Noah has been trying out solids for the past few days. His uncle Jonny, our in-house pediatrician, recommended to wait for the 6-month mark to avoid allergic reactions, so we did. His first food was rice cereal, which he hated. It was more difficult for that spoon to get into his mouth than getting into the White House. We did not take very seriously the notion of him being able to get better sleep after eating rice cereal but Noah has been sleeping better after starting solids and I couldn’t help but wonder if there was some truth to the solids and sleep relation.
There is no scientific evidence indicating that it helps. Actually, I found a study that indicates the contrary: disrupt sleeping might occur if solids are given before 4 months. But the explanation is a bit simpler than analyzing scientific studies.
It is possible that hunger is to blame for your baby’s disrupted sleeping patterns. If she is younger than 6 months old, she might still be waking up hungry at night. By 4 months, some babies need 1-3 feedings at night. If you think that the only reason she’s waking up is because of hunger, then solids might help.
But that was not the case with Noah, who began pulling all nighters at 4 months. So I realized that babies are bound to add millions of variables to the mix. There might be a milestone coming up, he might be teething, the room is too cold or too hot… there are so many reasons why babies have night awakenings that giving them solids is not the only answer. My personal explanation for Noah is that he began solids at the same time as he mastered the adorable art of sitting and rolling over on both sides and that there’s no correlation whatsoever. He was just ready to sleep better. Let’s see how long this stage lasts.
Regardless of my Cuban descent, I learned about circadian rhythms after my baby boy was born. I kept hearing these two words over and over again during gathering of friends and not necessarily in the same context as being on a beach and drinking a cocktail while listening to a bongo-band.
It seemed that my friends, all of those who had baby sleeping problems, meaning all of my friends who had babies, hold circadian rhythms to blame for their lack of sleep during their baby’s first months.
You see, circadian rhythms are biological cycles that repeat every 24-hour or so and control a variety of biological process such as sleep-wake cycles, body temperature, and hormone release. It is easier for us to fall asleep when our body temperature and levels of adrenal hormones are low and to wake up when these are high.
One of these hormones is melatonin, the one that makes us feel drowsy. Located just on top of our optic nerves, our body’s biological clock receives information about incoming light and sends it to our brains. When there is little light –at night, for example- our brains receive the order to produce more melatonin in order for us to feel drowsy and fall asleep.
Another interesting fact is that our body temperature, when we awake, starts rising. At the end of the day, when we fall asleep, it falls. This means that when our body temperature is high, our bodies are more awake.
The circadian rhythms of babies may take up to a year to be fully developed. At this time they wake up every 3 to 4 hours and have disrupted sleeping patterns. For 80% of all babies, it may begin to regulate by 4 months of age, when they start sleeping 8 to 12 hour stretches.
You can’t fight circadian rhythms. However, you can help your baby create healthy sleeping patterns by opening the blinds during the day and allowing the light to come in so her circadian rhythm may set early on. I also followed my doctor’s advice to maintain Noah’s room temperature between 65 and 70F, the optimal range for him to balance his body temperature and fall asleep easier. When we did this, Noah began skipping his 4-5am feeding! While helping your baby create healthy sleeping habits, try not to encourage bad habits such as holding him while falling asleep. It will be another habit to crack later on.
Do you know of any other way we could help our babies create healthy sleeping habits? I would love to hear them!
Quick summary: Noah had been sleeping from 11pm to 4-5am for the past month, with the exception of two days before Day One when he began skipping the 4-5am feeding. That’s how we realized he was ready to pull an all-nighter.
The problem is not the night sleep. He falls asleep during feeding and doesn’t wake up when we put him in his crib. He can’t fall asleep on his own during naptime. He cries desperately before each nap because he is too tired to fall asleep on his own. I know, some people say we should leave it at that, if he sleeps so well at night, then why force it? As I wrote in my previous post, I’m positive that learning to self-soothe is a skill that will help him in the long run. Better sooner than later we say.
If for the past two days Noah woke up at 8:00 am, on the first day of his ferberization he decided to wake up again at 5:40am. At first, in a zombie-like manner, I did as I had been doing for the past months: I went into his room, took him out of his crib and rocked him to sleep. When I realized my lethargic self had betrayed me, I put him down in his crib drowsy but awake. When I left the room, at 6:15am, he began to cry. We each went in at 5min, 7min and 10min intervals until we felt that maybe it was because he was hungry. He had been asking to eat at 8am, but maybe, we thought, that day he was hungry before. So at 7:00am we gave in. Forty-five minutes of suffering is enough.
That’s the thing about sleep training methods: we are so confused and so affected by our baby’s cry that we doubt everything. Are we doing it the right way? Are we a failure for feeding him? Is it hunger? Is he super tired? Does he hate us for doing this?
Have you felt this while sleep training your child?
Everywhere I looked I found information about babies not becoming spoiled until 6 months old. I used to think that we had a few months to go before having to go through sleep training but when Noah began needing us to fall asleep for each and every nap things began to change. Not because I don’t like holding his sweet little body, smelling his delicious baby smell, touching his silky-like skin – sorry, got carried away- but because I felt we were doing more harm than good. Whenever he was too tired, he cried inconsolably because he just couldn’t visit the land of the nod on his own. So we began considering what everyone told us: “You have to teach him to fall asleep by himself”.
Not without researching first.
The spoiling myth came about in the 1920’s when experts believed that being “too responsive” would make a child dependent and clingy. Many years later, Dr. Sears, father of attachment parenting, observed the contrary: when we meet our baby’s needs, they see us as a trusted source of comfort. This in turn helps them feel emotionally secure, tolerate separation anxiety and trust themselves, resulting in less crying sprees.
Another study, led by Darcia Narwaez, Notre Dame psychology professor, noted that we bring up kinder, more intelligent and emphatic little people when we give them positive touch and affection during their early years. They found that kids who received appropriate reactions and whose cries received quick responses came to be more empathic. “[Responsivity] is clearly linked with moral development. It helps foster an agreeable personality, early conscience development and greater prosocial behavior,” noted Narwaez.
So what should we do with all this information? Although I do feel scientific studies hold some truth, I also think that there are too many variables. I do believe, as Dr. Sears, that we must respond to our babies’ needs as best as we can, and we also try to react appropriately to Noah’s cries and give him all the affection we have inside us, but I also believe we have to analyze each situation carefully.
Every time Noah had to take a nap we would give him his pacifier, rock him and pat him in the back until his eyes shut and he went into a deep slumber. After doing this for three consecutive months, it wasn’t a surprise that if Noah did not have his pacifier, was in our arms and felt little pats, he would just not fall asleep.
Babies learn what we teach them. If we get in their way of learning to fall asleep by rocking or holding them, they won’t have the opportunity to do so on their own. It’s about teaching them to be independent. It’s not about letting Noah cry it out, it’s about helping him create healthy sleep associations. Once he does, he will sleep for longer periods of time and when he naturally wakes up in the middle of the night, as we all do, he will be able to put himself back to sleep.
As a bonus, learning to self-soothe is a skill that will help him in the long run. Whenever he starts feeling separation anxiety or when life sends him a curve ball, he will know that he has the strength to calm himself down and that the world is a safe place.