Written by Heather Boyd, O.T.
These are just some suggestions on how to cope with infant sleep issues. You decide what works best for your family.
When I became a mom for the first time, I quickly realized that sleeping like a baby was anything but! Although I eventually found my way to credible information about what to expect in terms of sleep, the first two years were full of sleep deprivation, bad advice, self-doubt, and exhaustion. My son was what some would call a “bad sleeper”. I look back on this time and would describe him not as a “bad sleeper” but as a baby who couldn’t sleep. At one point it was so exhausting I emailed Elizabeth Pantley, author of the “No Cry Sleep Solution”, bleary-eyed and sobbing, hoping she had the magic solution to our sleep woes. She was empathetic, but had nothing particularly helpful to add to what I already knew from reading her book and many other books on the topic.
Although I am an occupational therapist, I was a parent first and, being sleep deprived and in the thick of it, I needed someone who knew how to break this down for me –to problem solve with me and to normalize what infant sleep really is. What I would have liked to hear back then, and what I hope may help some of you going through the challenging early months (and years!) of parenting is:
- Babies are hardwired to wake up often. A babe who wakes up every 2 hours at night for months may still fall into “normal” for sleep expectations, regardless of all the ‘tricks’ we try;
- Babies are also hardwired to be close to mom. Current guidelines are to room share for at least 12 months, and sharing a room is believed to reduce the risk of SIDS. Being close meets baby’s needs and also reduces the energy needed to be responsive to your baby at night;
- Understanding what is normal can make sleep seem so much better, even if nothing else has actually changed;
- Babies’ needs are high for a reason. They are not manipulating parents’ behaviour in order to control parents; they are manipulating in order to have their needs met.
- Mama’s instincts count. If you feel there is something that is causing sleep troubles, keep sleuthing.
- All the strategies in the world will not help if there is an underlying reason that isn’t addressed. Reflux, food sensitivities, colic, environmental allergies, and illness are all health-related reasons that babies may wake up. These babies need more: they need more nurturing to reassure them the world is a safe place. And they need more detective work to figure out what is getting in the way of a good “normal” night’s sleep.
- Taking care of you (resting, taking up offers for freezer meals, going to bed when babe does, having a chance to take a deep breath) is so very, very important. Motherhood is a big job, and one that needs resources (energy, support). Learning how to advocate for yourself is a huge skill as a parent.
- Developmental leaps (which happen pretty often in the first three years!) can lead to night waking even in a previously sound sleeper. Development takes time and there are no real short cuts.
- The mantra “Meet the Need” (both your baby’s and yours) can be a helpful reminder that our baby’s cries are communicating some need, even if we can’t quite figure out what that need is.
- If in doubt, choose love. Regardless of how long it takes to solve sleep issues, or how long it takes for a baby or child to mature enough to sleep through the night, a loving and nurturing approach to supporting your baby is always the right choice.
This article was written by Heather Boyd, O.T.Reg. (Ont.). Heather is an Occupational Therapist with 18 years of experience with families of infants and young children. Focusing on infant sleep education, infant development, and feeding, Heather collaborates with families to support development in nurturing and evidence-based ways. You can contact Heather at www.heatherboyd.ca