Archive for the ‘Nighttime Parenting’ Category

Have you ever noticed that you still may feel stressed, even two or three days after a big upset? You and your spouse have an argument, there’s a financial scare, or any other number of moderately big stressors. The issue may already be resolved, but for days, you may still experience headaches, sleepless nights, high reactiveness in seemingly unrelated situations, stomach upset, appetite loss or increase, or just a pervading sense of tension or nervousness, unrest. These are the lingering effects of cortisol on the brain.

Cortisol is suppose to be our friend. It’s a chemical flooded onto our brain tissue during times of high stress which causes every part of our functioning to be on unusually high alert, sometimes called the “fight or flight” reaction. It’s especially high during and after a particularly frightening circumstances, such as witnessing or being victim to a crime, natural disaster, or war. It’s suppose to be our friend because it helps us protect ourselves or seek refuge.

But, what happens when our brain is continually flooded with cortisol, on a regular basis? Well, we can’t go around with our fight or flight instinct “on” all of the time without dire results: high blood pressure, stroke, malfunctioning of all our organs. In short, a life of high stress and anxiety is what’s killing most Americans, if you look at the rates of death by high blood pressure and heart disease. Our bodies aren’t meant to be on perpetual high alert. Anxiety kills.

So….how does this play out in the body of a baby? Studies have shown that babies left alone to cry experience a flood of cortisol on their brains. These babies experience higher blood pressure than the average baby. In fact, although all babies and toddlers who attend daycare experience a slight rise in blood pressure upon leaving their parent, compared to at-home companions, they experience a lowering, or normalizing of blood pressure, upon returning home at the end of day,…except for babies who are left to cry alone as part of of their nightly routine. These babies not only experience higher blood pressure than other daycare babies, but their blood pressures also do not normalize upon returning home at end of day. 

What’s going to happen to these little ones who experience a  flooding of cortisol on their brains on a daily baisis? Studies indicate they will likely suffer more from digestion problems, anxiety issues, and will be more likely to develop diabetes, heart disease, and other long term complications related to cronic anxiety as adults. Why do they eventually fall asleep? Because it’s their flight mechanism. Why do we want our children to learn to go to sleep via cortisol induced flight reflex? Because it will make them able to put themselves to sleep? At what cost?

Studies are proving everyday what mother’s instinct has shouted for years: babies and children need comfort while they are drifting off to dreamland. They need to feel that mother or father is near. They need to be rocked, held, touched. How sad if we lived in a world where lullabies never existed! How confusing to a child to be prepped for bed by comforting things, like baths, warm milk, song….only to be left completely alone in the end to “cry it out”!

Have you been told it “makes them stronger people”? But, maybe it doesn’t. Is it worth the health risks? 

It you are are having trouble gentling your little one to sleep, seek the help of your local LLL chapter or leader, numerous mothering message boards, or a good attachment promoting, sleep-help book. One author that has been a great source of help to so many families is Elizabeth Pantley, author of “The No-Cry Sleep Solution” series of books. 

Wherever you look, find a solution, don’t let them cry uncomforted, and trust your instincts. They’re God’s way of helping us keep our children safe.

My little ones are waking up, but I will be back soon to list some references for these studies for you. Many Blessings!


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Recently, I stumbled upon a website for mothers following advice to allow their newborn babies to cry, without being fed, from 10pm until 8am. They instruct mothers not even to pick up the crying newborn at these hours. They allow for one middle-of-the-night feeding in the first six weeks, if you so desire, but encourage skipping it all together, as soon as possible, so the whole family experiences “harmony” and a good night’s sleep.

Really, the WHOLE family experiences harmony?

The infant’s stomach is no larger than the size of his/her tiny little fist. I learned this from my hospital’s lactation consultant when my first child was born, because I was concerned that his frequent hungriness meant I had low milk supply. (I was relieved to hear the word, “normal”, as are most moms!) She also explained to me that breast milk is naturally able to digest very easily and quickly, because it’s species specific (i.e. not made for cows), so the proteins are more easily broken down and used by the infant’s body.

When my four year old goes to bed without supper (due to pickiness), he wakes up white as a ghost and throwing up.  This is due to low blood sugar, from not eating when he was hungry.  This is pretty scary. Four year olds are very little people.  When my grandmother had low blood sugar, it sent her to the emergency room. The bodies of the elderly are very delicate.  Infant’s bodies are both delicate, and very, very little. Even a chunky baby is little in comparison to you and me. Pair this with the crying, which burns up so much energy, and you have a baby in a dangerous situation.

Now, I don’t doubt that this book/website offers some good advice, and that some families benefit from some of the advice. And, I don’t think these mothers are purposely placing their tiny newborns in danger. They, like me, were really hoping that having a child could be an orderly, manageable experience, and here someone is telling them it can be. I don’t blame them for feeling some pull to try it. I do, however, blame the source of this faulty infant scheduling information. It’s very dangerous, outdated advice, at worse. And, at the very least, it’s misleading.

This technique is not a one-time-fix-all for night wakings. I’ve known many mothers who’ve had to repeat the crying-it-out process, each and every time baby enters a new stage of development. During the first year, especially, this occurs many times, as the baby’s rate of growth is faster than it will ever be again until the teen years. It also doesn’t necessarily lead to more sleep and harmony in the home, as they claim. I know of couples using this method who spend their sleeping hours with ear plugs and white noise machines (to drown out the baby’s cries), dads who sneak out of bed to go comfort the baby, because mom won’t go against advice (or vise-versa), and dads who sleep on the couch to escape the noise of the crying. This is real life.

Also real life: Having a newborn is a tiring experience, no matter what your approach. It is stressful. You will lose sleep. You may even cry, yourself, at times. But, I don’t know of a single worthwhile relationship that didn’t require some sacrifice and hardships. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather keep my precious memories of middle-of-the-night soothing, than replace them with memories of miserable, holding-myself-down ignoring. It was difficult, yes, but it produced patience, and better still, it nurtured our relationship with our child.  Even my husband admits, it became a very rewarding experience. Through those nights, we gained confidence in learning our own special ways of soothing. (Daddy preferred singing, and boy did they love it!)

The good news is, there are many wonderful ways to help your baby sleep, which are much more respectful of their needs, growth, and development. You don’t need to “train” your baby to know when he/she is hungry or sleepy. They know this instinctually, and they let you know by crying, their only language. You don’t need to “condition” yourself to know when to answer their cries, by following a procedure in a book. Your body knows; your hormones make certain!

A very helpful resource for me when I had my first baby was the DVD “The Happiest Baby on the Block”, by pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp. I don’t recommend the book form, because a) what mother of a newborn has time to read a book? and b) if you’re a Christian, as I am, you may find fault with his many evolutionary references in the book. However, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak! The DVD is ideal for busy new parents, because all you have to do is sit and watch it! We were able to apply the 5 baby soothing techniques the very night we watched it, and we DID see immediate results, as so many of the parents in the DVD claim. It’s completely natural, respectful of the baby’s needs, and respectful of the parents’ needs to get more sleep.

I’m not one to say that what worked for my family will work for everyone. But, I do want to encourage a) that mothers will trust their own God-given instincts above any book of advice, b) that parents will trust that the baby’s crying signal means it truly needs something, and c) that parents use methods which truly respect everyone’s needs. So, with that in mind, on this blog, I will be sharing with you what worked for us. And, I encourage you to take what works for you, and leave the rest.


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When I was about 5 or 6, I remember having a horrible nightmare. I woke up crying loudly and my mother came running to me from across the house to see what was the matter. She held me close, rocking me back and forth, and assuring me it was just a dream. Then, she stayed with me until I fell asleep. The next time I had a nightmare, I didn’t cry quite so loudly, but my mother still heard me, and still came to my side. She held me close, once again, until I felt safe and reassured. I drifted softly off to sleep, knowing I was cared for and safe. Soon, I began to cry out less and less, because I would remember the soothing words before fear could grip me entirely. I’d repeat them to myself, snuggling up warm in my blankets, and remembering that Mama was here, just down the hall, and it was just a dream. Until one night, I had a dream that caused me to yell out before I was even really awake, and my mother didn’t come to me. I think my door must have been shut that night. Perhaps the sound didn’t travel through the house as well as usual. Whatever the cause, I panicked. Fear gripped me at the thought of being alone. I ran as fast as I could to my parents’ room. She and Daddy let me climb up into their bed. They both held me close and told me I was okay, and it was just a dream. As they shushed to me softly, I was sure they were really here, and I wasnt really alone. I was comforted. But something happened that night of “no answer” that set me back. For a few nightmares afterward, I was not able to muster up the self comforting thoughts immediately. My first reaction, for a while, was to bolt out of bed to their room, out of fear that they couldn’t hear me. My trust was shaken. It didn’t take long, however, to drift back into my comforting thoughts, because my parents continued to be trustworthy. First, I’d call to Mama, instead of running to their room. Then, at last, I was able to repeat her words back to myself, knowing they were really here, realizing I was safe. Fast forward to adulthood…I know a bad dream is just that: a dream. I have years of soothing words, whispered in my mind’s ear, to usher me back to reality. I can see this happening now in my own children, even at their very young ages. When they were babies, they needed me often in the night. Oh, how they needed me! It was exhausting at times, and I remember trading off with hubby sometimes, for my sanity. But, now that they’re a little older, they’ll sometimes go back to sleep before I can even walk across to their room. My preschooler has outgrown his need for a monitor. I know he’ll go right back to sleep if he wakes, and that he’ll run to our room if he needs us. When this happens, we whisper the same soothing words our own parents whispered to us long ago, and we pray these words will stick with him throughout his life. God does the same for us, doesn’t he? The Psalmist says he hears our cry, he answers from his holy hill, he does not leave us or forsake us, he comforts us, he meets all of our needs! He doesn’t mean for us to be alone during the dark, lonely times of life. He surrounds us with friends and loved ones to comfort us. He shows us passages in his Word, which make their place in our hearts, until they come easily to our memory when we need them most. He reassures us time and again. Our trust in him grows. We begin to learn that he’s always here, and that we can have peace, even in frightening circumstances. He was with me last time; I know he is with me still. So, weary mother or father, next time you’re performing the sometimes thankless task of answering nighttime cries, remember: With each comforting embrace, you’re planting deep within your child seeds of trust, which will more readily grow into trust for their heavenly Father. And, you, grown-up “child” of God, next time you find yourself in a dark and lonely place, cry out to our Father. He will answer your cries.

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