By: Pinky McKay
Sarah is stressed and anxious. She tells me, “ I can’t get my baby to wake up for her 7am feed.”
I ask, “when did she last feed?”
It turns out that Sarah’s two-week-old baby was fed at 5.30am and, being a newborn, she took about an hour to feed and go back to sleep. This meant that she had only been asleep for half an hour when Sarah tried to wake her for her next feed. It turned out that the source of Sarah’s anxiety was a book on her coffee table: it advised that whatever time her baby last fed she should start her daily routine at 7am and now she was anxious that the routine would be mixed up and that she would then be setting her baby up for bad sleep habits.
There is so much conflicting advice and ‘rules’ about infant sleep that undermine mothers’ natural intuition and common sense that I’d like to bust a few common baby sleepmyths:
YOU MUST START YOUR DAY AT 7AM, WHATEVER TIME YOUR BABY LAST FED.
You have two choices here that make sense – you can start your own day at 7am: Get up and have a shower (you might even have time to wash your hair) and eat breakfast or even prepare tonight’s dinner or do a load of washing while your baby sleeps. Or you can snuggle down under the covers and catch some zzz’s until your baby wakes. It can create unnecessary stress and be a waste of time to wake a sleeping baby who was just fed an hour ago and probably won’t feed well anyway, if he isn’t hungry.
BABIES ‘SHOULD’ SLEEP IN TWO HOUR STRETCHES DURING THE DAY.
Babies, just like all of us, are individuals with differing sleep requirements. These will change according to developmental stages, illness, and environment. As a parent, you know if your baby has woken as he comes up into a light sleep cycle but could do with some help to resettle, or whether he will be happy to get up and play after 45 minutes or an hour of sleep. If you do try resettling, give yourself a time limit, say, 10 minutes, then if your baby isn’t going to sleep, get him up and play, go for a walk, talk to him and have fun. It makes no sense to stand in a darkened room all day trying to get your baby to sleep, especially if you spend half an hour resettling and your baby sleeps for an extra fifteen minutes. As one mother of three said, “I spent so much time trying to get my first baby to sleep, I wished I had spent it enjoying him.”
SLEEPING IN YOUR ARMS, A SLING, A PRAM OR THE CAR IS NOT ‘PROPER’ SLEEP.
Some ‘experts’ claim that any sleep that isn’t in a cot is ‘junk sleep’ like ‘junk food’ and won’t refresh your baby, especially his tiny brain. Sleep is sleep. A child who is quite flexible about where he sleeps is a lot easier than one who will only ever sleep in a darkened room at home, in his cot. While you may be able to get home for every sleep with a first baby, it’s pretty unrealistic if you have more than one child: if you have a school pickup to manage, your baby will almost certainly get used to sleeping ‘on the move’. Also, if your baby sleeps in a pram, a sling or your arms, the rocking motion while he is sleeping is helping develop his vestibular apparatus, a series of canals inside the inner ear that, as fluid moves over them (with movement), send out messages to the nervous system that helps with the development of speech and language, balance and sensory integration (making sense of all the sensations of sound, movement, taste, smell and visual stimuli).
YOU SHOULD NEVER ROCK YOUR BABY TO SLEEP
This method of calming and settling babies has been around for generations, so there just might be something in it, don’t you think? As mentioned, movement is helpful to your baby’s development and, according to US Psychologist Sharon Heller, author of ‘The Vital Touch’ many babies may crave rocking if mothers have sedentary pregnancies and their babies have fewer opportunities for movement that supports vestibular development before birth. As your baby grows, you can ‘wean’ her from being rocked to sleep by offering more movement when she is awake and introduce gentle music as a relaxation cue, then gradually rock less. Later, you can simply reduce the volume of the music if you like.
YOU MUST NEVER BREASTFEED YOUR BABY TO SLEEP
This causes so much stress because it is completely normal for a relaxed baby to fall asleep on the breast. Can you imagine being all snuggled up to your partner, then being poked and told, “move over to your own side of the bed, we are creating ‘bad habits’ ?” In fact there are amazing relaxation chemicals in breastmilk, with different hormones and proteins in your ‘night time’ milk (melatonin and neucleotides) that have stronger sleep inducing effects. This explains why your baby will probably go straight back to sleep after a night feed. Therefore, it makes no sense to wake a drowsy baby who is naturally calm and relaxed. And, just in case you are worried about ‘bad habits’, take heart: your baby may love to snuggle up to a warm breast when he’s eighteen – but it won’t be yours!
Pinky McKay is an internationally certified lactation consultant, certified infant massage instructor and author of Sleeping Like a Baby, 100 Ways to Calm the Crying and Parenting By Heart. In her baby massage DVD, Pinky shows parents how to give their baby a full body massage, a mini-massage (for when you are in a hurry) and specific stroke to help with colic and tummy discomfort. For more great tactics to help you get through the terrific toddler stage, see Pinky’s book Toddler