Is there really a problem?
Our "investigation" into child sleep problems needs to start with identifying the problems, most importantly, making sure there actually IS a problem. Children's sleep patterns are inconveniently different from ours (see just how drastically child sleep patterns change throughout the first year) and sometimes, what parents worry about is completely normal, both biologically and psychologically. A two-week-old is not going to sleep through the night. A two-year-old might still be waking up and calling for you once or twice a night. A four-year-old is unlikely to nap unless you are willing to let him keep you company for the 10 pm TV show or wake you up before dawn. A teenager is not going to volunteer to get up at 7 am to make you breakfast.
Unrealistic expectations are one reason why parents often think they are dealing with a child sleep problem where there is none. Those expectations are often due to the fact that for many new parents, their own baby is the first child they observe closely. If that is your case, how should you know what to expect? And even if you had experience with one or two other babies before – nephews and nieces, younger siblings, friends’ children, etc., you might think that what you saw is the norm, whereas, in fact, it could easily be an exception. Let’s say you have seen a six-week-old sleeping thought the night (I also have, once). You expect to start getting long chunks of sleep after six weeks of parenting, but the fact is that newborns need to eat every 2-3 hours, also at night. Sleeping through the night comes much later for most babies, and, what many people don’t realize, the definition of sleeping through the night for an infant is 5-6 hours without waking you up. Not twelve. Children are all so different, and your own baby is unlikely to sleep like your sister’s baby, but that doesn’t mean that either you or your sister are looking at child sleep problems.
Another reason parents think they are dealing with child sleep problems is that someone else thinks there is a problem. Unfortunately, in Western culture, one hears a lot of “prescriptions” regarding child sleep, and a lot of judgment as well when the prescriptions aren’t followed. (“Baby still waking up? You are sleep deprived? It’s your own fault! You should have sleep-trained them! Nursing to sleep is a bad habit!). Your culture might dictate that a child must sleep in a separate room. Your child sleeps in your bed and you enjoy it, but think it's not ok because everybody is telling you so. Your nine-months-old wakes up three times a night to nurse and you nurse her without fully waking up. You are fresh and full of energy in the morning, but still think there must be something wrong because your neighbor says babies should be sleeping through the night at this age. Whatever kinds of "shoulds" you are walking around with, if you and your child are happy, it's important to remember that others' opinions are, well, just that: opinions. Most often, they are not based on facts (let alone research). It’s only your decisions and opinions that count. Because if there is an expert in your child’s life and your own life for that matter, it’s you. No one else knows your child as well as you do, no one else understands your family's needs. Even if you are a first-time parent.
All that being said, even if there is no child sleep problem to speak of, your child’s sleep patterns, albeit normal, might be a problem for you, the adult. Newborn’s frequent wake-ups are to be expected, but they still will cause sleep deprivation in the parents, which, in severe cases, can have quite serious consequences for mental health. That is why we should look at the family as a system and in each situation decide who we should work with: whether we need to solve a child’s sleep problem or help the parents find ways to better cope with the inconvenient, but age-appropriate, child sleep patterns. The key to maximizing sleep will be different for each family. I will be happy to help you with fining your unique solution. Get in touch to discuss your situation!