We’ve been discussing children’s sleep with the lovely people at Room To Grow – specialists in children’s bedroom furniture and children’s bunk beds, so we think they know a thing or two about our children’s sleep; we think you’ll be interested in our findings.
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When a new born baby announces their arrival to any household, it signals a period of adjustment and change for all concerned. The importance of correct levels of sleep for mother and baby are widely recognised. However, the implications for poor sleep patterns and more importantly what can be done to make sure both get enough sleep are often overlooked in the excitement of a new born baby arriving home.
There is a school of thought that believes that mums who try to nap for three to four hours a day during the first six months after baby’s arrival will stay healthier than those who try to survive with their normal sleep patterns. Mothers who nap when their babies sleep often report being in better health. Grabbing a few extra hours sleep while baby sleeps does seem to make sense. Depending upon normal adult sleep patterns can frequently lead to disturbed nights as new born babies require regular feeds.
There also seems to be evidence that having the same sleep and wake cycle in the first few months of a new born’s life will lead to ever closer bonding between mother and baby. Mothers who return to work soon after giving birth don’t have the opportunity to take day time naps, can often suffer poor health afterwards and often experience anxiety about leaving their baby. The time that it takes the body to recover from pregnancy and childbirth and to adjust to a new lifestyle should not be underestimated.
From a baby’s perspective sleep, in particular napping is very important. Non-stop crying and eating requires regular recharging of the batteries. Regular napping can ensure that a baby does not display irritable behaviour that manifests itself as crying for no apparent reason. To keep home life as soothing as possible a baby should be allowed to nap when they feel the need.
During the first few weeks new born babies can sleep up to as much as 18 hours a day and this can be expected to reduce to 15 hours a day by the time they reach three months. New mothers should simply look at these numbers as it really stresses the value of looking to nap when baby is sleeping.
Babies soon develop a sleep and feed cycle of their own and if Mum can be part of that cycle it is thought to help establish trust between both of them. Some kinds of brain waves have been shown to be produced when Mum and baby co-sleep. Delta and theta waves are normally only seen during deep sleep but they are believed to be triggered in new born babies when Mum sleeps alongside them. These brain waves are associated with the stimulation of some growth hormones such as melatonin and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).
There are a number of practical things that parents can do to encourage baby to adopt near normal sleeping patterns. By watching out for signs that baby is sleepy, ribbing eyes or touching ears, you can spot the opportunity to put them in their crib. This will hopefully impress on them that the crib is for sleep and they will learn to sleep when you put them down. You can also use lighting to emphasise sleeping at night. Draw curtains in the nursery and dim lights to tell baby that night time sleeping is the norm. Routine is also the mainstay of a baby’s life. Following the same routine every day will teach baby that night time is for sleeping. A simple bath time followed by gentle singing is enough for many babies if it carried out on a regular basis.
In the early days of infancy a secure home that is full of comfort for a new born baby is very important to help a baby to settle into a new routine. Sleep patterns for mother and baby are critical in creating and maintain the security and comfort of that environment. The bond of love and trust that exists between siblings will also be strengthened immeasurably when they sleep near to each other. Sharing the night and as well as the day gives a growing baby the chance to develop a deeper and more trusting relationship. Babies who are separated from older siblings during the day have the chance to re-establish those deep bonds if they sleep closely together.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is thought to be caused by irregularities in the part of the brain that controls autonomic actions such as breathing. In some babies the lower brainstem that controls much of these functions can be less well developed. It is also believed that when mother and baby sleep together the baby can easily synchronise their immature breathing patterns. This help to teach the baby how to control breathing effectively when they are asleep. Sleep researcher James McKenna believes that not only is sleep important for mother and baby but co-sleeping puts mother in a position to respond to her baby should they hear the baby in crisis during the night.
Co-sleeping, where one or both parents sleep with the baby was originally a cause for concern when the possibility of abuse was considered with babies sleeping in the same bed as their parents. It is now thought that sleeping together with both parents in early infancy creates such a deep bonding with the father as well as the mother that the likelihood of abuse occurring later in the baby’s life is decreased. It also creates a more harmonious family because either parent is much closer and able to respond to a baby’s need more quickly. This will avoid disturbing other children so that everyone wakes feeling refreshed in the morning.
Without doubt sleep is important for both a baby’s early development and it is also important for a mother to be able to keep a home running during the difficult, potentially sleep deprived days of early infancy. It does seem that there are benefits for both mother and baby of combining napping and co-sleeping to create the best quality sleep for both.
You can find some more information about Room to Grow and its owner Anne Davies on our sister site Motivating Mum.