By Dr Suzy McCleary (TCM)
Sleep deprivation for a new mother is a difficult and often stressful time. The frequent waking, nighttime crying, or your baby thinking that it is playtime in the middle of the night, can push any parent to the brink of despair.
One of the most common questions asked to new mothers is, “is your baby sleeping through the night yet?” And this question can bring up feelings of failure, disappointment and frustration as the answer is probably no. While we often just say yes, so that we are perceived as a good mother, the reality is that most babies don’t sleep through the night.
Although there is a positive association between sleep, language and cognitive development in infants and children (Tham EK, Schneider N, Broekman BF, 2017), babies have different sleep patterns and like adults normally wake many times during the night. This is supported by Professor Peter Fleming, who works at the University of Bristol for Infant Health and Developmental Psychology, who states that “it is natural for babies to wake up often”.
According to Ednick M et al (2009), in the newborn period, the model infant sleeps 16-17 hours per day and this decreases to 13-14 hours per day by six months of age, with the longest sleep period being about six hours on average. By one year of age, the longest sleep period increases to about eight-nine hours on average.
However, whether you co-sleep, your baby is in their own room or a combination of both, your baby will go through different sleep stages. Often a change in your baby’s sleep pattern may be something completely out of the blue. They were perfect sleepers one minute and then a nightmare the next.
Thankfully Chinese Medicine has some great gentle tips on helping to improve the sleep of your baby.
One area that is often overlooked as a reason for poor sleep for many babies is poor digestion. Gas, bloating, diarrhea or a sluggish bowel can all affect your baby and disrupt their sleep pattern.
Some parents are told that introducing solids earlier than six months can improve a baby’s sleep, especially at night. However, it was found in a recent study conducted by Brown & Harries (2015), that infants who received more milk or solid feeds during the day were less likely to feed at night, BUT not less likely to wake. It did not reduce the need for parents to attend to their infants in the night.
According to Chinese Medicine, the spleen and stomach are the two organs responsible for the digestion of food. Infants are born with an inherently “weak” digestive system. This means that infants and young children are more likely to suffer from “food stagnation” and “accumulation”. (Food stagnation refers to improper digestion of the food, which then is retained in the stomach and intestines.)
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