It’s World Sleep Day today so I assume that all your babies let you sleep in right? Great, mine did too. Isn’t sleep the best? Before we become parents we pretty much know how it’s going to go - other people’s babies may not sleep, they might cry all the time, they might cause a fuss in public - but those are other people’s babies. Ours will be different of course; we won’t make all those mistakes that everyone else seems to be making.
Somewhere in the first few hours of the birth of our newly arrived bundle of joy we realise that things might not be going exactly to plan. What you have in your arms is a strong minded individual (oh my god, no one ever told me that babies are actual little people!) who knows what they want and how to get it.
Now, you might be one of the lucky ones who got an adorable, sleepy baby. Enjoy it while it lasts. Really savour those several-hour stretches of sleep that your baby is allowing you to get. Because eventually (through illness, teeth or simply growing) something will cause you to experience the prolonged effects of sleep deprivation. It’s there, waiting for you around the corner. Laughing.
So what are desperate parents to do? Seek help from a professional, why not. Go see your health visitor or local volunteer agency, absolutely. But, for one moment, let us consider what is actually happening here:
Our babies grow inside a warm, safe environment. They know no hunger, cold, or even what clothing feels like on their skin. Then they are born and we put them into clothes and nappies and lay them into a cold bassinet and pray they stay asleep because we are shattered more than we have ever been before. But the baby wants to feel your warmth, smell your smell, hear your voice. So they wake and want to be fed again, and again, or just be held.
Breastfeeding actually provides all that a new baby needs. You can lay the baby on your tummy and get skin-to-skin contact if your baby needs it. The baby often falls asleep in your arms, contented and full. The baby is in their safe place. They wake frequently for feeds because their tummies are ever so small and because your body is making perfectly tailored food to suit their developmental needs. It’s perfectly natural and normal that they should wake and feed frequently.
As breastfeeding mothers, the hormones that our bodies release to produce breast milk cleverly also impact on our own brains and sleep patterns. Yup, if you breastfeed beyond 6 weeks, your sleep patterns will change so that you are in sync with your baby’s feeding patterns. And that means rather than waking up in the middle of your own deep sleep cycle to feed your baby, you wake up between sleep cycles and return to sleep very quickly. It’s a perfect symbiosis.
There is no easy 3-step solution to solving sleep problems. Sorry to break it to you. And that's because the problems we experience are as unique and individual as our children are. And most things do eventually pass (it’s all a phase after all, even childhood) on their own. Our modern world and way of doing things often interferes with thousands of years of human evolution and it’s important to remember this when you are staring at the clock at 2am having had no sleep at all. For the 20th night running.
So on this World Sleep Day, grab yourself a Bshirt breastfeeding top (perfect for sleep feeding in by the way), cuddle up in bed with your baby, and breastfeed them knowing that you are doing what millions of mothers and children have done before you: doing your best.