DO THEY EXIST?
Just as there are certain milestones by which we gauge our baby’s physical 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 the terms “milestones” or “regression” should be used in the context of sleep and that’s what this blog is all about!
First of all, as a baby’s nervous system is immature at birth, it takes time to fully develop – if you have ever witnessed the startle reflex of a newborn baby you’ll know what I am talking about!
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 – 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.
When a baby, who has been previously sleeping for a regular number of hours through the night, suddenly starts waking once or twice or even more, this erratic sleep pattern has been termed “sleep regression”. And that’s where I disagree! I actually would prefer that it rather be termed “sleep progression” as surely the development of a baby’s nervous system is considered to be a progressive step towards gaining better control over his movements, his co-ordination and so on ? Only once baby is used to controlling his freedom of movement, and gets used to hearing the different household noises and becomes accustomed to the different lighting between night and day can he finally establish a biorhythm of his own that (hopefully) 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 learn to make all those marvellous connections within his brain!
And to help this progression along, by 4-6 months sleep training should be initiated. This is the process whereby you train your baby to go to sleep independently (in other words, not in your arms or being rocked to sleep!) This sleep training 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. Eventually your baby will know that this is the way it is going to be from now on! Then, if at a later stage 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!
If you think about it, even the “normal” age milestones by which we judge our baby’s physical 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, are NORMAL little beings whether they have been slow or fast developers – 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 (or week!) 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).
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 physically at their own pace and likewise each baby 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 guideline and are not cast in stone. As for “sleep milestones” and “sleep regression” – these are also not cast in stone, if they even exist at all!
Let me know what YOU think!!!