What the Books Don’t Tell You About Infant Sleep

Amazon shows 2,262 search results for a search for “sleep training”. Book after book, gadget after gadget. Things to make noise, things to make light, things to wrap your baby up in cloth that imitates your arms.

What the books don’t tell you, what the gadgets aren’t honest about, what the noise machines and the light machines and all those other mothers at the playgroups don’t tell you about is this:

Some babies do not sleep until they are ready.

It’s not your fault.

There’s nothing you should do differently.

There’s nothing you can do differently.

And it’s okay.

There are tricks that you can learn that might help make things easier. There are things you can try that your baby might or might not respond to. There are coping mechanisms you can develop to make it easier on you. There are things that you and your partner can do to help relieve the stress on your relationship.

If sleep was as easy as “put the baby down awake but sleepy”, or “just let him cry for five minutes”, or all those little simplified lines of advice that we hear.. There would not be so many books on the topic. There would not be so many gadgets. There would not be so many other mothers talking about it on forums and in play groups.

It’s not that easy. You are not failing. You should not feel bad that you feel the need to respond when your baby cries. You are not creating “bad habits”. You are reassuring a small and dependent human child. You are not “taking the easy way out”. You are supporting your baby’s sleep while they need support.

All those “sure fire guaranteed” ways to train your baby to sleep are not guarantees. They are tools that work for some babies and parents and that do not work for others. Just as tools in a toolbox are not the guarantee of a house being built if the wood available is not the right size or cut for a house. And all those things in all those books won’t work to make all babies sleep in the same way.

It’s okay to ignore the books that insist that you ignore your child. It’s okay to be responsive. It’s okay to pull your baby close for as long as they need you near. It’s okay to wait until you can teach them how to sleep with words instead of with tears cried alone.

It’s okay. It’s normal.

And once you realize that it’s okay and normal you can fill up your toolkit with all the things that work, throw out all the ones that don’t, and settle in to snuggle that sweet little one of yours and to teach them to fall asleep with  joy and with love rather than with tears and a battle.

You are not alone. You are in the company of many.

The books don’t tell you this because they want their “method” to work.

Your baby is not a method. Your baby does not need to be a method.

You’re not doing anything wrong. You’re doing everything right. Now drop the worry, drop the anxiety, and come join us to see if we can help you fill up your toolkit with the things that help.


You do not have a one size fits all baby. You have your baby. A unique and wonderful human being with unique needs.

And that’s a beautiful wonderful thing.

9 thoughts on “What the Books Don’t Tell You About Infant Sleep

  1. I totally and completely agree that every baby is different and some methods that work for one baby may not work for another.


    “Ignore the books that insist you ignore your child.”

    Really? Ignore? Do you really think any good mom out there who is trying to sleep train is actually ignoring their child? My problem with this article isn’t that I disagree with other forms of parenting. I, myself, read babywise and it worked for my son and me. I recognize that not every one has the same results. My problem is that you are implying those parents who did use sleep training must have ignored their children, they must have just plopped their babies down in the crib, shut the lights off and never uttered another word or thought another thought about their child until they woke up. These insensitive barbaric parents must have never held their child close because we are much too excited to “ignore” them the rest of the night. You are creating a rift in parents who decide to use different methods of parenting. We should all be understanding and accepting of each other instead of writing passive aggressive articles about what you obviously don’t agree with.

    Baby Wise was the only book I read. It never taught me to ignore my baby. It was a book that taught consistency, routine and schedule, all good things for children AND adults. My son started to learn that the crib was the place he fell asleep, and because of the schedule and routine I had for him… boy was he ready to hit the hay. In the beginning, of course, it’s not easy. That’s having a baby in general! But if he cried for 10 minutes, I wasn’t ignoring him. I was sitting next to the monitor, staring at the clock, and making sure if he cried longer than 15 minutes we would start our bedtime routine all over again. Which meant feeding, changing, singing, holding, loving, reassuring, etc. There is nothing wrong with allowing your baby a chance to fall asleep. Crying for 10 minutes isn’t going to make your baby feel like they don’t have support and love.

    I know your main message in this article was supposed to be “What the Books Don’t Tell You About Infant Sleep”, but to someone else who was successful with their “methods”, it came across passive aggressive towards other mothers with a different perspective.

    For instance, the line, “It’s okay to wait until you can teach them how to sleep with words instead of with tears cried alone.”

    Guess what? I never ignored my child. I was and am responsive. I pulled my baby close. And…. I’m a good mom. For you to write an article that could possibly make any other mom out there with different “methods” than you feel guilty is just down right hypocritical and you should be ashamed.

    1. Katherine,

      I have no ability to take what you know to be the loving and responsive relationship that you have with your child and make it less than what you know it to be.

      A large part of our parenting is our perceptions of how we parent. There are so many methods that people follow with their children that we have to filter them somehow.

      While you read Babywise and feel that you are able to use its methods consistently and lovingly (and you are right! You have been!) I read babywise and see a book that is telling me to be negligent and put my own desire for schedule ahead of the needs of my child. While you follow the book and see a thriving child adapting to a schedule, I would try to follow it and see a weak sickly screaming unhealthy child.

      I have seen other mothers use Babywise and I have seen their children thrive. This post is not about them. This is about the guilt that mothers of high needs babies feel whe/ifn/if those methods do not work, run counter to their instincts, traumatize their child, and they are told that they are doing it wrong and that they should persevere.

      Any parent who finds a method that works well for them and that their child thrives under should not feel badly at all. Why should they?

      Not all babies are the same, though. And every day there is tremendous pressure on moms to ignore their screaming children. I am not saying that this is what you did. I have never met you or your child. I was not in your home when your child was sleep trained.

      Babywise does not contain a section about what to do when the method does not work for someone’s child. When Babywise does not work for someone’s child the result is a screaming child who is ignored.

  2. I thought this article was great Sarah, and I totally see the point you are trying to make. We as moms beat ourselves up so much, and you were simply trying to say, “Hey, lets stop doing this, maybe there is no perfect method for sleep training, and that’s OK”. I in no way shape or form took this as you bashing babywise, in fact I’m doing babywise, and yes it is working, but what if it stopped working and I started blaming myself, which I would, haha and by reading your article I could reassure myself, that hey, maybe it’s not my fault, to take a deep breathe, snuggle my precious baby girl, and try something else. That’s what I took away from it. I thought it was a lovely article, thank you! And on a side note, thank you for your help last week, we have reached the end of the six week growth spurt, and I’m still ALIVE! Haha in fact, it just hit me that she was needing me a little less, and eating a little less, and then it hit me that it must signal the end of the spurt, and I was actually a little sad bc as hard as last week was with a painful plugged duct, and the constant neediness and constant breastfeeding that is the six week spurt, we did have some delicious snuggles, and I’m starting to realize that this time is flying by, and that I can never get it back. So THANK YOU, for being my very own perspective fairy, and I love, love, love the blog. Hugs, Stephie

  3. If “babies don’t come with manuals” why are there so many? If humans are variable species, why are so many books and experts touting the same or similar advice? These are questions I pose to myself when I begin to doubt my path of parenting or start to doubt what role I play in my child’s needs.

    To top it off, it seems like our culture is adopting judgment and defensiveness when it comes to parenting. I think it may have something to do with so many different backgrounds, heritages, and faiths all clashing against each other compounded by separation of cohesion. We aren’t predominantly Japanese, who by large bedshare or cosleep, and share space with extended family, for example.

    I risk generalizing now but I hope that made sense.

  4. I constantly read your page and I love your posts. What I don’t understand are the women who constantly come up and bash you on here. I have not once seen a post where you bash or put down women with differing parenting methods. You choose to share your journey with women and strive to make others who choose the same path comfortable with their choice. Thanks for the lovely posts

    1. Ess-

      I haven’t seen anyone “bashing” so much as responding defensively. Which I understand completely! Motherhood is a rough journey and we all make choices along that journey. When we feel that those choices are being called into question, it’s natural that we will feel defensive about it. :)

      Since I talk about CIO and my reasons for not choosing to CIO, and the reasons why all the books that say you MUST CIO or that there’s a guaranteed method to get babies to sleep and if babies aren’t sleeping you’re doing it wrong.. It’s natural that a mama that chose to use CIO with her baby might feel judged since I’m talking about the reasons behind my dismissing CIO as the only option. A lot of mama’s that use CIO *do* feel it’s the only option, or that it’s a necessary step, and they feel that it is a loving and difficult choice. And it *is* a loving and difficult choice.

      The mommy wars have those mama’s being told that they’re not making a loving choice, and that they’re making a selfish/bad choice. So I think that they see that in my process of dismissing CIO as “not for me”, and just react from that place of hurt.

      I don’t blame them.

      I’m glad that you see the heart of my posts, though. Nurshable exists not to make others uncomfortable with the choices that they make that are different from mine, but to help other mama’s that parent similarly find that place of peace so that they can parent with joy and closeness.


  5. I am awake tonight, two hours after attempting to not nurse my one year old after she woke from her sleep. Because I have doubted myself, my instincts, my wisdom as a mother. You see, my daughter’s pediatrician suggested I not nurse her at night because “she doesn’t need it” and “if you need more of a reason, just think of her teeth (rotting from the breast milk)”. Being ever-so-exhausted, I decided to give that a try again (I have attempted to forego the night feedings in the past with no success). After listening to her scream and intermittently trying to console her for a half hour straight, I held her in my arms, kissed her head, and nursed her. And she is sound asleep, but I am not because I had to work through some guilt issues.
    I know very well that I should not listen to advice that doesn’t sit well with my instincts, yet out of desperation, I have tried other people’s ways. Out of fear I long ago abandoned co-sleeping and I still mourn the loss of that time with my daughter. At one year old, I don’t think I can take back what we’ve lost because she is used to sleeping alone.
    Your words resonate with me and I appreciate that you take the time to share them. Tonight I felt at battle with the advice I was given and my instincts to care for my daughter who was in distress. I choose to listen to her needs and know that I can meet them with love and respect.
    Thank you for your words because tonight, I felt like a failure as a mother and I know that I am not.

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