Sleeping Baby – Part 1

Most families find that sleep is one of the biggest challenges in the first year of their new life as parents. There are so many opinions and perspectives on sleep, we could probably populate a weekly blog just with “facts” and “counter-facts” as we tell one another the best way to parent at night – and then wish we were sleeping so we’d be in a better mood as we argued.

Dr. James McKenna, a sleep researcher and anthropologist atNotre DameUniversity, explains it in simple terms. He suggests that we have Stone Age babies who are being asked to accommodate to a Space Age world.

What does that mean? Well, think about the world – and families – that welcomed those  Stone Age babies. Nightfall probably meant that mom was sitting down or lying down for the first time all day. The saber-toothed tigers are prowling, so you want that baby to be quiet. What’s the best way to quiet a baby? Time at the breast.

So baby sleeps and nurses. Sleeps and nurses. So does mom. She’s been gathering and grazing all day with baby on her back, so she’s glad to sleep.

The sun comes up, and the group is ready to greet the day. Mom puts the baby in a front carrier – and as she walks, her pelvis sways and gently rocks her baby, keeping that little package sleeping or happy as she works. There’s probably breast access so she can keep working at the same time as she is taking care of her baby.

Time travel ahead by about 10,000 years. How does that model look to you?  Really, it looks like a recipe for trouble. Mom and the baby have been home alone all day, or mom’s been at work and baby’s been at childcare. Dad comes home just as evening falls. Baby thinks it would be a great time to nurse, nurse, nurse and sleep – why does everyone else think it’s time to sit down to supper, and then spend time together with poor little me far away?

The sun comes up and a very tired mom, dad and baby wonder what happened to their lives.

McKenna notes – ‘‘For species such as primates the mother IS the environment . . .’’

Drawing upon cross-species, cross-cultural, historical, and physiological evidence, evolutionary pediatrics makes it clear that notions about what human infants

need and why, especially as regards nighttime sleep and feeding patterns, seems to reflect far more about what societies want parents to be and infants to become (self sufficient and independent) rather than what infants actually are—exceedingly dependent, and unfinished ‘‘extero-gestates’’ to use Montagu’s (1986) description.

You can read  Dr. McKenna’s article here.

Encouraging a baby to sleep too deeply, too soon, may not be in the best survival or developmental interest of the baby. They need to eat, to grow, to be near mom to regulate their breathing, their digestion, and the rhythms of the day.

In her thought-provoking book Sleepless in America,  Minneapolis parent educator Mary Sheedy Kurcinka suggests the best way to get an infant to sleep is “make night time with your baby as much like a welcoming nest” as possible.

We’ll take a look at what that means next week.

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