Thursday, November 17, 2011

WE ALL NEED SLEEP

Lately I have read a few stories about the problems moms have with sleep deprivation. Especially one story about a new study that will develop ways to identify, prevent and treat sleep problems got me thinking "What about the babies, the children that usually are seen as the source of it? They need sleep too, they WANT to sleep through the night as much as we do!
So here are my thoughts on this matter combined with my own experience.


What I have found in several internet forums is that moms actually advise each other to "lower your expectations" or "live with it, once the kids are 14 you will struggle to get them out of bed". A question of a desperate mom usually gets replies of moms who share their horrible experiences of 5 or 6 year olds that still wake up several times at night, combined with a winking smily and an invitation to join the club. I didn't find this very helpful and don't believe it's healthy for neither the children nor the moms.
Sleep is not just a chilly relaxing time we parents force on our children to get some rest ourselves. Children need sleep to regenerate, it is the basis for a healthy development. A child that slept enough is relaxed and balanced. New studies even show that the body weight is regulated during sleep. Therefore sleep can prevent obesity, researchers say. Of course children's sleep patterns change from time to time especially during developmental stages or due to illness or changes in life (e.g. new baby arrives, kindergarden starts, a move). But if they have a basic fullfilling and relaxing sleep habit they will be able to get back to that after such phases in no time.

So what can we do to get to this habit of sleeping well and sleeping through?

1. Fullfill their needs
Of course it is highest priority to fullfill your baby's needs. And I'm not saying we should not set our own needs aside a bit in the first few months. Of course we have to and we know that and are willing to. But not forever.
We have to be there, have to feed and change our baby and make sure he feels warm, comfortable and happy. But that's it. We don't have to entertain him, walk him around day and night and jump through hoops to get a smile out of him. And most importantly - we have to make sure he gets enough sleep because that is a basic need too. And in the beginning, even in the first years we are responsible for our child's sleep. We should make sure they find a routine and have a quiet and safe place to rest and sleep. Between 6 months and 2 or 3 years children are not capable of knowing when to go to sleep. They are tired but life is too exciting to miss just a second of it. But we can help them learn to trust their feeling of tiredness, allow sleep to come and feel comfortable when doing so.

2. Routines
This is an usually way underestimated part of the whole sleep situation. Children need routine. They need to know what's happening now and after. Only then they feel secure and self confident and can trust us and themselves.
The first weeks are crazy, the babies sleep most of the time, you never know when they wake up and when they do food must usually be provided instantly. Then you change the diaper and before you know it they are asleep again. At this time I struggled a lot with the uncertainty of when Leander would wake up again. I didn't dare sleeping because I feared he would wake me in my deepest dream. I only ate crap food I could make quickly.
But after a while you can see a routine - if you observe your child and allow household, phonecalls and appointments to be missed every now and then. I usually stayed in the whole morning and went out with Leander after his lunch nap. And I made sure we would be home by the time for his bedtime routine. No parties we took him to, no restaurants or anything (also see my previous post "Dinner cancellations". Ever since he had a pretty stable bedtime and bedtime routine. Since he only takes one nap a day he even knows very well when this is on. After lunch he sometimes jumps off his chair and goes straight into his room (of course I have to follow to get him to bed eventually), sometimes he goes and plays but as soon as I remind him he is off to bed.
During the summer, when the creche was closed we went away quite often and obviously all the routine was messed up. You could tell that Leander was uneasy and a bit more clingy. As soon as he went back to the creche and his daily and weekly routine was back to normal he was way happier.

3. No food at night
In the beginning it is perfectly fine to feed the baby whenever he is hungry. This so called feeding on demand is no problem at all AS LONG as it is also good for you. There are moms out there that feed a baby on a half hour schedule and are desperate. Here it is advisable to try and lengthen the time betweens feedings. Constant food consumption is not just hard for the mother that has to provide it, but also bad for the baby's organs and system. They need time to rest, fully rest.
At the age of 6 months nightly feedings can and at the age of 12 months should be stopped. Simply because the organs do not need it and with less and less daytime naps the nightly sleep becomes more and more essential. There is no problem if mothers still WANT to breastfeed their baby during the night - but please make sure the baby wants it and it's not just a created habit. I am not against long term breastfeeding up to 2 or 3 years if it's ok for both mother and child. But we all need our sleep and we should respect our baby if he can get through the night without food.

I for myself forgot to check if Leander actually still needed those feedings at night or not. I just went in like a half-sleeping robot and fed him. But then I read somewhere that before we lift a child out if his cot at night we should let him know we're there. Because it's dark and with all the crying they don't always hear us coming. So this night I went in and simply placed my hand on his hand, spoke to him and let him know I was there. Before I could get ready to take him out and feed him he was sound asleep again. This was earlier on and a surgery threw us back a few weeks and after that we decided to take some action on Leander's sleeping habits. You can read about it here.

4. slowly, gently, quiet
It may no news to you but whenever you come close to your baby be slow, gentle and quiet. The world is new and scary to them, they need soft and gentle hands that hold and stroke them, a gentle voice and a quiet environment. Do apply this at night twice as much.
When entering the room, don't immediatly switch the light on, don't take him out of his cot all of a sudden and don't talk too loud or too much. Go and see how he feels, stroke him gently, ask him if he wants to be picked up and give him time to respond (yes, even the newborns, it's about respect, not about abilities).
You might be annoyed being up for the third time, just being back to sleep after the last distraction. Leave those feelings in your bed. Take a few seconds and breathe in before getting up too quickly and angry. Your child senses your feelings and responds to them accordingly.
Don't take him out of his cot too quickly, don't carry him around all night, don't start trying EVERYTHING to get him back to sleep. Sometimes it's all they want too - sleep - and we keep them awake by running around doing everything we can.
With time you will learn the difference between the crying and the crying. Listen to him.

5. Allow them to learn, allow them to struggle
As I said before newborns need us to fullfill their needs. But do not underestimate their ability to learn and to learn quickly. Give them the chance to take lead but still lead their way. Watch and observe.
If they have difficulties falling asleep or going back to sleep - allow them to struggle. Don't run in the minute he starts making noises. Give them time to comfort themselves (not long, a few seconds for a start, a little longer when they get older). Be there and help through difficult transitions (e.g. Stop nightly feeding sessions) but don't try and be the solution. Help them find their own.

Sometimes it helped me that I felt dizzy when I got up too quick. So I had to sit and wait until I was stable. By then the crying may have stopped. This was when I realized - it isn't always the cry for help. It may also be the frustrated cry for not finding back too sleep fast enough or for banging an arm at the walls of the bed.

Leander is now 19months old and still has nights when he wakes up and cries. We don't always know why but we just sit by him and let him know we are there until he gets back to sleep. No it doesn't feel good to hear him cry, but there is nothing I can do for him apart from being there and this is what I do. And this again feels good. The majority of the nights he sleeps through roughly since he is one year old. And this was my main goal. I am not suggesting a child of 6 months SHOULD sleep through the night (although some do) but I'm also not jumping on the boat saying that 4 year olds waking up 5 times a night are normality and should be expected.


Now all these thoughts only apply to "normal" healthy children. Ihave no experience with colik babies and I am not going that far of thinking I know what to do in those tough cases. But usually a colik baby gets better after 3-5 months and you can still start from there.
These are just simple suggestions from me that may help your child to relax and sleep a healthy sleep. And if all of this does not work for you - feel good about getting help. Because your child needs to sleep and you need too!

3 comments:

  1. Hi!
    I have just discovered your blog and think it is so great to see you writing about something so important. I am an early childhood teacher in New Zealand and our centre is heavily inspired by Emmi Pikler and Magda Gerber. I agree with everything you write about!
    Your blog is very informative and inspiring - I hope many parents read and learn from it!
    Thanks for sharing.
    Sarah

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  2. Hello.
    Great article. My son is almost 11 months old, still waking up 3-4 times a night (for breastfeeding) so it is pretty hard for both of us...
    I really wish he would be able to sleep all night through, he must need much more sleep ( the one without any interruptions) and I pray for some uninterrupted sleep for myself as well. My poor Pumpkin doesn't know how it feels to wake up in the morning after good long uninterrupted night sleep and I merely remember it.
    Any advices?

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