Oh infant sleep, it’s such a controversial subject! I’ve already written one article about it (Change your expectations not your baby), but a recent article about introducing solids at 3mths has compelled me to write another one. And I am going to repeat some of the info from my first article in here – because we maybe need to hear it a few times before it starts to sink in
A few months ago I had a debate with a postnatal doula friend. We were talking about the fourth trimester. She said that she disliked the saying ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’. She said that was unrealistic because when was the mother going to be able to do the laundry or cooking - ‘when the baby does….?’ I said, no, she shouldn’t have be doing the laundry or cooking at all so soon after having a baby, that her friends and family need to be helping her. I know this may sound a bit naïve or idealistic but give me a moment to explain
Rachel Reed (PhD Mid) explains that labour and birth is a rite of passage – going into labour, experiencing labour, and then giving birth and emerging as a mother. She says that during labour a mother shouldn't be disturbed unnecessarily - that to do so may disrupt her instincts and the flow of labour. I would say this also extends into the first few weeks, even months, after the baby is born. Motherhood is a new experience, to expect a new mother to just pick up and continue with her life as it was before is unrealistic.
I am often telling new mothers who I see for lactation consultant appointments that they have housed and nourished their baby while in-utero, now their job is to nourish and love their baby on the outside. And that others need to nourish and love HER while she is doing it.
The issue with the expectation that a mother will continue on with her usual life is that this usually leads to exhaustion. In our society we seem to think that the solution is to get the baby to sleep for longer periods and therefore sleep through the night….which then leads to the type of ‘research’ that has prompted this article.
Repeat after me – it is not biologically normal for a new baby to sleep through the night. Now, I’m not saying that if your baby does sleep through the night that there is something wrong (although I would be making sure that they are being well fed – a sleepy baby is not necessarily a well fed one….), but if your baby is eating and growing well, then there is probably nothing wrong with them if they are not sleeping through the night.
My daughter was mix fed almost from the beginning, and then I started solids at 5.5mths in the hope that I wouldn’t have to give her so much breast milk and I could reduced expressing (it didn’t). None of these things helped her to sleep through the night.
Do you know what did help her to sleep through?
Time. She is now 4. She sleeps in my bed (yes, shock, horror, we bed share!), so I know that she does sometimes wake up in the night. But now, at 4, she can get herself back to sleep, much like I can.
Here is a good rebuttal to the article on introducing solids at 3mths. It points out that little tummies may not be ready for solids, and that may lead to them being more unsettled, and could be a choking hazard. It also so rightly points out that a baby waking up at night may not just be due to hunger - it can also be due to temperature, thirst, comfort, or a bad dream, much like older children and adults!
Human babies are the least developed at birth of any mammal. Because our brains will develop so much we need to be born so small and ‘undeveloped’ to allow us to be an OK size to fit through our mother’s pelvis. This means though that we are very dependent on our parents for a lot longer than our fellow mammals.
Think about this for a moment – would you see a mother gorilla make a bed for her baby separate to the rest of the family/adults? Would she not attend to her baby overnight? Even a less developed animal – would a cat kick out her kittens from where she sleeps? If they did we would start to panic that they are rejecting their babies, that they don’t know how to care for their babies….
Our babies are no different to these other animals. In fact they need MORE attention.
In Western society we are often judged on how big our homes are, with how many bedrooms, and if you have a separate ‘parents retreat’ and/or ‘kids section’….in most ‘traditional’ cultures the whole family sleeps in the same room, sometimes even on the same surface. When I went to India I stayed with a friend’s family in New Dehli – I shared a bed with the 2 daughters. In the Masai Mara I visited a village and was taken inside a family’s hut – it was smaller than my lounge room, on 1 side was a bed for the husband, on the other was a bed for the mother and 2 children….she had given birth to a baby girl 3 weeks before. In Cambodia we stayed with a local family – 10 of us were given a mat and a pop up mosquito net each and told to lay them out on the floor in the living area. Imagine telling these people that their babies should sleep in a separate room, and for the whole night through….
I understand sleep deprivation, I really do! But I urge you to really think about what solution you want to take to improve your situation.
I run private Newborn and Breastfeeding classes and do pre- and post-birth lactation consultations, as well as HypnoBirthing classes. To find out more about my services click here or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org