Baby Sleep and Why Parenting in the 21st Century is So Hard

Why is there such huge need for baby sleep advice and information? The many and varied answers lead back to one main factor; the loss of our village networks.

Our ancestors’ communal living was essential for survival and the offshoot of that was that children grew up being surrounded by other children and adults.

Daily life within the community allowed families to grow with an insight into normal childhood development and roles and responsibilities of parenthood. Parenthood was a natural transition, rather than a timed event based on financial security and career goals. Not that those priorities are wrong, just different from our ancestors. Not only did new parents know what babies looked, felt and acted like, they were growing a connectedness to the understanding of babies. Complimentary to this was the support offered by community members. New parents in a village were surrounded by the support of their village community. Many cultures today continue to maintain communal family; however the majority of Western cultures have lost that critical part of evolution.

Zoom forward to 21st century new parents. Adults often live and socialize away from their family of origin for many years before starting their own family. Social networks revolve around common denominators such as work and sports. Fewer and fewer have extended family close by and for some to access family it may include a long haul flight, or many hours of driving.

New parents today are exposed to this unfamiliar role as an unsupported and inexperienced baby caregiver.

Holding a baby may even be a completely foreign experience and something that needs to be learned. Without living in a growing world, how would parents realistically know what to expect? They often don’t. Where then, do new parents turn to gain their parenting knowledge, their support? Where do they learn to trust their gut instincts? Online. Our segregated and sometimes isolated communities result in parents relying on advice from strangers online. As much as shared information is valuable, it can lack the depth of a steeped knowledge gained form extensive experience.

An outstanding example of this is baby sleep. Everyone has advice, solutions and often idealised expectations of baby sleep. Advice can be helpful but may also be a hindrance because the volumes of different advice can be completely confusing. Much of the advice can be conflicting which leaves the inexperienced parent to decipher. Advice from friends is great; however it may not be suited to the parenting style of the new parents or the needs of each individual baby. Parents may wonder why one baby sleeps and another doesn’t … it is because we are all DIFFERENT.

A baby’s genetic makeup and experiences make them unique. This is exactly where problems arise when well wishing advice is shared with new parents. When parents are told to do this or that because it works, it can leave the parents feeling an enormous sense of failure when it doesn’t magically work. The reason that quick fixes and failsafe advice may be unhelpful is because they may not work with this unique baby, the parents and this new family. Also, if particular advice doesn’t work, then parents naturally seek more and more advice, looking for answers. The end result is often complete confusion for both parents and baby.

Babies and parents differ; alert and active babies, who have trouble calming for sleep, need a little comforting to get there. Yet other babies who find it possible to wind down for sleep without needing comforting, often require intense care from their parents at sleep time.

The good rule of thumb for parents; listen to advice, think about if it will work for their individual family members and keep the ‘does that sound right’ radar well focused.

Kind, gentle care can support a baby in finding sleep and is bound to be more considerate of individual differences in babies and parents. If you are struggling, seek out advice from informed, kind and gentle people who will not advocate unsafe practices that may place your baby at risk of physical or emotional harm.

About the Author:

Helen Stevens; Early Parent & Infant Consultants (EPIC Baby Sleep). RN. RM. MCHN. Published author, Infant Mental Health practitioner, Educator and Researcher, specialising in infant and toddler sleep worldwide.