As a baby sleep and routine support consultant, one of the comments I hear all the time when first working with a family who are having issues with their baby’s sleep is: “We were just waiting for it to get better” or “People were telling us it would all work out” or “Friends were telling us to just do what we needed to do and don’t worry about trying to establish a routine”.
I absolutely understand and appreciate the good intentions (REALLY good intentions actually) of those offering advice in trying to stay positive for the family involved and feeling like they are giving them helpful advice. However, I can tell you – for parents who are utterly sleep deprived AND who are trying anything and everything to get their baby to sleep AND who are going through exhausting rituals and processes each day AND who are very nearly at the end of their rope – being told “don’t worry it will all work out” or being told “just get through the first few months and then it will get better” or being told “don’t listen to what other people say, you just do what feels right / natural for you” is actually very unhelpful advice.
Because, quite simply – nothing feels “right / natural” to them at that point. They feel helpless and not in control. They are sleep deprived. They are at breaking point. They are putting on a strong, brave front to the outside world – but on the inside they are crumbling and feeling like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. The warm and fuzzy comments from their family and friends about “just do what feels natural…it will all get easier / better” are just adding to their feelings of helplessness and despair.
Families who are sleep deprived will hold onto anything, even things that are only meant as a passing comment. Being told that things will get better and that it will all fall into place is giving them false hope and a completely unrealistic expectation. So, in turn they just keep going day in, day out – delirious with exhaustion (so too is their baby) and waiting for everything just to suddenly self-resolve one day and be completely sorted. And I can tell you – it just doesn’t happen.
Other advice given to families is along the lines of “Hey, you have a baby and this is just how it is”. Or “sleepless nights and complete chaos is normal – so get used to it”. This could not be further from the truth – i.e that this is just the way it is and that they need to get used to it.
Sleep deprivation is not a normal outcome for babies and parents if a proper structure and routine is established, which includes babies acquiring the skill of being able to sleep.
The reason parents are in this situation with a baby who is not sleeping well is because their baby’s overall sleep foundation and routine / structure has a number of problems and is not set up correctly. Significant changes need to be made in order to get it all resolved and on track.
And here’s the thing – the baby is caught in the exact same exhausting and relentless cycle as their parents. Believe me when I say to you that your baby wants nothing more than to be able to sleep well. There is no such thing as a baby who dislikes / hates sleep, or a baby who “fights” sleep. I know it seems that way, but it’s not. Your baby wants exactly the same thing that you do. Exactly. And that is … sleep. But if the overall 24 hour routine and processes and day and night timings aren’t set up correctly – then sleep will not be facilitated for your baby. Your baby will continue to struggle each day in a chronically overtired state.
Parents / families need to be advised and guided on what they need to do in order to make change and break the cycle they are in. They need to be educated. They need to be provided with a clear plan for going forward that they can follow.
Until parents understand what the existing issues / problems are that are contributing to the overall sleep issues and importantly, what changes then need to be made – then nothing will change. Their same cycle just keeps on going. Things won’t just magically repair themselves and all fall into place. It just doesn’t happen. Yet so many families just battle on and on and on / sometimes for months and months – waiting and hoping it will all get better. It’s a horrible cycle to be in.
There is so much information and advice coming from numerous sources – and much of it is conflicting. “Don’t do that”, “Don’t do this”, “You shouldn’t be doing that with your baby to help get him to sleep”, “You are doing WHAT with your baby?? No, that is crazy!”. It is no wonder parents everywhere are overwhelmed and confused.
Much more helpful to those families who are really struggling is for them to know and be advised that there is lots of help out there for sleep / settling issues. For example, there is Tresillian and Karitane. There are helplines. There is local sleep cottages. There is the local early childhood clinic. There are private baby sleep consultants who provide one-one-one consultations and support to families.
Even though it is coming from a completely caring and compassionate place of wanting to be helpful / sympathetic – surrounding family and friends really need to think twice about saying to a family who is struggling with a sleepless baby / toddler “don’t worry – hang in there, it will all get better”. Because I can tell you every day it is not getting better, it is getting worse. And these families are struggling, sometimes beyond what anyone in their circle would ever imagine.