There is so much pressure about having a baby who sleeps ‘all night’ , is it any wonder you worry whether you are doing some sort of harm to your baby if he doesn’t sleep ‘enough’ .
Often, the pressure to ‘teach’ (read ‘make’) your baby sleep can add another level of exhaustion as you second guess everything you are doing in case it’s influencing your baby’s sleep, or lack of it.
When will he sleep all night?
By the way, ‘all night’ is defined as five consecutive hours in baby sleep studies, not eight hours or twelve hours, as some people would have you believe.
How do I teach him to ‘self settle’ ?
Even with very young babies, there is pressure to ‘teach your baby to self-settle’ – to fall asleep without any help from you. The truth is that babies under four months(and often for many months longer), need a lot of help to fall asleep: newborns enter sleep through an active sleep phase and they have a strong startle reflex that’s likely to jerk them awake just as they are dozing off.
Besides, what’s the big deal about having some extra cuddles to help your baby relax and go into a lovely sound sleep? Consider, what environment helps you sleep best – do you simply hop into bed, lie down and fall asleep? Or do you have a nice warm drink, read a book or cuddle your partner before drifting off? Do you have nights after a busy day, when you find it more difficult to switch off and fall asleep? Do you sometimes wake with a fright from a scary dream that seemed real for a few moments? Do you doze off all snuggled up to your partner then just as you are almost asleep, do they poke you and say, you need to self-settle, move over to your own side of the bed or we will create bad habits?
And, the big one – am I creating ‘bad habits’?
Since when did needing cuddles become a bad habit? Your baby needs touch and movement to help his tiny brain develop healthy connections and structures for later learning and appropriate emotional responses; he needs reassurance and responsiveness to help him develop trust and a strong connection with you –that lasts a lifetime.
Your baby is learning, you are there for him, you are his safe person, he can come to you whether he is a baby, a toddler a school aged child or a teenager and you will listen and help him. And if anything you are doing becomes really difficult, please take heart, you can make gentle changes, gradually with love – without tears (for you or your baby!)
There is a lot of noise out there creating fears about a lot of perfectly normal baby behavior. However, when you are exhausted, knowing what’s normal doesn’t give you a sudden burst of energy. Sometimes you do need help so you can get some much needed rest, just so you can make out the woods from the trees. But, how do you find help ?
There are a few options to help sleepless families:
Family members– can you call your mum , sister or aunt to come and stay for a few days or can you go and stay with a family member who will support you as you catch up on some much needed rest? Please don’t worry about feeling judged because you aren’t ‘coping’ . Most people are only too glad to be involved with a family baby and, if they have had babies themselves, they will understand. You may even be giving them an opportunity to speak about how hard it was for them in their own early days.
A post natal doula – if you can afford hired help, a post-natal doula can be the next best thing to having your mum to help. And, because you are paying her, you can say what you need done without feeling you are imposing. A doula can come in for a few hours to ‘pack you together’ and watch your baby while you catch up on some uninterrupted sleep. She can cook a meal, hang out washing and make you a cuppa – just like your own mum.
A Mother Baby Unit – if you want to make some changes to the way your baby is sleeping, you may want to ask your GP or baby health nurse for a referral to a mother baby unit or “sleep school’. Just like any sort of help, you will need to do your homework: ask questions about anything that is concerning you. For instance, what do they do? Will sleep training involve leaving your baby to cry? Will you and your baby be checked for any health issues? Will you and your baby sleep in the same room or will you be separated?
Some mother baby units take a very gentle approach and encourage you to respond to your baby at all times, others will implement a fairly rigid ‘one size fits all’ controlled crying regime. They may use a less confronting name for whatever they do but it can still be a version of leaving your baby to cry. Remember, this is your baby, you don’t have to do anything that doesn’t feel right for you. You can negotiate with staff and expect to have explanations for anything they advise. And, if it’s not for you, you are free to leave.
A private baby sleep consultant: There are people who will come to your home and help you. This is where you need to really take care. There is a plethora of online courses in baby sleep training that give their ‘graduates’ certificates; there are baby sleep trainers with no qualifications in early childhood or infant health; there are baby sleep trainers who will come to your home overnight to ‘teach’ your baby to sleep who have been found sleeping on the sofa while the baby has been left to cry.
Consider, this person is coming into your home, she is meeting your child, she is advising you on your baby’s well-being. You need to be very clear about what you need and what you are prepared to allow before you hire this person.
- Is there a problem in the first place? If it’s not a problem for you, it’s not a problem.
- What professional qualifications and experience does the person have? Ask and check carefully what ‘certified’ means. Can this person assess your baby’s feeding to see whether this is impacting your baby’s sleep? Will she do a history that includes any health issues for you and your baby or does she see sleep as a ‘behavioral’ problem?
- If she suspects an issue that requires help from another professional, such as infant reflux, possible allergies, breast-feeding problems or developmental issues, will she refer you to an appropriate resource?
- Will she support and respect you and your beliefs?
- Can you relate to the person you are hiring? Will you feel comfortable and accepted by this person when you are un-showered, in your dressing gown and crying?
- YOU are the expert about your well baby. If she gives you explanations that sound ‘reasonable’ but have you doubting yourself, try the filter: is it safe? Is it respectful? Does it feel right? And if anything feels stressful for you or your baby, step back. This is your baby and your home – you have every right to protect your own energy and safe space by questioning advice. You also have every right to ask somebody who isn’t respectful to leave.
Pinky McKay is Australia’s most recognised and respected breastfeeding expert and gentle parenting advocate. She’s an Internationally Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and best-selling baby-care author of Sleeping Like a Baby, 100 Ways to Calm the Crying and Parenting by Heart. See Pinky’ s books, baby massage DVD /video and recording programs HERE.