What I love most about this article is that it offers a science-based review and overriding message to – A.) tune into your child and B.) trust your own intuition over books and “experts.” This is calming to parents and calm humans sleep better.
Amanda Ruggeri is an English journalist, editor, photographer, video editor, and sometimes on-screen host. She is a senior journalist and since August 2019 Editor, London Features and Editor, BBC Future.
And here are 8 of my favorite things.
1. Sleep regressions aren’t real.
YES! Thank you. I’ve been saying this for years. Infant brain growth and the constant learning of new skills (gross motor, language, etc) are what interrupt sleep most of all. We tend to follow what we focus on so don’t focus on fictitious regressions. Focus on the healthy development of your baby.
Our job is to figure stuff out for our babies. Before the regression book sleep disruptions went into two main buckets
- Growth spurts
Every single day parents call me and want to talk about “sleep regressions.” I say, no such thing. Let it go. All is well and normal so we can all chill out. Sleep is developmental and follows the same NON-linear path as all development does. Your child’s sleep will come and go and get better and better as they learn the skills that facilitate sleep such as; falling, object permanence, object relationship, language reception, and expression. JUST like all development sleep is learned over time and nurtured over a lifetime.
2. Create a routine based on your baby’s authentic needs.
Observing and following the baby’s needs may also benefit the parents’ mental health. Parent-led routines are linked to higher levels of reported anxiety among mothers. Another study co-authored by Brown found that mothers who used baby books that promoted strict routines were more likely to say they felt depressed, stressed, and less confident in their parenting abilities – though it’s worth noting that stressed-out parents might be more likely to turn to these baby books or routines, to begin with.
Amen. Parent-enforced schedules teach our children more about us than it allows children to learn about themselves and their own needs. In both my personal and professional experience, the pressure and stress of being a new parent can easily lead to anxiety and anxiety has an urgency to find the problem, figure it out, and fix it. I was an anxious first-time mother and that is exactly how I created my sleep program. The intelligence of my particular neurosis led me to the neuroscience of anxiety. It also lead to the realization that if I didn’t work on my own self-regulation I was very likely going to pass it on to my children. I have done the work (and the anxiety) for you and I love sharing what I have learned.
It took years for me to realize that sleep is NOT a problem to be fixed. Sleep is a developmental skill that is learned over time. Sleep is a foundational pillar of health we nurture our entire lives. So much we do affects sleep. Normalize this in your home so that your children learn that sleep is no big deal. Healthy relationships, quality nutrition, dependable sleep, and sufficient downtime/playtime are acts of self-care and self-love. These can be part of our family’s values.
3. You are the expert on your baby.
Ultimately, sleep researchers say, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. To know what’s optimal for any individual baby – whether a strict routine organized around seven-to-seven sleep or something else – look at that baby.
YES! Tune into your baby. Parenting is about both knowing when to follow the cues of the baby and when to be a confident leader.
4. Trust your intuition.
“I always say to parents, if your baby during the day is generally happy, then they’re probably fine. If they’re grumpy, they’re irritable, maybe it’s their sleep,” says Hiscock.
YES! Thank you! – Go by the behavior of your child NOT the charts and number of hours they “should sleep” at any given age. Again, tune into your individual child.
5. Pathologising sleep “problems.”
“I think the whole idea about babies having sleep problems is pathologizing. It suggests to parents that there’s something wrong with their baby. That to me is hugely problematic, that you’re causing parents to think that there’s something wrong with their baby when it’s behaving like a baby,” says Ball.
YES! Mostly what is happening in cribs at night is normal. Infants sitting in corners for an hour. Toddlers doing laps around cribs every night for over an hour. Nothing wrong. No problem to be fixed. We all wake several times in the night. Children do as well and babies do it the most. Sometimes they can bridge sleep cycles on their own and my program offers the optimal learning for this. But sometimes on and off throughout development, they need our help, our reassurance, and our loving presence.
How we present sleep is how our children take to sleep. I encourage parents to focus on the developmental leap their child is experiencing and the opportunities for increased awareness of the child. Even developmentally appropriate separation anxiety can be an opportunity for learning. Separateness is not automatically associated with abandonment, neglect, or trauma by the child.
6. Waking is normal throughout the night.
With the 1800s came the Industrial Revolution, a rising middle class, and a new emphasis on independence. Longer working days meant more interest in unbroken sleep at night, urbanization increased the number of new parents living away from the support of their families, and male doctors, who believed that having multiple people in the same sleep space could “poison” the air, began to replace the guidance of mothers and midwives. New books emphasized the need for rigid sleep schedules and the necessity of having infants sleep alone so that they would become independent and strong.
I say this every single day, several times a day, in my campaign to normalize night waking – The industrial revolution is when we started consolidating our sleep. That is not that long ago and knowing that it is normal to wake in the night can make it easier to fall back to sleep. Our babies neither know nor care about this revolution. It is not only normal but a safety mechanism in the brain for our newborn infants to wake several times in the night. NO need for rigid schedules. Autonomous sleep for children is something that happens incrementally over time, with our help and support.
7. This is all new – including this very industry that I helped pioneer two decades ago.
Today, many tired parents get their information from baby sleep books or sleep coaches – who have been gaining popularity outside of the US, too. But many books aren’t evidence-based, and the sleep coaching industry is unregulated. Ultimately, anyone can call themselves a sleep expert.
YEP. Twenty years ago there was only a handful of us who called ourselves child sleep specialists. So this industry that we pioneered is about 5-minutes old. My main goal is to support parents in what they want in regard to sleep, to educate them on what is developmentally appropriate, and to adjust their expectations accordingly. A family’s most valuable resource is their own intuition and expertise on their own children. YOU are the expert on your child. I am just an expert on following sleep science, attachment theory, and child development. I prepare parents to prepare their children and follow through on a plan that they can be consistent with given their needs, desires, and goals. Along the way, I am constantly helping them fine-tune their ability to listen to their child’s needs as well as their own.
What a few of us started two decades ago is now an industry that has to create problems to fix in order to stay in business. My goal is to coach parents to the point of NEVER needing me again. Yep, you read that right. I want parents to be autonomous. There is a TON of BS out there and “current trends” and “scare tactics” are only a part of this pile.
8. And finally, I fully agree with this bottom line…
The bottom line? The single biggest, and most harmful, misconception about infant sleep may be a simple one: that there is just one correct approach to how infants should sleep.
YES! One approach does not fit all families.
“Different families have different requirements and preferences and take different approaches to baby sleep,” says Gregory.
YES! If you try one thing and it doesn’t work – there is another way that will.
“This is fine as long as safety is always put at the forefront of decisions – and those looking after babies should be aware of ways in which they can help prevent SIDS.”
And YES! Safety first.