I’m in the process of mentally preparing for baby number 2, due in April. Part of this process is reading how I can support my baby’s sleep right from the start and avoid creating the type of bad habits I did with my son. We did so many things that I just don’t need (or want) to do next time; we bounced him for hours in the middle of the night, we shushed him when he cried, we rushed to even the tiniest of peeps (which turns out were just sleep noises) and I nursed him for hours and hours on end while he slept. Not only are these things unnecessary and habit forming as well as PREVENTING him from getting good sleep, but they will be impossible to do while I care for my 2.5 year old son along with our new baby. There ARE respectful ways to support infant sleep right from the start and I wanted to share my collection of these encouraging articles with you. I have also created a group on Facebook for Respectful Sleep Learning, which will be heavily moderated to make for a safe space for vulnerable, sleep-deprived mothers to seek help and support.
“There are, of course, a multitude of challenges that affect our sleep and our children’s sleep. At our parent meeting, we brainstormed a list of what hurts sleep:
- Lack of/ change in/ break in rhythm
- Sugar/ stimulating foods
- Late nights
- Too much to drink
- Fears (ex. dark, death, separation)
- Media/ screen time
- Loud noise/ unpredictable noise
- High activity
- Too much light
- Uncomfortable clothing (ex. itchy, too hot/ too cold)
- Eating too late
- Sleep deprivation
There are also lots of things we can do to help our children sleep. Here are some of the things we brainstormed at our meeting:
- Strong, stable rhythm
- Let the child know when it is almost time for the bedtime routine to begin (For example, sing a song as a cue and then begin the routine a few minutes later)
- Caregiving/ connection during bedtime routine
- Modeling our own enjoyment of sleep
- Creating a calm sleeping environment
- Warm bath
- Early bedtime
- Hot water bottle/ heat on belly at bedtime
- Calming or no scent
- Parents personal belief/ conviction that bedtime routine/ style is healthy for your child
- Transitional/ comfort items (ex. stuffed animal, blanket)”
“The second thing I recommend is to try to distinguish between struggle and suffering in the child’s cries. Since struggle is inherent in all development, we can be confident that our child can develop a healthy relationship with struggle by allowing them to have their struggles. If at any time you hear what sounds like suffering, by all means go in and offer soothing and comfort to your child. We will always respond to suffering, but we can do so without “rescuing” or “fixing” the child’s sleep.”
“My magic secret to sleep is almost pathetically easy: I watch for when they’re tired, and then I put them to bed. I learned this “trick” from reading Magda Gerber’s book, Your Self-Confident Baby, and spending many hours with Janet Lansbury, both in person and on her blog. I feel a little silly this never occurred to me on my own. I was so wrapped up in making sure I comforted my children, and let them know I was there for them, and “helping” them go to sleep that I never realized I was in the way of letting them sleep on their own.”
“When babies associate something like feeding, rocking, or bouncing with their transition to sleep, they often expect those same conditions when they wake during the night. All of us wake during the night – babies and adults alike. We check our surroundings to make sure everything feels right, and if it doesn’t, we go on alert. When Baby C was bounced to sleep, she woke 45 minutes later and everything felt wrong – she wasn’t bouncing anymore! She called for help, and, being good, responsive parents, Husband or I came running to see if she wanted to nurse, to change her diaper, to shush her, and then finally, to bounce her again so she could go back to sleep – often only to wake again 45 minutes later to repeat the whole process. This was not a very restful night of sleep for any of us. When a baby knows how to self-soothe and falls asleep independently, she wakes in the night, checks her surroundings, and finding nothing to be alarmed about, she goes back to sleep without needing our help.”
“Putting a newborn baby into bed – awake – several times each day and leaving it free to self-calm to sleep makes great sense to me. I fear that parents are made to feel so worried that if their baby ever cries or fusses long enough to practice self-calming, it will affect the attachment process or cause emotional problems later in life. It won’t. It doesn’t. This unfair fearmongering by some health professionals results in parents rushing to pick up a fussy baby way too fast, ruining baby’s chance to show what he could do for himself.”
“The fact is, there is no evidence whatsoever that occasional CIO in typically developing babies causes any damage. PERIOD. More importantly, there IS evidence that severely sleep-deprived mothers are at much higher risk of developing an already common –and dangerous — condition: postpartum depression. And PPD certainly CAN lead to long-term damage to both baby — and the entire family. CIO is a method that, when implemented thoughtfully, can often lead to improved sleep (and health and happiness) for everyone.” – Quote by Doctor Heather Wittenberg (in post)
“It’s my opinion that for most parents, the early days of parenthood would be much easier if healthy sleep patterns are introduced at a younger age. Other moms and dads come in with chronic pain caused by baby wearing or awkward positions while co-sleeping. Parents need to know that they should not be suffering at the price of practicing attachment parenting. Don’t get me wrong, the message here is not that one way is better than the other, but in fact, the opposite. Each baby has a unique temperament, and every child will respond differently to different methods. There is not one right way to parent a child. As such, each family needs to find the best methods that work for them.”
“Babies can become unsettled and resist sleep if our attitude towards bedtime is pitying, as in “poor baby has to go sleep”; when we’re anticipating a battle, “uh-oh, this is going to be trouble”; or even when they sense our impatience, “you’re tired, so hurry up and go to sleep already!” These attitudes make it far more difficult for our baby to do his or her job, which is to relax and let go enough to let sleep happen.
The most important thing to know about sleep is the most important thing to know about parenting in general: Babies are aware and competent whole people. They are listening, noticing, absorbing, primed to learn about us and life through our every interaction, no matter how subtle, whether we want them to or not.”
“The issue of infant sleep learning is not black and white. There are so many options between cry-it-out and doing nothing and no parent should be expected to sacrifice herself to prevent her child from ever experiencing discomfort or frustration. First, because it’s unreasonable, and second, because your children will experience frustration no matter how hard you try to keep it from them, but you all will handle it better if you are well rested. Read Part III of this series for more information on how to do respectful sleep learning.”
“People imagine that we put our babies in bed and then walk away for hours refusing any help, food, soothing, and love of any kind. I know many mothers who have sleep trained and have never heard of such a thing. I don’t call this CIO because it’s not at all. We followed a method in the beginning and then adjusted as we listened and learned more about our son and his different cries. Once we learned to listen, our reactions changed to fit his needs. Most of the negative comments were about mis-informed mothers who were fearful of crying infants. I think this is the heart of the matter; we all have different views on crying. Crying is not as big of a deal as some of us think. It was this mis-information and fear-mongering about crying that actually stopped me from listening to my instincts about my son in the first place. It’s very important that that is heard so I’ll say it again: fear-mongering about crying actually stopped me from listening to my own instincts.
So I want to share some of those stories with you now. I want to be clear that I am not suggesting that this is a course of action for you. I’m ALL for co-sleeping (read my post about it) and Attachment Parenting(read that post here.) it’s just that babies and mothers are different and we all must choose what is right for our family life. My hope is simply to increase the support for mothers who do choose this path. I am suggesting that if you choose to do something like this that you talk to your baby about it then LISTEN. Really try and objectively listen as they will tell you so much more than you can imagine. Their cries are not just problems to be fixed; they are stories that they want you to hear. There will always be those who judge, so hopefully you can tune out those fearful voices and listen to you own.”
In this search on Janet’s site you will find so many great posts on the subject of supporting sleep, including: Helping Babies Sleep (With Empathy And Compassion) Guest Post by Eileen Henry, How To Help Your Baby To Sleep (Without Rocking), Baby’s “No Cry” Sleep Is Exhausting (More Wisdom From Eileen Henry) and Sleep on This.
I really hope that you find these resources helpful. Please share anything else that you have found to support your own journey in supporting you baby’s sleep.