Sleeping Through the Night


When my 6 month old daughter didn’t sleep through the night, I wasn’t really looking for a solution, I didn’t like the concept of sleep training. We co-slept so when she woke it was easy simply to just feed her and then fall back to sleep. I was still getting my full eight hours with a few short interruptions. I assumed that she would sleep through the night eventually.

But after eight months, nothing was changing. I started to wonder why she was waking more than she did as a newborn. When I fed her she didn’t seem that hungry, and just sucked for a minute or two before falling asleep again. I read about sleep cycles, and how a baby needed a way to soothe herself back to sleep. It made sense that other babies were self-soothing back to sleep with their thumbs or a dummy, whereas I was my daughter’s comfort mechanism. But I thought that this couldn’t be the full story. My daughter had on occasion slept in four hour stretches. She also always woke half an hour after falling asleep; I knew that had nothing to do with being hungry, or transitioning through sleep cycles.

Before my daughter was born, I’d read a book called The Aware Baby. The author Aletha Solter explains that in the first three months of life, all babies spend some time each day crying ‘for no apparent reason.’ She explains that this kind of crying has a healing function. In a study conducted by Dr. William Frey, he compared real ‘emotional’ tears with those caused by chopping onions. He found that emotional tears contained stress hormones such as cortisol and other toxins. Crying is a way that we can literally release stress and tension out of the body.

All babies inevitably experience stressful events, such as a difficult birth, medical interventions, or just the daily stress of getting to know their new stimulating world. The understanding that crying was healing made sense to me. I’d gone through a difficult period in my life in my mid-twenties, when I’d felt depressed and physically exhausted. I’d written for therapy, done yoga, meditation, and also deep tissue massage. I often found that these modalities took me deeper into my sadness, and I would release my feelings through crying. I always felt much better afterwards, and eventually my depression lifted, and I felt a renewed sense of self and happiness.

Knowing about the healing function of crying helped me through the early colicy days of my daughter’s life. There were times when I didn’t bounce my daughter, pace the room or feed her. There were times, when nothing much worked but to listen. And what I found were those were the times when I’d had the deepest connection with her. By witnessing this pain that she felt, I felt connected to her deepest self. It was heartbreaking that she needed to cry so much, that she had so much suffering inside of her. But it also felt wonderful that she had this way to heal. Her birth had been difficult, but now I was able to cuddle her close to me, and tell her she was safe now as she expressed these strong feelings.

During the first few months of my daughter’s life, I fed her whenever she cried. As I didn’t use a dummy or, put her to sleep by herself, it seemed natural that eating and sleeping became intertwined. I fed her to sleep, but after a couple of months, that stopped working easily, so I would pace the room until she was more sleepy, and then try to feed her to sleep again. It took me a while to realise that these were what Aletha Solter, calls ‘control patterns;’ things to stop the crying that become habits that the baby comes to rely upon. I had thought I was helping her to sleep, but then I began to think, maybe what I was actually doing was repressing the feelings that she wanted to let out before she slept.

So next time my daughter needed to take a nap, I sat on the bed, and held her. She made some slow tired cries, and I watched her face look visibly more and more relaxed.

She looked so peaceful, as if she had been doing some baby yoga or meditation! She fell asleep much more easily than if I was pacing the room. I did this a few times, but I still felt some confusion about whether it was really okay just to let her cry. Sometimes she would ask to breastfeed, and then I would feed her. It wasn’t long before the habit of feeding to sleep had crept back. Yet occasionally I thought to myself, that she probably wasn’t hungry, and was just asking out of habit, because if we were out, then she would just fall asleep in her buggy without needing milk.

When my daughter was eight months old, I realised she was hardly crying at all. I still believed in the idea that crying was healing. And I missed that deep connection that I had with her when she cried. I noticed that when I fed her to sleep at night, she seemed to wriggle around a lot and have a lot of tension in her body. Feeding her to sleep wasn’t helping her relax. I reread The Aware Baby and realised that I’d forgotten most of its contents since my daughter had been born! My daughter was feeding every two hours, which I had always been puzzled by. All of the other babies I knew went 3 or 4 hours between feeds. Aletha Solter, explains that breastfeeding every two hours can be a sign that it has become a ‘control pattern.’ Other babies might have been using pacifiers or movement as their control patterns, but for us it was breastfeeding. I also realised that because breastfeeding was a control pattern, then she would ask for the breast out of habit even when she wasn’t hungry.

Aletha Solter also says that all healthy babies over six months of age are able to sleep through the night. She explains that babies above this age wake because of emotional tension. Just like adults, babies who have stress and tension, have trouble with sleep. I decided to try again, and let my daughter fall asleep without breastfeeding. This time the cries were powerful. I sometimes doubted whether I was doing the right thing, but then I’d look at her face, when she’d just fallen asleep after a big cry. She would smile and even giggle sometimes as she fell into dreams. It was clear that she’d cried away her upset and felt peaceful again.

I felt more certain that listening to her cry was the most loving thing I could do, and started looking for more resources to support me. The idea seemed so different to what I read and heard everywhere that I needed to know there were other parent educators and thinkers out there who understood the healing nature of crying. I returned to a website I’d looked at before called Hand in Hand parenting. I read some articles, and was relieved to hear Patty Wipfler’s compassionate advice, that it’s natural that in the close breastfeeding relationship children often come to depend on the breast for comfort. I downloaded a podcast from Hand in Hand, called ‘Helping your child sleep.’ These ideas, along with Aletha Solter’s, helped me to figure out what I needed to do to help my daughter sleep.

I started with the first time she woke up, at 9pm. Instead of feeding her I held her instead. She cried for just a few minutes and then fell back to sleep. I fed her as normal for the rest of the night. The next night, she slept right through the time of her first waking the night before, and didn’t wake up till 11pm. When she woke I repeated the process of holding her instead of feeding her. The next night she slept right the way through till 1am!

Sometimes when she woke, I could just hug her, and that would be enough for her to fall asleep. Other times she would have a big cry. Within a couple weeks she was sleeping through the night, and she now sleeps through the night, all of the time, apart from the occasional illness or emotional upset. She has become more relaxed and confident, as a result of being able to release her feelings through crying. And I feel so much closer to her, now that I’ve learnt how to listen to her more closely, rather than simply trying to stop her from crying.

In all the debate about baby’s sleep the experts divide into two factions. On the one side, there are those that think we should leave a baby to cry it out, so that they learn to sleep on their own. On the other side are the ones that think we should do whatever we need to do to stop our children from crying. But there is a third way that involves a deeper understanding about the nature of crying. That we don’t have to leave our children alone when they cry, that we can hold them and support them, and help them heal, so that they naturally sleep better.

We as parents often seem compelled to stop our children from crying. We think of this as parental instinct. But what feels like an instinct is actually a learnt behaviour that comes from our own childhoods. As psychiatrist Dan Siegal says, ‘we learn to parent, when we ourselves are being parented.’ Very few of us were listened to fully when we had upsets. Our parents might have thought it kindest to just stop the crying as quickly as possible. They may have told us to stop crying, ignored us, or said things such as ‘don’t cry, or I’ll give you something to cry about.’

When we take the time to listen to our own children it can trigger the strong feelings of not being listened to as children. This and the common cultural idea that crying is a negative behaviour we must stop as quickly as possible makes it hard for us to listen to our children cry.

Now when my daughter cries, I don’t actually think of it as a ‘bad’ thing. Of course I’d rather she was happy and smiling, but when she cries, I know she’s doing the most intelligent thing she can, healing from her hurts and upsets. When we listen to our children when they have upset feelings, they can heal from the stress and tension that cause off-track behaviour such as aggression. Our children use ‘misbehaviour’ as a red flag to tell us they’re not feeling good. Listening allows our children to express their feelings through crying so they don’t have to resort to more indirect ways to tell us how they’re feeling.

Listening to our children cry is not easy, particularly if we weren’t listened to as children. In order to listen to our children well, we need to be listened to ourselves. Hand in Hand parenting has a wonderful (and completely free!) listening partnership scheme where parents can get together and exchange listening time with each other. This helps us to work through some of our difficulties, and to find our sense of well-being again. I’m always amazed at how spending ten minutes talking about my feelings after an exhausting day with my daughter, gives me such a sense of renewed energy that I can delight in being with her again.

Adults do not cry as easily as children, and this is partly because our feelings were suppressed when we were young. Through my listening partnerships I’m rediscovering my ability to cry easily, and learning first hand about just how healing crying can be. What I’ve learnt is that it’s never too late to find ways to heal, and change and develop as a person. Throughout my life I’ve met many people like me, looking for ways to shed that baggage they have carried throughout their lives. What a wonderful gift it is to give our children, to help them heal while they are still young, before the baggage gets too heavy. They can grow up retaining the lightness they have as children.

Are sleep struggles with your child leaving you exhausted? Hand in Hand Parenting offers an online self study course. Click here for more details. 

This article was previously published in Juno Magazine, issue 34.


42 thoughts on “Sleeping Through the Night

  1. I have an eight month old and we co-sleep. She has become increasingly reliant on breastfeeding or my presence to sleep. To the extent I can’t leave or she wakes and is constantly wanting the breast. I have tried to take it out of her mouth when she’s finished, but she will try and find it soon after. I have a 3 year old and this is hard on her as well as me. I do have a sling but don’t find it practical for all naps. Tonight I tried to do in arms crying but she kept pushing herself down to get my breast and got so so upset, I couldn’t tell if it was healing, I felt she was upset about not getting the breast rather than letting out tensions and so forth. How can you tell? Is there anything else I could do also? Thank you so much in advance

    1. Hi Briony, it sounds like it is still healing. What often happens is that our babies often get into the habit of asking for the breast, just because they are used to falling asleep that way. I noticed When my daughter was 8 months old, that there was a lot of tension between us, when I was feeding her to sleep, I sensed that it wasn’t helping her relax at all. I realised that the breastfeeding was just a habit, that was suppressing the feelings that rose up that she tried to express before falling asleep.
      You can talk to your baby and reassure her that you are going to stay with her the whole time and breastfeed later. That way she has what she really needs, her connection with you and your presence. Hope that makes sense!

  2. When I pick up my 7 month old daughter she stops crying. Do you have any suggestions to encourage her to release stress? Or does her stopping mean she doesn’t need the cry?

    1. Hi Liz, Is she sleeping well at night? It might be that there are other situations in which she cries that might be opportunities to release some stress? Situations that trigger her? You can also read more about the approach to sleep in this article here

  3. Thanks for replying! She sleeps well most nights but some nights she wakes and fusses for almost 2 hours before falling back to sleep. It seems she just wants to cry since she doesnt appear to need anything else. The only thing that works is to let her cry it out for 15-20 minutes before she falls back asleep. She stops crying during the day though too as soon as I pick her up. She’s a super happy and content baby but I worry she isn’t getting enough healing crying.

    1. Hi Liz,

      I know that when I first started listening to my daughter’s feelings at first she didn’t cry with me, she associated my body so much with breastfeeding to sleep, that even if I just held her, it stopped her from fully feeling her feelings.
      But I noticed that when her dad picked her up, that especially in the evening it would trigger her separation fears and she would start to cry. When she was younger I would just take her back to stop her from crying, but when I learnt more about Parenting by Connection I realised that I could stay close to her, but still let her dad hold her, and that would help her to release her feelings, but still knowing that she was safe and hadn’t been left alone. I wrote about one of these times in this blog post here.

      I wonder if you could try having her dad hold her in the night, so that she can release her feelings but also feel safe with the presence of an adult. Or there is more details about helping babies to release their feelings in the sleep article I linked to in my last comment. Hope it helps, and you both get a full night sleep soon!

  4. Just in time with this article. I am reading the book now. My 1 year old daughter gets into sleep only with breastfeeding, she wakes up many times per night. It is exhausting. My question is : how can I really know she is not hungry, especially before night sleeping? I had always this problem. If she gets enough milk from me….She is not a big eater during the day, solids are not friends fur her. I am afraid that is she will not eat during the night, she will lose weight. (also now she is under average). My other problem is about crying. When I read everything seems ok. But when I try to put that in real life is very hard with my daughter. Strange is that I don’t have this problem also with my 5 years old daughter. In my had the little one is too young, little for leaving her to cry like this, even in my arms. I don’t have the power to do that. 😐

    1. Hi Claudia, I deduced that my daughter wasn’t hungry before sleep, because she would only drink a little, and if we were out and about she would fall asleep by another method (buggy or sling) so I realised that it wasn’t about the food, but a method to fall asleep. I dropped the feeds gradually one by one so she wasn’t awake for a long time in the night without food.

      I knew from my own experience that crying was a healing process and when I read about it in the Aware Baby, I realised it was natural for babies to cry too. At first it was distressing to me to listen to my daughter cry, but I also felt deeply connected to her during these times, a real sense that she was telling me about her deepest pain, and I was listening to her. Then I began to see the benefits, that she was sleeping better, and more importantly was more relaxed and confident in general.

      You might find that if you listen to your daughter’s feelings in the night, gradually reducing feeds, that she will eat more in the day (solids or milk). This is what happened with my daughter.

    2. Just respond to your daughters needs. If she is underweight, it is irresponsible to drop night feeds. She very well may need that milk. You’re her mama. Your job is to respond to her. You’re building trust. She does not need to cry to be healed. I have a three-year-old who is very happy, well-adjusted, well-bonded and a great sleeper. She also night nursed frequently until she weaned at 20 months. She needed that milk and the connection with her mama. She has never cried for “healing” purposes. Please listen to your sweet girl!

      1. Hi Kristen, you are absolutely right that we should respond to our babies needs. I was very very cautious, and always fed my daughter when I was in any doubt. I spent weeks reading, and thinking about what was best for my daughter. She woke frequently in the night, but she would only breastfeed a tiny bit. She just wasn’t hungry.

        You’re lucky that your daughter sleeps so well, and is happy and well-adjusted. My daughter was a happy baby too, minus the sleep. but she grew in confidence, and was much more relaxed and at peace in general when I started to understand that were times when she didn’t have a need, other than a need to tell me about her feelings. There’s lots of research out there, and even more anecdotal evidence that suggests that our babies don’t just have needs, but feelings they need to express too. I felt even closer to my daughter when I didn’t just automatically breastfeed her, but held her and connected with her on an emotional level.

  5. Very interesting read. We are currently going through a similar struggle with my son who is almost 16 months old now. We co-sleep and he breastfeeds himself to sleep most nights, some nights he just lets me rock him and he falls asleep without feeding but he wakes a lot throughout the night (first at about an hour from originally falling asleep) and immediately wants to feed and puts up a giant fight and wakes up fully if I only want to hold him and don’t allow him to have my breast. Putting him back to sleep in instances like that is then another 1 hour struggle.
    What are your thoughts on trying this technique with an older child who is more aware of his surroundings?

    1. sorry for the late reply as we just got back from a trip to see family. Many parents try this technique with older children, and it works in a similar way. You could try not to feed or rock your son when he goes to sleep, and then not feed him for the first waking, and listen to his feelings instead. It might be that he doesn’t want to be held, now he’s a bit older, but if you stay close and connected with him you can help him to feel safe to release his feelings. It should get easier with time, so that it’s not a long struggle every time, and gradually he should sleep better. Hope this helps!

  6. Hi
    My baby is one year and three mo ths and he wakes almost everyhalf hour at night and breastfeeds but not really. Its a habit as you say. Gentle parenting taught me that disrupting a habit can be traumatic and so I decided to be an anti training parent. But your perspective has given a third way as you say.

    I thought he wakes because he wants to be close. But you are saying he wakes because he is stressed and needs my comfort? So then, if I hold him instead of feed as you did, and let him cry, why does he stop waking? Is it because he isn’t as stressed? Or because he learnt I won’t respond?

    I really want to try this because our situation is quite difficult but need to feel confident that the crying will be healing …

    1. Hi Tasnim, I felt similar to you when I started. I knew that crying could be healing from my own experience but I was confused, was it really okay just to let my baby cry? Why did it seem like no-one was talking about it? I read what I could find about crying being healing, (resources from Hand in Hand parenting as well as Aletha Solter’s book, The Aware Baby. My daughter was barely crying at all, and I sensed that breastfeeding was making her tense. So I took a leap and decided to listen to her feelings. I saw the benefits, how after a big cry she fell asleep with a smile on her face or even giggling. I saw how her sleep was more relaxed and she was less restless and jumpy. I felt intuitively that we were actually getting closer, with me responding her in the night on an emotional level, instead of just breastfeeding her. Two years later, I see the benefits in how confident she is, how easily she adapts to change, how emotionally resilient she is. How when she’s upset, she doesn’t ask for things like food, or entertainment, but simply tells me how she feels until she’s happy again. And also because she gets to cry freely, her feelings don’t come out so much in more challenging behaviours.
      Thanks so much for reflagging my post and do get in touch or join my Facebook page, if you need some more support or advice. It was finding other parents, parenting like this through Hand in Hand, taking a course, and getting listened to myself that helped the most in figuring out what was right for me and my daughter. Good luck!

  7. One thing that we as western parents neglect is our child’s elimination needs. Our babies are born ready knowing that they have a full bladder and need to empty it. They do not want to “soil the nest”. How many times do you hear parents say that they change an infants nappy and they wee everywhere? This is common practice around the world for parents to help their child eliminate their waste (except for Europe and the US)

    I don’t believe breastfeeding stresses a child.

    PS not my website, but explains what I mean and what I have practiced with my son from 11 weeks old.

    1. thanks for sharing Laura. Yes you’re right our babies could be telling us about their elimination needs. I was interested in elimination communication before my daughter was born, but somehow found it too tricky while adjusting to life as a new mum. Though we used a potty on and off from birth, she was always in nappies, and I just couldn’t figure out how to do EC in my circumstances. I missed her cues undoubtedly some of the time, like most parents, we can’t get it right all of the time. and nappies may not really be the most natural way to bring up our babies.

      I know there are some parents practising Aware Parenting who do EC (similar to Parenting by Connection) and their babies do still cry to release feelings. It’s not all about having a fully bladder, and I don’t think that some of the long colicy cries could newborns have (and older babies, and tantrumming toddlers) could simply be put down to having a fully bladder. My daughter’s been fully potty trained since 22 months when she took her nappy off and started using the potty, and she has big cries about things somedays, and sometimes after I’ve listened she’ll tell me what bothered her.

      I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that breastfeeding stresses a child, more that it can sometime act as a prop that masks feelings, similar to how we might chew gum or reach for some chocolate when we are feeling stressed and tense. it works as a distraction, but it doesn’t help us to move through or express our feelings.

      1. It’s quite easy to EC, really. Just hold your baby over the potty when they wake up from a nap (or if you know they go at a particular time of the day). My son wears nappies or could be bare at home if the weather is OK. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate ritual.

        Children have a physical and emotional need to suckle, so tantrums with toddlers can be stopped in their tracks with nursing your child.

        Everyone makes their own choices on how to parent, but if we remember what is biologically normal for our species (but what we seem to forget in the west) and follow our hearts, we won’t be wrong.

      2. It sounds so easy in theory. But somehow I couldn’t get to grips with it while adjusting as a first time mother too. Also where I live in Switzerland we share washing facilities which means we can only wash two or three times a week! Not so good for EC, but maybe in different circumstances for a second baby I would give it at ry.

        I wouldn’t stop my toddler’s tantrums with breastfeeding, and I’m not sure she would allow this. As a new mum who wanted to be an attachment parent, I would often hear advice such as to breastfeed my daughter when she hurt herself, if she cried on an aeroplane, or at a time when I was positive she wasn’t hungry and was suffering from separation anxiety after being with my husband without me for a while. It didn’t work for me. There were times when my daughter simply wanted to cry, and since I learnt about the healing nature of crying, I gravitated more towards listening to her crying at times when she wasn’t hungry. And I wouldn’t want her to grow up reaching for food every time she’s upset as so many of us do for comfort, while finding our own feelings hard to deal with. I’d like her to understand her own cues for hunger, and not have it get confused with emotions.

        I think it’s important to make a distinction between our parenting instincts, and the ways we are conditioned to behave from our own childhood. As children most of us rarely if ever were unconditionally listened to when we’re upset, so we become conditioned to stop our children from crying as an automatic reflex. That’s quite different to our natural instinct to love our children, meet their needs and listen to their feelings.

  8. I’m a little concerned about this article, a child who cries is not necessarily releasing stress, something an infant does not know about yet. As an adult you may or may not feel better after crying, but an infant does not. A crying baby is trying to communicate in the only way he/she knows how to. Although I agree that an infant can become dependent on the breast to fall asleep and yes, once I gently weaned my daughter from night time feeds at around 10months she did sleep for longer stretches but it by no means solved all our sleep ‘issues’ – To say that all healthy infants should be able to STTN at 6months, is an incredibly discouraging thing to say to moms who then start thinking there is something wrong with their child and in the end let them cry it out because they read articles like this where it worked for one person. STTN is a development milestone and has nothing to do with the fact whether your child is breast or formula fed. I think new parents stress enough as it is and really don’t need to be told that all kids should be sleeping through the night at 6months. My daughter stopped her evening feed at about 11 months but it wasn’t until atleast 15/16months that she stopped waking up 30minutes after we put her to bed at night. Every child is different, parents parent differently and you should always listen to your child, there is absolutely nothing wrong with trying to find the cause for a baby crying and trying to eliminate it. What works for one family does not work for another. Listen to your instinct, children very very rarely cry just for the sake of crying/releasing tension and stress. Why is the baby so tense and stressed that it needs to cry? When you find the cause of that, you will have a baby who will cry less. yes sometimes you don’t find the answer, but wouldn’t you rather want to try and find what is causing your child the distress? It’s also not just crying it out or doing whatever possible to make your child stop crying. There is also waiting it out, waiting for your child to be ready, listening to your child, learning from your child. Be patient, they are only little for a short time. You need to find what works for you and not what worked for a handful of people who let their kids cry it out or thought they were releasing some tension. Join a gentle parenting site or read up on waiting it out if you have doubts. Facebook has a great Wait it out mother support community with tons of moms going through the same thing. If I didn’t wait it out, I would be missing out on bedtime cuddles and kisses every night. I’m proud to listen to my child’s needs and not just leave her to cry and put it down to tension/stress.

    1. And P.S. my daughter only started sleeping through the night at 13 months and she was off the breast at bedtime/nighttime for a couple of months by then already, but we still had and still do have issues to get her to fall asleep, crying delays her falling asleep, it doesn’t help her. The fact that either myself or my husband are with her at bedtime is what helps her to relax and fall asleep. And Breastfeeding ALWAYS relaxed her, when she started playing around I would remove her from the breast and know she was not hungry anymore. But if she hurt herself or was ill or upset, breastfeeding always helped us. It might not have worked for the author of this article, but it worked for us. So please mamma’s use your own mommy-instincts and do not accept this article as the solution to all your sleeping ‘problems’.

    2. Hi Bianca,

      It’s great that you have always listened to your child’s needs, that you value connection and cuddles and kisses, and that the weaning process went so smoothly and gently for you. This is not at all about leaving a baby to cry it out. My daughter and I have happily co-slept for the last two and half years, that’s what works for our family. I would definitely not recommend leaving a baby alone to cry it out.

      Babies don’t have the stresses we adults have to deal with a stressful job, or work and life responsibilities. But stress can be caused by anything that overwhelms our system. For a baby that might mean, if we were stressed in pregnancy, if birth was difficult or any of the everyday stresses that a new baby experiences from being in the world.
      I think that they need to process these experiences, through crying, for us to listen to them, so they can work through their emotions, rather than just soothe away these feelings.
      When our babies are young, we have to follow our instincts, make our best guess about what our children need. When my daughter was young there were times I couldn’t figure out what the need was. In the evening I would often continually try to feed her and she would keep coming off the breast. This happened like clockwork every evening so I don’t think it was another need. At the time I thought she was just having trouble feeling, but with hindsight I realised, I was misinterpreting her crying, that she didn’t want to feed but actually wanted to cry. There were times when there was no other explanation. She cried less in time, when I did get into the habit of feeding her to sleep, but I sensed that this wasn’t healthy for her, that I had actually misread her cues by feeding her at times when she wasn’t hungry. I saw how happy and ease she was after I listened to her cry, that she would sometimes fall asleep smiling and even giggling.
      Now she is older (and I know also with older children whose parents follow the parenting by connection approach) she sometimes verbalises what’s upset her. For instance one morning she woke up crying really suddenly as if she’d had a bad dream. I held her and listened to her, and didn’t rush to leave the bedroom, or feed her or anything. After a few minutes she said ”mummy dropped me” and I realised that she was referring to the other day when we’d been swimming. She jumped into the pool and for a split second slipped through her fingers. She wasn’t in any real danger, and I caught her a split second later, but for her, it was scary. She needed to process it. All these little everyday stresses happen to our children all the time, and crying helps them release that fear so they can grow in confidence, and feel safe in the world. Babies and children do cry to express feelings, as well as needs, though as a culture this idea isn’t widely known or understood.

    3. Breast feeding isn’t always about food. Non-nutritive sucking is important to babies and toddlers. It depends on the situation, sometimes talking about what us happening can stop the tantrum and sometimes a refocusing of energy is what is needed.

      If your laundry service is infrequent, all the more reason to be gung ho about EC, less washing to contend with!

      You may have seen this article before, but I am sharing it in case you haven’t.

      During the Mongolian winters, I spent many afternoons in my friend Tsetsgee’s yurt, escaping the bitter cold outside. It was enlightening to compare our different parenting techniques. Whenever a tussle over toys broke out between our two-year-olds, my first reaction would be to try to restore peace by distracting Calum with another toy while explaining the principle of sharing. But this took a while, and had a success rate of only about 50 percent. The other times, when Calum was unwilling to back down and his frustration escalated to near boiling point, I would pick him up and cradle him in my arms for a feed.

      Tsetsgee had a different approach. At the first murmur of discord, she would lift her shirt and start waving her boobs around enthusiastically, calling out, “Come here, baby, look what mama’s got for you!” Her son would look up from the toys to the bull’s-eyes of his mother’s breasts and invariably toddle over.

      Success rate? 100 percent.

      Not to be outdone, I adopted the same strategy. There we were, two mothers flapping our breasts like competing strippers trying to entice a client. If the grandparents were around, they’d get in on the act. The poor kids wouldn’t know where to look – the reassuring fullness of their own mothers’ breasts, granny’s withered pancake boasting its long experience, or the strange mound of flesh granddad was squeezing up in breast envy. Try as I might, I can’t picture a similar scene at a La Leche League meeting.

  9. I am just wondering why the comments that don’t agree with the author, and go against what the author is saying are not getting approved?

    1. Hi Bianca. I’m just working through the comments at the moment which is why they haven’t been approved. I have been away from my messages all morning! Please bear with me, I welcome debate on the blog. thanks!

  10. I still don’t agree with you that infants need to cry to release tension etc, you can’t compare an older child or toddler with an infant. If I was a brand new mom and reading this article I would think my crying baby who has just been fed and changed is just releasing some tension, had I not followed my instinct and looked into it further because I do not accept that infants just cry for the sake of it, I would not have taken her to an osteopath to help her with the very real tension she was feeling in her back from a very traumatic c-section. Two visits with the osteopath and my baby was a happy one, only crying when she needed something. And I agree with Laura, breastfeeding is not just about food, it’s so much more than that. Others may use pacifiers to soothe their kids, some use the boob. The one is no better or worse than the other.

    1. You’re absolutely right to follow your instincts and check all the needs first, and great that you even looked outside the box of ‘basic needs’ and could discover that the osteopath helped. My daughter was 8-9 months old when I helped her sleep through the night, and by this time I could read her needs pretty well. I breastfed her to sleep, food and comfort did naturally become intertwined for us. But I did also sense a subtle tension between us at times, like we were both on edge. And what I found is that when I listened to her feelings before sleep for example she was more relaxed and at ease. Babies like toddlers and adults do have feelings, as well as needs. And I found my daughter’s wellbeing improved dramatically when I started to listen and asertain the feelings she was trying to tell me as well as her needs. I think it’s totally right to be cautious and wary, to trust our instincts which are the most important thing as a mother. My instincts naturally led me to start listening to my daughter’s feelings. I’d read in the Aware Baby, and on the Hand in Hand parenting website, that crying is not just about needs, but does have a healing function. But I still kept an open mind, because how could I just assume something I read? I still used my instincts, I cautiously and slowly listened to my daughter, and when I saw her smiles, her relaxed sleep, that she was no longer, tense and jumpy and on edge in the night, that she was peaceful and relaxed in the day, I realised that yes, crying does heal.

      1. At no point did I suggest infants don’t have feelings or needs – they very much have those and my point exactly is that those feelings and needs need to be met. Like I said in my first comment, this is your opinion and what worked for you but people should not take this as a rule that this will fix the issues they might have, especially not sleep issues. Because if an infant is left to cry, eventually they will stop crying because they know no one will respond to them anyway. What a sad thought that is, to think my kid stopped crying because he knows I won’t comfort him anyway. A toddler throwing a tantrum will stop when he’s being ignored for exactly the same reason, but I don’t think this should apply to an infant. Even holding a crying baby as well as an older child, does so much more, not only will your child know he can express his feelings and it’s okay to cry but they also knows you’re there for them during what is to them a really tough time. Please understand that my issue with your article is specifically with reference to infants, my toddler also cries at times, and even though I always talk to her about what is going on and let her know that I am there for her when she is ready for me to hold her, she does at times cry without me holding her because that is her choice, she might be mad at me and doesn’t want me to hold at that point. And whether I hold her or not while she is crying, I reassure her that it’s okay to cry and it’s okay to let it all out. If she’s angry about something, I tell her it’s totally fine to be angry about it, just like I also tell her if something she has done upset me, because we are all entitled to our feelings. When she stops crying I will talk to her about why she cried, why she was angry etc and if I caused the anger by for example not allowing her to do something, I explain to her why I had to do that. I always validate her feelings because it’s important for her to know that she is entitled to her feelings and no one can take those away from her. But I can assure you, my child has never cried for no reason. Every time she has cried, there was a reason behind it even if I didn’t realise what that reason was at the time. There is always a reason. I have not yet found her crying just to release stress. Which in return shows again that all kids are different so don’t just leave your infant crying and put it down to ‘it’s good for them as they are just releasing stress’ – As they reach toddlerhood it is easier to distinguish between the cries as they can communicate better, but an infant can not communicate to you what he is feeling.

  11. We used a floor bed and if our daughter was upset in the middle of the night, either my husband or I would lay with her and she would calm down, unless she was actually hungry. In which case she would breastfeed and then go back to sleep with some cuddles. My daughter had a lot of tears in her first year and although I’ve not read the book you reference, I felt like you that I accompanied her through her tears. Here’s a bit of our story of how we used the floor bed

  12. I know this topic can be a real hot potato. There is a world of difference between a baby crying alone (which they never ever should) and one that is being held and heard and reassured and loved while they cry. Agreed, there are other ways for emotional release, laughter is a great one, but crying is also a great one, a wonderful healing response to relieve stress, anxiety, anger and fear. There are stress hormones released in tears which are not released in any other way in the body.
    The problem is that a lot of us, myself included, rarely, if ever, had our tears listened to as infants, toddlers or children. They were often suppressed by food or jiggling up and down, even anger, or worst of all ignored, left alone in prams and cots to cry it out, a devastating experience for a child of any age, let alone a baby. These traumatic experiences are stored in our limbic systems and when our own babies cry, the system is instantly and profoundly restimulated. Our body memory will strive to respond in the same way we were responded to as infants, and you may feel an urge (like I did for many months with my own son) to stop your baby crying at all costs, because it is just too uncomfortable, painful, or rage inducing to bear, to hear them cry.
    It is very important to have a good friend or listening partner willing to explore these feelings with before we can listen well to our babies. That way we will can release some of our own feelings about not being listened to, and how we feel hearing our babies cry. This then frees up our limbic system and rational mind to be able to really hear our babies and children.
    I only managed to do this the first time myself because I was sitting in a meditation session with a deeply trusted teacher who was able to gently and wisely guide me in doing this. I knew my son had a clean nappy, had fed and slept well and was in good health. I had fully checked that there were no other apparent needs I could fulfil, which of course is the first thing to do. I had slowed down sufficiently to be able to hear what my son was communicating to me through his cries. The first time I really listened to his tears so closely, while holding him in my arms was a deeply profound and life changing experience for both of us. Our bond deepened tremendously and when his tears were all out he looked up at me with such contentment and deep relaxation. This is what his tears communicated to me “thank you for finally letting me get some of this off my chest, you have no idea of how hard a journey it has been to come from spirit and manifest here in human form, every time I have tried to tell you about this, you stuffed a breast in my mouth”!
    Perhaps you know the benefit of a good cry with a trusted friend or partner and how healing it can be? The same is true for babies. He became a much calmer and happier baby as a result of my learning how to listen to him and I continue to listen to him throughout toddlerhood and childhood and our relationship is close and full of trust and he is very good at expressing himself.
    For me this had nothing to do with sleeping through the night, we co-slept and night fed, and I was very happy with all of that. For me this became about healing from my own experience of being unheard as a child and doing the absolute best I could for my son, so that he always felt able to express his feelings safe in the knowledge that he would be heard, safely held and loved the whole way through the storm till the sun shone brightly out again on the other side.

    Thanks Kate for a brilliant article – Ruby is a very lucky little girl!

  13. Hey, I have a problem of trying to ween my 2 year old from breastfeeding even though we co-sleep. He demands it, and almost does it himself. When I try to not give it to him, he looks hurt and feels rejected, then cries. My husband is able to get him to sleep but at around 4am, he comes to our room, get in the bed and asks for boob, by whining. At 4am, I’m not coherent enough to do much but to lift the boob out and he stays on it for a while. I actually fall asleep long before I think he lets go of it. My question to you is, at two, how can I stop a habit that we have formed and he is reliant on, without him feeling rejected and insecure. If only I started sooner? After the 4am feeding in bed, I don’t remember how many times he breastfeeds because I’m asleep. This doesn’t really sound like a problem, since everyone is sleeping mostly through the night, but I am soooo ready to ween!! I just want my body back. Any suggestions?

  14. Isn’t this basically the cry it out method? I thought aware parenting involved attachment parenting?

  15. I read your article Sleeping Through the Night last night and felt it was the first one that ever rang true for me, thank you!
    But a day later though I still have lots of doubts.
    Our daughter is almost 18 months and has co-slept since birth. We live in India so the concept of a separate cot is unheard of. She cried a lot as a tiny baby and after a few weeks I started using an exercise ball to bounce on while holding her and it had an almost miraculous affect to the point where we would use it to calm her for any day to day tears as well as to get to sleep. Now I can see that maybe this was a mistake in removing her chance to cry her tensions out.
    She has always been a very light sleeper with very short naps (2 x 30mins daily until the age of 10months and since then longer naps of up to 2 hours) so I was exhausted from the outset and breastfeeding quickly became the other surefire way of getting her to sleep, for naps and during the night. Like Astrid, during the night I will fall asleep before she finishes feeding and not know how many times she feeds until morning but my husband informs it is between 3 and 6 times. So basically she has never fallen asleep without either feeding or the ball (and a handful of times in the Ergobaby or the carseat).
    Due to a recent severe tummy bug I stopped feeding her for 24hours and she coped amazingly well and has now stopped feeding during the day (still bounces to sleep for naps) but night time she is as dependent as ever and now my milk has reduced it has started causing her anxiety. So last night when she woke an hour and a half after sleeping, I gently stroked her and cradled her in my arms while she realised she was not getting any milk and went from loud crying to shrieking in her worst ever crying episode. In the end she could hardly breath. Nothing I did calmed her, in fact she was grabbing my hands to throw them off and arching vertical while I tried to stay calm and listen to her and understand her upset which seemed more like anger at being deprived 😦 I could have bounced her on the ball and surely sent her back to sleep but I thought this was just replacing one crutch with another.
    After a long time (45mins?) no neighbours called to see what we were doing to her, she fell asleep and yes did sleep a clear 7 hours which was very impressive. During waking hours, she is extremely happy, sociable, bright and independent little one but today I feel she is less ‘joyful’. She broke into a 5min bout of the intense shrieking of last night just because I asked her to sit down in her chair. I feel that the more she gets used to such intense crying, the more she will do it for whatever reason day or night.
    My concern is that my presence did not seem to relieve her trauma last night at all but rather she just fell asleep when all energy was gone. I also don’t now know whether to ween her off the night feeds AND the ball at the same time or first the feeding and then the ball? Particularly on this last point, some advice would be really welcome…

  16. Hi Kate, thank you for this post. I’ve been reading about the aware baby and found you through related searches. I’ve started some crying in arms with my daughter who is 7 months and its been amazing seeing how she moves through to sleep or a peaceful relaxed state after. It’s so lovely hearing her go to sleep now with those sleep noises.
    I wanted to ask – when you started with your daughter at 8 months was she in a cot or were you bed sharing…?
    We start off with her in the cot then move her into bed with me at present. I sleep talk and move so longer term feel she’d be better off in her cot close by. Thanks again

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