Short Version: discussion of parenting techniques as related to sleep.

We went to our prenatal refresher class at the hospital last night. But that's not want I want to talk about.

I want to talk about a sleep article I couldn't finish in one of the magazines they gave us in our sample bags. I couldn't finish it because it made me mad. Now, a lot of people follow a lot of different philosophies when it comes to sleep, and I'm ok with that. What I'm not ok with is people presenting one particular philosophy as if it's The Answer To Sleep Issues Everywhere. This is a huge disfavour to uncertain parents and causes untold (not to mention unnecessary!) distress to both parents and children.

I have binned the entire magazine in disgust, which I kind of wish I hadn't because it would have been more productive to write this to them, but so far as I read the article and for what it's worth, I would like to supply what I believe to be the correct answers to their quiz questions.

1. Rocking your baby in arms is not wrong and is not habit-forming. The baby was rocked frequently in utero and patted on the bottom by your beating heart 24/7 for nine months straight. By the time your baby is in arms, that horse has well and truly bolted, and nobody is to blame for that. Given that the baby is born used to being rocked through no fault of your own, there is nothing wrong with either continuing indefinitely or weaning your child more slowly onto self-settling techniques, if you choose to do so. I know one or two parents who swear by the cold turkey approach to rocking and patting, but they would both agree that, in the short term, it is the most difficult approach and that it won't suit everyone - parent or child alike. Almost all parents I know (not to mention a huge proportion of well-qualified experts) prefer something between the two extremes of cry-it-out-from-birth and give-them-anything-til-they-grow-out-of-it. Do not be afraid to choose an approach which involves rocking - there are pros and cons to all approaches and you will have to weigh it up in the light of your individual situation. Never forget - they will all sleep eventually, so the only thing you have to worry about in the long term is surviving the short term! The answer, therefore, is in fact b) it's fine as long as you're coping with it.

2. You do not "have to" start with the daytime sleeps. A lot of experts suggest - assuming you want to work on sleeping at all - that you start during the day time rather than at night, because that might be easier on you. If this is true, then by all means start with the day sleeps. A lot of parents find that they are more alert and patient at lunchtime that in the middle of the night. However, other parents will find that it is easier to work on bedtime or night sleeps - they will be equally tired more or less around the clock, may find that their child settles better at night when the environment is less stimulating, and/or may find it easier to stay calm when a second parent is at home and able to help out. The correct answer, therefore, is d) none of the above - assuming you want to work on sleep, you should start at whichever time is easiest for you, whatever time of day that is.

3. There is no bedtime. In Singapore, it is considered normal for children to take long afternoon or evening naps, then stay up until 11pm, then sleep in. In Australia, it is considered normal for children to take long morning or lunchtime naps, then go to bed by 7-7:30pm, then rise at the crack of dawn. These ideas persist year-round, regardless of changing daylengths or sunset times. Parents in both countries drive themselves spare trying to make their babies and their lifestyles fit these cultural norms. There is no good reason for this self-berration.

Some children do sleep better on certain "schedules" and I encourage you to consider starting with what is "normal" where you live - not so much because you'll get fewer busybody comments, but because this is no doubt a joint venture between nature and nurture with nurture playing an undeniable role, and the "normal" pattern where you live has probably evolved to fit in with the usual pattern of day to day activity where you live - both within your household and within its immediate vicinity. The likelihood, therefore, is that the "normal" baby schedule where you live will, indeed, suit your baby better than something borrowed from halfway across the globe. And who knows? Maybe there's also an early-riser gene and it's more prevalent in Australia than in Singapore, and it's just that I happen to have missed out. However, you should see the "normal" baby schedule where you live as a starting point or a guideline, to be adjusted according to the needs of both yourselves and your baby, and readjusted whenever normal development, a change of season, or a change of lifestyle demands. So the answer, dear magazine editors, is e) go fuck yourselves.

Gah. That's as far as I got.

Feel free to add your own priceless sleep advice in the comments, just in case one of their readers drops by.


Lut C. said...

I never give an opinion on sleep issues, I'm unqualified. Linnea did the sleep thing fabulously all on her own.
Sure, I could tell you - or anyone else - what we did those first few months, but I'm not convinced it 'made' her a good sleeper. We were simply lucky.

I agree with your criticism of the One Truth About Sleep approach.
I hadn't thought of the cultural differences in expected sleep patterns.

Vee said...

I used to rock Boo, he just grew out of it.

Just today my Mum told me that Boo is going to bed too early at 7-7.30pm, if I kept him up later then he wouldn't be waking at 5am every morning were her thoughts. I told her I can't keep him up any later because he becomes a horrible little whinging boy who wants to hit and bite because he is so tired. I would rather deal with a happy boy rising at 5am than a grumpy evening boy.

What ever works. I just make sure to listen when he gives me his tired signs whether it works with my schedule or not, too bad.

BigP's Heather said...

My sleep theory - do whatever gets you and the child the most sleep. The End.

(I feel it is obvious but should probably state that this DOES exclude drugging the child.)

Rachel said...

I do like your comments. Of course, most definitely biased because, well ... I nursed my baby to sleep until she was 18 months old. Naptime, bedtime, I nursed her. And as a result she didn't nap at daycare where they unceremoniously dumped her in a crib and shut the door, but that was fine too. And at almost 2 she now sleeps alone in her crib, through the night. Sure, we could have got to this point earlier with a lot of work, but what we did worked for us. And I honestly plan on repeating the same thing this time around if it works for the baby.

SarahSews said...

Haven't commented in ages, but this post was right on. I also threw away more than my share of "parenting" magazines because their advise was so one sided and poorly written.

And now I know which society my toddler would love -- Singapore! He would absolutely adore a late afternoon/early evening nap and then to stay up until 11. It would suit him wonderfully. And we would never argue about sleep ever again. Sadly for us, we live in the U.S. and mom and dad have jobs in the AM.

When I complained to his Pedi about his crappy sleep habits, he said, well his perferred schedule is fine but if it doesn't work for you, have fun changing it. LOL.

MrsSpock said...

My son would LOVE Singapore, as that sleep schedule is what he naturally does if we don't have work/day care to go to. In fact, that's exactly what Mr S and I still crave to do. the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Most of our friends kids are up at the crack of dawn, nap in the AM, and fall asleep by 7pm. Never has our son done this.

We still rock our son to sleep for naps on the weekend. The day care teachers have all sheepishly come to us to say they still rock him more often than not for naps- and we find nothing wrong with that. The night rocking is down to 10 minutes if snuggling or so, and he is ready to go to sleep, but is still important to all of us. This next baby may turn out totally different, of course. I think it's a matter of negotiating between your needs and theirs. For us, for the moment, we all have similar temperments, so it all works out fine.

foxy said...

Bea - I love your parenting philosophy - LOVE it!
Your babes are so lucky to have such a kind loving mama who trusts her own maternal instincts to do what is right and perfect for her family. It makes me sad that there are people who don't believe that children are in fact dynamic complex beings who cannot be put into a single box of childrearing strategies. Keep being awesome, my friend!

Ellen K. said...

I like (e), personally.

I'm troubled by the "correct" answers to this quiz, too. As you know, I believe that obsessing over my twins' sleep had a lot to do with my PPD, which didn't start until toward the end of the girls' first year. Not coincidentally I began reading the sleep books when the girls were about 9 months old. The more I read, the worse I felt. Actually, rocking the girls and singing to them while they drank their bottles and fell asleep was the happiest part of my day. Whenever I tried to do the "correct" thing, my frustration set in, leading to another scary PPD moment.

Interesting about the cultural differences. Here there is a big generational difference -- my mom and D.'s had young children from the late 1960s through late 70s, and they are both of the "keep 'em up late and they'll sleep until mid-morning" camp. I & N have always fallen asleep no earlier than 8:30 and sleep until around 7am.

I remember talking to a stranger at Target whose daughter had just had a baby. We talked about sleep. She said, "You younger mothers put a lot more thought into things." She didn't mean it as a compliment!

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