10 things a sleep deprived parent doesn’t need to hear

1. That someone else’s baby has been sleeping through the night from so many weeks old (in a gloating kind of way):
Whether your baby falls in to healthy sleep habits on their own or needs more help comes down to chance, and many parents will tell you (even parents of twins) that they have one child that sleeps easily, and another that needs more help. If a parent isn’t lucky enough to have a child who falls into healthy sleep habits easily, they are likely to be very sleep deprived, and this is difficult and very emotional to deal with. It certainly doesn’t help when other mums rub it in that their baby sleeps through the night and has done from very early in life. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be able to proudly state your baby’s milestones, but just be sensitive to the struggles of other mums when you do. Remember that your next baby might be the one who doesn’t sleep well!

2. That they are at fault for their baby’s sleep:
I talk to many mums every day, and almost every one will start off by telling me that they know that it’s their fault their baby doesn’t sleep well because… they always held them in their arms… or they fed them to sleep… or they rocked them… or they patted them… or they put them to sleep in the pram etc. There is only one thing I would like to say about this: no one is doing anything wrong! We do the best we can with what we know. When what we are doing no longer works, and we have exhausted everything we know, we look for more ways to resolve the problem. This is the way that we learn, and that is why there are professionals to help us!

3. That the only way to get good sleep is to cry it out:
Many parents put off getting help with their child’s sleep because they are under the impression that the only way to get good sleep is for their child to cry it out. This could not be further from the truth! There are great, gentle and effective ways to teach your child to settle and resettle on their own. Sure, there is still crying involved, but that is because crying is communication for infants and young children. They cry to express a wide range of negative emotions that adults use words for. The difference is that you never have to leave their side, and you can support them to improve their sleep every step of the way. Of course, the trade off for the low-level of social interaction in a gentle sleep plan is that the whole process will take somewhere between 2-6 weeks to complete.

4. That they shouldn’t leave their baby alone
This is the opposite problem to the previous point. These parents are made to feel guilty when they are too emotionally drained and just can’t provide the level of input that gentle sleep training requires, they have other children to care for or they are looking for a quicker result than a 2-6 week plan for a wide range of reasons. There is no current peer reviewed research that supports cry-based sleep training being damaging to children. The thing to remember, is that it does need to be done over a short period of time, so to ensure that all of the areas of your child’s sleep plan are addressed, and this is done safely, its best to be done under the supervision of a sleep professional.

5. That they should be able to cope on their own:
There is so much pressure on parents to have it all these days, and to be it all too. One thing that seems to have been forgotten in modern society, is that it takes a village to raise a child. For us mums now, that village has evolved to include professional help. This is because many of us are not growing up having to care young children anymore, nor do we have the level of assistance from our mothers and other female family members because they are often still working. In less evolved cultures, the women all help each other to learn about caring for an infant, and the mothers certainly don’t undertake this task on their own!

6. That they should be able to fix the problem on their own:
Sleep can be such a complicated area, that often a professional plan is needed to be able to address specific issues holistically. There is so much information available in books and online, that it is so easy to get confused about which information is valid and useful, and which is not. Most parents I work with have tried a number of things to improve their child’s sleep before they seek help. It’s not through lack of trying, and especially when they are sleep deprived themselves, it can be very stressful.

7. That being sleep deprived is a part of being a parent:
Sleep deprivation is definitely not something that you just have to put up with! In the early days, this is more difficult to achieve, because newborns need to be fed more frequently than older babies and initially they don’t have a circadian rhythm, so gaining consistency with sleep takes persistence. After that, being sleep deprived is no longer biologically driven by your child’s development. Sleep deprivation over time is actually considered a method of torture. Long-term sleep deprivation is a major contributing factor to post-natal depression and other mental illness, and makes basic daily tasks like driving a car very dangerous. Further more, it is not something that a parent has to suffer through, because there are lots of ways to improve your child’s sleep without compromising your parenting style.

8. That poor sleep in infants and young children is normal and to be expected and children will sleep well when they are ready:
When a parent has had long term-sleep deprivation themselves, the last thing they need to hear is that they need to wait for an indefinite amount of time for their child to sleep well, especially when this is not true! The following benefits of consolidated sleep are scientifically proven by peer reviewed research:

• Strengthening of the memory and immune system
• Repairing of bone and tissue damage
• Regulation of the appetite
• Releasing of growth hormones
• Restoration of energy levels
• Reduction in stress hormones
• Transferring short term memory to long term memory
• Securing new skills
• Connections in the brain are made
• Vision sharpened
• Babies process emotions; and
• Behaviour is improved

Taking all of this in to account, you can see how important it is to achieve consolidated sleep for babies and young children. We all want to see the best of our children, and waiting it out can mean that they are not reaching their full potential. Considering that some children still don’t sleep through at school age, there is a lot of development that can be affected in that time frame.

9. That someone else sleep trained their baby and it was easy
Sleep training can be difficult for a number of reasons. Some people find it really difficult to hear their baby cry. Some people have post-natal depression or other mental illness. Some people’s babies have temperaments that don’t fall in to regular sleep patterns easily. Some people have family members that make them feel guilty for their parenting choices. Some people have been putting up with chronic sleep deprivation for years. Some people have large families. Some people don’t have consistent places to live. Some people are dealing with family break downs or tragedies. What is easy for one family, is incredibly difficult for others. You need to get to the point where you have the strength and drive to want to change your child’s sleep pattern, because it does take a lot of effort. There is always a way to improve a child’s sleep, but that way is different for every single family.

10. 100 different ways that they ‘should’ approach their baby’s sleep:
Inconsistency is the bane of improving sleep. Often I will speak to parents who have tried so many different things, and have been on the right track, but haven’t stuck to anything. Having one idea and sticking to it is important, but knowing what is going to work in the first place is sometimes very difficult to work out. Once a parent has come up with a plan to tackle their sleep problems, encouraging a parent to stick to their guns is a much better approach then offering them more advice that is going to make them second guess themselves and debunk their efforts.

Abby is a certified sleep consultant in Perth, she is available for home and phone consultations. Abby@babysleepconsultant.com.au