If there’s one topic that has parents around the world equally confused, it’s newborn sleep! At The Bambino Bible, we loved to speak to different professionals who deal with families in many different ways when it comes to sleep & the expectations of same. Here, we hear from Nikki Smith, founder of Earthway Parenting, a Registered Nurse, qualified Family & Child Nurse & a passionate advocate for the provision of safe & supportive education for parents as well as the self-empowerment of our little ones.
As new parents you will find yourselves shocked to the core in the realisation that yes, your new baby will feed around the clock. The average new baby will sleep for 16 out of 24 hours BUT all babies are very unique. You may find that your newborn will sleep up to 19 hours or as little as only 8.
You need not worry though because it is not about ‘how may hours’ he or she will sleep- you may simply have either a wakeful baby or a sleepy one, a cat napper or a baby that leisurely sleeps the day and night away (now wouldn’t that be lovely!)
In those first few weeks post-partum your new baby will wake, feed and then fall asleep again, only to wake no more then 2-3 hours later (yes, for yet another feed!) As your new baby grows, so does their appetite, and you will find that your baby will want bigger feeds as opposed to more frequent feeds. They will also tend to be more active between feeds, which will then (fingers crossed) allow for deeper and longer sleeps!
Building a trusting relationship
Your infant needs loving, responsive interaction, always. This is an essential foundation for connection and building trust. Your touch is just as important and as fundamental as the food that you provide for them.
There is absolutely NO doubt that infancy can be challenging, but babies are simply too young and inexperienced to handle their own causes for crying whatever that may be; be it sleep, a change of nappy, needing to be fed again but more so for comfort, or just because they feel overwhelmed and they need you. It is up to you as their parent, to take responsibility in meeting your unique baby’s needs, their need for nurturing from you, your security and your unconditional love.
So, who here has been told NOT to breastfeed their little ones to sleep?
Most babies will need milk during the night within that first year… milestones, brain development and leaps, teeth, illness, the list goes on. They will always get back into their own rhythm once they are past whatever it is that is going on for them, but in the meantime, give them what they need, which is you, and no doubt their mama’s comforting milk. Breastfeeding creates a loving connection as well as positive interaction between you both. When you are breastfeeding your little love to sleep at night your milk has already created the amazing hormones specific for that settling feed; melatonin is one of those peaceful, loving hormones that is released, as is oxytocin, the ‘feel good, relaxation’ hormone that is released for you both. Your breastmilk creates the most incredible chemistry to help your little love off to sleep. So why wouldn’t you use it!?
Time and time again with our first newborn baby, it was repeated endlessly to me that I was “spoiling her by holding her too much,” “just let her cry,” “you’ll spoil her by feeding on demand.” ‘Spoiling’ is one of those mindless ideas that gets passed down from generation to generation, even though on the surface it is absolutely ridiculous! It is instinctive to rock your beautiful new baby and to hold them, it has been done for millennias! Think of your fourth trimester with your new baby as an extension of your pregnancy because for nine (or ten months if you do pregnancy like me!) long months they have been with you. Listening to your heartbeat from the inside. Why wouldn’t they still want and need that beautiful comfort? Who ‘decided’ that breastfeeding, rocking and cuddling your new baby off to sleep was taboo and creating ‘sleep associations’ or the other good one that I love, ‘creating a rod for your back!’ Whatever happened to conscious, and intuitive parenting?
I believe that every family is unique and doing the very best that they can with the knowledge that they have at the time. I myself know that desperation of no sleep…. After the traumatic delivery of my first daughter and once we were home, discovering that she would sleep no longer than two hours at a time, both day and night, she was misdiagnosed and unfortunately had a severe case of reflux… at that time we had tried everything! Crying it out, leaving her in her cot for timed intervals then responding minutes later, I tried long walks and 3am car trips, only to pull into the driveway an hour later and her eyes would spring open, wide awake!
There were long and heated discussions with well-meaning family members, isolation, little contact with friends and family and a husband working two hours away. I was clearly a time bomb of emotions about to go off. At that point I realized that rocking our baby to sleep and breastfeeding every hour, every night was getting to be too much for myself and my family.
I realized that there are gentle ways that I could help her to get off to settle.
I have always connected with our babies by using eye contact even whilst trying to or in the process of settling them down to sleep. Eye contact creates trust. I would always just close down my eyes, as I would pop them into their cot or bassinet whilst taking some deep breaths. You can try this by inhaling through your nose and then exhaling through your nose, do this up to three times. I would be patting their belly gently or just have my hand resting on there as I was doing so. I have always found that this would help to create the calm space that I needed and in turn so did they.
You can also try using gentle music, i.e. lullabies, with a 3-4 beat rhythm which is similar to your resting heartbeat. You can play this for a week whilst rocking your little one to sleep and then the next week wait until they are drowsy then put them down to sleep. Once they’re used to the music being their association for sleep hopefully they’ll be able to settle quickly once put down into their cot or bassinet. This will take as long as a few weeks for your baby to settle into a new rhythm with their sleep or maybe just a week. Its is all dependent on your unique baby. It might help to remember though that an expectation in your infant ‘self-settling’ once earth side may not happen because it is a developmental milestone.
Co-sleeping. This is a controversial subject and at times opposed in western society.
‘We are moving toward an artificial, mistrustful, and distant approach, especially in the western world.’ Jan Hunt author of ‘The Natural Child, parenting from the heart.
Quite simply though, safe co-sleeping saved my life and my sanity! When you as a mother sleep next to your baby, you are more able to use your own instinctive responses that every new mother has- it is a very similar instinct to your reaction to your baby’s first cry.
Practical Tip: If you are worried about placing your infant between yourself and your partner you can always use a snuggle bed to put between you both or move the basinet to be right next to you and the bed.
Dr William Sears a renowned American paediatrician has been quoted to say ‘often times I felt ridiculous giving my seal of approval to what was in reality such a natural thing to do, sort of like reinventing the wheel & extolling its viruses. Had parent’s intuition sunk so low that some strange man had to tell modern women that it was ok to sleep with their babies?’
When babies sleep near their parents we are creating a sense of trust and security for them, acceptance and love.
Lastly, when in self-doubt, ask yourself is it safe? Is it respectful? And does it feel right intuitively for you?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then do what feels right for you because that will ultimately be what your baby needs.
And if there is only one thing that you take from this I want you to remember that-
Sleep is only a problem if it is a problem for you and your family.