Today's guest blogger is Melisa E. Moore, PhD, a psychologist in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Not even eight years of training plus 10 years of experience helping other people's children sleep prepared me for the sleep deprivation I experienced the first year of both of my own children's lives.
Sleep disruption is one of the hardest things about having a baby and yet impossible to prepare for. When going through that first year, it's important to have accurate information and to connect with others about it. The Pediatric Sleep Council is starting the conversation and acknowledging the importance of baby sleep by celebrating Baby Sleep Day on March 1. On Baby Sleep Day, pediatric sleep experts will be available around the world and around the clock to answer your questions on the Pediatric Sleep Council's Facebook page.
In the meantime, what can you do to support yourself and help your baby to sleep? First, find people you trust that have an approach to parenting that is similar to yours. That is, find your tribe: breastfeeding moms, parents of preemies, single moms, moms with sick babies, stay at home moms, older moms…are all out there. Talk with your pediatrician, family members, and friends. Check out accurate websites such as babysleep.com and ask your questions on Facebook on March 1.
Once you have your people, enjoy sharing experiences, but also know that your baby's sleep will likely not be the same as their baby's sleep. Every sleep expert will tell you that there is incredible variability in how much and when babies sleep. Because of this, there is no perfect way to manage your little one's sleep. Take the approach that feels best for your family while following safe sleep guidelines, which reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Beyond safe sleeping, there are as many approaches to sleep as there are to parenting. The most important piece of advice I give to parents of infants 3-months and older who want a longer stretch of sleep is this: at bedtime only, feed first (yes this will make the baby sleepy), then do a bedtime routine that is 5-30 minutes long (yes this will wake the baby), then put the baby down for sleep. In short, allow your baby to fall asleep from wide-awake without eating immediately before she falls asleep. Admittedly, this is difficult when you know you can multitask by getting the feeding and putting to sleep done easily and at the same time. However, separating the eating from the falling asleep is where most roads to longer sleep begin.
For those of us guilt-prone mamas, recent research is bringing us some good news about picking an approach to sleep. At least two behavioral methods have been shown to increase sleep and decrease night wakings AND have not been shown to cause behavioral, emotional or attachment problems in our babies. Even better, following the approach that feels best to you might help your baby to sleep better.
Researchers at Penn State have shown that it may not be what you do at bedtime that is so important, but how you feel about it. If you are smiling, cooing, responsive, and otherwise emotionally available to your infant at bedtime, your little one might sleep more. This is critical because if you dread your bedtime situation, it will likely show and might impact your baby's sleep.
So in preparation for the first annual Baby Sleep Day:
1. Find your people.
2. Practice safe sleeping.
3. If you want your baby to sleep for longer stretches, feed first and put the baby down awake after your routine.
4. Do what allows you to coo and snuggle and smooch and connect with your infant before bed, even as you are ready to pass out yourself.
5. Get ready to ask some questions on March 1!