When speaking to parents about their children’s sleep, we have found that parents spend a lot of time stressing about sleep simply because they think that their babies are not doing what they are supposed to be doing. Parents spend so much time feeling anxious about if their baby is “normal”. It breaks our hearts how often parents will share that they feel like they are doing something wrong because their baby is not doing exactly what everyone else says they should be.
The truth is, your baby is probably already doing what they are supposed to be doing, and the frustration you are feeling likely has more to do with the gap between cultural expectations and biological norms when it comes to infant and toddler sleep. Chances are, a lot of what you are experiencing when it comes to your little one’s sleep is very normal and any stress you are feeling has more to do with the fact that we desperately need to do more to normalize infant and toddler sleep patterns.
Essentially, the stress around infant and toddler sleep has much more to do with how we think, or have been told, that our children should be sleeping, rather than how they are actually sleeping. This is why we think it is so important that we help parents to set realistic expectations when it comes to their child’s sleep. If we work to close the gap between where our societal expectations have fallen, and what is actually developmentally normal and healthy for our children to be doing, we can help to ease the frustration so many parents feel. ⠀
Let us give you a few examples.
If our expectation is that our babies should be sleeping through the night because that's what all our friends' babies are "doing" then we become increasingly frustrated when our baby behaves normally and wakes a few times a night. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
When our expectation is that our children should fall asleep independently, we become frustrated when we need to support them to sleep instead of melting into it and enjoying that time together. ⠀⠀⠀
When our expectation is that sleep is linear and once you get a good stretch you should always get at least that long of sleep, we become frustrated when our children are going through a developmental period and need us more often than they did the previous week. ⠀
But if we stop and take a moment to see our children for who they really are - immature, dependent and precious little beings - we can shift our expectations. Our children are meant to need us, they are meant to call for us if they have needs to be met.
We have to remember that sleep is a biological function. It is factors such as circadian rhythms and homeostatic sleep pressure that influence your child’s sleep, not the opinion of those around you. This is part of the reason why we need to move past broken societal expectations.
Sleep pressure basically means that as our children are awake through the day, there is a build up of pressure. The longer they are awake, the more pressure builds up! As children learn and grow each day, they build up sleep pressure in their brains more quickly than adults, and the only way to relieve this pressure is to nap. The biggest build up of pressure happens at bedtime. Circadian Rhythm is our internal biological clock and helps us to adapt to the cycle of day and night. Our bodies change in response to light and darkness in conjunction with this biological clock. The circadian rhythm is controlled by exposure to light and dark. ⠀⠀⠀⠀
Babies are designed to be dependent beings, they are meant to wake at night. In fact, waking to express their needs to us is a protective mechanism to make sure they are safe and that their needs are being met throughout the night - this is how we can be sure they are not overheating or that their nutritional needs are being met for example. Babies thrive off of contact and connection, we shouldn't be led to believe that we should be depriving them of this just so that they will sleep all night.
So how would you feel about your child’s sleep if you let go of all of the societal pressure and expectations that have been placed on parents? Could you trust yourself to follow your instincts and support your baby or toddler in a way that feels right to you (the most important person in their world)?
In no way do we think that as a parent, you need permission from ANYONE on how to support your child with sleep in a way that feels right to you, but still, for those of you who need to hear it…. You have permission to nurse to sleep, bed share, hold, rock and respond to your child as much as your heart wants to. Forget about the societal pressures, judgements and expectations. Follow your heart and do what feels right for you and your family. If what you are doing feels good in your heart, there is absolutely no reason to change a single thing. This is your own parenting journey. It is okay to keep the things you love, the things you enjoy and cherish.
You do not need to feel shame or hide what you are doing just because it isn’t what society tells you that you should be doing. You do not need to worry that something is wrong with your baby because they need support to sleep or are not yet sleeping through the night. It is important to tune what is developmentally normal and healthy instead.
Your success as a parent is in no way indicated by the sleeping patterns of your child, whether they line up with society’s expectations or not. We really need to stop using sleep as a marker for parental success. Instead, we need to focus on meeting our children's needs, building our connection with them to be stronger each day and letting go of external pressure.
If you are looking for a community who is working to move past societal norms and expectations to parent by following their instincts - join us in our Virtual Mama Group once a week. We have created a safe place for like minded Mamas to talk about sleep, and other aspects of parenting that goes beyond the current societal norms! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀