Sleep! We all love it, we all need it and we all thrive from it. But it’s not always easy to get when you’re a parent! I know this first hand as a mother, and as a postnatal educator experiencing sleep deprivation time and time again in my earlier career, as well as witnessing the effects of this on many parents.
Thankfully though, there are ways for parents to lessen sleep deprivation symptoms, for themselves and their child. The effects of sleep deprivation include:
- losing perspective
- becoming depressed
- experiencing memory loss
- heightening the release of cortisol (our stress hormone)
- finding it very hard to maintain a positive outlook and sustain emotional stability
- struggling to make decisions.
So how can we stem these effects? And why do some children not sleep well, or only sleep well at night, often out of exhaustion, and not in the day? How can we help them obtain their necessary developmental sleep to nurture positive brain development at a time that’s so important?
3 in-depth tips that aid baby and infant sleep
Tip one – be aware of feeding practices
Some of the feeding advice available today can interfere with sleep patterns for both newborns and infants. Changing a few things can often make all the difference.
- If breastfeeding feed from one breast in one sitting. By offering both sides in one sitting, what is referred to as offering ‘main and then dessert’, the child automatically receives higher quantities of foremilk, which contains a high level of sugar – lactose. Lactose is broken down by the lactase enzyme in the stomach. But when there is an overload of lactose, which naturally occurs when feeding from both breasts in one sitting, then the excess lactose moves onto the duodenum where it ferments and causes gas. This excess gas then effects sleep, producing discomfort while travelling through the intestine and bowel. By feeding from one side and offering the same side if you feel baby needs more, you stop this from happening and not only that, baby receives more hind milk, so more fat.
- Overfeeding newborns and infants when bottle feeding formula is sadly rife because some of the amounts advised on the formula cans actually go well above what the child’s stomach can hold at their age. So be careful to feed in accordance with their biology rather than what’s on the can. The manufacturers are after all selling a product.
- When feeding solids parents are often taught that it’s important to offer a variety of food when offering solids, and to do this early on. But when we once again look at biology, we learn that it takes 2 ½ years before a child’s digestive system acts the same as an adults. At 6 months, an infant’s digestive system is only beginning to adapt to its new role. This is why plain food with only a small amount of variation is a healthier choice for our young before 10 months of age, when they are able to START coping with more – inclusive of meat and only chicken at this stage. Taking the approach that I teach of PLAIN + SLOW = GAIN + GROW definitely improves sleep outcomes.
Tip two – burp baby well
While many will tell you that you don’t have to burp a breastfeeding baby, or a couple of burps are enough, or perhaps you have heard that if a baby doesn’t burp within ten minutes they don’t have trapped air or newborns do not have to burp? All of these statements are actually mis-conceptions.
Trapped wind in the system caused by drinking, eating food and our diet happens to all humans and when newborn or an infant, the process of trapped wind either sitting in the stomach or being left to travel through the intestines and onto the bound in large amounts can be highly unsettling for sleep.
Therefore, learning how to burp your baby while understanding their Six-Wind-Cues and what to do when they are shown can be ever so helpful in combating sleep deprivation for everyone.
Tip three – techniques to aid settling
Some of these you may already use and please, if you have more to offer others do add them below in the comments. It all helps.
- Instead of using the sshhing noise to sooth your baby, which is actually quite a heightened harsh noise, try a very low octave hum close to their ear. Newborns love this noise and it also brings down your heart rate thus aiding the sinking into sleep further.
- Many of us have our baby’s fall asleep on us in a vertical position e.g. head on our chest or over our shoulder. We then place them into a horizontal position when we cosy them into the bassinet or cot. By changing their position we then set off movement in the digestive tract which can often have the baby waking 5-10 minutes later, if not straight away. Instead, 5 minutes before sleep time lay baby in their horizontal sleep position or what I call the ‘Nestle’. This allows the remaining trapped wind, food and the waste that is travelling through the digestive system to settle into position while they are in the security of your arms.
- While bubs is in the Nestle position, outlined above, with your fingers open and from just above their eye brows, continually and lightly run your fingers over their eyes. This helps stimulate the closing of the eyes and the falling off to sleep.
I’d like to finish by saying – leaving a baby or infant to ‘cry it out’ is a method that has been proven to be harmful to a newborns brain development. When a baby, or an infant cries in bed under the age of around 1 years old, so not old enough to start testing boundaries, they cry for a reason. And they need your help to settle that reason, whether it be pain in the digestive tract, burping, hunger etc.
So please, offer responsive care by going to soothe them.
For more expert advice from some of New Zealand’s top baby experts, check out our Babies section.