If you follow me on Facebook, this won’t really be news to you, but we’ve had a lot of chatter this week around infant sleep. It all started with an article from the Australian Telepgraph, from back in March, Forget the cot, sleep with your baby according to SIDS researcher Doctor James McKenna.
Of course, I agree whole heartedly with this article. Sleeping with your baby in the bed, in my experience, means better sleep, better breastfeeding, and an all-round better transition into motherhood.
I particularly loved two statements made in the article.
“The question is not whether babies as young as three or four months can sleep through the night, but whether they should be forced to” and “The push in the western world to get babies to sleep through the night on their own as young as possible is doing more harm than good.”
I’ve said so often that it must be horrible for a new baby, freshly out the warmth and comfort of its mother’s body to be separated by the long, dark night, with strange sounds and foreign sensations against its skin. Added to which it’s left on its back, flailing it’s still bent body like a dehoused turtle, unable to rest in the foetal position it knows and loves.
Of course, this quote refers to a three and four month old, but still, the idea of â€˜sleeping through the night’ is a western concept, aimed at forcing children into our own conveniences, rather than listening to and tending their base needs. (We wouldn’t want to spoil them, after all, and independence and individuality [me, me, me] are western milestones for success.)
Anyway, back to my story.
In the ensuing comment-chat, Kelly from Becoming Crunchy shared about how she was dealing with sleep frustrations. Jennifer from Hybrid Rasta Mama commented on Kelly’s post, with something I thought really hit the nail on the head:
Depriving myself of sleep was no big deal because it was on my terms and I had no one else to blame it I was miserable or could not function at school/work. It seems like when someone or something else is the source of sleep deprivation, it makes it that much worse.
While it’s difficult to deal with a child that’s just not sleeping, when we look at the bigger picture, the true frustration – given how many years of our lives we’ve given up on not sleeping when we didn’t want to â€“ is that now, it’s not on our terms. [me, me, me, anyone?]
And then, to finish off a post on sleep in a week of very little sleep for me, Steph from Real Mum’s Guide writes:
It’s a big milestone every parent thinks they are supposed to achieve earlier than later- starting at just a few weeks old people ask â€œis she sleeping through the night yet?â€ A question I think should be banned from ever being asked again.
And I tend to agree. I’ve known mothers to smugly smirk at around 11 days post-partum that their child is finally or already sleeping through. And I’ve seen those same mothers look shell-shocked and dishevelled at four months when crawling or teething or growing has thrown that full night’s sleep right out the window.
And it’s true. The question sets an unrealistic expectation, and an unhealthy milestone that everyone thinks they should achieve. And feels hard done by when they don’t. Like we’ve been robbed of something, or don’t have a â€˜good’ baby.
So my two cents? Remember this:
- A â€˜full night’s sleep’ is considered 5 â€“ 6 hours. That’s why they say sleep when the baby sleeps. (But who listens?!)
- Babies need to feed frequently to supply nutrients to a brain that is growing and expanding at a speed greater than at any other time in their lives.
- The imagination is developing rapidly and anything they see or experience during the day can become part of their dreams, so nightmares can disturb toddler sleep â€“ in which case they need the same thing they do as an infant: you.
- Growing hurts. I remember growing pains, and lying on my bed moaning and groaning as I felt my legs being stretched (but then, I’m rather tall.)
No one ever said parenting was easy, but good parenting is even harder. Especially when everything in our culture tells us to look out for ourselves, and make our lives as comfortable as we can. I’m not saying you have to be a slave to or martyr for your child, but for this period in time â€“these desperately short years – when they need you, being there for them will reap long term benefits for you both later on.