We have a saying in my household:
“We are nothing if not adaptable.”
This saying has never served us so well as it has since our little girl was born.
Infant sleep and sleep training are hot topics these days, mainly because our modern society with little support for new moms, high work and financial demands, and no federal paid maternity leave program (I’m looking at you, United States! Every other developed country in the WORLD provides some sort of paid maternity leave, but that’s another post…) wants babies to sleep through the night.
Here’s the problem – babies aren’t set up to meet OUR (read: adult’s) needs. In fact, human babies are born the most helpless of all mammals and are utterly dependent on us to meet THEIR needs.
That’s where most sleep training goes wrong. Almost all sleep training is focused on the parents needing baby to sleep through the night as soon as possible so they can be more rested to go to work the next day.
However, babies are primal beings with primal needs, like being held, comforted, and soothed. Asking them to adapt to our schedules, our needs, not only does a disservice to them but can prove harmful to their well-being and/or to your relationship with your child.
So before you consider any type of sleep training for your child …
- Reset your expectations. You have a newborn baby. Newborn babies do not through the night. Get over it, get used to it, and move on. It won’t last forever.
Yep, a little tough love here, folks. Accept the consequences of your actions. You have a baby. Babies don’t sleep through the night. Period. Don’t try to make them. They have itty-bitty stomachs, so they need to wake up at night to feed. They might even wake up just for your comfort and warmth. Someday, they’ll be too cool to give you hugs so you might as well enjoy it while it lasts.
- Have Baby sleep in close to complete darkness at night (with only RED light as a nightlight, if necessary) and have her sleep in full light during the day.
This will help Baby develop her circadian rhythm faster, so don’t listen to that crazy advice about having your baby nap in the dark during the day. Doing that will just make it harder to finally get to the long nights of sleep you’re so desperate for.
- Stop thinking you have to “train” your baby into independence.
Independence is a developmental milestone that requires Baby to dependent on you for as long as they need to until they feel secure enough to venture out into the world alone. There’s tons of science behind this. Also, check out this 5-minute video for more. Seriously. It’s fantastic.
- Get familiar with age appropriate sleep.
Again, just keep adapting. As Baby grows, her sleep will change. Knowing about how much sleep she needs, or doesn’t need, will help you maintain your sanity and keep the faith that this rough sleep patch won’t last forever.
Sarah Ockwell-Smith, sleep expert and author of The Gentle Sleep Book, created an excellent infographic in her post “How Long Should Babies and Toddlers Sleep For?” to help new parents adjust their sleep expectations. Go check out. This thing is gold.
- Get educated about infant sleep.
The more you understand your baby and what she’s going through, the more you’ll be able to empathize. This infant period isn’t just hard on you. She’s going through a LOT of changes, and she needs you more than she ever will in her entire life. Understanding why will help you make peace with the sacrifices you have to make, like not getting enough sleep.
Evolutionary Parenting has a great new post on the risk of harm as a result of sleep training, as well as a lesson in newborn sleep. If you’re concerned about infant sleep at all, both are must reads … including Ockwell-Smith’s The Gentle Sleep Book.
This information will also help you stay strong in the face of all the times you’re going to get asked, “Is your baby sleeping through the night yet?”
Sweet dreams, great parents!