Why is my baby crying?!
As postpartum doulas in Portland, OR as well as sleep consultants, we understand the heartstrings that are pulled if your baby is fussing or crying at bedtime or when it’s time to go down for a nap! Sometimes they fuss, sometimes they cry, sometimes they yell – each little one is different, just like each parent’s response is different. If you have a hard time hearing these hollers and want to run to rescue them at the very first sound of unhappiness, let us offer you a new way to think about your child’s sleep protests. We call it the Chocolate Ice Cream mentality (please note this is NOT advice for newborns).
Before we get started. . .
Let’s start with WHY we want to offer this information. It’s not because we want you to ignore your baby’s crying. We’re not telling you to abandon your baby and not fulfill their needs. Instead, we’re offering a very important step that is necessary for attachment and bonding— REGULATION.
Prior to being able to help your baby and offer them support to address their needs, you need to regulate yourself. You need to regulate your emotions so you can respond vs react, so you can think objectively, so you can be calm to help your baby be calm. This post offers a tool that will help you make a simple shift in your thinking so that you are able to support your baby in the best way possible.
You had me at chocolate…
We have all borne witness to the intensity, severity, and sometimes comical emotional expressions that three-year-olds are capable of, especially in moments like these: “I wanted the purple spoon and you gave it to me, now I don’t want it; I want to eat only jam for breakfast and I’m going to do it by putting my fingers in the jar; my pancake isn’t round enough.”
This is exactly what’s happening during bedtime challenges, including when changing sleep associations – your child is protesting change! So when you hear your baby crying or yelling, revolting against nap or bedtime, reframe it as if they are yelling for chocolate ice cream. “CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM. I. WANT. CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM!!!” In fact, you may even want to say the words out loud if your child is yelling or crying. When they yell, you say “chocolate ice cream.” Trust me, it really helps keep everything in perspective.
Also, note that this is what’s happening during Extinction Bursts – those pesky last-ditch efforts to keep old habits (you may recognize them if you’ve ever tried to diet or maybe give up carbs, you know, the day you chuck it out the window and eat the loaf garlic bread).
Gentle Sleep Coaching
Now that we’ve reframed the situation, let’s talk a little more about what this means in terms of sleep training, aka getting your baby to sleep on their own.
First of all, a little protesting (5-10 minutes before bed) is NOT crying it out. It is exactly what we stated – it is protesting. When we’re sleep training babies or changing a routine to better serve the needs of the child and the family, what we’re really doing is communicating new boundaries! Much like if policy changes at work, the people that don’t like it will grumble and complain (maybe actually throw a fit and/or quit) and try to push back against the policy change. However, once the new guideline is set into place and held firm, the policy becomes accepted, tried and people start working on how to meet the guidelines.
Tiffany gently and respectfully guided us and our baby to learn how to help her sleep. She was available for any follow up questions and concerns we had. Our baby is doing really well sleeping on her own, and we have gained hours of time in our day and evening to get things done and spend time with our older kids. We are also soooo much less sleep deprived!- Jessica
. . . responding vs reacting
Think about what would happen if management put in place a new policy, but changed it every time an employee said they didn’t like it. There would be no consistency. People would be confused, management wouldn’t be able to predict the employees’ behavior, and employees wouldn’t know what was expected of them. Most importantly, neither management nor employee would know each other’s potential! Communication and expectations would be unclear and confusing!
Now you, as the parent, are laying out the new boundaries and communication around sleep for the household and then learning the appropriate response to your baby’s objections rather than having knee-jerk reactions. Essentially you are RESPONDING not REACTING.
Knowing that your baby is essentially yelling for chocolate ice cream during bedtime should help you keep this mindset. Their needs are met, they just don’t currently like the change. They are still adjusting, but in a very, very short time, they will adapt if you stay consistent.
*Please note that this article is discussing protesting bedtime; you should certainly respond to crying related to hunger or other needs!! Not sure of the difference? We can help!