When mothers give birth for the first time, they often base their expectations on what other mothers said or what they found out from online research. When mothers give birth for the second or third time, they tend to set expectations based on those children earlier.
When it comes to how babies can sleep, they can become very confused.
A few years ago, when Toronto Raptors suffered a bad loss, the media asked the coach how he slept after the game. He said, "I slept last night – I wake up all night and cry."
The fact that you do not sleep enough is not a laughing problem for many tired mothers and there is no shortage of "sleeping whisper" and books to give advice.
In a future pediatric publication (December 2018), Canadian researchers add a certain reassurance. Researchers analyzed data from obstetric clinics in Montreal and Hamilton to see how many babies sleep on the night of six months and a year.
The conclusion is that 38% of children, at six months, did not sleep at least six consecutive hours at night and 57% did not sleep eight hours at night. At the age of 12 months, 28% of the infants did not sleep for six hours and 43% did not sleep for eight hours.
The study suggests that parents should not worry if their child does not lie at night between 6 and 12 months old.
In addition, children who wake up during the night had a significantly higher breastfeeding rate. Obviously, an argument against breastfeeding will never be a good idea, but once again, expectations must be adequate. Nursing mothers need to be told what to expect; they need to know that digestion of breast milk is very effective and that breastfed babies are less likely to sleep for longer periods.
Many mothers asked me if there is something neurologically wrong with their baby not sleeping through the night or for at least six to eight uninterrupted hours. The Canadian study has certainly taught us that infants who wake up at night were not more likely to have problems later with cognitive, linguistic or motor development. (Usually, if the problems are present, there will be more symptoms and findings than just sleeping concerns.)
Unfortunately, there is a tendency among mothers to compare their children's habits with each other or even worse with the experiences of other mothers. As a holistic health coach, I learned a valuable wisdom from a quote by Theodore Roosevelt: "Comparison is the thief of joy." They often use this expression to remind families that the normal development of the child's sleep patterns has a wide variability.
I also found that many mothers blame their abilities to put their babies at bedtime. These tired, well-understood parents need to know that self-compassion is a better alternative. The above study was called the Longitudinal Cohort Study for Maternal Adverse Disability, Vulnerability and Neurodevelopment. Becoming a Mother is a test of how people handle challenges and vulnerabilities.
My hope is that primary care physicians, public health nurses and parent coaches will read carefully the future pediatric work and incorporate new data into their practice. For too long, maternal expectations have been shaped by "gold standards" that were not at all gold.
As far as I know, there are no studies specifically conducted on mothers who have not slept at night with regard to the use of attention to help them cope with missed fatigue and expectations.
However, Jonathan Kabat Zinn's Boston-based stress reduction research has clearly shown the benefits of meditation and training in general. For mothers who are stressed by babies who do not sleep during the night, the formation of mindfulness can be a realistic option. Many of my patients found App Meditation Studio a useful start in developing a tool to cope with the lack of sleep.
A frustrating question about breastfeeding will never be answered by even the smartest scientists on the planet: Why do men have nipples? (Parents can also help mothers tired in other ways.)
For more information on sleep patterns for children, visit www.healthychildren.org
Dr. Nieman is a pediatrician and chair of the Alberta chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, drnieman.com