Sleep deprivation is not only the world’s most ancient torture, it’s also the biggest challenge new parents have to stand up to. Let’s face it: it’s hell.
It’s a waking nightmare. Each time I hear someone use “sleeping like a baby” I burst in laughing tears; it is probably the most misleading idiom of all times.The truth is that most babies sleep like soldiers at war – they wake up crying, every two hours. This is the truth about baby sleep, it is the way it is, the way it was and the way it will always be. And most importantly – it is normal. It is exactly the way it should be. Even if it is really hard for us, the parents.
Living in 2018 it is quite easy to forget that human beings are mammals. Advanced, developed, literate, industrial, technological, but mammals nonetheless. Our natural patterns do not differ from those of other mammals. Ask the lioness: she knows that if she won’t feed her cubs at night, they won’t survive. She knows that if she’ll take one step away from them, they’ll be in existential danger. So she doesn’t. She keeps them close. Meets their needs even before they arise. They sleep in her embrace, breastfed at will, carried from one safe place to the other until they are ready to make their first, independent steps. The lioness doesn’t complain. She does what she needs to do for her cubs’ well-being and prosperity. There is no other choice. And it’s not only the lioness. Every single mammal. What then, made us take these steps back, diverging from nature, from naturalism? when if anything, ah human beings, we should aim to be even closer.
Most mammal cubs are born at the level of development babies reach at 12 months of age. We are the least developed newborns of all mammals. Babies’ ability to sleep for longer periods of time is a function of their brains’ development and frequently waking up is a natural mechanism compensating for that immaturity, increasing their survival chances. If babies wouldn’t cry with every discomfort, physical or emotional, signaling their parents they need assistance, many wouldn’t survive. As they grow and uncomfortable situations repeat themselves, they cry less for help as they already recognize certain situations are not a real threat.
Not too long ago, we were the same, full-time parents, day and night, making sure our babies’ needs are met as soon as they arise. But the wake of the industrial revolution, only 250 years ago, changed quite a few perspectives. The Western world suddenly needed working hands, and the more the better, to keep up with the growing demand for progress and manufacturing in light of the dawning Capitalism. Everyone was called to duty, women and men alike, and everyone had to deliver. But how can a mother deliver when she breastfeeds her newborn every two hours? How can a father deliver he wakes up each time his newborn cries?
Babies then became a problem. A loved and desired problem, but a problem nonetheless. Since human beings are a problem-solving species, we started looking for solutions. The easiest of which was to stop breastfeeding during the night and to change sleeping arrangements so that parents slept separately from their babies. Only 250 years ago we said our farewells and diverged from millions of years of natural parenting. Only then did it become socially acceptable to let babies cry themselves to sleep, and again and again during the night without anyone offering comfort, only then did the anti breastfeeding campaign launch.
250 years have passed; we gained so much knowledge; physical, medical, biological, and psychological and still the prevalent approach almost all over the modernized world is that parenting is a 06:00-20:00 position.
Of course, it’s hard; you’re tired. Exhausted. Drained. You haven’t slept more than two hours since your baby was born. You’re upset, your patience levels are as low as they can be and the only thing you want is to put your head down and just sleep. Until next week, if possible. But your baby needs you at night as much as she needs you during the day, and even more so. Babies need to be fed, to be held, they need assistance to fall asleep and to fall back asleep, they need reassurance. They need warmth and comfort, they need love. A lot of love.
Parenting wasn’t meant to be lonely – it was meant to require a village.
The first months to your baby’s life are the months she needs you most, and are the most important for your and your baby’s attachment. If she learns her parents embrace her every time she’s in distress, she will learn that the world is a safe place where she can freely explore and develop. If she learns her parents feed her each time she’s hungry, come for her help each times she calls, she will enter this world confident with her physical and emotional needs met, mentally free to learn and explore. If she learns her parents accept her through the many struggles she goes through as an infant, warmly untangling every hardship, she will learn to cope and deal with every situation. Secure attachment is key to happiness, confidence, respect, independence and even health.
As parents we should all remember that it is never about the baby, but about the adult this little baby will grow to be. We want this adult to trust us, to know that we will help and support her at all times. This future adult needs to know that when she asks for help – she will receive it. Otherwise – she will go somewhere else looking for it.
How Can You Help Your Baby Sleep Better?
There is so much happening in the first 24 months of your child’s life; she discovers herself, her family, and her surrounding. She develops feelings and learns how to differentiate between them. She learns that she is a separate, independent human being, a person in and of herself. Each of these huge accomplishments is accompanied by great fears and anxieties as each accomplishment is the break of a new dawn.
Learn what Your Baby is Going Through
The Fourth Trimester
The first three months of your baby’s life, also known as the fourth trimester, are a major challenge, for you too, of course, but mainly for your baby.
For nine months she had only known warmth and comfort. She was never hungry or cold. She never feared. Nothing ever changed. She heard your heart beating and felt each movement you made 24/7. And then boom. World. You are the one and only she is counting on to help her through these hard times.
The Four Months Sleep Regression
Celebrating four months of life does not mean it’s all peaches as of now on. Actually, it’s always peaches, but it’s still very hard, and might even get harder with the Four Months Sleep Regression (or as many call it – the Four Months’ Crisis). Read this post to learn exactly what’s happening there and how you can handle it in the best possible way, with the most positive outcome for all of you.
Got over the Four Months Crisis with flying colors and secure attachment? Of course, you did 🙂 Now it’s time to handle Separation Anxiety. Read this post carefully as this period has returning cycles at eight, twelve, sixteen and even twenty months of age.
I know that all this might sound a bit frightening, your approach is everything. You are the only one designing your parenting, making the choices setting the tone. If you choose to see the beauty, express the love, interact with calmness and communicate with compassion – this is exactly what parenting will be. And your baby? She can only follow your example.
Nonviolent, Judgment-Free Communication
Spoiled. Manipulative. Dependent.
How many times have you heard these words describing babies? Probably a lot.
Let me tell you something: you cannot spoil your baby, the only thing you can do is make sure her needs are met. And another something: babies do not manipulate. They simply don’t have the ability to do that just yet. The understanding that one action leads to another action only develops towards three years of age and even then – most actions we judge as manipulative are strategies for meeting the child’s needs.
Dependent? Of course, she is dependent; she is a baby, and not only that she can’t feed or change herself, she doesn’t know how to soothe herself or lead herself to the confident state of mind in which she can let go and fall asleep.
Spoiled. Manipulative. Dependent.
These three words are a dead end: full of judgment, they imply negative situations that can only be changed by redefining your baby’s needs. Babies’ needs can’t be redefined.
Unlike most adults, babies, toddlers and children are attuned to their needs and feelings, and they communicate these with everything they have. It is only later on in life that we let the world dull our perspective, forget about our needs and only focus on strategies. Let’s change all that; let’s raise a new generation of adults that will be attuned, that will walk this world with compassion to self, and to others. This is my dream.
The Words We Speak, Define Who We Are
Changing the terminology we use when describing our situations, to others, but mainly to ourselves is a great place to start. Your baby is not spoiled, she is just not yet confident enough to fall asleep on her own. She is not already six months old, she is only six months old. She is not manipulative, she just wants a little more mommy-time before she can let go and fall asleep. She didn’t already develop bad habits, she simply feels that her mother’s embrace is the best place in the world for him. And he’s right.
Change the words you use, change your reality. Here’s my personal journey through baby sleep, from 0 to 24 months. This will give you a great head-start on what’s about to come and how you can rock this period.
Love, Compassion, Empathy
Love your baby, love yourself and love your partner. Let your baby teach you that when needs are spoken, they are met. Speak your needs as no one around you is a mind reader. Urge your partner to share his needs with you. You’re all in this together and you must work as a team, as a well-oiled machine to make it work.
Here are Two Tips That Will Improve Your Baby’s Sleep:
- Don’t look at the clock, stop counting wake ups. It isn’t about the hour, it isn’t about the number. These two factors will do nothing but contribute to your stress levels. It is all about your precious little baby. Open your heart, let compassion in, and meet her needs. This is guaranteed to help her sleep better.
- Co-sleep (safely). This is the way humanity was brought up. This is how thousands of generations did it, and they did it for a reason – proximity in the early ages is an existential need.
When a new baby comes home, everything changes. But you CAN OWN that change. Even if you’re tired 🙂
Want to share a personal experience or just tell us exactly how tired you are? You’d be surprised how a well-deserved virtual hug can make you feel much better. Join my parenting support group on Facebook for love and advice.