Infant sleep... a topic that usually stirs debate, strong feelings, difference in parenting styles and sometimes divide amongst families. With the advances in technology and the fact we all now have access to screeds of information at the touch of button infant sleep has now catapulted into the limelight on any parenting forum.
So my question is 'why is “sleeping through the night” the gold standard?' and 'what exactly defines sleeping through?'d Is it sleeping a stretch of 6-8 hours? Is it sleeping from midnight till morning? What is morning? 5,6 or 7am? Is it sleeping 7pm – 7am?
In a recnt facebook survey I conducted just short of 80% of adults claimed they woke at least once a night for various reasons so why is it we are all waiting for the day our child stops waking at night. It is common for babies and children to wake during the night, just like adults. When they are younger they seek our support during those wake ups and as they get older they tend to learn to manage themselves when they stir…. Only last week my 8 year old was up independantly feeding our cats at 4am without my support!
So where have our expectations come from and what exactly is normal?
Something that really gets to me is when a new parent is asked “Is he/she a good baby?” or the elusive “are they sleeping well?” – come on people, what are you expecting to hear! Even with good intention behind the questions in an instant we are associating a newborn that wakes frequently, has unsettled moments or requires parental closeness with being somewhat not ok. And guess what? ALL of that behaviour for a newborn is NORMAL.
A Longitudinal Study of Sleep Behaviour in Normal Infants during the First Year of Life published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine (Bruni O, 2014) has found that sleep duration for the early infancy period varies from 10-17 hours in 24 hours. It also found that during the first 6 months high variability in day and nighttime sleep patterns was very common with more stability in sleep from 6 months of age, however waking 1-2 times a night at all ages was most common.
Another interesting finding from the study showed that there are so many infulential factors when it comes to what is considered as “normal” sleep patterns. Things like cultural influence, infants age and developmental stages, parental interactions and support impacted greatly on infant sleep.
So how do we define ‘normal’ or ‘good’ sleeping in our babies…. Well I’m not sure we can! There is so much variance, so many differing opinions, so many influencing factors and more than enough conflicting advice that I believe we need to approach sleep on a purely individual basis!
My motto is and always has been ‘If you are ok with how you are approaching sleep with your baby then it’s fine’. Other peoples advice, input and opinions do not matter if you aren’t seeking their support.
On the flipside infant sleep behaviour can and does greatly impact on maternal and family wellbeing, I get that. Sometimes infant sleep, or lack of, contributes to incidences of postnatal depression and depletion and I totally support all families that can identify and admit that. If you need to make changes around how you manage or support your babys sleep then by all mean seek the support and/or advice of those you trust to help make the changes you desire. There are some amazing resources and awesome people who can help you to implement some gentle support to aid you and your baby to find more peace with their sleep behaviour.
To sum up, sleep is essential for health and wellbeing, growth and recovery but please don’t set your expectations of what it should be based on societies idealisations. Sleep is so indervidual we can not expect everyone, including babies, to fall into the same sleep behaviours.
If it’s not a problem for you, it’s not a problem.
Bruni O, B. E. (2014). Longitudinal Study of Sleep Behavior in Normal Infants during the First Year of Life. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.