Sleep? What’s that?
By Erin Kaspar-Frett, Earth Mother Midwife
We want it. We need it. Lack of it affects our mental health and ability to think. And yet, we just never seem to get enough, especially if we have young children: sleep.
There are a handful of books written about the subject suggesting ways to work with baby or providing the amount of time it’s okay to let baby “cry it out.” Even with these “expert” tips, many of us still struggle. What do those parents/babies that sleep have that we don’t? You know the ones I mean: the ones on Facebook that always look great and are super smiley. What is the secret?
The truth is that sleeping habits are about as varied as humans are. And there isn’t ONE right way to help babies or children (or humans, for that matter) sleep better. However, there are a few things we can do to help allof us sleep better.
One thing we know is that we can’t actually spoil a baby under four to six months by holding them too much. In order to establish a secure sense of the world and attachment, it is important to respond to babies this young when they cry. It doesn’t mean they won’t cry, or that they will always stop crying. It means we let them know we are there for them and attending to their needs the best we can. However, we are human and we might need a break as well, so do take care of your own needs. That could mean stepping away for a minute or three, even when baby is crying. But that is different than leaving baby alone in a room to cry, under the belief that allowing them to cry alone is benefiting them.
Elizabeth Pantley’s book, No Cry Sleep Solution, is a wonderful middle ground between the “cry it out” method and never sleeping again! The “cry it out” method, with feeding schedules, has been shown to be detrimental to baby’s health. Pantley’s book offers 15 key ways to help your baby, and you, sleep better at night without having to keep a log or a schedule.
Baby’s sleep cycles are different than adults. Adults have a light sleep, deep sleep then REM (dream). Baby’s enter REM prior to deep sleep, opposite of us parents. This helps with brain development and integration into their lives and bodies. But it does mean they could wake after 15 or so minutes of sleeping if they find discomfort prior to entering deep sleep.
Here are a couple tips for a better night’s sleep:
Keep lights at night-light level during nighttime feedings and diapering, using quiet voices and being very boring.
Attend to the physical comforts of baby, such as temperature (some babies run hotter and some cooler), light level (some babies are afraid of the complete dark), and distance to a human (some sleep better next to someone and some at a distance).
Try to learn your baby’s sleep pattern. If you can identify when your baby’s sleep cycle happens, you can work with it and work to shift it, rather than forcible trying to change it.
We don’t get to choose our baby’s preferences or needs, but we can work with and around them.
The biggest piece of advice? Don’t sweat it. Do what you need for you, shift your life as much as you are able, and then let go of being perfect. Trying hard to make it “just right” can backfire and create more stress. And ask for help from friends and family if you aren’t getting enough sleep yourself. Know that we will never be perfect as parents. We do the best we can and trust they will someday forgive us.