Author: Lauren, Proud Mum and Founder of Little Sleep Stars. *Modern Mumology and Little Sleep Stars have a business partnership-stay tuned for more help and guidance helping Mamas get the extra zzz’s they so desperately need (and deserve!)
The Myths Surrounding Child Sleep
Child sleep is one of those subjects on which everyone has an opinion. Even non-parents are quick to tell you what you “should” be doing or why your child’s nocturnal habits are actually all your own fault. Some theories have been so-often repeated that they are now presented as fact, despite being founded on zero evidence. As a child sleep consultant, I’ve heard them all! Here are the most pervasive myths I hear – and their truthful responses.
Some babies are just bad sleepers
A baby’s experience, both pre and postnatally, does impact their intrinsic relationship with sleep. In my experience, the most influential factor on how easy a little one naturally finds sleep is their temperament. With children who are particularly alert tending to have a trickier time than their more easy-going contemporaries. However, all children have the ability to sleep soundly. It’s just that some need more help to unlock their sleep potential than others. The most efficient and gentle way to help a child learn to sleep well, is by utilising an approach that fits well with their temperament. Yet as parents, we are more likely drawn to what suits our parenting style. Without realising that this might not be the easiest way for our child to learn. But any child can learn to sleep well. What’s more, teaching them really need not be an ordeal – for you or them!
My friend’s baby sleeps a solid 12 hours
The term “sleeping-through-the-night” has a lot to answer for! No human-being, adult or child, sleeps in one solid block overnight. Most of us wake three or more times – it is a basic biological function that keeps us safe. As adults, we are well-practiced at returning ourselves to sleep so quickly and easily that we’re rarely aware of waking at all. Children who have learned to sleep well do wake, multiple times in fact, but they quickly and confidently return themselves to sleep. This process of initiating sleep is a learned skill and the cornerstone of great sleep.
My baby wakes more because he’s breastfed
Breastfed babies can sleep just as well as their formula-fed counterparts – fact! Yet I speak to so many mums who believe that their sleep challenges are to be expected because they have chosen to breastfeed. Formula is often positioned as the panacea for sleepless nights. Whilst previously it did contain higher quantities of casein (cow’s milk protein), which sits quite heavily on tiny tummies. Casein levels in today’s formulas are actually much reduced. However, it is far easier for a bottle-fed baby (whether they are drinking formula or expressed breast milk) to guzzle and overfill themselves. Whereas breastfed babies tend to manage their intake more appropriately in line with hunger.
Breastfed babies do, for around the first month, regulate their mother’s milk supply and may feed frequently as part of this process. However, thereafter until around month six, a mother’s milk supply remains broadly constant. Complications such as tongue-tie (which tends to have a more noticeable impact on a breastfed baby) can make a mum feel as if her baby is constantly on the breast beyond the early weeks. Once breastfeeding is established however, there is absolutely no limitation on the sleep potential of a baby by virtue of him being breastfed.
If I keep my baby awake through the day he will sleep better at night
This is one of the most counterintuitive aspects of child sleep but the truth is that sleep begets sleep. Little ones who nap well through the day tend to sleep well at night. Whereas those who white-knuckle through 12 hours with a couple of half hour catnaps, often struggle to settle at bedtime and/or wake frequently through the night. This is due to the nemesis of child sleep – overtiredness.
It’s best thought of like a pressure gauge; when a child wakes for the day, their sleep pressure is nice and low as they are rested from their overnight sleep. As time passes, the pressure starts to steadily build until it reaches its comfortable maximum. At this time the little one is primed for sleep and if their schedule is working well, it will be nap-time. The period of sleep will reduce down the pressure, the child will wake refreshed and then enter a new period of awake time and the pressure will again start to increase. This pattern repeats until bedtime.
However, if a child reaches their maximum pressure but sleep isn’t forthcoming. In order to “keep going”, their body secretes a hormone called cortisol. Once this process takes place a child typically finds it hard to get to sleep and to stay asleep. Many will cry as the battle between physical exhaustion and a feeling of being too wired for sleep can be hard to reconcile. So, whilst tiredness is great for sound sleep, overtiredness is a disaster!
Sleep-training means leaving my baby to cry
The terms “sleep-training” and “controlled-crying” are often used interchangeably, with many people believing them to be the same thing. This simply isn’t true. Sleeping well requires a set of learned skills. In lots of ways it’s no different to learning to crawl or walk. Yet it’s perceived differently for two reasons. Firstly, some babies learn the skills they need so easily that the parents don’t realise they’ve taught their child anything (which reinforces the belief in babies being “good” or “bad” sleepers). Secondly, unlike crawling or walking, babies are obviously born with the ability to sleep. However, being able to be sleep and sleeping well, are actually different things.
Picture a scale from zero to 100% covering the work of getting your child to sleep. Consider how much they do and how much depends on you. A sleep plan moves a little one along the scale until they are able to settle to sleep independently. A good sleep plan makes the steps small enough that no one adjustment is overwhelming. When the changes are small, with the child supported and reassured by his parent(s) throughout. He can learn to sleep well without ever being left alone to cry.
I hope you are reassured that even if you are encountering sleepless nights right now. You certainly don’t have a little one who cannot learn to sleep well. And that if you are breastfeeding this isn’t the cause of the sleep challenges you may be encountering! Whilst gentle sleep-training cannot teach your little one to sleep for a solid 12 hours. It can equip them to navigate confidently through the phases of sleep and inevitable wake ups that happen to us all during the night and ultimately to take the rest they really do need. Best of all? You can help your little one learn to sleep well in a way that is gentle, responsive and where you are with them every step of the way!
What are the sleep issues that you’re currently facing-besides from not getting enough?! I would love to help. Simply drop them in the comments below…I will address the most common ones, with some quick self help tips, in my next post-coming soon.
Little Sleep Stars creates gentle, bespoke sleep plans to enable babies and children up to 6 years to reach their sleep potential. No two children are the same and nor are any two sleep plans but with the right, tailored and gentle plan in place, any child can learn to sleep well. All consultations are carried out using web-based video-conferencing, enabling Lauren to work with clients worldwide. Little Sleep Stars offers a free, no obligation, 15 minute call to any family needing support with their child’s sleep – book yours here.