Sitting in the waiting room bidding my time to meet Consultant Paediatrician Dr. Hashir Ariff (MBBS(Lond) DCH(UK) CCST(UK) FRCPCH(UK)), I could clearly see he is swamped with tiny patients. Some with wilted faces overtaken by their illnesses while, others were impatient and full of energy. But almost all the parents wore the same uniform look, tired!
So without further ado, let me get to the contents of my meeting with the hope it gives much desired sleep for parents and their offspring as well.
One of the main issues a parent of a newborn has is the average amount of time a newborn should sleep. When asked about this and one of the points that Dr. Ariff, kept on reiterating throughout the interview was the fact that sleep is a very individualized function. Just as adults, infants too have their own personalities when it comes to sleep. So what might work for one baby, might not work on another. As parents this is where intuition comes in. Even though your world has turned topsy turvy with the arrival of your newborn, it would help if you slow down and observe your little sleeper and understand his/her sleep/wake pattern and try to fall in to a comfortable rhythm on the first month or two. This understanding would later help you in building up a sleep routine.
But in general, newborns sleep for about 8 to 9 hours in the daytime and about 8 hours at night. This in no way will be a continuous stretch. They will wake for feeds every 2-3 hours. (Stanford children’s health)
So then, When will my baby sleep through the night? You ask. You may start to see some improvement in your infant’s sleep schedule after he or she has acclimatized to his/her new surroundings. This may happen during 3-6 months of age. Again it depends on the child. Some may take longer and some may take to a sleeping pattern easily. Usually if your baby’s basic needs are met they tend to fall asleep easily. If your baby is well fed (satiated), well burped, feels comforted and the environment is conducive (not too warm, not too cold, not too bright, not too noisy), then your chances of getting a good night’s sleep along with your baby is good.
Another issue moms in particular lament over is that the baby only sleeps when breast fed. The minute you stealthily disengage yourself and turn around and the numbness on one side of your body slowly begins to wear off, you hear the slight sniffling, then it increases in intensity and before you know it your baby is in full blown shriek mode. And nothing you do seems to work. So you start feeding again and accept the inevitable, just so that the rest of the household can get some sleep. “How do you tackle this” I asked the doctor. His response put the whole baby co-sleeping with parents vs sleeping in the cot argument to rest too. According to Dr. Ariff, most moms resolve in to co sleeping because it’s easier at the beginning than making countless trips from cot to bed. But this gives the baby a feeling of warmth and starts to cling to your scent, comfort and that feeling of security. Once she gets used to it, why would the baby want to let go?
So this is when sleep training comes in to play. Let’s get one thing straight, sleep training is not about letting your baby self soothe and cry himself to sleep. After about 3 months of age, parents can gradually start building up a routine for their infants. Help them understand the difference between night and day. And get them used to light and darkness as cues for sleep and waking up. Obviously things will not fall into place overnight or in a week, but you will notice a pattern emerge steadily.
Dr. Hashir Ariff, advices parents to give their infants a good feed and encourages everyone to give a soothing bath. Yes, a bath at night. He says many Asian moms are reluctant to give a bath at night to their kids. But according to him, there is no basis for this fear. Then dress your little bundle up in comfortable appropriate clothing. And put him down for a nap. He strongly discourages rocking the baby to sleep. (I think none of us need an explanation as to why). You may lie down next to your baby, play soothing music, sing a lullaby or play white noise. It’s up to you. But make sure the baby sleeps in the cot. When done as a routine, overtime your child will learn to fall asleep on his own as he recognizes the cues of his sleep routine.
Last year a breakthrough in Infant and baby sleep patterns made headlines across the globe. ‘Babies given solid foods sooner sleep better’ claimed BBC News. ‘ babies sleep better when they begin solid foods early, study says’ touted CNN. This can easily encourage sleep-deprived parents to start solids early against best advice by the WHO or any responsible body. The drawback of this “study” is that it was not done in a clinical surrounding. The study was conducted by interviewing parents, where data could be easily manipulated. And the “longer” period of time the study claimed the babies slept was just 15 minutes more. It was interesting because I have come across moms of the older generation claim the same theory as the study did. Dr. Ariff clearly states to start solids only at 6 months of age unless otherwise advised by the paediatrition for medical reasons.
After giving my heartfelt thanks to the ever so patient Dr. Hashir Ariff, I made my way out of his cubicle running home to put my toddler down to sleep.