Parenting Your Baby at Night: It’s About Connection, Not Sleep Training

by LukeAdmin

By Nikki Smith

Parenting your baby at night time is not about a set of rules and sleep strategies. Parenting your baby at night time is about connection.

As a new parent I was shocked to find myself feeding my new baby literally around the clock. Eight weeks into being a new mama I was desperate for sleep. I called in the big guns, a local midwife! 

Her response was, ‘did you know that in about 95% of cases the reason your baby will not sleep is due to sleep associations. Your baby has a dummy AND you breastfeed her to sleep.’ These were her exact words stated to me as I was crying and feeding my eight week old daughter to sleep. She went onto say ‘if you feed or rock your baby to sleep that will be one of your biggest parenting mistakes.’ 

Unfortunately for me being a first-time mum, I was not immune to these comments and I believe that many of us still aren’t. Why you ask?

Because society says so. Because it’s convenient.

Fortunately for myself and my husband we did not continue the ‘sleep training’ merry go ‘round, we found ourselves co-sleeping and I continued to breastfeed my little love to sleep.

Yes, as new parents there is no doubt that you will find yourselves shocked to the core in the realisation that your new baby feeds around the clock. Did you know though, that the average new baby will sleep for up to 19 hours of a 24-hour day, but some may sleep for as little as 8. 

ALL babies are unique.
In those first few weeks post-partum your new baby will wake, feed and then fall asleep again. Only to wake no more then 2-3 hours later, yes, for yet another feed! As your new baby grows so does their appetite, you will find that your baby will want bigger feeds as opposed to more frequent feeds, they will tend to be more active between feeds also, which will then (fingers crossed!) allow hopefully, for a deeper and longer sleep later in the day.

If we can find ourselves listening more to what our baby needs and if we can grow in bravery and lean into that, we will find ourselves softening rather than becoming increasingly more rigid within our ‘sleep’ approach.

What your baby needs is a loving, responsive interaction with you, always.  This is an essential foundation for connection and the beginnings of building trust. Your touch is just as important and as fundamental as the food that you provide for them. 

There is absolutely NO doubt that infancy is challenging, but babies are simply too young and inexperienced to handle their own causes for crying whatever that may be, be it sleep, a change of nappy, needing to be fed again but more so for comfort, or just because they feel overwhelmed and they need you.  

It is up to you as their parent, to take responsibility in meeting your baby’s needs, their need for nurturing from you, your security and unconditional love.  

And if I’m being honest. We as parents, as human beings need that too. As humans we long for connection and affection. Why shouldn’t our little one’s needs be met for this too.

Let’s move back to that omnipresent terminology, ‘sleep associations!’

Who here has been told NOT to breastfeed their little ones to sleep?? 

Most babies will need milk during the night within their first year. Many milestones are slowly developing and then happening, for example, crawling, first words, and walking. Their brains are developing at lightning speed, there are mental leaps, teeth erupting, illness…the list goes on. They will always get back into their own rhythm once they are past whatever it is that is going on for them, in the meantime though give them what they need, which is you, and no doubt their mama’s comforting milk.

Breastfeeding creates that beautiful and much needed loving connection for you both. When you are breastfeeding your little love to sleep at night your milk has already developed the amazing hormones that are specific for that settling feed. 

Melatonin is one of the peaceful, sleep inducing hormones that is released, and then there is oxytocin a wonderful ‘feel good, relaxation’ hormone that is released for the both of you.

Your breastmilk creates a wonderful concoction of hormones to help your little love off to sleep. So why wouldn’t you use it!? 

Another sleep association that I’m going to delve into is ‘spoiling,’ this is yet another well used term within Western society, it is about nursing and holding your baby too much. 

Time and time again with our first newborn baby, it was repeated endlessly to me that I was “spoiling her by holding her too much,” “just let her cry,” “you’ll spoil her by feeding on demand.” ‘Spoiling’ is one of those mindless ideas that gets passed down from generation to generation, even though on the surface it is ridiculous! It is instinctive to rock your beautiful new baby and to hold them, it has been done for millennias! 

Think of your fourth trimester with your new baby as an extension of your pregnancy because for nine (or ten months if you do pregnancy like me!) long months they have been with you. Listening to your heartbeat from the inside. Why wouldn’t they still want and need that beautiful comfort? Who ‘decided’ that breastfeeding, rocking and cuddling your new baby off to sleep was taboo and creating ‘sleep associations’ or the other good one that I love, ‘creating a rod for your back!’  

Whatever happened to creating healthy attachment? 

Co-sleeping, another controversial subject!
I know that desperation of no sleep first hand, after a long and traumatic delivery of our first daughter and once home, we discovered that she would sleep no longer than two hours at a time, both day and night. Unfortunately for her, she was misdiagnosed early on and her sleeplessness was due to a severe case of oesophageal reflux. 

Prior to her diagnosis and due to our desperation, we had tried everything! 

Crying it out, leaving her in her cot for timed intervals responding minutes later. We tried long walks and 3am car trips, only to pull into the driveway an hour later and her eyes would spring open, wide awake!

There were long and heated discussions with well-meaning family members, very little contact with friends and family and a husband working two hours away I was a time bomb of emotions about to go off. 

It was at that point I realized that rocking our baby to sleep and breastfeeding every hour, every night was getting to be too much for myself and my family.

Safe co-sleeping saved my sanity, it saved my marriage and it created a connection that I so desperately needed. Quite simply put, when you as a mother sleep next to your baby you are more able to use your own instinctive responses that every new mother has, it is a very similar instinct to your reaction to your baby’s first cry.

Practical Tip: We used a snuggle bed which is put between you both (so you can still hold your partners hand at night!) or you can move the bassinet to be right next to you and the bed.

Dr William Sears a renowned American paediatrician has also been quoted to say ‘often times I felt ridiculous giving my seal of approval to what was in reality such a natural thing to do, sort of like reinventing the wheel & extolling its viruses.  Had parent’s intuition sunk so low that some strange man had to tell modern women that it was ok to sleep with their babies?’ 

Lastly, when in self-doubt ask yourself is it safe? Is it respectful? And does it feel right intuitively for you and your family?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then do what feels right for you because that is what your baby needs.

And if there is only one thing that you take away from reading this, I want you to remember that – Sleep is only a problem if it is a problem for you and your family.

Nikki Smith, is the founder of Earthway Parenting and mother to 3 beautiful, sensitive, and boisterous little women. She has been a Registered Nurse for the past 12 years with a 4-year hiatus in between so that she could be a mum.  Nikki also has a Postgraduate in Maternal Child and Family Nursing and has been working and supporting families on the Gold Coast, Northern Rivers and now Central Coast of NSW Australia over the past 5 years.  Nikki’s expertise is in early infancy and toddler behaviour, she is passionate about maternal and infant mental health and well-being as well as providing wholistic conscious parenting support. You can find further inspiration, support and information from her socials below.

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