Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Something a little more practical

I am well aware that most--make that all--of my posts to date have been a little sentimental in nature. I quite enjoy sentiment and nostalgia. It gives life a little bit of a shine. But here is a new topic that does not involve much of that. Those with children will understand immediately. It's a little piece of life called Getting Baby to Sleep.

A sleeping babe has evoked many sweet poems, songs, paintings, and sighs from countless souls. Who can help envying the peace that rests upon a slumbering baby's brow? But getting them to that angelic state--ah, there's the rub. There's the source of many nighttime battles and tears from both babies and parents.

That said, Noah is a pretty good sleeper. He often sleeps for a stretch of four or five hours during the night, and then he only wakes up to eat. Getting him to sleep again is rarely a problem. He also takes a nice long nap in the middle of the day. When I hear about babies who decide to wake up and play (or maybe just cry) at 2 am, or newborns who keep their poor parents up all night before falling into an exhausted sleep at 6 in the morning, I can't really say I feel your pain. So when I finally picked up a book on sleep habits that a good friend recommended, I didn't think Noah and I had much to work on. As I read through this book, however, I learned that there is more to baby sleep habits than just letting them fall asleep naturally.

The book is called Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. There are many points in his philosophy of sleep that would take a long time to discuss here, so I'll just talk about the points that pertain to Noah.

He takes care in explaining the nature and importance of sleep, and what happens when it is lacking. We all know that babies become fussy and cranky when they are tired. But what I didn't know is that babies, especially young infants like my son, start to get tired only within one or two hours after waking up. This was the first lightbulb that clicked on for me. Noah starts off his mornings in a fairly good mood and becomes progressively crankier and demanding. I usually respond with holding him and giving him attention, thinking that he just wants his mamma. This continues until I can obviously tell that he is tired. This is generally around 11:30 or 12:00. It is usually fairly hard to get him to sleep at this point--though once he does, he'll sleep until mid to late afternoon. When I read HSHHC, I realized that this cranky attitude stemmed from his need to sleep; not, as I thought at first, the need for attention.

I also learned that "motion sleep" does not equal "healthy sleep." Dr. Weissbluth uses the example of falling asleep on a plane or in the car. Would we, as adults, call that really restorative sleep? Of course not. It is not different for children. Putting a baby in the car seat and letting him sleep there while you cart it around running errands does not give him a healthy, restorative nap (notice how they always wake up cranky and bleary when you finally get them out). While he recommends motion as a soothing technique to help a baby get to sleep, he says the motion should stop as soon as they are sleeping.

If you're like me, then your first reaction to this information is, "How am I supposed to take him anywhere?" It takes a lot of commitment--and a lot of time staying at home--in order to ensure your baby is napping peacefully a mere two hours after awakening. Fathers and mothers who spend most of their days working out of the home might also object because they want to spend more time with their little ones--and very understandably so.

Dr. Weissbluth's answer to these concerns is this: "If your baby is hungry, feed him. If your baby is fussy, soothe him. If your baby is tired, put him to sleep. " We would not withhold food from our child, so why would we withhold sleep?

He also says, "Please don't think that it has no lasting effect when you routinely keep your child up too late--for your own pleasure after work or because you want to avoid bedtime confrontations--or when you cut corners on naps in order to run errands or visit friends. Once in a while, for a special occasion or reason, it's okay. But day-in, day-out sleep deprivation at night or for naps, as a matter of habit, could be very damaging to your child. Cumulative, chronic sleep losses, even of brief duration, may be harmful for learning."

Noah, at six weeks, has reached what many books and articles call the "peak" of his fussiness. I have noticed an increase in his fussiness, especially during the late mornings and evenings. I also knew that a great deal of it was due to being tired. But until I read this book, I didn't know that structuring sleep, even at this young age, was possible or even healthy. So, the following posts I make will give a few details about our implementation of Dr. Weissbluth's methods. I hope it works!

Here's to a happy, well-rested baby!

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