3 things your baby needs more than sleep training
Your baby might wake in the night, but this doesn’t necessarily mean he needs sleep training. So what’s with all the pressure to achieve the ‘sleep-through’?
I get the idea of sleep training, really I do. I think that when babies get to a certain age, it’s important to offer sleep guidance and gentle techniques that encourage a baby’s ability to resettle with minimal assistance. When night-waking has been going on for many months and especially if it’s getting worse rather than better, I think it’s a great time to try some strategies that can help the whole family get some better sleep.
But when it comes to younger babies, I believe that their biological and developmental needs far, far outweigh the need for self-settling and that illusive ‘skill of sleep’, and certainly any of our own needs to get a decent night’s kip.
So as you can imagine, the notion of sleep training babies as young as 8 weeks, or even 13 weeks for that matter, appeals to me about as much as the idea of toilet-training my twin toddlers.
Yet this idea that babies need to learn the ‘skill of sleep’ as though it’s a top priority is pushed on to parents from the day they bring their newborn home. Conversation at mothers’ group becomes centred on whose baby is sleeping through and whose isn’t. Complete strangers will stop and ask you how well your baby sleeps. Online baby forums are awash with stories of babies waking in the night and solutions for getting more sleep. And just watch your newsfeed once Facebook discovers you’ve got a newborn. I bet you can barely scroll for all the baby sleep experts peddling their solutions.
All this obsessing about babies and the ‘skill of sleep’ means that new mums and dads are more likely to view their baby’s regular, normal night-waking as problematic and something they should ‘fix’. I can’t help but think that a lot of parents wouldn’t even consider their baby’s sleep to be problematic in the first place if a) there wasn’t such an emphasis on sleep and b) solutions for sleep issues weren’t shoved down their throats every which way they turned.
Getting up in the night for babies is hard-going, but it’s also part of the parenting package. If we adjusted our expectations around sleep, so that we viewed babies’ night-waking as normal, rather than problematic, wouldn’t it all be much easier to take? And, even better, wouldn’t that mean we could tend to our babies’ needs without worrying that something’s wrong with them for the repeated waking, and that something’s wrong with us for not teaching them to sleep better?
The upshot of all this is that when your baby wakes in the night, it’s not necessarily because he needs to learn the SKILL OF SLEEP. It’s highly possible that your baby is, in fact, just being a baby, and needs you for far more important things.
Here are three things your baby needs more than sleep training:
1. Physical contact
Babies thrive on physical contact and being close to them offers wonderful bonding experience for both of you. Being a baby, this need doesn’t necessarily stop once the clock strikes bedtime. Apart from being a lovely experience, there’s a whole chemistry thing that goes on when you and your baby touch that demonstrates why it feels so good to snuggle together and be close. Besides, you have to admit: getting up in the night is tough, but snuggling in the twilight hours with that perfect little creature you made is pretty divine, isn’t it?
2. A full belly
It’s completely normal for your baby to want an overnight feed for at least the first 6-9 months, and many will continue to wake for a drink beyond this time. If it’s something you enjoy doing, there’s no reason why you can’t keep up the night feeds for as long as you both want. The good news is, night-time breastfeeding provides added benefits for you and your baby, so there’s good reason to keep enjoying them while you can. Notably, sleep-trainers that promise to help your baby sleep from 7pm-7am will expect you to wean overnight in order to achieve this.
Your baby has been in your womb for months, floating around in a warm bath and being lulled to sleep by your voice and rocking motion as you moved around. Can you imagine any place that felt safer? If you have a young baby, it’s perfectly normal for him to need your reassurance overnight via a cuddle and some rocking to help him back to sleep. Even older babies can need some overnight TLC, whether it’s because of new teeth making their way through tender gums, developmental milestones causing havoc or just because they fancy a cuddle.
Now, don’t get me wrong. All families are different. If lack of sleep is causing real dramas at your place, by all means get some help in. Make sure the prescribed techniques are gentle, age-appropriate and that you feel comfortable with the whole process. But also keep in mind that by adjusting the way you think about babies and sleep, you can probably get a handle on the sleep deprivation, more so than you think (and how the sleep-trainers would like you to think).
And lastly, the most important point of all: you know this really hard, exhausting part of parenting, where you feel as though you haven’t slept more than a couple of hours in a row for months and months and the dark circles under your eyes have taken on a life of their own and you can’t even believe that you’re still functioning? It will pass, I promise. You can get through this. On a fresh, sunny day in the near future when you’ve got the sleep thing sorted, you’ll forget all about the lack of sleep in these early months. You might even start planning your next baby.
In the meantime, mums, there’s coffee.
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