Let me start by saying I think that the feminist movement pretty much screwed us all over. And yes, I am a feminist and if you think women and men should have equal rights then you are too. Yet through this movement we were made to believe, we can do it all! We can have babies! We can go back to work! We can build our own DIY play kitchen out of an old TV cabinet! We can be excellent cooks and make amazing dinners for our families after an insanely busy day! We can return to work a few months after our baby is born, pump while driving to work and still have milk left over to donate! AAAAHHHHH! The reality is that we CANNOT HAVE IT ALL, ALL AT ONCE. WE CANNOT DO IT ALL, ALL AT ONCE. When we try to do this we go insane…and start to think our babies and toddlers have sleep problems when it’s actually us who are trying to do too much, do not have enough community support and need to TAKE.IT.EASY.
OK…by just reading this title I already can see the women who are angry or getting defensive and ready with an explanation as to why they had to train their babies. Why they had to let their babies cry and learn to self sooth. “I was going insane!” or “I had to go back to work!” or “I had post-natal depression!” or “If I didn’t do this I would have been on anti depressants and unable to care for all of my children”…and I get it. I have had three children. I have cried many times from lack of sleep. I have been depressed. I have been exhausted beyond description. I know some of you feel as though this is what saved you and your sanity…BUT I will not encourage or support the concept of training a baby, cry-it-out, allowing your baby to “protest” (ha! It’s CRYING not protesting as I have seen some self described “sleep experts” suggest). I believe there are other alternatives to these challenges, which support my basic philosophy of the importance of mums and dads following their instincts and the lead of their babies.
If your baby is happy to be laid down awake and fall asleep without crying then great! Go with it! But what about the vast majority of babies who do not do this? IT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE WHEN SOMETHING MOST EVERY BABY OR TODDLER DOES NATURALLY IS DEFINED AS A, “PROBLEM” BY THE SLEEP “EXPERTS” AND “BABY WHISPERERS”. It is not a sleep problem when a baby or toddler wakes during the night to breastfeed or breastfeeds to sleep…it is the biological norm. It is what most every baby and toddler who is breastfed on demand does.
There are many problems that I have with training your baby to sleep through the night. **Important to note that my husband I have gently encouraged both of my oldest boys to sleep once they neared the age of two. At this age they are fully aware, understand what is happening and are not tiny little beings anymore! I am not saying you have to have your child attached to your boob 24/7 until they are five…unless you want to 🙂
I have a different approach, a different philosophy, a different way I look at the issue of sleep. Are you still with me? I will go over why I feel this way and alternatives to training your baby. Read on for more…
1. OUR BABIES ARE BORN EXTREMELY PREMATURELY COMPARED TO OTHER MAMMALS: Think about other mammals with whom we share a species category with…horses, cows, giraffes etc. These animals birth their babies and then they literally sputter, get up and WALK away! Yes! They are born ready to go. We are actually much more like a marsupial in need of a pouch with a nipple in it. There are some theories as to why this happened, many people think it is because we are so awesome and smart, our brains have gotten so big we need to birth our babies early to actually fit them through the birth canal! Babies (and toddlers) need frequent breastfeeds, cuddles, skin to skin and being carried around to feel secure and comforted. To train a distressed crying baby under the age of 18-24 months to fall asleep on their own goes against most mum’s instincts and what the baby is telling us. It is not possible to spoil a baby. They are helpless, little and have only one way of communicating.
2. Research shows that the growth of our babies brains (DNA synthesis) happen rapidly during the first few years of life, along with nerve growth factors which is a hormone that facilitates development And how are both of these promoted? Through TOUCH, and when mothers stop touching their infants, DNA synthesis stops and growth hormone diminishes1. When our babies are put down and left by themselves as they cry and are in distress, they go into “survival mode”2.
3. Breastmilk has components in it which help our babies and toddlers fall asleep!! CLICK HERE TO READ THE RESEARCH ON THIS. It’s like a natural sleep aid! This is why most of the time babies and toddler fall asleep at the breast. To imply that a baby is using this as a “sleeping prop” or that it is a”bad habit” is ignoring what naturally happens and is the biological norm. To let your baby cry is ignoring their only way of communicating. There was a research article published in 2011 which showed that although babies stopped crying on about the third night, their stress hormone, cortisole was still raised. Even though they had been trained to fall asleep and were quiet and seemingly peaceful, they still had elevated stress hormones within their body3. This is a physiological response that was recorded and shows just how distressing it is for a baby, even when they are sleeping.
4. Babies breastfeed for MANY different reasons and these reasons include those in the middle of the night. Pain, teething, confusion, thirst, hunger, needing a cuddle through breastfeeding etc. Why are these reasons not good enough for some people? Why is hunger the only acceptable reason within some mainstream thinkers to feed your baby in the night?
5. I have seen some sleep training websites list research articles to support their claims that babies who learn to fall asleep on their own and through the night will do better in school, have less chance of being obese and have an increased ability to learn. WHAT?! To use these studies as support for the argument FOR sleep training is misleading to parents. There is NO research to support the claim that babies and toddlers who fall asleep at the breast and breastfeed throughout the night are more likely to be overweight, have trouble in school and have a harder time learning. In order for a study to look at the differences between the two we need a longitudinal study which specifically compares those who are exclusively breastfed to sleep and through the night with those who are sleep trained and night weaned, leaving out variables which can also affect the results AND have it be peer reviewed. Once this has happened, let me know, I’d love to see the results!
6. Babies and toddlers do not have “sleep problems” if they are waking throughout the night and falling asleep at the breast. It is the biological norm for babies and toddlers to do this. Once your toddler reaches the age of 18-24 months old you, it becomes easier to introduce gentle methods to help them night wean and/or stop falling asleep on the breast. This is when they are developmentally ready to negotiate and understand what you are saying to them. Before this time, many mums find it incredibly difficult, distressing and frustrating to try to night wean. For suggestions on gently night weaning your toddler, head here to my article on Boobie Baby Turned Boobie Toddler Monster. Of course if your baby is younger than this and is responding without crying or distress at falling asleep on their own then great! Go with it!
7. If we were to see an older child or adult crying we would never think, “I might just leave them and let them cry it out so they can learn to settle themselves”…no way!! We would go over to them, give them a hug, tell them we are there if they would like to talk etc. Why would a baby or toddler be any different? Why are they any less in need of some comforting?
OK, so now is the part you have all been waiting for! You might be thinking, “well that all sounds great Meg but I am exhausted and frankly do not give a damn about all this, I agree but I just want to know how to get more sleep”!!!
1. Have a read of my article “Tips On How To Get More Sleep”. This blog post is a shorter version of the first chapter in my book on sleep, “Boobin’ All Day…Boobin’ All Night. A Gentle Approach To Sleep”. It goes over my philosophy… it’s all about focusing on what YOU can do as a new mum to get more sleep, not focusing on your baby’s sleep patterns. Get community support, seek help during the day etc. Sometimes if we change our thoughts and focus we can find solutions! In this case, look at solutions other than cry it out and sleep training or allowing your baby to “protest” (cry!) in order to learn how to fall asleep on their own or through the night…
2. Try to wait as long as possible before returning to work. This will enable you to rest during the day as needed if you have a hard night. Find a friend, family member or baby sitter to help with older children during the day. If you can afford it, hire someone to clean your house.
3. Figure out what sleeping arrangement works for you and your family. I cover this extensively in my book. Often times breastfeeding mums find that co-sleeping and/or bed sharing with their babies and toddlers allows for easy popping out of the boob without actually having to wake up fully! Awesomeness…
4. Pay attention to tired signs (rubbing eyes or ears, wandering eyes, clenched fists, crying) and implement a routine before bed. Yes! I said routine! You can breastfeed to sleep and on demand and still do a routine with your baby and toddler. Bath, book, sing etc. then boob to sleep. This will help them settle and calm down leading up to bed time. Try to keep it at the same time each night as well.
5. I am NOT saying, “just deal with it and push on woman!” we need support, we need community, we need our tribe to help us get through these tired, exhausting times. Do not go it alone. Seek help and look at ways in which you can rally the community around you to help you get the support you need. Read through my article mentioned in step one for suggestions on how to do this.
Some alternatives to training your baby include:
Co-sleeping (READ HERE ON HOW TO DO THIS SAFELY)
Carry, cuddle and just plain hang out with your baby
Pass them to a partner, friend or family member if you need a break
SLEEP DURING THE DAY. CANCEL YOUR PLANS. IF YOU WORK, CALL IN SICK IF YOU NEED TO.
Breastfeed your baby and hang out with them skin to skin
Enjoy them and what they do naturally (breastfeed to sleep, wake to feed and like to be carried around).
*If you are feeling so overwhelmed that you feel as though you cannot care for yourself, your baby and/or your other children seek help immediately from your doctor.