Sleeping Like A Baby by Neha Bhatt and Himani Dalmia is a companion for parents and talks about how to build a stronger connection with your children. An excerpt:
All parents struggle with sleep—their own and their baby’s— one way or the other. One of the best-kept secrets of a modern parent’s life is how to balance it all: restful sleep for the whole family, plenty of exercise, healthy eating, peaceful parenting and a satisfying career. ‘Kiss your sleep goodbye!’ or ‘Sleep now as much as you can because when the baby comes, you won’t get any!’ are comments that come at you fast and furious as a to-be-parent. Despite all the half-truthful warnings, nothing prepares you for what happens when the baby comes along.
An infant likes to sleep most of the day and as she grows, her sleep needs change. She requires more careful monitoring to watch for early sleep cues, like rubbing of eyes and ears, eyes glazing over, looking distracted or hungry, and needs a quiet, dark environment to sleep, as adults do too. But very often, parents misread the signs. No one tells them that to help your baby sleep, you need to make certain modifications to your home, to your routine and listen to your baby.
Our survey on our support group Gentle Baby Sleep India (GBSI) on Facebook reveals that over 40 per cent of parents did not know anything about baby sleep before they joined GBSI. Most parents believe that babies sleep whenever they want. Babies are indeed born with an inbuilt ability to fall asleep, but modern life creates many hurdles for them. In ancient times, a natural setting of the forest, with few things to keep early humans frantically busy, allowed for the body to slow down at will at the first sign of sleep.
In our busy modern lives, though, we are always trying to do more than is humanly possible. We send our bodies signals that keep it awake, instead of slowing down when it’s time to sleep or when we feel tired. We spend our days in a stress-induced haze, barely clocking 6–7 hours of sleep at night. One of the major factors that causes ups and downs in the world of baby sleep is, indeed, tied to the many relentless demands of modern life.
Our busy, packed, modern lives make it difficult to dedicate the time and energy it takes to help a baby get age-appropriate rest, especially with small family structures and fewer hands to help. But take it from us: investing time in it at this early stage makes life easier as children grow. While many parents believe spending time and effort on figuring out baby sleep is not practical and too all-consuming, the opposite is true—the more effort you make to understand the nuances of biological sleep needs in the first 2 years, the less complicated your life will be going forward. A modern-day parent’s secret weapon is routines, without which it’s usually chaos. Nobody wants their children to be perpetually sleep-deprived, but over 80 per cent of Indian children are, and this is preventable.
As parents in a wildly changing world, we have many rivers to cross: rising above the challenges of a nuclear family, with both parents working, how to manage baby sleep as a solo parent, how to figure out a reasonable routine living abroad with no family or paid help, how to get the baby to sleep well while travelling, how to say yes to dinner invitations that clash with bedtime and, one of the most befuddling of all, how to get the father of the child, the co-parent, onboard the baby sleep wagon.
Here’s the good news: you can have it all if you make some crucial modifications.
Often, in nuclear families, with just two adults to manage children, work and housekeeping, lack of sleep can make life a lot more difficult. But careful planning can go a long way. Let’s start at the beginning. Consider the fact that most women are given maternity leave of four to six months if they are working outside the home. This leave can be used fruitfully to get your baby into an age-appropriate routine, while offering unconditional, unhindered attachment that offers the baby deep safety and security to be able to instinctually stay asleep. Using the SHARED method (as explained in Chapter 3, ‘How to Get Your Baby to Sleep: The SHARED Method’, watch for early sleep cues, hold for naps and lie down with your baby so she feels secure enough to continue sleeping.
In our survey, over 50 per cent of mothers reported that their biggest sleep issue is that their baby naps very little during the day and goes to bed very late at night and resists sleep at all times. This can be particularly trying for a nuclear family because a cranky, overtired baby who sleeps very little is a recipe for disaster—there is no alternate caregiver to offer respite unless you have paid help who is good with the baby. Why do most infants find it difficult to nap and have a restful night sleep? The reason is rather simple and goes back to our basic instincts. It’s because they are not kept close enough to a caregiver, especially the mother, to sleep. Babies need lots and lots of secure attachment, skin to skin contact and literally need to be joined at the hip for at least the first few months to one or two primary caregivers.
When provided with a secure attachment, watch as your baby will fall into a routine on her own because you spent the first few months both physically and mentally completely connected, treating her like an extension of yourself. This gives the baby deep confidence to be at peace with her surroundings and satiates her survival instincts. It makes her feel safe enough to sleep.
From a practical point of view, charting out a routine that is worked around the baby’s nap and bedtime would allow a nuclear family to thrive and grow with the baby. So, for example, both parents could work around their schedules in a way that doesn’t clash with the baby’s sleep routine. Hiring the best help you can afford (including a reliable, gentle nanny) is a personal choice depending on one’s financial situation and other factors. But it does pay off to have a helper around if you look at it as an investment to run a home smoothly without stressing out the mother and to allow for downtime.