Why you should learn about normal infant sleep behaviour

Why you should learn about normal infant sleep behaviour

As you will have noticed from my numerous articles centring around understanding normal infant sleep behaviour, I think it’s really important and useful information for all parents. 

But why?

I have had more than a few comments pointing to the fact that understanding what is ‘normal’ doesn’t make a mother less sleep deprived and that my writing is ‘unhelpful’ and ‘upsetting’ for desperately sleep deprived parents.

I beg to differ.

If my own experience taught me anything, THE most important thing to a mother, ahead of her own wellbeing (rightly or wrongly), is knowing her baby is okay. That her baby is healthy and thriving. That her baby is behaving as they should.

The stress, anxiety and worry of a mother who fears her baby is possibly not okay is immense and in my experience tenacious, persistent and all consuming.

A mother who fears her wakeful baby will in some way suffer or experience future challenges due to lack of sleep will make choices and move mountains to try and ‘remedy’ this issue all with the best interest of her child at heart (read my experience here).

The only way for a family to make genuinely informed decisions about how they manage the ups and downs of infant sleep is to firstly fully understand what fits into the wide range of normal.

Simply by knowing what is normal can help families make decisions with a clearer head. One that isn’t clouded by the impossible expectations often perpetuated in today’s society. It can help them mentally prepare, plan, adjust and manage. It can help them remain connected and allow them to enjoy more about their baby by taking sleep out of sharp focus.

My first baby sat at the very extreme end of the range of normal. Many babies who initially appear to be in this range do in fact have underlying issues which is why it is so important to still check and rule out possible concerns that that may be preventing your child from easier, sounder sleep. Food intolerance, allergies, tongue and lip ties, birth trauma … All have the potential to impact on sleep.

But, if, like us, you investigate it all and there is nothing else at play, please know that to have an average there has to be the extremes and being the extreme can still be normal. My extremely busy brained, super sensitive, sleep allergic baby now LOVES sleep and is currently peacefully sleeping for his lunch nap and will happily hit the hay for bed tonight, with not so much as a hint of resistance. He, in his own time, learned to love sleep.

Other sleepophobes continue to run on the smell of an oily rag and go on to live hugely successful lives.

An interesting thing I found with accepting the night waking as normal, taking up bedsharing and giving up on nighttime resettling (which so very rarely worked) was that it actually got my guy more and better quality sleep. He would stir rather than wake fully, a boob would appear, he’d hop on and off to sleep he’d go. We both lost way more sleep when I was getting up to him or having my husband trying to resettle. He still had some shitful nights where he was awake for stupid amounts of time but they became far less frequent and no doubt centred around developmental and growth periods.

For at least half of mothers, they will never need to know the extreme end of the wakeful child because as with all averages at least half will sit in the ‘average wakings to least wakings’ end of the spectrum. This means that MOST families are dealing with slightly below average, spot on average to even above average range of normal infant sleep and this to me has the potential to be very reassuring. Knowing that your child is actually sleeping very well for their peer group, even if you are tired yourself helps you keep on keeping on. It helps you realise that this is just where your child is at. They are doing exactly as they should.

I know as a mother on the extreme end, I seriously had to bite my tongue when mamas I know vented to me about their child’s sleep which was well within the range of average and even better when I would have done ANYTHING for 2 hour stretch even once a night. But, once again, I truly believe this comes down to education as well as perspective. From my extreme perspective, I could appreciate small reprieves or slightly longer stretches for the true miracle they were for me but for a friend who was used to very long, consistent stretches, she found riding the developmental cycles of waking very hard to understand and were a source of frustration for her. She didn’t know that it was normal for babies to cycle through periods of waking frequently even after they have achieved some longer stretches and therefore she was desperate to find a ‘fix’ when her baby started waking thinking the wheels had fallen off and they needed to train him to get things back on track.

This is why I think all families would benefit from understanding the norm. It would help them place their child’s sleep in the grand scheme of things and help them to appreciate the unique child they have without the fog of whether they are the most sensationally sleepy baby or the wakeful sparkler in the mix.

It would help them to take a look at their own family dynamic, lifestyle, health and support systems to make choices that work WITH the baby they have to ensure everybody can get the best quality sleep they can in their unique setting with realistic, fair and manageable expectations of not only their baby but also themselves.

Confidence and belief are a big part of parenting. Feeling like you are able to work as a team and that what you are doing feels right for everyone is such an important way to maintain a healthy dynamic and connection as a family navigates this weary season in their lives.

This is why I bang on about normal infant sleep behaviour. I see it as central for hoping to make a shift in the way today’s society responds to babies and their sleep needs.

If you would like to read up on what is ‘normal’ for infant sleep, here are some useful articles to start you off –

Evolutionary Parenting

Sarah Ockwell Smith

Pinky McKay

The Possums Clinic

Meg Nagle

Professor James McKenna

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