Once you have become a parent, you will know just how much sleep is affected with the arrival of a newborn. This is normal and expected as newborns are required to feed at about every 3 hours round the clock. But what happens when your baby is now a lot bigger, taking solids yet you still need to put him back to sleep only by rocking or nursing? Parents often are perplexed when their child continues to awaken at night wanting to nurse like a newborn. When this continues for many months and even years, many mothers become exhausted, frustrated and resentful.
There are two ways some mothers deal with this situation.
- continue to nurse baby at night
- night wean by using cry-it-out approach
But what are you supposed to do if you are unable to continue with endless night nursing and you don’t agree with the cry-it-out approach?
There is another third possibility called the crying-in-arms approach where you would support your child through his frustration and anxiety about changing the way he sleeps – never leaving him alone to cry.
Crying-in-arms or supported crying works based on these principles:
- Apart from the growth spurts, medical condition, and developmental milestones, your child is most likely waking up due to emotional tension that bottles up in his mind during sleep.
- Children’s tension is released through laughter and cries. Crying is the most effective way for a child to offload feelings of upset and laughter through play reduces the tension and anxiety that are bothering them.
- As parents, we often stop them from crying and repress their feelings! We do not realize this but we are conditioned to give them pacifiers, food, the breast, rocking, patting, scolding, distracting, and even spanking if the crying goes really hard or longer than a minute in an attempt to make our child feel better immediately.
When these upset feelings are not addressed at the moment they are happening, they get repressed and stored in your child’s body. If we do not allow them to work out these feelings through their need to cry, they would usually test their limits or have meltdowns and tantrums over small issues. Also, if they are not given the opportunity to “blow off steam” in the daytime, these feelings would bubble up in their sleep.
To apply this to sleep, try to allow as much daytime frustration to take place, as it is much easier to handle a crying child in the day than at night. At night, you do not have to night wean or leave him to sleep alone. You simply have to change the way you put him to sleep. You will no longer offer your breasts or rock him to sleep. He would most likely cry really hard the first time you do it. Don’t be alarmed. This is most likely the accumulated feelings of upset and stress that he needs to release. Hold him lovingly in your arms and be supportive about his feelings. When children cry, they need connection and reassurance from their parents before they can “let go” to sleep.
Allowing your child to express their frustration and anger whilst still supporting them – physically and emotionally – is a powerful tool to help you connect with your child on a totally new level. Your child feels safe and understands that when he feels upset, he would not be rejected. He would not feel that he is loved and accepted by his parents only when he is happy.
Fathers can also implement crying-in-arms approach. When your child feels secured and connected in the arms of his father, he will willingly accept his father or either parent to put him to bed.
Allow him to cry until he either is happy to be put back to bed, or until he falls asleep in your arms if you co-sleep. This can take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or more, depending on how many feelings have been pressing on him. How many nights of crying your child will need to do depends on factors you can’t know ahead of time. There’s no way to gauge the size and depth of the feelings he carries.
All children need to be responded to when they cry, but we need to be aware about comforting them that allows emotions to be worked through and released instead of comforting them by repressing emotions.
A good cry with loving support can help children heal. The more your baby or toddler cries freely following daily upsets and frustrations, the better he will sleep.