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They won’t come for you: An address to the American Council of Infants

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you about my new book, They Won’t Come for You. It’s a great honor to have the opportunity to address so many babies, and on a topic that is so important to all of us.

Blank white book w/path

I want to begin by congratulating the baby community on the progress we’ve made in teaching parents not to sleep train. It’s an impressive feat when we remember that large numbers of parents are convinced sleep training is harmful to our tiny brains and psyches despite a complete absence of evidence on the issue.

[Fat little hands clapping, happy cooing.]

There is still a great deal of work to be done. We’ve lost ground in the battle against vaccination, with more and more parents choosing to vaccinate.

[General fussing, a few howls.]

And, of course, there are still parents who sleep train. I myself am the baby of such a set of parents. So today I want to share a few of my experiences and strategies–the things that motivated me to write They Won’t Come for You.

Let’s begin by talking about things a baby can do to maximize the chance that parents will weaken and pick you up and snuggle you. We all know that there are some great weapons. Tears. Parents have to be very committed to stay strong when they see great big tears glistening on our fat little cheeks. For verbal babies, crying out the name of a caregiver can be very effective. But here are two must-haves for every baby’s toolkit.

First: Getting an appendage, preferably a fat little leg all the way up to the very fat thigh, caught in the crib. Parents can recognize the cry of the trapped baby, and will come every time. When combined with tears, a pick up and snuggle is virtually guaranteed. If you wrap your fat little arms around your parent’s neck and snuggle your warm, fragrant little head against his or her chest, you will likely get a good ten minutes out of him or her. Second: Vomiting. Parents are remarkably sensitive to the cry of the baby who has thrown up. And they have to clean you up, which also guarantees snuggles. If you use this strategy, though, don’t forget to CRY! My roommate recently vomited all over herself and her bed, but didn’t make a peep, and just ended up sleeping in it all night.

[Laughter.]

Sadly, there are times when a baby tries every possible strategy and still gets left in his or her crib. Believe me, I’m familiar with this situation. What can a baby do in those circumstances?

My frank recommendation? Go to sleep. Sucking a thumb or pacifier is helpful here. If you’re old enough, roll onto your belly and stick your butt in the air. Very soothing. And if sleep is really and truly beyond you, try thinking of this period as some extra Me Time. I catch up on reading, admire the pattern of light and shadow on my walls and ceiling… We babies live a hectic life, and these moments can be incredibly restorative. Regardless of which path you choose, wait about twenty minutes. Then give a good loud yowl or two and start chortling happily. Your parent will return, feeling like he or she has won. And as we all know, letting a parent feel successful can be in our own best long-term interests, even if it’s painful at the time.

[Gurgles of agreement. A burp.]

My last and most important suggestion…oh…Is that a giant breast I see? I am suddenly very hungry. I hope you don’t mind if I eat while I talk. We’re all babies here, after all. Mmmhrpji hogamml hymmmmph mhppm mlltopa nmmmmspa mmmmm mmmmmmm ammmmamm  mmmm m maaa marjrrwppppp.

And …so……yaaaaawn………….yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawn.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

****

A note from Bulet’s Mama: Did Bunlet’s claim that there’s no evidence on the issue of sleep training get your back up? I’m sorry. Let me clarify: Sleep train, don’t sleep train, I don’t care. It should be a choice based on your circumstances, your child, and your parenting philosophy. The complete lack of evidence is not an opinion, though, and if you want to disagree, better come armed with a shitload of peer reviewed studies showing causative links between the extinction method, for example, and something bad.

32 Comments Post a comment
  1. When combined with tears, a pick up and snuggle is virtually guaranteed. If you wrap your fat little arms around your parent’s neck and snuggle your warm, fragrant little head against his or her chest….

    Oh, man, am I glad that Gwen has always gone down to sleep well and slept well (even when she wasn’t sleeping through the night, if she woke up, she’d eat, and go back down smoothly)…because if we tried sleep training, this trick would totally work on my every time! I didn’t even need to read the end of this sentence, I was already deep in envisioning a poor little tearful baby with her arms around my neck….augh! Must cuddle!

    better come armed with a shitload of peer reviewed studies showing causative links between the extinction method, for example, and something bad.

    <cheers>

    February 22, 2013
  2. We sleep trained the girls and have ruined them for life. They’ll never trust a relationship, never attach properly, and always feel like they’re alone in a cold cruel world. But damn if I haven’t been getting the best 8+ hours of sleep a night for the last year HAHAHA. Oh Bunlet you little dog you, stop trying to rally the (baby) masses and just go to sleep already! I must however give you mad props on your book title AND adorable cover photo. Cuteness really is the number one enemy to those of us parents who try to ignore our squalling little babies. Must…ignore…the… CUTENESS!!!!!

    February 22, 2013
  3. Bunny, I ADORE you. Seriously. This is the best thing I’ve read in a very long time. I want to share it with my moms’ group, except that we’re not all in the same camp re: sleep training, and so maybe not everyone would find it as fantastic as I do. Also, I would get your permission before sharing it (email to come). But for realz, this is amazeballs. And that is not a word I use, or even like. LOVE.

    February 22, 2013
  4. I see Bunlet’s apple has not fallen far from the tree. A remarkable work for one so young.

    As for the sleep-training-hurts-your-bayyyybeeee crowd, thank you one million times. This issue came up in a discussion recently, and I was quite taken by surprise at my physical reaction to the parent who got all “damage” and “cruelty” about it. I felt like I’d had a heart attack, despite the fact that I think my kid definitely drew the better hand when it comes to sane parenting. (I don’t always think that — in fact, I often don’t — but in this case, I will make an exception.) People can be such illogical assholes about this one, it’s amazing.

    February 22, 2013
    • For reals. I am illogical about plenty of things, but I at least TRY not to be an asshole about them.

      February 22, 2013
  5. SRB #

    *slow claps*

    I sleep-trained the f*ck out of HGB, and thank JEBUS. He may nap strike 2/5 times, but he will reliably go to bed at the same time, stay asleep for the same amount of time, and wake up at the same time EVERY DAY. No fuss, no muss. This is why I am not a crazy person.

    On the other hand, I recently got a lecture from my aunt about SPOILING MJB because we co-sleep with him and “I need to let him learn to cry it out.” EFF OFF Aunt Judy. He’s an INFANT. I’ll get to sleep-training him, when we feel like it. Or not. He’s a different kid after all.

    *resumes clapping*

    February 22, 2013
    • The American Council of Infants does NOT endorse sleep training tiny babies. Even Canadian ones.

      February 22, 2013
  6. Oak #

    Fucking fantastic. I love this.

    February 22, 2013
  7. I love it here.

    February 22, 2013
  8. And the Mummy’s Sweetheart Literary Award goes to Bunlet Bunny, BayB… 🙂

    February 22, 2013
  9. I:am totally in agreement that people should do whatever doesn’t make them insane. And that there is NO evidence that my kids will be permanently scarred by sleep training. (I could use a little less attachment sometimes, as in, get OFF me, kids! For real!)

    Tatoe has always been a good sleeper, until the recent bout of illness + teething + papa away all the time = waking up 3x/night to nurse. SO! We put him in the office and Nobody Is Coming For You, See You In The Morning. Everyone is much happier -except Tatoe- and he’ll get used to it. (He’s 16 months and 23 pounds, so… go the !@#$ to sleep, sweetheart.)

    February 22, 2013
  10. Wonderful. B has two cruel parents who value their sleep and sanity above his need for company and snuggling, so this was great. The vomit trick never ceases to work, though. Once he did Bun Bun’s trick and was silent and just moved to another part of the crib and slept in it. Complete horror show in the morning, but I appreciated the uninterrupted sleep.

    February 22, 2013
  11. E gets one late night meal. Granted that can be between 12:30 and 4 AM, but it’s only the one time. I felt guilty about starting extinction, until I realized that it works. Poor thing gets her hopes up if I keep coming in to snuggle. Sleep. There’s no way around it.

    PS. Your comment on my nursing striker was awesome and more awesome as I laughed my ass off. Sucks. Indeed. And because I know you care, we are now about 1/2 and 1/2 daytime with the bottle. Which is a huge sigh of relief. Speaking of, did you do full extinction and nix that nighttime feed? I need to make the call soon.

    February 23, 2013
    • Good news about your striker!

      The terrible truth is that Bunlet didn’t need extinction for the night feed. He never cried at night, although he did wake up and rustle loudly. So I just waited to see how long he’d go before crying, and the answer was…11.5 hours. So far, anyway…

      But with Bun Bun, yes, when we decided to sleep train (at 6 months), we did it whole hog. In bed at 7, no picking up until 7.

      February 26, 2013
  12. I personally could not stand to do that to my preshus baybee… But more power to you if you can! I sometimes wish I could. I try my best not to be judgy… Parenting is tough and everyone’s gotta do what works for them!

    And I still love you Bunny!

    PS Love the writing from Bunlet’s perspective. Made me laugh, especially the audience participation descriptions!

    February 23, 2013
  13. Holy shit this is funny. Hopefully they will pick this for review and guest appearance on Letterman. All the babies can come and cheer him on.

    February 23, 2013
  14. I really can’t read your posts when I’m at work. I’m too prone to sobbing or snorting while laughing out loud. And snort I did! At least I now know enough not to be drinking coffee.

    Love, love, love this.

    February 23, 2013
  15. Sonja #

    I love reading your blog. You crack me up 🙂
    We sleep trained both of our girls and they are doing just fine….especially since they have a well rested Mama to play with instead of a cranky tired one.

    February 23, 2013
  16. Jen #

    Yep. And let’s clarify for posterity, in case anyone is tempted to try this approach, that you can’t legitimately quote anthropological dissertation as “science” — and there are many “scientific” web/print resources like this, including from some well-known parenting gurus — when there is no prospective study, no well-controlled retrospective study, etc., to further the crusaders’ cause against sleep training. A popular claim is that it goes against “natural” human behavior*. Horseshit. For we are no longer cave people protecting our young from cave bears, and modern sleep arrangements are perfectly sane and reasonable and require some gentle coaching of all our many babies to learn how to do it**. I’m a fan of nature, but I’m not shitting in a hole I dug in the yard either, or clobbering my own dinner. As I enjoy my Keurig-brewed coffee and my toddler watches Sesame Street on his iPad, my infant is asleep in in own room where I have entered only once since I put him to bed last night. And we’re all fine. Naturally.

    *Let’s not pretend to know what’s “natural” behavior based on how they do it in poor countries where everything is presumably closer to “nature.” (See also: cosleeping, babywearing, extended nursing, tandem nursing, etc, etc). Holding up habits of people who have no other choices because they are poor/lack resources as the gold standard for us privileged first-wordlers is not very compelling to me. Fine if it’s your thing, but don’t justify with quasi-false-equivalent-evidence/pretense that you’re right about it.

    **Is it that your discomfort with hearing your baby call out for you is just too much to endure, for the sake of everyone in your household getting better sleep and functioning more effectively? Guess what, parenting is gonna be CHOCK full of these uncomfortable, uh, parenting-type things so buckle up, buttercup. Good luck avoiding them all of that’s your thing.***

    ***Man, this brings out my inner bitch like nothing else. Apparently. Thanks for tackling it in a post, and so well.

    February 24, 2013
    • Bwa ha ha ha! Got some strong feelings about that one, do ya? I am all about people doing what feels right to them, or, as Boringyear put it, what WORKS. After all, a lack of evidence means no evidence in either direction… There are things I feel strongly about despite there being no evidence to support my feelings, and that’s why I don’t go around wagging my finger at people on the subject.

      It’s the shaming and scaremongering surrounding various parenting choices that upsets me, particularly when I think about the fact that much of it is attached (ahem!) to a big ol’ money-making franchise.

      February 24, 2013
      • Jen #

        He (ahem) sells his own line of FOOD. I’m sure his brand of o-shaped organic rice fluffs or whatever will make your baby more ATTACHED to you. Hahahaha.

        February 24, 2013
  17. Wait, you don’t think there is One True Way to parent and that anyone who does things a different way is a horrible parent and will scar his/her child for life? I’m totally reading the wrong blog here. Must go read something else in order to continue feeling morally superior.

    February 25, 2013
    • No! Don’t go! Stay here and feel morally superior about not being an extremist, like I do!

      February 28, 2013
  18. Anonymous #

    Nursing speakers to sleep? GREAT idea for a majority of speakers I’ve heard. Now where do I find those giant breasts…

    February 25, 2013
  19. Ana #

    God how I love this! LOVE. You are a genius.

    February 25, 2013
  20. This post was so awesome that I felt I needed an equally awesome comment to post. I’m all out of awesome, though, but I still want to comment.
    What irks me most about the whole sleep training backlash is that those who are against it use “attachment theory” (and those are very intentional quotation marks I’ve put there) as the reason why it is harmful. Attachment theory says nothing about needing your baby tied to your body 24/7, or that having your baby cry when you put him/her to bed is going to inflict irreversible damage on that little brain. Attachment theory speaks of responsiveness to needs as an interractionnal pattern between caregiver and child. Much like yourself, I’d want to see the studies that say that working on the extinction of a specific behaviour (in the context of a nurturing caregiver/child relationship) would cause harm. Haven’t seen any yet.
    Thank you Bunny for putting this out there.

    February 26, 2013
    • OMG I get incoherent when I try to talk about THAT dimension. I mean, I understand the historical context, and yes, backlashes are necessarily extreme, and yes, we do need to get the word out about not conditioning newborns like they are RATS, but I swear Bowlby and Ainsworth are spinning in their graves.

      In case anyone ELSE reads this comment: There is a great Atlantic article summarizing how far attachment parenting (promoted by a set of pediatricians) has gotten from attachment THEORY, developed by psychologists: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/05/what-everyones-missing-in-the-attachment-parenting-debate/257918/

      The pediatrician / developmental psychologist chasm is an interesting one. I have a ped friend who is wonderfully smart and a SCIENTIST (does research all DAY), but she and I cannot speak on the subject of sleep. Which is fine. I get eight hours, and she is up all night with her 18 month old, so I don’t need to convince her. Ahem. But in general, it seems like these two groups of people concerned with the welfare of children don’t see eye to eye!

      February 26, 2013
  21. Cj #

    Yes, love it all.

    However, I still can’t get through the night screaming for no reason without feeling like a total jerk mommy. How do you ladies handle the internal struggle? I couldn’t care less about what others think of me…I’m the worst critic of sleep training because I think I am a terrible mommy for ignoring my child.

    I know better. I do. I am going through it right now.

    February 26, 2013
    • Sigh. Yeah, what do we do about THAT part! It’s HARD. The only things that helped ME were knowing it works, knowing that I am not doing anything wrong, and knowing they won’t hold a grudge even if they’re pissed at the time. And, of course, now, knowing I have no choice. I can’t afford to soothe Bunlet to sleep when Bun Bun is running around ripping her diaper off or needing a meal or whatever. Something I see you will be experiencing for yourself soon (fingers crossed and all that)!

      February 27, 2013
  22. Almost forgot to comment, but I loved this. I was particularly awed by your courage in pointing out that there’s no science against crying it out.

    I always hate it when this issue becomes flamebait. The worst tactic that gets used is the one where Sleep-training Mother says she feels bad ignoring the child when they’re crying, and Don’tCryItOut Mother explains that that is “Your Mommy instinct telling you that what you’re doing is wrong!”

    I swear, if I listened to that “Mommy Instinct” all the time, I’d have the worst behaved children in the world and I’d be in a permanent state of depression.

    Anyway, off to read that Atlantic article you posted a link to up-thread.

    February 27, 2013
  23. I can’t get as excited as everyone else about the grand success of sleep training because the trouble I have with professional baby sleep trainers is the same trouble that other folks have with the those professional attachment parenters: I loathe prescriptive, one-size-fits-all parenting assvice of any stripe. Whatever you do–sleep related or otherwise–it should be based on knowing yourself and your needs and limits and balancing that with knowing your child and his/her needs and limits. Sure, sleep training works for some parents and babies. It doesn’t work for others. You know, like me and my kid, who cried so hard he vomited one night while I stood outside of his room teary-eyed and jangly.

    I wrote a post not too long ago about ultimately understanding that our choices to co-sleep (and not push sleep training any further, etc.) were forged not out of some great posturing about the benefits of attachment (whatevs) but rather out of a desperation to meet my own need for sleep. And I would wager anecdotally that out of the contingent of openly co-sleeping/bed-sharing parents, the bulk of them do it for the same reason that you and Mr. Bunny sleep trained your babies: Needs are met.

    I travel in attachment-oriented circles, and the sanctimony can be gratingly thick. I’ve said as much in those spaces: you’re kidding yourself if you discount or ignore the fact that these practices that are done in the name of Attachment are also done because it meets the parent’s needs, too. Martyrs be trippin’, yo.

    February 28, 2013
    • The point that parenting gurus of ALL stripes are assess cannot be emphasized enough. And thanks for chiming in with your “it doesn’t work/isn’t right for us” experience, which represents the experience of loads of parents.

      March 1, 2013

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