Good Sleep Habit(at)s – Quieting the Critics in Favour of You breastfeeding, parenting, sleep Leave a Comment

First Published for The Holistic Parent Summer 2015 Edition

Sleep. Every parent wants it. Very few of us get it. And the less we get – the more it’s all we crave.

So what to do when after having a baby it’s all you think about? If you’re like most parents, myself included, you start to research, which means you google it. Usually at 1 am.

“How do I get a baby to sleep?” “How long should babies sleep?” “Do babies need to self-soothe?” “Where should a baby sleep?” “Why won’t they just go to sleep!”

And the internet tells us – you’re doing it wrong. You haven’t bought the right book. Or done the right program. You’ve caused bad habits. You have already failed.

So you buy the book. You read the blogs. People give you advice at your family dinner, or on Facebook, or on the bus. They all tell you you’re not trying enough: long enough, hard enough, good enough. That you’re not enough.

But I have a secret. All of them, all of those blogs, all those books, they’re all… wrong.

How do I know? Because when I started to research, after the fog of new motherhood wore off, I started to read with my cognitive science and sleep specialization hat back on, two areas I happened to study in university. And there seemed to be just one thing missing from all those blogs, and books, and programs.


So what does the evidence tell us.

Well there are a couple things it definitely doesn’t tell us. It doesn’t tell us that your baby will get more sleep long term by changing their feeding method: One 2011 study (just for example, there are many) showed that by 9 months there were no real differences in sleep between breastfed and formula fed infants at all.

It most certainly doesn’t say there is any such thing as “self soothing”. Self-soothing was a theoretical research term made up in the 1970’s to ask the question about why some children wake up crying. It has nothing to do with a baby being able to put themselves to sleep, or back to sleep, and there is no evidence to support it being true that babies should be able to do this anytime in the first 2 years, or that leaving them alone “teaches” this skill.

Interestingly the evidence does say that breastfeeding mothers actually get more sleep, as long as they’re caring for their children close to them, up to 45 minutes more than bottle feeding moms, or an hour and a half more than breastfeeding moms that are struggling to keep their babies farther away from them as they have been told they “should”.

The science says that humans are mammals and we are specifically carry mammals, animals that have developed to hold, feed, and care for their offspring on their bodies – we know this by the extremely low for mammals fat content of our milk which tells us that human babies need to feed very often, and also by the powerful chemical and physical regulation that happens when a chid is touching their parent skin to skin. Unlike nest mammals, like rabbits, we can’t healthily feed our babies every 4 hours; unlike cache animals, like seals, we can’t leave them for 10-12 hours; unlike follow mammals, like giraffes, our babies can’t get up and walk to us when they need more nutrition. To treat them them this way, leaves them in a physical state called self-preservation mode, rather than in growth mode.

Finally, the evidence points to what developmental scientists call “self-regulation”, the actual scientific term for the child learning a skill over time, at the age that is appropriate for them. And guess what mode a baby has to be in to learn self-regulation? That’s right – growth mode. And how do their brains learn the skills of self-regulation? By having it shown to them over and over from the physical act of being calmed by their parents.

What the evidence says most strongly is that what your child actually needs – is you.

By letting your child sleep with you, on you, next to you, near you, anywhere and everywhere that works for them and you, you’re not giving your child bad habits; you’re giving them their natural habitat. You.

So all this tells you – is that almost no matter what you’re doing, you’re likely doing it right. And if something doesn’t feel right to you, then stop doing it, and don’t let anyone tell you that you’re wrong. And if you’d like to try something new, even if it seems unfamiliar or non-“traditional” (like a couple hundred years old?), you can remember that all strategies are for a very short time in your child’s life and that it’s best for your family, and probably for all humans.

Because you are your child’s best parent – their natural habitat. You’re good enough. Just you. And you can sleep on that.

Maria Andrusiak Morland – BA, PBCF, Doula (LD & PP), BFE, ILCA, IBCLC 2016 Candidate

I am a practising birth and postpartum doula, and a breastfeeding peer counsellor, both volunteer and private, having spent over 15,000 hours helping parents feed their babies – both bottle and breast – and over 3 years helping parents get real sleep, with real information. More about me and my sleep counselling services are available at