Sleep is the priceless gift that many parents, maybe even you, fear will be lost forever. It is a reasonable worry because your sleep habits will change after you welcome a baby. Babies wake up a lot. And once in a while, despite parents doing everything right, some babies will sleep with ease, and others will not.
Parents need a winning strategy to combat the fear, shame, and guilt that many new parents feel when making a sleep plan. You and your partner can start the practice of supporting each other, as you support your baby. It sounds simple enough and the next few paragraphs will outline some easy steps to achieve nighttime greatness.
Step 1. Each parent gets educated about safe infant sleep.
Step 2. Talk about the desires and hopes for your child.
Step 3. Engage solutions that both parents can wholeheartedly implement.
To do these steps you will each need to be willing to do a bit of leg work and make dedicated time to listen to your partner’s perspective— even when you disagree. It is common that one parent leans toward a more strict approach to sleep, and another parent with a more relaxed approach. This can bring up conflict within a relationship that leaves one or both parents feeling bad.
Sleep hygiene is NOT like dental hygiene. When it comes to dental health most parents today can do as their parents did, and things will be okay. Sleep is different.
One of the reasons sleep is such a confusing issue for new parents is that there has not been a consistent best-practice in our culture. In preparation for writing this article I did an informal survey at a multigenerational family gathering. Of the four families I interviewed, who gave birth to babies between 1959-2014, they each gave very different answers to how and where they put their baby to sleep, and if and how they responded to crying and nighttime wake ups.
The access to abundant information, conflicting recommendations from self appointed sleep experts and care providers, and the misinformation and fear of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) make sleep a very hard topic to navigate. One thing that was the same for each of the families I spoke with is that at least one child in each family did not sleep well for the first few years of life, but eventually developed into a great sleeper. Getting you and your partner on the same page about what safe sleep looks like is the first step in supporting each other and your baby. Two resources that cover a safe infant sleep environments are:
Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory
Safer Sleep For Babies Guidelines by BASIS
The problem with sleepless nights is that they happen during the hours that people want to be sleeping—and are not at their best-selves. If you and your partner are not on the same page in the middle of the night it can quickly lead to a family meltdown! Midnight meltdowns will happen. When they do, it is helpful to remember your partner’s positive intentions, take a break if you can, and try your best to not let parental disagreements negativity impact the sleep environment for the baby.
Another reason sleep it tricky is because it combines the tangible gadgets that sound like a simple fix, and the intangible traits of your baby’s temperament and personality. This is why it is so important for you and your partner to be on the same page with your family sleep values. It is easy to spend all of the efforts investing in items that might not improve sleep and overlook what your beliefs are about sleep.
Questions to uncover your and your partner uncover sleep values:
What is the ideal environment each of you need to get a good night’s sleep?
When have you ever had a hard time sleeping in your life? What support did you find helpful during that time?
On a 1 to 10 (low to high) scale how do you want sleep to be prioritized in your family?
How do you envision caring for your baby on nights that sleep does not come easily?
There is increasing evidence that proves just how important sleep is to wellbeing, at the very same time the demands that eat away at the sleeping hours are greater and greater. It’s no wonder that so many new parents fear the loss of sleep. The desire to live out the parenting fairytale of getting 8 hours of sleep and still having some adult only-time can create a tension between nighttime priorities.
Parents want to make their kids feel safe and secure with lots of cuddles and love. Unfortunately some babies are going to require more work. Sometimes parents will go to great lengths to get their baby to sleep or keep their baby comfortable during the night. Before making any big changes to your babies rhythm it is important that both parents take time to understand each other’s point of view and come up with a plan that supports their views and their baby— that both parents can get behind.
Questions to help know what is right for your family:
How might this approach be received from the baby’s perspective?
Does my parenting partner support the decision? Why or why not?
How might I feel looking back on this decision in 3 years?
What will each person’s responsibilities be?
The early years of parenting will be easier if you see your baby as an individual that has their own needs, disengage from comparing their child to others, and turn up the volume of intuition and common sense. Sleep success is achieved when you can transform the common negative feelings of shame, guilt, and fear into an opportunity to be the parent you want to be