Before a child is born, a mother tends to read innumerable books regarding feeding, sleeping, and educating our unborn baby. We memorize chapters overflowing with theories regarding child-rearing, and map out a military-style schedule, to which we are certain our babies will conform.
Misguided, we might even chuckle, determining that childcare, when respected theoretically, is quite simple. At this point, by our pure ignorance and arrogance, we may even move past our plans to taking care of our infant and begin to strategize regarding their further academic, social and athletic pursuits. Can a 6-month-old learn yoga and Mandarin, we ask ourselves?
In the Post
Whist pregnant, a number of people offered their advice to me regarding how I should encourage my unborn baby to sleep in his bassinet.
Not at all intimidated, I endeavored to memorize Gina Fords book “The Complete Sleep Guide for Contented Babies and Toddlers” and even found myself, somewhat flippantly, offering sleeping advice to others whilst I was still waddling around with a pregnant belly.
Colossal mistake. Little did I know that getting my newborn to sleep peacefully in his bassinet would be a challenge and not one that could be approached from a purely theoretical perspective.
Irrespective, baby and mother do need to sleep well so let’s examine why this is so important to their well being, and how we can ensure deep sleep for both.
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Babies, to our surprise, have unique personalities of their own and they are manifested in both the way they interact with others, as well as in the way they sleep. Take a moment to consider your own sleep patterns, or those of your partner.
I, for example, need a dark quiet room to fall asleep, whereas my husband can sleep in the middle of a dance floor as salsa dancers exuberantly swish and sashay around him.
Said patterns were, most likely according to sleep specialists, formed when we were babies ourselves, and certain triggers enable us to achieve deep sleep.
Newborn won’t sleep
To be transparent, most babies prefer to sleep nestled in the arms of a parent, rather than in a bassinet. However, although Hollywood adeptly romanticizes co-sleeping, the reality is that neither mother nor child has an optimal rest.
One doesn’t need to be a parent to infer that poor sleep has negative repercussions for one’s mental and physical health. For example, when my son refused to sleep anywhere other than on my chest, I was unable to sleep. Why? I was terrified that, in a deep slumber, I would roll over and suffocate the tiny creature.
The result was that I was exhausted. Exhaustion led to my metamorphism from a fairly delightful creature to a pseudo-monster who alternated between sobbing and screaming at her terrified husband.
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It is fairly indisputable to argue that parents to a baby are quite sleep deprived since babies rarely sleep through the night and as such, parents need to care for them. In this light, encouraging your little one to sleep in a bassinet from the outset is – at least by this mama – strongly advised. Let us look at some of the consequences of poor sleep for mom:
Poor sleep is associated with a number of negative emotional states such as drastic mood swings, intense negative emotions and even, mild to severe depression. And if you are not well, you cannot be expected to take care of yourself, let alone your little one.
Poor sleep can result in hindered cognitive ability that impacts everything from preparing a milk bottle to driving a car. In fact, studies have linked drowsy driving with driving under the influence of alcohol. If you cannot think clearly enough to buckle a seatbelt, perhaps you are unable to keep your baby in a safe environment.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine connects poor sleep to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. In my case, my constant lack of deep sleep led to a weakened immune system, resulting in a chronic case of the flu. If you yourself are ill, how can you take care of your sweet heart?
Have you ever tried to have a conversation with an extremely tipsy person? This is akin to dealing with a sleep-deprived mother. Language will be garbled, overly emotional, lack structure and coherence.
Once pure exhaustion sets in from poor sleep, moms often find themselves distressed and this undermines their confidence in their ability to cope with daily parenting tasks.
The repercussions of poor sleep for a baby
Whereas an adult can verbalize his or her frustration, a baby cannot. Poor sleep will result in fatigue but the problem is that a baby’s natural response to fatigue is counter intuitive – rather than wanting to sleep, reject the fatigue, provoking a vicious cycle of overstimulation and exhaustion. This results in an unhappy and fussy baby.
In his book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, author Weissbluth states “Sleep problems not only disrupt a child’s nights — they disrupt his days, too, by making him less mentally alert, more inattentive, unable to concentrate, and easily distracted.”
Each stage in our life demands a different amount of uninterrupted sleep. Babies sleep for shorter periods of time because they need to feed more frequently, but even so, these periods need to long enough to allow a baby to pass through all stages of sleep.
If a baby sleeps poorly the consequences are multiple – they have a decreased or irregular appetite which impedes optimal growth, and they can be physically impulsive, hyperactive, or even lazy.
Nevertheless, parents should not despair because there are a number of studied techniques that encourage and, ultimately, convince babies to sleep in their bassinet, allowing deep sleep for both mother and child. Some of the options we have found to be the most successful are as follows:
How to Get a Baby Sleep in the Bassinet
Ensure that you are putting your baby to sleep at the right time. It is a common misconception that an overtired or over-stimulated baby will sleep more quickly and soundly simply because he is exhausted. To the contrary as mentioned earlier, they will fight the fatigue and as such, fight the bassinet.
Both adults and babies pass through active and passive sleep cycles: as babies transition from one to the next, they learn to fall asleep on their own. To help their transition to sleeping on their own, it is fundamental to put them into their cribs when they are drowsy rather than overtired, fully awake, or fully asleep.
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Introduce a routine from the outset, one that is consistent and predictable. It can be as simple as feed, bath, put on lotion, massage, put on pajamas, rock, and sing, and then place baby into the bassinet. The key is that, again, it must be consistent and predictable. Another tip is that this should be done in a dimmed room because it prepares your little one for sleeping.
Many sleep experts suggest that positioning is important and as such, a baby be swaddled with a special light cloth and then placed on his back in the bassinet. While this might seem uncomfortable to you, please recall that your little one just emerged from a very enclosed environment (your belly) and that being swaddled is often comforting for a baby. In addition, swaddling coupled with laying a baby on his back has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) by an extra 30%.
A mother needs to communicate with her child in order to soothe him to sleep, however, this does not necessarily mean that a child needs to be physically held. There is a large debate surrounding the cry out method and, to be frank, no right answer.
Most experts suggest that you do not ignore a baby’s cry but that you pacify him without removing him from the bassinet. In other words, sing a lullaby or sway the bassinet whilst the little one remains in the bassinet. Placing my hand gently on my son worked wonders to calm him down so that he could fall back asleep in a calm and safe environment.
Dr. Karp, the infamous author of “The Happiest Baby on the Block” has a 5-point series of suggestions to calm down an irritated baby, ensuring sleep.
How can you determine which sleep strategy to choose to ensure that your kid comfortably and soundly sleeps in his bassinet?
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First, I would suggest you take a deep breath and recognize that there is NO handbook for parenting and all its associated responsibilities. While there are certain standards for child-rearing (mostly associated with safety and general well-being), many of our decisions must be intuitively made according to the specific and deeply personal needs of both mother and child. In other words, it is not for your mother-in-law to decide, it is not for your pediatrician to choose and it is not for your know-it-all-neighbor to dictate.
Second, acknowledge that you are a good parent and that sometimes parenting is challenging, despite what magazines and Hollywood may otherwise portray.
In summary, sleeping well is as necessary to our well being as are breathing and eating; and if neither mom nor baby can sleep well, everyone will suffer.
Author William Shakespeare once recognized the value of a good night’s sleep when he stated it was the “Chief nourisher in life’s feast”. As a new mother, I often underestimated the importance of sleeping, and even felt guilty if I slept too much, as per my self-imposed limitations. In this light, I also felt guilty placing my child in a bassinet rather than holding him closely throughout the night.
However, after a few sleepless nights and the sound advice of a wise grandmother, I came to realize that once my little one was tucked away into his bassinet we both slept more soundly. The result? We had a happier and healthier home.
We really need to figure this out…