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Q&A: We tend to her every need. But many express sheer horror…



Question: My 18-month-old toddler wakes up twice per night to nurse. We sleep together, and we like it this way. Many of my family and friends express sheer horror at learning of our situation, though, and my mother swears I will live to regret it. Will I? Am I doing something wrong?

Elizabeth Pantley responds: Once upon a time a long time ago (16 years to be exact), my firstborn was a baby and I was a new mommy. I wasn’t very experienced in the care of babies, but I was a smart, independent and somewhat spunky new mother. Angela, my tiny baby, was high-needs. She wanted to be held, nursed and tended to nearly every waking moment — and most of her sleeping moments as well. I followed my heart by providing exactly what she needed. She was happy. I was happy. My husband was happy.

Others were not. Friends, family and even my pediatrician bombarded me with questions, advice and suggestions: “Why do you hold her so much?”, “You shouldn’t jump when she makes a peep!”, “Just let her cry herself to sleep,” and “You’ll make her clingy and dependent if you don’t put her down.”

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Fast forward 16 years. Angela is now a 16-year-old young woman and the loveliest person. I enjoy her totally — yes, a teenager who is an enjoyable human being to be around! Angela is respectful to her elders, sweet to her younger siblings and kind to her friends. She’s smart, athletic and independent. I think we could call her upbringing a success.

We followed the same path with our second and third children. By the time our fourth child was born, when I ran to him whenever he made a peep and nursed him whenever he woke in the night and welcomed him into our bed … You know what those friends and family members said? “It worked so well with the other three! We see how great they’ve turned out. You’ve made us believers!” And my pediatrician now tells me, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” (And yes, he now has copies of my books.)

So be strong, no matter what others say! Your baby’s sleep habits are only problematic if you feel they’re problematic — not if Great-Aunt Beulah thinks so.

Today’s society leads us to believe that “normal babies” sleep through the night from about two months on. My research indicates that this is more the exception than the rule. Don’t pressure yourself or your baby to fit into some imagined sleeping requirement. Every baby is unique, every mother is unique and every family is unique. Only you can determine the right answers for your situation.

If you decide that you, your partner and your baby are all content with the way things are, then you’ll want a few tips on handling the unwanted advice that will no doubt continue to come your way. Remember that regardless of everyone else’s advice, this is your baby. In the end, you will raise your child the way that you think best, so it’s rarely worth creating a war over a well-meaning person’s comments. You can respond to unwanted advice – about sleep and all other aspects of your baby’s care — in a variety of ways:

Listen first
It’s natural to be defensive if you feel that someone is judging you, but chances are you are not being criticized. Rather, the other person is simply sharing what they feel to be valuable insight. Try to listen. You may just learn something valuable!

If you know that there is no convincing the other person to change her mind, simply smile, nod and make a non-committal response such as “Interesting!” Then go about your business your own way.

You might find one part of the advice that you agree with. If you can, provide wholehearted agreement on that topic.

Pick your battles
If your mother-in-law insists that your baby wear a hat on your walk to the park, go ahead and pop one on his head. This won’t have any long-term effects except that of placating her. However, don’t capitulate on issues that are important to you or the health or well-being of your child.

Steer clear of the topic
If your brother is pressuring you to let your baby cry to sleep but you would never do that, then don’t complain to him about your baby getting you up five times the night before. If he brings up the topic, then distraction is definitely in order.

Educate yourself
Knowledge is power. Protect yourself and your sanity by reading up on your parenting choices. Rely on the confidence that you are doing your best for your baby.

Educate the other person
If your “teacher” is imparting information that you know to be outdated or wrong, share what you’ve learned on the topic. You may be able to open the other person’s mind. Refer to a study, book or report that you have read.

Quote a doctor
Many people accept a point of view if a professional has validated it. If your own pediatrician agrees with your position, say, “My doctor said to wait until she’s at least six months before starting solids.” If your own doctor doesn’t back your view on that issue, then refer to another doctor — perhaps the author of a baby care book.

Be vague
Avoid confrontation with an elusive response. For example, if your sister asks if you’ve started potty training yet (but you are many months away from even starting the process), you can answer with, “We’re moving in that direction.”

Ask for advice!
Your friendly counselor is possibly an expert on a few issues that you can agree on. Search out these points and invite guidance. She’ll be happy that she is helping you, and you’ll be happy you have a way to avoid a showdown about topics that you don’t agree on.

Memorize a standard response
Here’s a comment that can be said in response to almost any piece of advice: “This may not be the right way for you, but it’s the right way for me.”

Be honestTry being honest about your feelings. Pick a time free of distractions and choose your words carefully, such as, “I know how much you love Harry, and I’m glad you spend so much time with him. I know you think you’re helping me when you give me advice about this, but I’m comfortable with my own approach and I’d really appreciate if you’d understand that.”

Find a mediator
If the situation is putting a strain on your relationship with the advice-giver, you may want to ask another person to step in for you.

Search out like-minded friends
Join a support group or online group with people who share your parenting philosophies. Talking with others who are raising their babies in a way that is similar to your own can give you the strength to face people who don’t understand your viewpoints.

© Elizabeth Pantley; (Elizabeth Pantley’s reponse contains excerpts from her books The No Cry Sleep Solution and Gentle Baby Care [McGraw-Hill, 2003].)

Parenting educator Elizabeth Pantley is the author of numerous parenting books. Buy her books at Powells.com. She is a regular radio show guest and is quoted frequently on the web and in national family and women’s publications. Elizabeth lives in Washington state with her husband, their four children and her mother. Visit her at www.pantley.com/elizabeth.

4 Responses to “Q&A: We tend to her every need. But many express sheer horror…”

1 verity says:

All I EVER heard about SIDS until a few days ago was that it was a total mystery and unstoppable.
This makes soo much sense but I never, ever knew this…

It says the flame retardant stuff in mattresses is whats killing children. I’m appalled and sickened but also so happy that I know now. I bought a crib/toddler bed and I wont be using it until my baby is a year old but sadly I can only afford a thick organic mattress pad. A crib mattress from walmart is $70 and an organic chemical free mattress is $500. Thats honestly impossible, I’m on WIC and foodstamps. Its really a terrible shame they would put such a high price on a babies life.

2 anna says:

Your comment and the article you read are fortunately based on wrong assumptions, please read this article at the bottom and you’ll feel better about your child mattress. Back to sleep, in a cool bedroom IS the way to help prevent SIDS.


3 Iona says:

Was searching for a natural remedy for headaches when I ran across this Q & A and was interested because I sleep-share with my 4yr. and 15 mo. olds, and don’t intend to stop until they’re ready to. My toddler also nurses and wakes during the night for sips. I tried, a couple months ago, to deny her, hoping to eventually wean by the time she was 1-1/2, and train her to only nurse before nap and bedtime. But then realized that extra sips didn’t mean she was “dependant”, and so I would honor her pace. I have found, lately, that she releases suction and turns over and then goes to sleep. So she is showing me her readiness to start “letting go.” The 4 yr. old weaned himself at 5 mos. and I couldn’t seem to coax him back, so they are different in this way. We also homeschool and this seems a little more the concern with people than our sleeping habits, but the 4 yr. old has surprised people with his knowledge and behavior and this usually shuts the skeptics up pretty fast (the sequence can also go: the 4 yr. old impresses someone, they ask about his schooling, we tell them we homeschool, they are surprised…). Just wanted the concerned mother to know she’s not alone and if we follow our hearts, we’re doing what we’re supposed to, and not subscribing to the “programming”. Namaste.

4 sophie says:

my 17month old little boy harry still sleeps in our bed, still wakes at least 4 times a night for a feed and a cuddle. i have never dprived himof these needs because i felt they needed to be respected and fufilled. i have had many of the same responses from family and friends and often i wonder if i am doing the right hting when i speak to other mothers who have been having full night’s sleeps for well over a year…however the single most important thing i have learnt on thismothering journey is to honour my intuition, anything less i feel is a compromise for my child, me and the universal law of mothering i adhere to - i am still exhausted and sometimes overwhelmed with the demands, but at the end of th eday i know my babe feels loved and his needs are being met.

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