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Goodnight Moon, Wake Up Pop
New Dads Despair Of Ever Getting It Again- Sleep That Is


By Paul Gilbert
(4/23/01)

The author and his wife, both tv producers, are the parents of two small children. In their waking hours they began researching the subject of infant sleep. They talked to pediatricians and sleep experts nationwide. They taped doctors and parents. Three years later they produced "Sleep Like A Baby: What Every Parent Needs to Know About Babies & Sleep," a home video for new and expectant parents. Here they share what they learned with dadmag.

If you're dealing with sleep issues in your family, you're not alone. Recent studies show that infant sleep is the number one concern for new and especially, first-time parents. Sleep deprivation may only be a vague concept before the baby is born, but it can quickly become a harsh reality. All it takes is a month or two without a good night's sleep for this revelation (more like revolution) to hit home.

One of the biggest challenges for parents is that the two most widely practiced sleep methods, sleep training and co-sleeping, have very different and often opposing philosophies. The best time to become educated about infant sleep is before the baby is born and you still have most of your brain cells intact. Even though decisions about sleep are largely based on what happens afterwards and what actually works for your family, at least you'll be able to make informed choices.

Like most people, we found out that life really begins as a parent when you get home from the hospital. My wife and I had some basic instruction about diapering, bathing and breast-feeding, but infant sleep was a whole other ball game. We got by on the sheer excitement of a new baby for a while, but even that couldn't keep us going forever. The fact was, sleep deprivation impacted everything we did and affected our health, work and relationships.

"You can't be as good a parent if you're not getting enough sleep," states Dr. Jodi Mindell, author of "Sleeping Through the Night" and one of the experts featured in our program. "You are much less tolerant or patient. Couples report all the time that they start fighting when they're not getting enough sleep."

No parent wants to confess that their little bundle of joy is also wreaking havoc with their lives. Michelle, a new mom says "when people ask me if our baby is sleeping through the night, sometimes I'm reluctant to tell them, 'no, she isn't,' because it feels like I've done something wrong. So not only are my husband and I totally sleep deprived, but we also feel like we've somehow failed."

Dr. Karen Callen, our OB/GYN at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, sees this situation with many of her parents. "They come back after the baby is born and say, "I didn't know what I was getting into. I never realized it was going to be this hard."

An additional challenge is that as new parents are trying to make decisions about a sleep strategy, they are often bombarded with advice and opinions from family, friends, healthcare professionals, and even strangers. Each method has supporters (and in some cases, zealots), who promote it with passion. What should be an extremely personal decision, often becomes a tug of war between what you feel like you should do and what your instincts tell you to do.

Here are a few things we learned about the two different methods in the process of interviewing sleep specialists, birth educators, healthcare professionals and dozens of parents. We found that almost all of the parents had heard about sleep training before their baby was born. Most of them knew it as the Ferber method, named after Dr. Richard Ferber, who pioneered the sleep training methodology.

However, many parents did not know that there are other variations of sleep training. A modified strategy has been developed by Dr. Mindell. Her approach is that parents only need to help their baby learn to fall asleep on her own at bedtime, and she will then gradually learn to fall back to sleep on her own during the night. This system allows parents to avoid the emotional and physical stress of having to go do sleep training in the middle of the night.

Another key distinction about sleep training is that it is not based on just letting the baby "cry it out." The method is based on the premise that babies need to learn how to self-soothe themselves at bedtime and back to sleep when they awake during the night. Some babies discover this skill on their own and they're the ones usually referred to as "good sleepers." But for many children, self-soothing is a learned skill, one that they need their parents help in developing.

Here are a few other things we learned about sleep training with our son. Unlike traditional "sleep props" such as a favorite stuffed animal or blanket, he became totally attached to an old t-shirt my wife wore (at first, it smelled like mommy). When there were changes or disruptions in our household routine such as illnesses or vacations, we usually had to re-institute sleep training. Finally, whenever he was going through a major developmental stage, such as sitting up or crawling, his sleep patterns were affected, too.

The real keys to sleep training are consistency and commitment. No parent wants to hear his or her baby cry, but unless you stick with the program, it may not work. And both parents or partners need to work together and support one another. Sleep training may not be for everyone, but the bottom line is that it's worked for millions of families.

"I was a basket case after four months of sleep deprivation." said Catherine. "As difficult as it was to hear him cry, a month after we instituted sleep training, I was a whole new person."

Many of the parents we interviewed were just as committed to the concept of co-sleeping and attachment parenting. Some came from cultures where co-sleeping is the norm, since it is the accepted practice in ninety percent of the world. Others were uncomfortable with the thought being separated from their baby at night. Some simply chose it because it was the only way they could get a good night's sleep (which was our experience with our first child).

One of the more interesting aspects of our research was finding that co-sleeping is still regarded by many parents as a taboo subject, one that hasn't fully come "out of the closet." It's almost as if there is a social stigma attached to it in this country.

"When I found out that the majority of families in my New Parents group were sleeping with their babies, I was very surprised." said Elizabeth. "Because people don't discuss that."

"Many of the other parents I work with are also co-sleeping," Debbie responded. "They have this idea that maybe they shouldn't be doing it and they're breaking the rules. But it works for them, so they're going to do it anyway."

This combination of secrecy and guilt greatly disturbs co-sleeping advocates. Dr. James McKenna, Director of the Mother/Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab at the University of Notre Dame (and another one of our experts) addresses this issue. "I think people are reluctant to publicly favor and /or practice co-sleeping because of the many myths that have grown around it. Parents who do choose to co-sleep should know that from a scientific and health perspective, they're making a good choice as long as they practice it safely."

Most expectant parents also thought that their only option for co-sleeping was to utilize the family bed, where the baby is in bed with them. They didn't realize there were other forms of this methodology. The term co-sleeping actually refers to the fact that babies and parents have access to each other's sights, sounds and smells.

Other than the family bed, these forms include the baby sleeping in a sidecar or bassinet next to the parent's bed or in a co-sleeper bassinet, which actually attaches to the bed. Like the family bed, these set-ups greatly facilitate breast-feeding during the night. The baby can also be in a crib in the parent's bedroom, where she can either see them or hear their voices. Even a baby being rocked and held for a few hours during the night, by either the mother or father, constitutes a form of co-sleeping.

Still, the most widely practiced form of co-sleeping remains the family bed. But one of the biggest obstacles for most parents is the fear that they will suffocate their child. This concern is partly fueled by the recent report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which attributed 64 infant deaths per year to the baby sleeping in the parent's bed.

Co-sleeping advocates reacted strongly and insisted that the CPSC study was flawed. Some pointed out that instead of trying to scare parents, the real message should have been that no matter which sleep method parents employ, safety is the one thing they should never compromise. "No sleep environment is risk free. Just as we prepare a safe crib, changing table or car seat, parents should explore and make sure they know how to construct a safe co-sleeping environment," states McKenna.

For parents who have chosen to sleep with their children, the true measure of success is whether it works for them. "When she's in bed with us, she hears our heartbeats and breathing." said Lela. "She feels so nurtured and the bonding is great. And it's so much easier to breast-feed at night."

"We ended up co-sleeping simply because it worked well from the first night." declared Duncan. "And we never panicked about rolling over and suffocating him, because you develop a kind of sixth sense to know where you are."

While choosing a sleep strategy, it's important to remember that every baby is a unique individual and each family has it's own distinct needs and dynamics. With our children, we've practiced both sleep training and co-sleeping and we realize that there may be new challenges with sleep as they grow older.

In the long run, sleep, like so many other parenting issues, requires patience, flexibility, stamina and a sense of humor. At least now, when my wife and I are up at night, we know where our children are. Just wait until they're teenagers.


THE TOP TEN SIGNS THAT YOU'RE A SLEEP DEPRIVED PARENT

  • 10) It's a good day when you remember to brush your teeth

  • 9) You blame your spouse or partner for everything

  • 8) The circles under your eyes have circles

  • 7) You'll put up with your relatives' neuroses, as long as they'll baby-sit

  • 6) You can barely navigate the stroller, much less the car

  • 5) You now understand why your parents always looked so old

  • 4) You hate anyone who says their baby sleeps through the night

  • 3) There's no such thing as a "long enough" nap

  • 2) If the phone rings after 8 PM, you think, "who in their right mind would call this late?"

  • AND THE NUMBER ONE SIGN THAT YOU'RE A SLEEP DEPRIVED PARENT

  • 1) You would definitely rather sleep, than have sex

Paul Gilbert is the Co-Executive Producer of Heart at Work Productions in San Francisco. For more information about the video "Sleep Like A Baby: What Every Parent Needs to Know About Babies & Sleep" call (888) 795-0555 or visit sleepbaby.com






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