Author: Nayana Chakrabarti, Parenting and Education Editor
Whoever came up with the saying ‘to sleep like a baby’ had clearly never met a baby in their lives Right? Right.
Whilst newborns can and often do sleep for up to 16 hours a day, they do not necessarily sleep when their parents and caregivers want them to! So, those people who tell you to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’, it’s probably best to ignore them too! Their unsolicited advice is lovely and well-meant but not necessarily helpful and not particularly applicable to the real world and lived reality of sleep-deprived caregivers.
So, for little humans who literally have three jobs: sleep, feed, poo and repeat – why is it all so overwhelming? Is your baby broken? Are you broken?
The answer is a very strong, shouty, affirmative NO! You are not broken and neither is your baby. Your baby sleeps for about 16 hours but you don’t feel it…How does that even work? Well, because science.
In the womb, the fetus is lulled to sleep because of the mother’s movements throughout the day. At night, when the mother is asleep and her movements are thereby reduced, the fetus awakes. So you see, it began in the womb. Newborns are born with inverse circadian rhythms where they are attuned to sleeping during the day and waking through the night.
Food also has its role to play. Newborns have tiny stomachs but they do need to be fed rather often. They need to be held rather often too. Naturally, these needs do not necessarily sit well with sleep.
It is no small wonder that baby sleep is a global industry. There are books. In fact, there are thousands of books, written in every single language that you can possibly conceive of.
There are YouTube channels.
There are lullaby videos and white noise videos which will play on a constant loop.
There are toys and aids galore.
And, when you finally feel like giving up, there are yet more books. Some will tug on your heartstrings more than others.
This one might be for you though!
But of course, even after you have invested in all of the sleeping aids and tools, your baby still may not sleep in quite the way you want them to, or in fact, the way that you need them to. And whilst, babies sleep in very different ways around the world, it is important to bear in mind that there are safe-sleep guidelines.
SIDs or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is a condition which haunts the nightmares of all new parents and caregivers of children below one year of age. Whilst it has still not been fully understood, there are certain guidelines that we can follow in order to ensure that we give our children the safest and healthiest sleeping environment. To this end, pediatricians and maternity nurses strongly encourage and advice parents and caregivers to ensure that they lay their baby down to sleep so that they are flat on their back, alone in a crib without any bumpers or additional material which can be potential suffocation hazards.
Moreover, any kind of positioning whereby the child’s chin tucks down into their chest should be a strict no-no as this blocks their ways. In fact, it is because of the potential suffocation hazard of this positioning that we are advised to not keep babies asleep in car seats for more than a couple of hours.
Furthermore, falling asleep on the sofa with a baby in your arms seems almost inevitable when you are tired and sleep-deprived but this is also another very strict no-no. Tragically, babies have been known to suffocate due to such unsafe sleeping environments. But fear not.
There’a a rather handy acronym which can help you remember the do’s.
Many parents chose to share a room with their babies for at least the first six months of their life. Room-sharing has also been found to reduce the risk of SIDS, particular in the first six months of your child’s life.
The ABC guidelines above have been written in the west. Globally, babies sleep in lots of different ways. Understanding how babies sleep all over the world and what kind of support is available to new parents is worth knowing simply because of the reassurance it offers. Until our modern, post-industrial times, children were raised in communities and villages. New parents were never meant to go it alone. Furthermore, However, there’s a certain privilege in assuming that all parents and caregivers can afford to give their babies their own sleeping space or nurseries. We should not simply accept Western methodology as the convention without question.
In many places around the world, babies are in constant contact with their mothers, irrespective of day or night. Babies simply sleep on their mother’s bodies throughout the day in portable carriers or slings fashioned out of affordable cloth. At night, babies share their mother’s sleeping space.
In the West, the philosophy of ‘attachment parenting’ has its roots in this ancient and indigenous practice. Indeed, what we know in the West, as ‘attachment parenting’ is simply the default convention for many cultures around the world and favoured by parents from all walks of life. Slings are fashioned securely from lengths of cloth without a single luxury or expensive weave in sight.
It is also true that while the West strongly advises against co-sleeping, in countries such as Japan where co-sleeping is common practice and known as ‘kawa no ji’, infant mortality is one of the lowest in the world.
So, can you safely co-sleep? We have read the AAP guidelines above, here is the other side of the coin.
In order to safely co-sleep:
• parents and caregivers should keep pillows, blankets away from their babies. These are suffocation hazards. You can tuck your blankets around your waist and keep your baby warm using a sleep-sack.
• lay your child down so that they are flat on their back.
• you should ensure that pets and other children do not simultaneously share your bed.
• you should ensure that your baby cannot get trapped in between the mattress and the wall.
• smokers should not co-sleep with their babies (even if you do not smoke in the bedroom).
• you should not co-sleep if you have consumed drugs or alcohol or if you have taken medication which will make you drowsy and slow to respond.
• you should not co-sleep your baby was born at a low birth-weight or was born prematurely.
• you should not fall asleep with your baby on a sofa or an armchair.
If you are torn between sleeping arrangements and are not quite sure what you would prefer, you might like to try out co-sleeping cot. These cost can be pulled up right next to your own bed, ensuring that while you and your baby both have your own sleeping space, you are also in close proximity to each other.
The topic of baby sleep can be quite divisive. Everyone has an opinion. How you plan to proceed depends on three factors:
• your baby’s safety
• your comfort
• your doctor’s advice
However, there are some best practice guidelines from that we can all follow. Keyrin Addison, a Zurich-based maternity nurse and nanny, tells us more.
How to help ‘Happy Sleepers’
I’m Keiryn and I was a professional nanny and maternity nurse for over a decade. Now I am a busy mom of 2, with a passion to help parents especially with sleep but also with other areas of parenting (like nutrition and general wellbeing and development). I genuinely wish I could take sleepless night away and give parents the tools and confidence to start and maintain better sleeping habits.
These are my top 5 tips when it comes to better sleep:
- Consistency is the BEST gift you can give your baby/child to prepare them for a good night’s sleep. By this I mean a consistent time, routine and sleep environment – regardless of how ‘awake’ your baby seems.
- No tv or screen time before sleep. Same goes for upbeat music.
- Falling asleep should be independent of sleep associated aids. This includes a bottle to fall asleep, music, rocking and holding. Breastfeeding until ‘almost’ asleep is great but a slight transition from breast to pillow while baby/toddler is drowsy is best so they are still falling asleep on their own.
- Only start something you are willing to do every time your baby needs to fall asleep.
- Finally, – and I think this is very important – BELIEVE your baby/toddler/child is capable of falling asleep and able to sleep through the night with little to no assistance from you.
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you find some of the tips here useful.
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