Will I EVER sleep again? (the great sleep debate)
Interview with Munchkins’ Super Granny, Andalene Salvesen and Celeste Rushby
Andalene Salvesen (aka Super Granny) – author and international parenting coach and renowned speaker, is also the founder and owner of Munchkins, where the aim is to empower parents to transform family dynamics.
Celeste Rushby is a qualified Occupational Therapist, mom of three – one singleton and twins (all premmies) – and also one of the Munchkins parenting coaches. Celeste also happens to be Andalene’s daughter.
You can learn more about these dynamic ladies (and our other coaches) here.
Sleep (or lack thereof) is one of the many reasons why desperate parents contact Munchkins and we are often asked what our approach to sleep challenges is. Following is a set of frequently asked questions on the subject, that we hope will answer some of these questions.
When is an appropriate time to start thinking about sleep coaching?
For the first 4-6 weeks, baby needs time to adjust from the womb to the world. During this time, baby is also too young to form any “bad” habits. So, baby can sleep on mommy’s chest/breast, in a sling, etc. as often as needed. Then, we introduce a very gentle, very supportive, no-cry method of learning to self-soothe (which we call “sleep coaching”) when the baby is between 4 and 8 weeks old. Unfortunately, this method is less likely to be as effective after sleep associations find themselves “set” between 12 and 16 weeks. And from 6 months, it won’t work at all. However, introducing sleep coaching at the right stage has a very high success rate, with no tears (from baby or mommy!)
Why do you call it sleep coaching (as opposed to sleep training)?
We like to refer to our support as sleep coaching for 2 reasons:
- Sleep training has received a bad rap because of the Ferberising method (that we don’t encourage) – also refer to the next question
- Sleep coaching is what we actually do – we coach parents. We believe that empowering parents is the key to real positive change in their children.
Sleep coaching is used to prevent bad sleep habits from forming – to create healthy sleep habits from very early on. Sleep training is used from 6 months to change unhealthy sleep habits into beautifully positive ones.
Certain studies show that it is detrimental to the health of a baby to allow them to cry on their own for extended periods. What are your views on this?
A baby under 3 months is particularly vulnerable to harmful effects that could be caused by being left to cry for extended periods. Thankfully, this is where the no-cry method (sleep coaching) still works beautifully. A baby that is 6 months plus is highly unlikely to experience these harmful effects if they have short spurts of crying, interleafed with the parent’s comfort, empathy and support. The way a baby communicates that they want things to be different from the way they are, is by crying – whether it’s to communicate “I want food”, “I need a nappy change”, or “I’m bored” – it is not necessarily a sign of distress, but rather a form of communication.
A baby cannot tell you
“Hey mom, listen, this is not what we agreed on. You are supposed to be rocking me to sleep every hour like we always do. So, I need you to get back here right now and rock me!”
So instead, he’s going to communicate this with some crying. But with regular reassurance, he’ll be just fine and soon adapt to the new norm – loving sleep!
Do you endorse the cry-it-out (aka Ferberizing) method at all? Why/why not?
Often referred to as ‘’Ferberizing’’ (thanks to Dr Ferber who first started with this method), is the old ‘’cry-out-method’’ where you put baby down in the cot, walk out, close the door and leave baby to scream and scream to eventually give up and pass out. Doing this can actually cause baby to go into fight-flight-fright mode, which releases cortisol and adrenaline hormones. This is what is referred to when articles start referencing neurological damage and a reduction in brain growth. It can also make baby feel rejected and unloved with possible long-term negative psychological effects. Some sleep trainers still encourage the use of this method, which is not a method that we support at all.
Also see this in-depth interview with Celeste on this subject: Do Cribs Cause Brain Damage?
Shouldn’t parents just accept the fact that little to no sleep is part and parcel of raising kids? How bad can lack of sleep really be over extended periods of time?
A healthy, full-term, thriving baby does not nutritionally need night feeds from 6 months, and is likely to be down to 0 to 1 night feed by 4 months if you have healthy sleep habits in place. A lack of sleep is very dangerous. You know the way YOU feel from a lack of sleep – irritable, struggling to concentrate, struggling with memory, brain fog, low sensory tolerance, getting sick often, being so tired that you can’t actually shut down to fall asleep even when you do get a chance to climb into bed. Well, it has the same effects on your child! Sleep deprivation is still one of the most effective forms of torture used by the military today. And I’m sure you understand why! Deep sleep is vital for forming myelin sheaths around your neural pathways (in English, this means to consolidate what has been learned during awake time), for growing, repairing damaged tissue, clearing out toxins, etc. During REM sleep is when you dream – which is important in processing what you’ve experienced emotionally during awake time, to help you deal with emotional circumstances better in the future.
As an Occupational Therapist, Celeste is often asked if it is okay if some babies don’t do more than 10 to 20-minute cat naps here and there during the day, but then mostly sleep through at night.
Quite simply, the answer is, “definitely not!” Your baby desperately needs plenty of sleep in the day. There are more neural pathways formed in the first 3 years of life, than in the rest of your life combined. Your baby is getting a month of university in a day. That is exhausting! Without frequent deep sleeps, this information is not consolidated properly (which can hinder development), baby is easily over-stimulated (we all know about the 6pm-9pm screaming baby that so many people write-off as “colic”), and is likely to get sick often.
And besides the effects on the children, parents that have not been sleeping struggle to be… well, nice! It’s not easy to be happy, cheerful and patient when you are lacking sleep. Also, you don’t have time to get sick! So, you need to get some good solid sleep so you can be a better parent.
How often do you assist parents with the no-sleep problem? How do you approach a home visit where sleep is the biggest issue?
Sleep is a common problem these days, and a great motivator for parents to ask for help. So, this is something we address very regularly. When it comes to children that are 12 months+ however, we have found that addressing sleep in isolation is a very rocky road that doesn’t always lead to success. It is important that, from 1 year and up, you take a global approach in addressing sleep problems instead. We need to first get the child eating healthily and achieve first-time listening during daylight hours before we can expect the child to comply when it comes to sleep changes. Then, you find yourself on a smooth road to success.
Munchkins: Empowering Parents, Transforming Family Dynamics
Services offered by Munchkins include parenting talks, home visits, healthy lunchbox cooking demonstrations (because there is a link between diet and discipline) and sleep coaching (covered under home visits).
For more information and bookings, please visit: http://www.munchkins.me/contact/
Also be sure to catch this recent Sleep Q&A with Andalene and Celeste on our Facebook page.