The purpose of this video was to give an informed choice to parents as to how to prevent them from unwittingly traumatising their infants. Unfortunately some parents who already have had children and watched the video have been left with the guilt of having damaged their infants or children. What needs to be remembered is that no mom is ever going to get it absolutely right and that what they did was probably done with the best intentions using the data available to them at the time. Scientific discoveries can show us a better way forward and parents can choose to use this information if they so wish.
What neuroscience has done is validate what many therapists have known for years – that traumatic experiences through enforced separation, or what is commonly now called CIO, (Cry It Out) especially stress prolonged crying – can be very damaging to infants because of the excessive cortisol and other stress chemicals that get activated. This is verified when, through therapy, a client is able to recall these very early traumas and work through them. As a result present time fears, dependencies and stresses miraculously disappear. Neuroscience, as you saw, backs this up.
Unfortunately it seems that there is a still a trend to encourage parents to force their infant to CIO when s/he won’t go to sleep – to shut the bedroom door and ignore them, which can be extremely damaging. But this isn’t surprising given the stress working mothers have to contend with. What can a mother do when her sleep is being constantly disrupted by a distressed infant when she knows she has to be in top form for work the next day?
What to do
Your state of mind.
The first thing that needs to be realised is that if you are in a stressed state your infant will be picking up what you are feeling. So being irritated, angry or short with him is not going to calm him and instead will alarm him – thereby preventing him from going to sleep. (Have you been successful in getting to sleep when you are alarmed?) So it stands to reason if you are calm and relaxed he will be more open to falling asleep.
Babies and sleep
Babies are not good sleepers – and the sooner moms realise this perhaps the sooner they will stop believing that they are doing the ‘wrong’ thing to their babies. However one of the ways to overcome the torture of your lack of sleep is to co-sleep with your baby. There is neurological evidence that shows us when a new born baby is placed on his mother’s chest and she sensed his body temperature is a little too cold her own body temperature will automatically increase by two degrees to help warm him. Similarly if he is too warm her temperature will decrease by a degree.
Naturally the longer one can maintain this skin contact the better the bonding, and what better way of doing this than co-sleeping with your baby? Apart from the effect of having the safety of his mother at hand, this co-sleeping has physiological consequences which moderate his:
- Heart rate
- Immune system – because the loving proximity of his mom activates the ‘love drug’ oxytocin. Studies show that babies who co-sleep are less likely to develop serious illnesses in the first six months after birth.
In the western world there is great concern about co-sleeping because of the mother’s fear of smothering baby. What is not understood that co-sleeping is practised elsewhere in the world where recorded deaths are nil. However, smothering has occurred in the western world when mothers were:
- Drunk or intoxicated with drugs
- Physically or mentally exhausted
Or there were people who smoked in the house
All of these factors impair awareness
Meals on Tap
A friend of mine, who was encouraged by her husband to co-sleep with her baby after he had read ‘Three in a Bed’ by Deborah Jackson has this to say:
‘I started co-sleeping with my daughter immediately after she was born. After six weeks she learnt where the nipple was and would just help herself. In my sleep I was aware of what was going on and then we would both drift back to sleep again. I would wake in the morning feeling refreshed – a very different scenario to the other moms I would meet who looked completely washed out through lack of sleep.’
Slings, which can be purchased from Mothercare and most other baby shops allows your infant to create a better bonding with you because of the ongoing close proximity. Dad can use it too to help create that bonding.
Ultimately the choice is yours, but better an informed choice based on neuroscience than choices based on outmoded beliefs.
 Three in a Bed by Deborah Jackson. Bloomsbury 2003