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‘Nighttime Parenting: How to get your baby and child to sleep’ by William Sears (La Leche League International book)

Penguin, 1999 (Revised edition)

Dr Sears makes a very valid point in this book when he says that “sleep problems occur when night waking exceeds your ability to cope”. In contrast to much of the parenting advice which says what your child ‘should’ be able to do, Dr Sears is refreshing as he emphasises that your night waking child is normal, and discusses ways to increase your ability to cope with it rather than ‘train’ the child.

Dr Sears is a paediatrician and a father to eight children, and strongly advocates for ‘attachment parenting’ as opposed to ‘detachment parenting’. After birth, this involves breastfeeding, child led weaning, co-sleeping, and responding to your baby’s cries promptly (as well as other emotional commitments and preparation). He is opposed to letting babies ‘cry it out’ or enforcing routines onto infants, which is a reason why this book resonated with me.

In terms of his advice about sleep, he begins by explaining the basic science of sleep and how it differs between adults and parents, and why babies wake at night. As well as listing possible medical causes, he explains the survival and developmental triggers for waking. In contrast to the advice that most mothers — including me — were given, he encourages us to ‘parent’ our children to sleep, whether that be by rocking or breastfeeding, and he also strongly suggests that we sleep with out babies in our beds.

This book is written in simple, gentle, encouraging language and it certainly gave me a feeling of peace and reassurance. Dr Sears states clearly that our culture’s expectations of infant sleep are too high, and that as parents we must expect to rearrange our lives to cope with night waking. There is some sensible advice about ways to stop night feeding, and a great chapter reminding fathers of their role in parenting.

I am not sure how helpful this book would be to someone who was not breastfeeding, as one of his main suggestions feeding your baby back to sleep, and there is no discussion about bottle fed babies. His other big suggestion is bringing baby into your bed, and for families who are not willing to do this, it may again have limited use. This clearly is aimed at parents who are not looking for a quick fix, and unfortunately, so many parents now have expectations which are just too high.

However, for mothers who breastfeed and are opposed to parent-led routines, and know that it is not right to leave your child to cry, it is a lovely book which affirms and reassures you that your instincts are correct. Dr Sears reminds us that the long term gain for your child from responding to her cries is worth the sleepless nights.

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I think that all parents have times when they want – or do – leave their babies to cry in the hope that they’ll fall asleep. I think for anyone considering ‘controlled crying’, this is required reading:  Australian Association for Infant Mental Health’s position statement.

Infants whose parents respond and attend to their crying promptly learn to settle more quickly in the long run as they become secure in the knowledge that their needs for emotional comfort will be met.

Infants from about six months of age suffer from differing degrees of anxiety when separated from their parents. This anxiety continues until they can learn that their parents will return when they leave, and that they are safe. This learning may take upto three years…If controlled crying is used it would be most appropriate after the child has an understanding of the meaning of the parents’ words, to know that the parent will be coming back and to be able to feel safe without the parents’ presence. Developmentally this takes about three years.

Night waking won’t last forever, and we all need to remind ourselves in the wee hours that this is what we signed up for, and it will end…

 

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