The two most common approaches that are used to address babies who awaken frequently throughout the night are sleep training and nighttime parenting. As a mother to a 9 month old boy, I accepted that the sleep training methods that are currently available, which are effective for some babies, would not be beneficial for my son. Nighttime parenting addresses the individual needs of my son as well as fosters my maternal intuitive responses. As an advocate for breastfeeding, nighttime parenting values the benefits of nursing for comfort. Here is my approach:
1. I respond to him when he cries. Nonverbal babies cry as a way to signal that they want or need their caregivers. The benefits of responding are:
- the baby develops security that his caregivers will always come when he needs them.
- a baby's cry stimulates a hormone called prolactin in the mother. This hormone sends a biological response to the mother to pick up and nurse (for nutrition or comfort) her baby.
2. I parent him back to sleep. After I respond to him, I determine what support he needs to go back to sleep. I support him by nursing him, rocking him, holding him, wearing him, singing to him, or co-sleeping with him. The benefits of parenting him back to sleep are:
- the baby will learn to feel secure when entering into a sleep state, thus creating a positive view on sleep.
Nighttime parenting supports my maternal intuitive responses; it considers that physical and developmental factors (such as teething, developmental milestones, and separation anxiety) may be contributing to the frequency of his awakenings; and the flexibility of this method allows me to individualize support based on my son's needs. I find that using this approach truly makes nighttime parenting a wonderful experience.