When it comes to infant sleep the importance runs far deeper than simple health. Immediately postpartum, maternal sleep and infant sleep is not just important, it’s integral to a woman’s physical, emotional, and mental health as well as an infant’s growth and development. So what does an infant sleep schedule look like? There certainly is no magic recipe even though I wish there was. Let’s talk about it.
Why do experts suggest that having a schedule is good in the first place? Whoever thought you could train a baby to sleep must be out of their mind right? When Baby Wise came out with their ideas of suggested sleeping and eating schedules for babies, they started talking about promoting a rhythm for a new family. Feeding on schedule every 2 1/2 to 4 hours creates a routine based on a schedule. Routine is good! We love routines in our culture and society. As a mom and a birth worker, I discovered that as soon as you find a schedule that seems to work for everyone, the next day turns upside down! Whether we see a growth spurt, you are fighting off a little bug, there is a change in supply and demand of breast milk, or you have a very active day, your routine will constantly change.
I talk to my mamas so much about feeding cues and I think sleeping cues go right along with those. Just like with breast-feeding, don’t wait until your baby is too hungry to feed them. Catch those cues early to avoid that disastrous meltdown. Sleeping cues are no different; don’t wait until your baby is too tired and don’t try to fight your baby to go down when they’re not ready. Watch those sleepy cues. Maternal exhaustion can lead to us being distracted and lead to us not picking up on this feeling he was when we should. Maternal exhaustion can also lead to us not catching those sleeping cues when we need to. Catch those sleepy cues early to avoid that disastrous meltdown.
Sleeping cues: What are those sleeping cues? Some very important cues include eye rubbing, slowing down activity, yawning, whining, or loss of interest in people and play. Once the baby gets overtired, the same thing happens to them as it does adults. Instead of melatonin, we get a rush of cortisol which is a stress hormone. Your overstimulated baby will get a second wind and probably throw you for a loop. Having a routine can really help to catch your babies’ sleeping cues. If your schedule does not allow for a solid bedtime routine for every nap, make sure that at least you and your baby can be in a quiet space to settle into that sleepy state.
Sleep deprivation = increase in cortisol = increase in hunger: Many mothers come to me saying their babies want to eat constantly. Their sleeping pattern is very irregular and their baby shows signs of being overtired. If we have an overtired baby they will usually end up falling asleep before a full feeding happens which can cause weight gain issues as well as sleep problems and stress for all. Feeding schedules problems can lead to sleep schedule problems because if we have a very strict schedule we can have a stressed-out hungry baby who then has even more trouble falling asleep.
According to a pediatric sleep professional here in Bozeman Montana, a huge point is to not worry about sleep training until your baby is six months or older! Myra Hartzheim of Hearts and Dreams Pediatric Sleep Counseling talks about those sleep rhythms and the importance of flexibility when finding your child’s rhythm. All babies eat differently and sleep differently. There is a congruency between sleep issues and feeding/weight gain issues and it comes from the fact that sleep deprivation causes a rise in cortisol levels in a baby (and a mother) thus increasing hunger cues.
We’ve all heard the research that proposes our bodies get better sleep on one schedule. Somehow, in our society we manage to find this routine and schedule (most of the time) by going to bed and waking up at approximately the same time every day. Utilizing this same routine for your baby and your family can help ensure that your sleep is consistent and efficient.
Co-regulation: The idea that multiple actions and changes in lifestyle can help in areas such as infant sleep. Changing and modifying actions continuously can lead to a flexible routine.
With sleep or even emotions, our routine is in a constant flux. There is an equilibrium that needs to be held or found and we are in charge of helping our child find it. In honesty, I don’t think that equilibrium can be held… It must be constantly sought out.
Take away message: Be flexible and be fluid. Understand and embrace change because change is growth. Trust your mother intuition about sleeping AND feeding. You are more intuitive than you know. Take care of yourself and find the people who will help take care of you, too. Your support system might be the most important detail in this sleep game.
View some free PDF articles and handouts from Elizabeth Pantley here! She is a pediatric sleep counselor and published author; another incredible fountain of information.
Happy Mama Mode!