by Maryanne Sayers
One of the things I hear all the time when first working with a family having problems with their baby’s sleeping is “We were just waiting for it to get better” or “People were telling us it would all work out” or “Friends were telling us to just do what we needed to do and don’t worry about trying to establish a routine”.
I absolutely understand and appreciate the good intentions (REALLY good intentions actually) of those offering advice in trying to stay positive for the family involved and feeling like they are giving them helpful advice.
However, I can tell you (and perhaps this applies to you) – for parents who are utterly sleep deprived and who are trying anything and everything to get their baby to sleep and who are going through exhausting rituals and processes each day, and who are very nearly at the end of their rope – being told “don’t worry it will all work out” or being told “just get through the first few months and then it will get better” or being told “don’t listen to what other people say, you just do what feels right/natural for you” is actually very unhelpful advice. Nothing feels right/natural to them at that point. They feel helpless and not in control. They are sleep deprived. They are at breaking point. They are putting on a strong, brave front to the outside world – but inside they are crumbling. The warm and fuzzy comments about “just do what feels natural…it will all get easier/better” are just adding to their feelings of helplessness and despair.
Families who are sleep deprived will hold onto anything – and being told that things will get better is giving them false hope and means they just keep going day in, day out – delirious with exhaustion (so too is their baby) and waiting for everything just to suddenly correct itself and fall into place. And I can tell you – it just doesn’t happen. Other advice given to families is along the lines of “Hey, you have a baby and this is just how it is. Sleepless nights and complete chaos is just par for the course – so get used to it”. This could not be further from the truth.
The reason parents are in this situation with a baby who is not sleeping well is because their baby’s overall sleep foundation and routine/structure has a number of problems and is not set up correctly and is working against their baby’s natural sleep, feed and wake cycles. Their baby wants to sleep – there is no baby on this earth who hates sleep. However if the foundations and processes aren’t set up correctly, their baby becomes chronically overtired with no chance of breaking out of the cycle as the same patterns and habits and processes are being repeated.
Significant changes need to be made in order to get it all resolved and on track, but has to be the RIGHT changes. If parents aren’t aware of where the issues are, they continue to go round and round in the awful cycle day in, day out. Parents/families need to be educated and guided on what they need to do in order to make change and break the cycle they are in. They need to be educated. They need to be provided with a clear plan for going forward that they can follow.
Until parents understand what the existing issues/problems are that are contributing to the overall sleep issues and importantly, what changes then need to be made – then nothing will change. Their same cycle just keeps on going. Things won’t just magically repair themselves and all fall into place. It just doesn’t happen. Yet so many families just battle on and on and on/sometimes for months and months – waiting and hoping it will all get better.
More helpful to those families you may know who are really struggling, (and for yourself too if you are the one who is struggling) is to really take some time to acknowledge what they are saying, to really “hear” them. And then let them know that there is lots of help out there for sleep/settling issues and try and take and active role in helping them connect to these support services. Even offering to call a support service on their behalf – even something as simple as that can be a godsend. For example, there is Tresillian and Karitane. There are helplines. There is local sleep cottages. There is the local childhood clinic. There are private consultants such as myself who do one-on-one consultations with families.
Even though it is coming from a good place of trying to be helpful/sympathetic – please I really encourage you to NOT say to a family who is struggling with a sleepless baby something like “don’t worry – hang in there, it will all get better, you’ll be right”. Because I can tell you every day it is not getting better, it is getting worse. And these families are barely coping, sometimes beyond what you could ever imagine.
Maryanne Sayers is a certified Baby Sleep and Routine Consultant and is the owner/founder of My Sleeping Baby. She provides assistance and support to families having sleep issues with their baby. Services include home visits, night-stays and mothers group sessions. Contact Maryanne Ph: 0417 068 545, www.mysleepingbaby.com.au or via her facebook page