Our sleep-training advice: Skip town and make your partner do it
Getting a baby to sleep through the night is rarely easy. For some parents, the idea of letting a child cry is too emotionally wrenching; for others, it just seems easier to roll over and breastfeed than to sacrifice sleep. Whatever the resistance, however, if you want to get on a sleep schedule, sleep training’s the way to go.
If you’re a parent having a hard time sleep-training your child, consider this elegant solution — get out of the house for a few nights and have your partner sleep-train for you. (All the parents interviewed for this story are cisgender women in hetero relationships, but the general philosophies apply to all two-parent homes. Single parents may have a grandparent or babysitter they can enlist.) Here are the reasons this is a great option.
1. A physical separation helps break the cycle
Regina Johnson, a stay-at-home mom of three in the Chicago suburbs, had a difficult time trying to get her firstborn son to sleep through the night. “I'm a wimp and couldn't listen to him cry hysterically and not console him,” she says. Humans, and mothers in particular, have physical responses to crying babies. The sound activates the amygdala, the part of our brain that generates fear, with additional hormones coming into play for breastfeeding moms.
“I was really shocked when I had this baby how primal and viscerally I responded to his discomfort and cries.” says Kate James, a mom of one in New Jersey. Caitlin MacGregor, a small-business owner in Waterloo, Ontario, also felt that she needed to physically separate from her second child in order to sleep-train him at eight months. A business trip was a good opportunity. Otherwise, “having to hear your kid cry and want you and you knowing there’s this win-win with nursing,” she says, "it can make it very confusing for both you and the baby. The partner can come in and remove that confusion.”
2. Mom gets some well-deserved time off
James, an actress, was booked on a commercial shoot when her son was 5 months old sometime after her pediatrician said their son was ready to be sleep trained. She was excited about the opportunity. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is a total bonus that I get to go sleep in a hotel by myself while the hellacious landscape of sleep training is taking place.”
For Johnson, some much-needed girl time helped facilitate the sleep training. When her first two children were about 6 and 10 months old, respectively, a sleep-away bachelorette party provided the perfect opportunity for her husband to be the “bad guy” (i.e., the best guy ever) and handle the baby crying it out. And a recent sleepover with some college friends provided the perfect opportunity for her husband to train their 10-month-old third child. “Laughter and sleep are the best medicine,” she said, adding that she felt like a “new person” after each weekend with her friends.
3. Dad gets ownership over parenting
For equality in a parental relationship, not to mention practicality (what happens if a mom is called away for an extended period of time? Or is physically incapacitated?), having a dad or partner sleep-train while mom is away is a great way to ensure fathers are hands-on. “Jeff is very competent and capable with the kids,” says Regina, which in part is why she is able to get away for a few nights while her husband handles their three kids. Not convinced? Research shows that involved fathers are key to childhood development, and time alone with babies enables fathers to problem-solve (and bond).
James’ husband was ready to sleep-train from the moment their pediatrician said their son was ready for it. “It was a constant conversation between me and Steve. He would be like ‘What about tonight?’” but she always had a litany of excuses. When she left, her husband made the executive decision to move their baby out of their bedroom and stuck it out for the half-hour or so that their son cried. After less than a half-hour of crying, James says, “Steve woke up in a panic thinking our son was dead. ‘What? It’s 6:10?’”
MacGregor’s husband Neil similarly stepped up and assumed an important role in sleep training. “It was a commitment for him to be the ruthless one, setting a really clear schedule, not altering from that,” she says.
4. Everyone sleeps
Regular sleep cycles are essential for all humans, babies and adults alike. Sleep deprivation takes its toll on your physical and mental health. Part of the reason MacGregor was so proactive with her second child’s sleep training was that their first child didn’t sleep through the night until he was 2 years old, which was detrimental to her business, let alone her and her husbands’ mood. “Trying to run your own business and being extremely sleep deprived — it was crazy. I was a zombie and the stakes were so high,” she says. Looking back to her first two years as a sleep-deprived mom, MacGregor says, “All the guilt and the excuses about what’s the best for the baby — it was total bullshit.”