Two buzz words you should know
Just as there are certain milestones by which we gauge our baby’s progress (such as starting on solids, teething, crawling, walking and talking) there are now 2 new buzz words for the progress a baby makes through his sleep patterns – “sleep milestones” and “sleep regression”.
Personally, I don’t believe that either of these terms should be used in the context of sleep and here are 4 reasons why I think that the terminology is incorrect!
1: Startle Reflex
As a baby’s nervous system is immature at birth, it takes time to fully develop – if you have witnessed the startle reflex of a newborn baby you’ll know what I am talking about! Many new parents think that their little one is regressing in his sleep milestone when they suddenly jerk and wake themselves up. This is probably not true. Just think of yourself when you have that horrible dream of falling and you jerk awake – you soon go back to sleep, don’t you? So it is with our little ones. Except that, hopefully, they are not dreaming of falling, but it is just their nervous system getting used to the outside world and baby soon settles back to sleep.
2: Sleep Patterns
Sleep patterns can be wildly erratic for a long time and they vary considerably from baby to baby. Some babies sleep happily for hours on end almost right from the moment they are born, whilst others may wake often and repeatedly for no reason that we, as a new mom, can fathom! It may be colic that awakens them, it may be a sudden jerking movement of one of their limbs (the startle reflex).This is especially true if they have been swaddled from birth for a month or two and are now being weaned from the swaddling state.
A newborn baby has not got much control over the movements of his limbs once they are free of the swaddling blanket. So having an arm or both arms suddenly move during sleep may very well wake the baby and startle him as he is not yet used to this. Luckily baby will soon get used to this freedom as his nervous system becomes more mature.
3: Sleep “regression” or Sleep “progression”?
When a baby, who has been previously sleeping for a regular number of hours through the night, suddenly starts waking once or twice or more, this erratic sleep pattern has been termed “sleep regression”. I actually think it should rather be termed “sleep progression” as surely the development of a baby’s nervous system should be considered to be a progressive step towards gaining better control over his movements, co-ordination etc ? Only once baby is used to controlling his freedom of movement, is used to hearing the different household noises and is used to the different lighting between night and day can he finally establish a biorhythm that fits with his family lifestyle. As far as I am concerned, this is not regression but is rather a progressive state as his neurons and synapses make all those marvellous connections within his brain!
And to help this progression along, by 4-6 months one should initiate sleep training, where you train your baby to go to sleep independently. This is normally done by putting the baby in his cot when he is nicely drowsy, but not yet asleep and then leaving him. He may niggle or cry for a short while as he realises that you are no longer there. If the crying goes on longer than 5 minutes, it’s wise to go in and soothe your baby, by rubbing his back or replacing his dummy (if he uses one) but do not lift him out into your arms (no matter how much you want to!). Keep on repeating this until he eventually sleeps. This way if your baby’s sleep pattern suddenly goes wonky, you will still be able to soothe and get him back to sleep without lifting him up!
Even the normal milestones by which we judge our baby’s progress have a very broad range. Some babies are slow to crawl, slow to walk and slow to talk (according to those magical milestones) and others seem to be in a race against time, walking and talking long before they should (again, according to those milestones!). And in the end, all the babies slow or fast are NORMAL little beings – they just reached the different “milestones” at their OWN pace. So, actually trying to create “milestones” for a baby’s sleep pattern seems to me a bit ridiculous as there are so many variables which could occur during any particular month and which could disrupt what might be considered to be a “stable” sleep pattern (where your baby sleeps for a certain number of hours per night on a regular basis). For instance, if a baby starts to teeth much earlier than the “normal” milestone age, this may (or may not!) affect his sleep pattern.
Basically I think that it all boils down to the fact that all moms and dads should remember that no two babies are alike- each develops at their own pace and will sleep through the night when all of their little systems are accustomed to life outside the womb and when they can cope with it – no matter what your friend’s baby is doing!! The developmental milestones are there as an indication and are not cast in stone. As for sleep milestones and sleep regression – these are also not cast in stone, if they exist at all!
What do you think? I’d love to know! Drop me a line in the comments box below or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Yours in lifestyle newborn photography
All photo credits: GoFoto Lifestyle Newborn Photography