Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Baby Sleep Series

Oh, patient reader, you may have noticed I have become somewhat preoccupied with the topic of babies and their sleeping habits.

Be assured I am blessed to have in my possession a baby that is yet to develop sleep problems, or well, the appearance of them.  He falls asleep in his own bed by himself and can take longer naps if he needs them usually, although he does catnap a fair bit.  He also sleeps quite well at night, enough to leave me fairly lucid during the day. However as a second time parent whose daughter was sleeping through the night at the age her son is still demanding night feeds, I'm curious as to why and how this sleep thingamajig works. I'm also just interested in learning about stuff and need a new hobby horse.

I am reading across the parenting style spectrum to see what various 'experts' say and giving a general summary of them for my own interest, and hopefully yours, long suffering reader.

Summary of 'The Spectrum'

What do I mean by parenting style spectrum?  I mean the spectrum between 'parent-directed feeding' (PDF) and their commonly associated settling methods and 'attachment' parenting style feeding and subsequent settling methods. I'm not really going into feeding routines or demand feeding, although these may effect sleeping and settling.

At one end of the spectrum may be the extreme of PDF settling methods where babies are left to cry for long periods ( perhaps as long as an hour) with varying degrees of attention, from listening/watching baby but not intervening, to entering the room at 2-20 minutes intervals to reassure without feeding or picking up the baby. Some methods have parents staying in the room but not picking up the baby, or making eye contact. Parent directed settling may arise out of ideological conviction or apparent necessity when other methods of getting a baby to sleep fail.  Sometimes they are successful and the crying is of short duration, other times they are ongoing and upsetting for the family and then abandoned.

The other end of the spectrum may be the attachment style in which babies are rocked, cuddled, breastfed to sleep share a bed with their parents.  Again many parent practises vary a lot and may involve feeding to sleep but baby sleeping in a separate room and bed, or feeding to sleep but sleeping in the same room or same bed.  Or rocking to sleep or wearing baby in a front pack and then putting baby to bed.  Or holding the baby or child until they are in deep sleep before putting them to bed. Attachment parenting can arise out of a deep philosophical conviction or just pure pragmatism - that it 'works'. Sometimes bed sharing in particular is enjoyed and other times tolerated.

Where do I fall, you may ask?  Well, I'll get to that in due course and you may have already guessed. ;)

One thing I have found from my reading is that both 'camps' inevitably have their own kind of 'scaremongering' and mythology.  For instance, parent directed models often assure parents that their child will never EVER leave their bed if they sleep with their baby, or that if they breastfeed their baby to sleep they will have to do it every time they wake in the night.  In contrast, many attachment based approaches assure parents that allowing their baby to cry for 'x' amount of minutes will permanently damage their child emotionally.  Maybe you yourself have stumbled into one camp because your fear of say 'never EVER sleeping again' was greater than your fear of what crying may do to your baby? Or Vice versa?

Or maybe, happy Socrates, you just fed your baby to sleep one day and voila! it worked and now they are 6 and happily go to bed without it? Or maybe you stood nervously outside your baby's door for a few minutes while they cried, or perhaps you just needed the loo and went guiltily while your baby was crying in their bed, you were gone but a minute, but voila! Your baby slept and now they are in kindy and are the sunniest of little people.  Oh happy Socrates!

I, a former systems analyst cannot let things be, I hanker to understand night waking and sleep cycles, crying and cortisol, overstimulation and understimulation.

My first step into this murky subject is to read Dr Richard Ferber MD's 'Solve your child's sleep problems'.

However, now I have to go and feed the baby.