Newborns sleeping through the night? An anomaly? A normal thing? A sure sign of a good baby?
How about a dangerous concept that negates the fact that your little one may need you to wake them up. Yes, you read that right. You may actually need to wake a newborn up in the middle of the night.
Now, now…hear us out. Check out one mother’s discovery of a methodology for getting a newborn baby to ‘sleep through the night,’ and why that is a dangerous myth to follow. More, follow along as she fought for babies and mamas.
It seems as if every decade delivers a new scheme to get even our youngest babies to sleep through the night. And yep, I figured we were just about due for a book titled The Sleepiest Baby on the Block or 50 Shades of Baby Slumber when, this past lovely Sunday afternoon, I was confronted by the newest baby training idea on the block (which, by the way, makes Ferber sound kind of tame).
Here’s a behind-the-scenes play-by-play — a kind of diary of how it went down in real-time (oh–except that Facebook seems to bend time, which I’d never really noticed until trying to build a timeline with their posts… and see that their time-stamps jump time-zones!). The identity of folks I don’t know has been obscured; for my friends, you’re in this with me!
Sunday, 2:30 pm — I See a Call Was Sounded on Facebook
I’m at our neighborhood club’s Sunday Jam — live music, that is — so I cannot actually listen to the segment that aired on Fox News. But I can read the article. Oy. Really?? Stretch out the feeding intervals during the day to “train a baby’s hunger receptors to acclimate to a specific schedule”??
Over the years I have developed ever more serenity about things I cannot change, and am about 97% in remission from Quixote Syndrome. If I dove into the breach over every inane, harmful or even tragic thing I learn about, I’d never be able to tend to my own calling of helping people parent for peace. Stay the course, Marcy, stay focused.
Sunday, 2:40 pm — I See I’ve Been Specifically Summoned
Birthpower’s Barbara Rivera tagged me to please weigh-in, along with a few others. Progressive Parenting‘s Gena Kirby was the first to gamely offer help, as others began to register their thoughts on the matter.
Sunday, 3:30 pm — I Dive Into the Breach W/ Longwinded Comment
Rather that perpetuate my error, I’ve blurred it out. One of the pitfalls of diving into the breach without time to reflect and research is that you can get things wrong. (I had a vague memory of Ferber having recanted his position on sleep training — not so; it was his negative position on co-sleeping that he famously recanted, so at least there’s that.)
Sunday, 3:36 – 4:32 pm — A Webcast Meeting-of-Minds Is Conceived
How can I resist such an invitation? I agree, and suggest we do it asap. It’s set for…tomorrow first thing in the morning… and it includes video, YIKES!
Sunday, 4:29pm — I Geek Out
Sunday, 4:40pm — It’s Set & Announced
Sunday, 4:45 – 7pm — I Close My Laptop and Enjoy Real Life
Sunday, 7:30 — I Finally Watch the Infamous Fox News Segment
Sunday, 8:30pm — I Peek at the “Newborn Sleep Book” Fan Page
…where controversy is rearing its interesting head. (I’m including a few subsequent comments added since then as well.) This captures some of the leading concerns about the method — including its impact on breastfeeding.
I write a comment and hit “Post” and it seems to go somewhere, yet I cannot see it on the page. Oh, that’s it — you have to “Like” a page in order to have anything show up there. (I cannot bring myself to do it.) BUT… mysteriously…
Sunday, 10:53pm — I Receive A Friendly Warning*
At this point I should be sleeping — I’ve got an early call in the morning and I’d prefer that my eyes not be bloodshot. I only stopped by Gena’s FB page to see if there was any “breaking news” I should know… you know, to sleep on. I could so easily chime in on this point, but decide it’s best not to get all riled up before lights out. (*I don’t notice Gena’s post about having contacted the Jassey brothers — the authors — to invite them to join Dr. McKenna and me on tomorrow morning’s show.) I read a few more interesting comments on Gena’s page for good measure to send me off to dreamland:
…and one last check-in on the APPPAH group page (where this whole saga first began) turned up an excellent resource for parents confounded by all the different theories and opinions:
Funny that we’re all talking about the
importance of getting sleep, and that is
rather viscerally brought to the forefront
of my consciousness because I’m not a
naturally early riser, and certainly not
“camera ready”… or PEOPLE ready. It
brings back memories of my baby days…
and early dawns. I have HUGE compassion
for parents missing their sleep!
Monday, 8am — Pretend I’m a Cinematographer
Is it vain to want to look decent when your image is going out to thousands? I think not. Once again, my past life in television production comes in handy: I know how to use a big white piece of poster-board to bounce a little fill light onto this old face. And this is the only time I ever use Photo Booth — to check the shot!
Monday, 8:15 — Last-Minute Fact-Checking & Research
It occurs to me to check on how the Jasseys’ book is selling, so I drop by Amazon for a look-see:
At this time, they have 71 reviews with an average 2-star rating. (There have been over 30 people who’ve added a review since Monday morning.) Their sales ranking is 15 thousand-something out of Amazon’s 8 million books. Not impressive for a book that just enjoyed national media coverage. As I am about to say in my opening comments with Gena, I have faith in parents’ wisdom!
Monday, 8:30 — Sound & Video Check w/ Gena
She cut her hair — cute! She’s nursing Jack — cute!
Monday, 8:53 — Gena Geeks Out
Monday, 9am — We’re Live!
I cited James McKenna’s research in my book, so it is such an honor to spend this hour with him. (He is the leading expert on the physiology of mother-infant co-sleeping and its relationship to breastfeeding and to SIDS.) Dr. McKenna does not mince words when it comes to his dismay over the guidelines proposed in this book, particularly because it was written by pediatricians!
All in all, it was lots of fun and very gratifying — to have actually hopped on the ol’ Quixotic horse this time! If you’d like to watch the entire segment (you should; it’s great!) you can find the link here:
As you can see, Dr. Marcy Axness and Dr. James McKenna know the importance of babies being able to be close to their mothers at any given moment, and that includes those moments between 9 pm and 7 am of the next day.
The pediatrician brothers who co-authored the sleep training book may have had the best interest of parents in mind when creating it, but aren’t pediatricians supposed to have the best interest of baby at mind first?
The simple notion that training your baby to recognize (or not) hunger cues at ‘convenient times of the day’ for parents makes our hearts hurt thinking about the feedback newborn baby brains receive in this training process.
More, as we said at the beginning, some babies NEED to be woken up in the middle of the night for feedings.
Take mine, for example. At two weeks old, my itty bitty baby kitty was doing great. Nursing wasn’t easy, but it was worth it, and he was gaining steadily. I made tons of milk, he had a good latch, and my lactation consultants were incredibly invaluable.
At the two week appointment, even though he was small when we took him home (5 lbs., 10 oz.,) he’d gained almost all his birth weight back. Since he was just a hair shy, my pediatrician suggested my lactation consultant really do a consult with me to ensure all was well.
I weighed before and after feeding, she watched and reaffirmed all I was doing and said my little love bug was doing great with me feeding on demand.
I replied, “Yep! He’s so good too! Whenever he wakes up and cries, I try nursing so we can get into our groove. He loves sleeping though! He’s already sleeping 5-6 hours a stretch!
That stopped her cold in her tracks and she said, “What? You’re feeding him every 5-6 hours?”
I got nervous, thinking I’d done something wrong, and said, “Yes! Every time he wakes up, I try to nurse!” That’s what I thought ‘feeding on demand’ was.
She gently put her hand on my shoulder and said, “He sleeps that long? Honey, he’s what we call ‘content-to-starve.'”
Obviously, this scared me and made me feel like I was starving my child. She realized the weight of what she’d said and replied, “Oh, it’s okay! It’s okay! We can fix this! It happens sometimes! Some babies would rather sleep their way through feedings and sometimes that’s okay, but a newborn baby really should be eating every 2-3 hours. Round the clock. THAT’s what we mean by feeding on demand!”
Sure wish someone had told me that as I was all proud of myself with this ‘good sleeper.’
Because my little guy was…well, little, she suggested we try a schedule for a while so we could make sure he was getting plenty, and to give his little brain and body time to figure out that being hungry was worth waking up for. So, for about 6 months, around the clock, I woke that baby up every three hours (if he didn’t wake on his own), nursed him, pumped some more so I could supplement the nursing and rinsed and repeated.
People couldn’t believe I was ‘waking a sleeping baby,’ but just as Dr. Axness and Dr. McKenna said–babies need to eat when babies need to eat, and trying to convince their little tummies to sleep through the night was a dangerous line.
The point of my situation is just to reiterate that babies, especially newborns, are not always meant to sleep through the night upon getting home. And, sometimes? Sometimes you NEED to wake them to make sure they’re getting enough (my little guy did eventually end up in two-and-a-half years of feeding therapy, but it was the best decision in the world!).
And when they wake you up on their own? Inconvenient as it may be…it’s only for a season, and you’re making a tremendous difference in your baby’s bonding with you and brain-building. You can do it, Mama!
Feature Photo: SvetlanaFedoseyeva/ Shutterstock