Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"How's he sleeping?" "Does she sleep through the night?" "What's your bedtime routine?" "What time does she wake up?" and other concerns...

Have you noticed that many US-American parents seem obsessed with sleep? Conversations in my parenting groups often revolve around it -- how much our babies are getting, whether it's interrupted and how often, if/when we need to implement or change our bedtime routines, what other parents are doing, and whether anyone in any family is getting what he or she would call "enough" sleep, let alone "quality" sleep.

We hash and re-hash the "bad" nights, compare our babies to the next family's babies (and each of our babies to his/her siblings) and try to pinpoint what each one of us is doing "wrong," if sleep is unsatisfying, or "right" -- but the only thing that our society calls "right" is 6-12 hours (depending on the baby's age) of uninterrupted sleep.

Yesterday I started reading a book called How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm And Other Adventures in Parenting (from Argentina to Tanzania and everywhere in between). Right away, I decided every parent I know should at least to read the first thirty pages -- whether you buy, borrow, or check out a copy from your local library -- because those first 30 pages are nearly all about SLEEP!!

Chapter one is called "How Buenos Aires Children Go to Bed Late." In it, author Mei-Ling Hopgood talks about her experiences raising a baby/toddler in Argentina, and how different Argentina's culture is when it comes to bedtimes and routines for babies.  It's a nicely balanced discussion -- she doesn't just say "it's better over there" and she talks to several sleep specialists/doctors here in the US to get their takes on the issue, too.

One of the passages I liked most quotes a man named Jim McKenna, of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at Notre Dame.
     "We have to stop thinking that there is just one way to sleep," he told me. "We can sit around and say this is how we want babies to sleep, or this is how they should sleep, but babes are not designed that way.
     Babies get the sleep they need, he said; they just may not do it exactly when or where we think they should.
     "I always laugh when I go by newsstands and see articles that advertise the six steps to solving an infant's sleeping problems. Those steps are always unrealistic and unbiological. If we just chilled out and let babies be babies, they would ultimately sleep better and parents would sleep better."
     The Argentine way is refreshing, he said.
     "Your child being valued enough by you and integrated in your life is more valuable than enforcing a rigid sleep routine. In Western culture we look for simplistic recommendations with dire consequences. But I think the way in which many Europeans and South Americans have a much more proximate physical relationship to children is much more suitable to healthy development."
     He reminded me, "It's not really the sleep arrangements that dictate the development of a child; sleeping is just one component of an overall system of relationships children have that make them who they are. In other words, it's never the sleeping arrangements that decide how a child will turn out, it's the overall nature of the child's relationship with the parents."
There's a lot of other great stuff in this chapter that will be encouraging to those of us whose babies don't sleep the way that our culture calls "correct."  I encourage you to read it.  Now, I'm on to the chapter about French children eating their vegetables!