him on the weekends and I introduced a quiet time every afternoon where he played quietly while I napped or rested. That made so much difference, and from a continuum perspective it is very normal to sleep when you are tired and for children to learn that this is the norm. For us, we decided to “wait it out” in the knowledge that it would not last forever. We have noticed a dramatic change in the last six months or so and wakings have dropped considerably. Eat as healthily as possible and look into taking a vitimin suppliament that is compatible with nursing. Hope that helps a bit.

    1. This rings so true to me, I was a nanny for 13 years and I also believed in the mainstream ideas about spoiling babies & sleep training etc. Then at 34 years old I had my first baby & “putting him down” & “it’s ok to let h cry a bit” that everyone kept telling me could not have felt more wrong! My son wanted, if not, demanded to be held from day 1. And I’m so glad I listened to him & my heart, not the very well-meaning, but intrusive advice of those around me. I began researching during those hours spent holding my sleeping baby & found i was a natural born attachment parent, for the most part & from there found sites such as Love Parenting & boy does it help to habe somewhere to turn when i feel like the only 1 in the world whose baby is not in a crib snoozing 12 hours a night. My son is 7 months old & the most he’s ever slept in a row is 4 hours & that was months ago! All I hear is negativity around me about how he should be sleeping through the night and just like the previous poster, I am currently exhausted not being able to fall back to sleep after his 6, 7, 8.. Wakings a night but there is no other way for me. I just keep reminding myself it won’t last forever & I’ll miss the days of him needing me. Although if anyone had any other advice on how to reduce the every 45 minute wakings I’m all ears! I do worry that he isn’t get enough sleep but aside from plopping him in his crib to sleep alone, which will surely traumatize him, I feel I have no options! And boy would I miss him. I even hold him for naps as i’ve tried to nurse/rock him to sleep then place him down but he always know. I am 1 tired, tired but grateful & loving mama. At least I’m being true to me. Thank you for this blog, it definitely helps.

      1. Thank you for commenting! Sounds like we have had a very similar journey to natural parenting. Take care of yourself, it really does get easier in time, though it may not feel like it will right now.

  4. Very well put! Thank you for sharing this perspective. I’m so glad that I’ve been able to follow my instincts when it comes to co-sleeping. My husband isn’t so happy about it, but he respects me enough to honor my wishes in spite of his own. Ultimately our son benefits and for that I’m grateful.

  5. Oh how I wish that this article could be posted on the end of every single website and book that promotes sleep training! You have hit the nail on the head.

    I too worked in child care for 4 years before becoming a mother. I would get in trouble by the senior staff for holding the babies too much, or ‘sooking’ them when they cried ‘just for attention’. I started to believe that I was doing the wrong thing.

    Thank goodness I, like you, did my own research and found information that strengthened my resolve to parent my son by instinct.

    Most people in my life do not understand why we bedshare and *shock horror* still breastfeed at 12 months but these same people often comment on how intelligent, confident and happy my son is.

    Thank you for this and every other one of your articles that make me feel like I’m not doing the wrong thing.

    1. Thank you so much for commenting and sharing your experiences. I’m glad you found a way to listen to your instincts and do what is best for you and your child. For the record, we are still co-sleeping and our son will be four next month. He just weaned a couple of months ago, but only due to my milk drying up due to pregnancy. You are doing wonderfully, trust yourself! 🙂

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