New and expecting parents are told its unavoidable, you will loose a lot of sleep, especially in the first year. More experienced friends will tell you to look after yourself, its about surviving the early months.
Many new parents are building up their toolbox of baby sleep tools and tricks before their baby arrives. Blacked-out baby rooms, white noise machines, swaddles, comforters, essential oils, diffusers, thermometers. Apps to track sleep to the minute, video monitors and more apps to explain awake times and help parents understand leaps and milestones.
But is the ability to purchase all these products giving parents a false sense of what newborn sleep will be like?
Is it telling new parents that sleep is completely within their control?
A false sense of security? Or are these tools creating a belief that if you work hard enough with these tools, sleep will be perfect?
Sleep in the newborn months is about 50% nurture and 50% nature. That means at best you have control over 50% of how well your new baby sleeps. Things like intolerances, reflux, illness, needing hip and foot casts, feeding problems, and weight gain difficulties are all 100% outside of your control and unpredictable, and no amount of sleep tools will solve these. Your baby needs medical attention or time to outgrow the problem.
On top of this, newborn sleep is neurologically immature, and the rate of maturation isn’t the same for every baby. Some are producing their own melatonin at significant levels by 6 weeks, others not until 8 weeks. This could be the difference between your bedtime routine working or not working. It’s nothing you are or aren’t doing.
Your baby could be naturally wakeful until their sleep becomes more organised, this could happen in the 4th week or not until the 12th week. Things like offering frequent naps and age-appropriate awake times all help this organization to happen, but at the end of the day, its neurological side is outside your control.
Some parents think the way their baby sleep is a sign of their competence as a parent, and others feel shame in how poorly their baby sleeps. This shame can lead to a school of thought that we should spread the word that all sleep is outside of our control and relinquishing control and accepting the way your child sleeps will bring you more happiness…
Why throw out the baby with the bath water so to speak?
The happy middle ground is what we preach here at Baby Sleep Consultant. Do you have to accept poor sleep for 6 years and be sleep-deprived?
By invoking the right formula, can you guarantee your baby will be sleeping 12 hours non-stop by 12 weeks?
Can you do anything to avoid separation anxiety, sleep regressions, and illnesses causing brief periods of havoc on your sleep?
What is inside of your control is how you respond to these new challenges, and this response can be the difference between a few days of disruption vs a few months of broken sleep.
People like to blame sleep consultants for these feelings of shame, claiming we push a one size fits all approach on all parents and this leads to their unrealistic expectations.
The truth is sleep is primarily governed by the circadian rhythm and homeostatic sleep drive, both of these things are very similar in all humans. Yes, there is variation, but there isn’t so much variation that understanding the most common presentation isn’t helpful.
The one-size-fits-all that people claim we use is what I would refer to as the starting point. This is a starting point based on research of literally thousands of babies and toddlers.
People love to be the person who is outside the common expectation, so of course, there is a loud minority.
The national sleep organisation can tell you, based on their research the average 3-month-old needs 14 hours of sleep over 24 hours give or take an hour, and someone will pipe up with how their 3-month-old only slept 9 hours and has developed perfectly.
No one is denying that is a reality for some people, but it’s a small minority and if sleep consultants had to start with a blank slate for every client, getting to the bottom of their sleep difficulties would take months.
Every professional service working with humans starts with a starting point based on research. Your Doctor prescribes medication based on a starting point the research says will work, and they go from there, either increasing, decreasing or changing your prescription.
Should you feel shame if the first prescription doesn’t work?
Of course not!
Your physio rehabs your injury based on a set of exercises that work for most patients, A good starting point, they’ll tweak things as needed based on how you respond. That is precisely what a sleep consultant does.
You wouldn’t continue to take a dose of prescription that wasn’t helping you for months with no result, and you wouldn’t continue to do a rehab exercise with no results for months. You would go back and ask for a change or some more help. The same can be said for working on your baby's sleep. If your approach is not working, change it, or ask your consultant to change it. If it appears your baby only needs 11 hours of sleep at night, do a routine tweak; don’t continue to force a square peg into a round hole.
Claims that sleep programs designed by sleep consultants are incompatible with healthy biological instincts is nothing more than scaremongering. Opinion writers will say things like waking to feed at night is normal and healthy.
No argument there!
None of our sleep programs force parents to stop feeding at night, and as the lead educator of over 1000 international sleep consultants, this isn’t something we train our consultants on either.
People will say we’re anti-breastfeeding and offering master classes on sleeping through the night for babies over 6 months, but the evidence on breastfeeding says:
“During the first few weeks, the more a baby suckles and stimulates the nipple, the more prolactin is produced, and the more milk is produced. This effect is particularly important at the time when lactation is becoming established. Although prolactin is still necessary for milk production, after a few weeks, there is not a close relationship between the amount of prolactin and the amount of milk produced. “ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK148970/
Therefore, a baby sleeping through the night while eating solids in the day and drinking breastmilk isn’t anti-breastfeeding. A hungry baby will not sleep, no matter what you do, they’re hungry! You’ll need to feed them. Therefore, if sleep training works, and they go back to sleep without a feed, it isn’t hunger; it is a sleep association, and the feed is similar to rocking to sleep, or replacing a dummy.
For some people, the process of dropping the feed to sleep association doesn’t fit within their parenting style, and they would prefer to continue to feed to sleep. This doesn’t mean they’re a less competent parent than the baby sleeping through the night; it’s simply a different parenting style.
But it also doesn’t mean that the baby can’t sleep through, just that the parent prefers that sleep association. There is no shame in using a feed-to-sleep association and not wanting to sleep train, but please, if this is you, don’t try to put shame onto the parents who do decide to sleep train. This acceptance is a 2-way street.
The balance has to come from acceptance but not at the cost of maternal mental health. I don’t believe in promoting martyrdom, if the broken sleep is affecting your mental health, please seek help from your child's doctor or a sleep expert.
Some medical reasons your child might not be sleeping well despite your best efforts (after the newborn months).
Chat with your baby’s Doctor about any of these concerns.
Emma is the owner and founder of Baby Sleep Consultant, she is a certified infant and child sleep consultant, Happiest Baby on the Block educator, has a Bachelor of Science, and Diploma in Education.
Emma is a mother to 3 children, and loves writing when she isn't working with tired clients and cheering on her team helping thousands of mums just like you.