That is the question that all mothers ask themselves probably 82 times a day. Do you leave your baby to cry at some point, or don’t you?

Ellie is now 12 weeks old, and we are starting to wonder if now she might be ready for a bit of tough love. According to “Sleepy Sense,” we should be training her to send herself to sleep, and anything else is a disservice to our baby. This is not to say, dump her in her room and let her “cry it out;” but it may entail some crying, and what I want to know is, how much, and how old do you start?

In “Baby on Board,” a big point is made of the role of carers in the babies’ brain development. The author, a neonatologist, explains that current research shows that a person’s self-esteem and ability to form loving relationships basically comes down to how you treat them in the first 18 months of their life. No pressure, so. That said, the author does say you should get your baby into good sleeping habits before they are 5-6 months old, when they can start learning how to “manipulate” you to get what they want.

So what to DO? Is 12 weeks too young to start sleep training, by which I mean, trying to settle and re-settle in the cot, and leaving to cry for say, 10 minutes before responding – and still trying to leave in the cot when responding? Or is this going to damage my baby irrevocably so she becomes one of the toddlers in the child attachment experiments who seems to not care at all when muma leaves the room, or who clings to muma desperately, not believing that she will come back once gone. Or am I going to instead train her to not be able to sleep without my assistance if I continue as I am doing, thereby doing some other sort of damage?

(I should point out at this stage that it’s naps that I am finding it hard to settle Ellie for, during the day. She normally naps pretty well in the mornings, but in the afternoons she may sleep for a cycle or worse, the dreaded half cycle, and generally refuse to sleep for another one….sometimes I end up rocking her and holding her for her nap, just to avoid her getting too overtired….And at night she is still “colicky,” by which I mean she needs to be rocked or held for anywhere up to 8 hours before she will finally crash out. But once she does crash out, she has just started to sleep for at least 5 hours – once, she slept for 8! she had a cold – but still! – which is pretty acceptable to me as a human in need of sleep). When do we stop giving her the benefit of the colicky doubt and start to treat these afternoon/evenings as periods for determined sleep training on our part?

And what constitutes crying exactly, anyway? For example, do you start counting ten minutes from when she starts grizzling, even if there are pauses between grizzles? Or do you say you have left her to cry for ten minutes only when she really starts screaming consistently, as in, no-holds-barred, see how long I can sustain this note opera training? And if grizzling counts and I have left her for twenty minutes and then she starts to properly cry, does that mean that all this time, I have already been doing irreparable damage to my baby’s brain and she is going to be a crank who spits bile at waitresses about her babycino?

Ah sigh. Yen and I have agreed to err on the side of caution and still pick her up and respond if she starts to seriously cry. We want her self-esteem in tact and her cortisol levels regulated, more than we want her in good sleep habits. That said, I think she is generally doing pretty well – just making my days rather stressful, but hey, my cortisol responses are already set in stone. And in the evenings I do gratefully lie down, letting Yen do the hard yards of rocking and comforting until I think it must be time to feed her again – as one wise woman said, let the baby wear out one parent at a time. And with some trepidation but also, I think, remarkable foresight for someone with perennial exhaustion, I have booked us into baby boot camp for when she is four months and one week old. Because I may be a soft touch, but those midwives sure aren’t.