Sealy recently launched an exciting new product - The Sealy cot mattress. Since the launch I have been reflecting on the difficulties of firstly, creating the perfect nest for your new arrival and secondly, coping with the changes that a new baby brings to a family's sleep patterns. This month's blogs serve to educate parents so that, hopefully, they spend less time worrying and more time sleeping.
Let's start by looking at the truth about how human beings are programmed. Fortunately and unfortunately, babies are not little adults. This means that their biological clocks and ours are not synchronised. It is only by age four or five years that most children are happy to drop their daytime nap and sleep through the night which means parents may have years of disrupted sleep ahead of them.
A newborn baby has come from a dark, cramped womb where it has had 24 hour access to warmth, nutrition and the sounds of its mother's body. This is how the baby has been programmed for 40 weeks and the outside world is a rude awakening. Once disconnected from its mother the baby still has no awareness of day and night, meal times or even that it is a separate entity apart from its mother. The baby must learn to communicate its urgent needs to its mother and it does so by crying.
There are two very different schools of thought on how to proceed from this point. The first school of thought prioritises the baby's biological needs above the parents and is sometimes called Attachment Parenting. Attachment parenting promotes skin to skin contact where the baby is warmed by the mother's chest and demand fed day and night for at least the first 12 weeks (or what is known as the fourth trimester). The baby graduates slowly into independence at its own preference as opposed to pre-determined milestones. Parents from this school of thought believe that by responding to their babies needs they are caring for both their physical and emotional development.
The second school of thought prioritises the parent's biological neeeds above the babies and places a high value on independence. Babies are fed according to a set schedule (ie. every four hours) and sleep in their own cot (to avoid forming bad habits). Sleep training is a method that is often promoted to re-programme babies to sleep through the night rather than waking for night time feeds. Parents from this school of thought believe that they parent better as they are well rested and have their own space apart from their baby. The marriage relationship is seen as a greater priority than the parent-child relationship as a child will benefit greatly from having two carers that are committed to each other.
As a parent, I have found both approaches helpful but needed a middle road to help my family survive the first few months and go on to thrive in the first couple of years. Here are my insights:
1. Take naps. Take whatever sleep you can get while you can get it. Jump into bed rather than into your inbox.
2. Each baby is unique and so is each set of parents. Do what is best for your family. Don't feel bad if this is different to how your parents did things or what your friends suggest.
3. Do what you need to do to cope. If a sling helps, use it. If your baby sleeps better on your chest, don't put them in their cot. If you can't sleep with your baby in your room, put them outside with a monitor. If you can't sleep with them outside because you worry about them, keep them inside.
4. Take naps. Seriously. Check out the benefits.
5. You can change your mind if you want to. You may have sworn that you would never put your baby in the car to get it to sleep. Its okay if you find yourself driving around the block at bedtime.