Lately, I understand, there has been a frisson of activity on a parenting page regarding a blog I wrote in 2014. In the blog about preventing sleep problems in six month olds I quoted from my book “Your Cherished Baby’ and suggested:
Ideally, he should be put down drowsy but awake. If possible there should be minimal fussing after tucking in. Unless it is your choice and the baby’s habit, once down, avoid rocking, cuddling or patting to sleep. And if it is, you have a choice to gradually (step by step, night by night) wean the baby off such input or continue it.
1st wave behaviourism (remove the stimulus and the behaviour will change) has been a technique that has been used with babies for eons. We know that by withdrawing a caring response babies have an innate ability to silence themselves to avoid predators. However we know this ‘extinction’ of the protest cry is unhelpful in the long term as it programmes the baby to believe that her parents are unreliable and life is not necessarily safe. I have laid out this information clearly in my books and blogs.
But what about the ‘gentle persuasion’ methods, as in the quote above?
“When information changes, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”.
What has changed for me is the realisation that exerting any pressure on the baby to sleep longer often makes the situation worse, even in the short term. Babies find it hard to reconcile the fact that during the day the parents are completely attentive, but at night, when it’s dark and scary, they are not. Indeed they notice that their parents are also stressed and anxious as they desperately try to make their baby sleep. “I’d better stay awake and find out what’s the matter with them” thinks our baby.
By putting their baby under pressure to sleep longer at night the parents prolong what would otherwise be a brief developmentally driven stage into a longer-term problem of nocturnal anxiety.
A gentle pragmatic approach to the so called ‘sleep regression’ by a calm responsive parent will make the normal maturation of their baby’s sleep pattern unfold as smoothly and as quickly as possible.
- Breastfeeding to sleep is fine (at any age). See https://www.babydoc.com.au/breastfeeding-to-sleep/
- Do not give your baby the impression that their night waking is a problem for you; it will improve as soon as the baby can cope.
- Pretend (if necessary) to be relaxed and carefree about the night waking.
- However don’t make the night hours party-time. Keep the room dim and your responses muted, low-key and calm.
- Remember the amount of sleep needed by a baby varies enormously from baby to baby. A recent study of just breastfed babies showed at six months the average sleep need is 12.9 hours but the range is large: 8.8 – 17.0 hours! The 8.8-hour baby needs only a couple of naps before meeting a lot of his daily needs!
- A bright room for the first feed of the day and later daytime naps and a dim room at night will enhance the baby’s circadian rhythm.
- Busy interesting days will increase the pressure for your baby to be tired by the evening and encourage better sleeps. (I’ve met some mums who wanted their six-month-old babies to nap for long periods like newborns and then expect them to sleep soundly all night…)
- Poor sleep does not cause development problems in babies.
In my book you will notice that I keep saying that parents have a choice to do as they wish and what their life requires. My preference has always been that there should be no coercion for their babies to sleep longer.