When you have a baby, standard sleep advice goes something like:
- Establish a bedtime routine as early as possible
- Never allow baby to fall asleep being fed or cuddled
- Put baby to bed awake
- Only let them sleep in a cot or other suitable adult-chosen place
- Do not respond to baby during the night if they wake, they do not need you they are trying to manipulate you
- Baby should be sleeping through the night by 6 months or there is something wrong with you/it
- Anything other than sleeping in own bed from X early hour of the evening to X hour of the morning is wrong
- All children need X amount of sleep at Y age
Ours goes: what an utter load of bunkum that is!!
Having been shot down in flames before for suggesting that parents try honouring natural sleep, or at least avoid the evil that is cry-it-out, I should probably tread carefully, but that's not me.
So here's our sleep advice:
- Recognise that there is a huge discrepancy between evolutionary instinct and modern Western expectations when it comes to sleep, and your baby's instinct is to be protected by you at all times, especially at night or during sleep when the risk of predators/danger is greater. Babies' primitive brains don't know things have changed, so they will yell if 'abandoned'.
- Acknowledge how sleep works and that a baby or toddler's sleep cycle is as short as 45 minutes, so they are likely to rouse often. As Sarah Ockwell-Smith says:
"We need to accept that actually babies are not meant to sleep thorough the night. In fact nobody, not even adults, sleeps through the night! A baby's sleep cycle is only around 45 minutes long, half the length of an adult's. Therefore babies have the potential to wake around 15 times every night for at least their first year. When you think of it like that, you realise that actually most sleep very well."
- Remember that a baby's stomach is tiny and they will need to be fed regularly, the best way to do this is by breastfeeding, and the easiest way to do that is by safe co-sleeping. At birth a baby's stomach can hold just a teaspoon of milk and, although this quickly grows, it still needs to be filled often, so be prepared for regular night-time wakings, and embrace them! You are helping your baby grow in the best possible way. Waking through the night is NORMAL and also biologically adaptive, probably helping prevent SIDS as well as serving other essential functions for your highly-dependent baby. (Remember human babies are born far too early compared to other mammals and thus heavily rely on their parents for protection, food etc.)
- Honour natural sleep patterns, what's normal for your child? Many of us acknowledge that there are night owls and larks in waking times, and that adult sleep needs are as varied as every other human quirk, yet many of us still believe there is a norm for babies. This is completely counter-intuitive, surely?
- Consign the self-soothing myth to the waste bin of ridiculous parenting advice and leave it there. Children left to cry themselves to sleep, or to otherwise fall asleep alone, just give up, because no-one is taking any notice of them. Who wants that for the child they love?! Cry it out and other 'withdrawal' methods of sleep training use poor research and usually do not even consider the harm done to babies. When harm is a consideration, the evidence is shocking. This is what happens when babies supposedly learn to self-soothe.
- Never, ever practice sleep training of the cry it out, controlled crying, or other punitive types, as there is growing evidence of an increased risk of SIDS, as well as the anecdotal evidence of several high-profile cases.
- Consider if what Western society considers a 'sleep problem' is really a problem. Who for? maybe it's your parenting beliefs and expectations that need to change, not your baby's, they're acting purely on instinct - are you? I stand by this quote:
"a parent’s perceptions about what constitutes a sleep problem may be triggered by either a disconnect between expectations of uninterrupted sleep and a toddler sleep pattern that arguably falls within the range of normal, or by the impact that night waking has on the parent’s quality of sleep and daily functioning"
As for you as a parent, how can you cope with the disruption to your usual expectations of sleep that having a baby brings?
- NAP - often, as much as possible, and whenever you get a chance - when baby sleeps, when your partner is home to look after baby, WHENEVER YOU GET THE CHANCE. Do not underestimate the power of the nap.
- Eat well but avoid going to bed on a full stomach as this can disturb your sleep while your body tries to digest all that food. Equally, hunger causes wakefulness by releasing adrenaline, so a light snack before bed can help sleep.
- Reserve the bedroom for sleep only. This means no TV, no emails, no phones. Working, eating, talking on the phone and using the computer are daytime activities, which will weaken your associations with the bedroom and sleep.
- Chose the right mattress. Every moment spent in bed is precious and a good mattress can make all the difference to having a good nights sleep. Naturalmat take care to ensure that all of their lovely organic and natural fillings are encased in a pure, unbleached natural cotton cover, treated with natural geranoil to banish bed bugs; keeping the mattress 100% chemical free, so both you and baby can sleep easy at night.
- If life at the moment involves night wakings, make time in your life and your schedule for that to happen. You'll be getting sleep when you can with all those naps, so make the most of that special night time with your baby, invest in some box sets or a subscription service, set up a cosy sofa corner with breastfeeding pillow, water, snacks, and spend lots of time feeding, cuddling and gazing at your baby, whilst also catching up on those must-watch series. (Ditto for books, Kindle, blogs etc but I usually find the TV thing easier and more enjoyable/acceptable at 2am, my eyes are too tired to read but not to watch!) Then when baby sleeps, head back to bed with them. It's bliss!
The main thing is this phase doesn't last and, truly, you will miss it when it comes to and end, so embrace it all - literally and figuratively - and throw all the expectations and beliefs out the door. Trust your baby and let them lead. You will get enough sleep, it might just be in a different way and at different times to what you expect.
Post in association with NaturalMat