by Anais Tamen
photo : Anaïs Tamen
– Ideas to ease our family nights –
-Sleep-related issues are at the center of family life, especially for the mother as they often start before birth. Nocturnal awakenings during pregnancy, due to the baby’s movements and the growing discomfort of lying down, suggests that Nature prepares us little by little to the next years of sleep shared with the child.
It may be a fact totally new to you but a child who does not sleep all night through before 2 years is totally normal ! Even after 2 years, worrying or trying to make a child sleep by using a method or another is just a way to complicate your life and the life of your child.
Some methods, such as 5-10-15 or “Cry It Out” (widespread methods which consist in letting a baby or child cry alone and check her/him after a certain time that gets longer and longer to train her/him to stop by herself/himself…) affect deeply children’s self-confidence and their ability to trust in life and in those who love them, their ability to connect and their capacity for empathy. Neurosciences discoveries on the importance of providing an emotionally safe environment to support the child development are now widely spread.
What we want ultimately is to translate in our parenting practices the expression of our unconditional love for our child, even if parenting bring up many challenges, stress, unmet needs and despair moments. When we are sleep-deprived, we are more prone to take advices from doctors or education “professionals” that does not resonate deeply within ourself. The best advice you can get is from your heart, as it knows your child more than anyone else can.
I understand the exhaustion of the interrupted nights for that I experienced the myself as a mother of two. Baby and toddler’s crazy sleeping patterns, family stomach flu party, nightmares… Children often express at night or bedtime what bothered them during the day. Sometimes, they use night-time to get the presence and attention they lacked during the day.
Check-list : what prevent my kid to sleep better?
Here is some questions to find out what is the need of your child when she/he wakes up at night.
Need to be breastfed : If you are breastfeeding, you may think that weaning your child at night will solve the problem… It does not ! At least not before the child would reach the age when her/his inner rhythm aligned with our social organisation of sleeping time (for my kids, 2 years for one and more for the other). Note also that the circadian rhythm start developing after 6 weeks, so newborns sleep patterns are naturally messy ! There are many reasons for nocturnal awakenings and the need to be breastfed gathers a whole series of needs : need of attention, contact, tenderness, need to be seen/acknowledged, thirst, hunger, need of antibodies to fight against an undeclared sickness, virus or germs, need to pee (but the child do not necessarily know how to ask when half-asleep, in the dark, without words, especially if she/he is not used to being listened to in her elimination needs). I personally think that breastfeeding at night is a super way for mummies and kids to ensure a good night of sleep, providing that you co-sleep with your child and breastfeed without really waking-up (in a sleeping position and in the dark).
Need to eliminate (pee or poo) : It is often the case and one can try elimination communication with babies and little one. (I will write about this topic in another article)
Needs to drink : Keep some water at reach to offer or that your child can take by himself/herself (make sure it’s part of his/her bed ritual : to fill it and to know that it is here close to the bed when he/she needs it).
Need to eat : Providing a snack before going to bed and even during the night can help. Do you know the story of the Night Banana?!..
When my daughter used to wake up too many times (in my perception) and asked for another breastfeed, another mother in a conscious parents group wispered in my ear to offer her a “night banana“…. This idea helped us both a lot because, indeed, she was hungry ! So for few weeks, before going to sleep I prepared half a banana in a small bowl and when she woke up, first I offered her to pee, then the breast, and then, later in the night (for a second or 3rd awakening), if it was not what she wanted, I offered the Night Banana…! She was delighted! Especially since she could take it herself and that it was a special attention made just for her. What magic this little piece of banana did to our night !
It did not last long (so I did not have to worry about teeth decay, etc.) and I also paid more attention to her meal in the evening + gave her a snack with vegetal proteins before going to bed. (note: the night banana concept does not work so well with a rice cracker… it’s too noisy and crumblier the bed..)
Need to be reassured : Nightmare, fear of darkness, scary shadows on the walls/curtains, noises at night, disruptive wifi waves, new sheets without the usual-known-family smell (did you use a new ecoproduct or essential oil for the laundry?), new environment, etc.
Need for contact, tenderness : especially for children who do not see their parents during the day, but also when the mother is pregnant, before the arrival of another child in the family, or during any change in the environment or the family dynamics (mourning, moving, traveling, etc.).
Children are super adaptive but to a certain extend : they need (and are entitled) to understand what’s going on and be reassured. Thus, it is necessary to provide clear explanations to your child during the day with a appropriate vocabulary + to talk to her/him in his sleep to be able to say things that his conscious being of can not understand. This will bring peace to her/his unconscious and soul. When we talk to a child at night during her/his sleep, it is always with kindness, respect and briefly (no need to talk for 30 minutes).
Favorising a certain ritual for bedtime is also quite securing for the child. It’s not about rigid routine but more about gentle signals to the child’s body-mind that it’s time to sleep : less stimulation (light, sounds), reading a story, sharing our gratitude for this day and things that were more difficult or need clarification, cuddling, taking a sound bath with soft healing instruments, massages, taking a warm or cooling bath…
Need to alleviate pain : consider consulting an osteopath or craniosacral therapist specialized in babies / children. Your little one may have a discomfort that disturb her/his sleep patterns. Tensions in the jaws or the skull, lead children to claim more feedings to self-heal themself (with the sucking motion they re-adjust their skull bones).
Need to get rid of pinworms : worms can be really disturbing at night, when they wake up and lay eggs… The discomfort is stronger at new moon and full moon (period of intense spawning). To get rid of it, you can add crushed pumpkin seeds to the child’s food, offer her/him to eat raw carrots and drink infusions of fennel on an empty stomach.
If you have tried all of the above and the sleeping pattern of your child is still chaotic, you can turn to an homeopath or try out energetical approaches : either through the body, with massages such has tuina* or shiatsu* for kids (Traditional Chinese Medicine) or energetical work such as Theta Healing* or Reiki.
Mothering the mother
Do I need to mention that, day and night, parents have to share the care of their children ? In a patriarchal world, attachment parenting can easily lock up women in the traditional role of provider to the needs of all, before thier own needs.
It is essential that the mother’s partner takes his.her full share of responsibility for night care. For example: getting up at 6am with the child while the breastfeeding mother is sleeping longer or making it possible for her to have a nap time alone.
As I write this, I see again how much the standard family model of 2 adults + kid(s) is a strong and unnecessary challenge (organisationally, emotionally…) that can be alleviate by living in communites and tribes to share the tasks.
Note : I am a certified shiatsu and tuina therapist and offer sessions for children, adults, pregnancy and birth. I also practice Theta Healing for 2 years on adults and children (through one of the parent if they are young). If you want more info on this technics or book a session, you can contact me on anais(at)planetalentejo.com