Most parents dream of a full night’s sleep, even before their baby is born.
Expectant parents are warned by well meaning others to expect sleep to be non-existent and sleep deprivation to be the norm. They are given a wealth of information and support about birth, feeding and mental wellbeing but sadly, not a lot when it comes to sleep. The ‘education’ they receive about sleep, prior to and then after the birth of their child comes predominantly from the people around them, through Google search and from social media. The reason parents are searching for help ‘online’ is simply because there is not enough education or support for new parents from suitably trained professionals, in the area of sleep.
In their search for answers to help with sleep, parents are bombarded with a myriad of conflicting information from sources that are more often than not, not credible.
Many parents feel anxious or inadequate as they read story after story about what is best for baby. Then comes the guilt. Social media has a habit of feeding mum guilt, in particular. Mums are led to believe that they will ‘damage their baby’s brain’ if they let them cry a little and that allowing their baby to self-settle means they have ‘abandoned them’. For a mum who might be fragile to start with, usually from lack of sleep, this is cruel.
Some parents will have a child who’s naturally a ‘good sleeper’.
These children are this way due to a combination of things like genetics, the child’s temperament and their sleep environment. Other parents with children who aren’t sleeping so well are (understandably) worried about their child not getting the sleep he or she needs. These parents are exhausted themselves. Many parents struggle with their mental health and sleep deprivation worsens their struggle. They consult with their maternal child health nurse, GP or pediatrician who offer professional, sometimes helpful but not always practical, advice. The juxtaposition to this is that parents can end up feeling even more stressed and confused. They go home, try a few different things but they lack the practical skills and close support to make the changes they need. It’s no wonder parents are confused and why so many are still struggling with their child’s sleep, long after their child is born. Sometimes even months and years later.
Truth bomb: baby sleep isn’t complicated.
Baby sleep is multifaceted but actually quite simple. The trouble is, there is so much information and ‘noise’ out there that parents get overwhelmed and confused about what to do. It’s mind-boggling!
Parents need practical tips and strategies that will actually make a difference when it comes to their child’s sleep. The following ‘seven baby sleep secrets that you won’t find on Google’ can help.
1. Read, listen and educate yourself about baby sleep.
Look at credible sources like scientific studies, free government resources or your health professional. Learn the basics around the science of sleep and how to optimize healthy sleep habits such as setting up a safe, sleep inducing environment and routine.
2. Listen to your well-meaning family and friends but don’t take their advice as ‘gospel’.
Pick out the parts of their advice that you resonate with, appreciate these, file them away as potentially useful in your ‘sleep library’ and discard the rest. You will form your own parenting philosophy and this could change as time goes by. It’s okay to change your mind and do things differently than you originally planned.
3. You’re not supposed to be an expert on sleep so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Voice any concerns you have about sleep with your health professional and understand that they will be helpful on a general level. If you need to, insist on a referral to someone who can provide you with immediate and ongoing practical help and advice with sleep. It’s up to you. If you don’t ask, it won’t happen. You are your own and your child’s voice.
4. Take stock of your social media.
Go through the groups you are a part of and cull those that aren’t serving you. Think about those you resonate with most and keep it to a maximum of ten. Consciously reducing the time you spend online can help take the pressure off yourself. Consider deleting your social media app each evening at a certain time and download it again the next day. Aim to simplify your ‘feed’ and it will simplify your life.
5. Be brave and delete your baby tracker or Wonder Weeks app.
When your child is a little older, turn your monitor volume down or off. Know that your child is adaptable and resilient and they will let you know if they need you. They don’t need you to be worrying about the next ‘leap’ or writing copious notes about their feeding, activities or sleep.
6. Your baby is going to cry and that’s okay.
Understand that crying is communication but not necessarily distress. A little crying in the context of a loving family will not harm your child’s brain or attachment to you. You don’t need to stop the crying. You need to observe your child and work out what they are telling you so you can respond appropriately. Are they hungry, in pain, bored, overstimulated or simply tired and need to sleep?
7. Give yourself a break.
You are doing the best you can. Have faith in your ability to parent and have faith in your child’s resilience. You are capable of so much more than you imagine, without even trying. Listen to your inner self. Going with your gut is often enough.