“Baby should sleep through the night”.

Not true. Newborn babies should NOT be sleeping through the night.

Some basic science to the rescue. It is sleep cycles that wire the brain, that leads to healthy development and learning. A sleep cycle is about one hour, and whether it is the fetus in the womb, newborn, toddlers or in ourselves as adults, the sleep cycle is always one hour (plus minus a little).

The newborn baby and the “neonate” (a baby under one month), needs to eat as well as wire its brain, and so the hourly feeding and the hourly sleeping synchronise, and all is happy. Well, perhaps not for mother …

During the normal course of development, round about three months (sometimes two, or four) a diurnal rhythm becomes established in the brain, where melatonin and cortisol start going up and down in a daily rhythm, called circadian. This develops by itself governed by a single gene!

Now, on this daily pattern, sleep cycles can start to block together. Round about this age, the baby has grown, and needs two milk ejection reflexes, it might get this from the same oxytocin release taking some from both sides. Or it might take it from the same breast spending longer to get a second flow. In the process the stomach grows and can expand a little more, and so the baby may “cluster feed” in the evening, and then join two sleep cycles. After a while it may join a third, and even a fourth.

By six months, (anywhere between 3 and 12), most infants have a pattern that is similar to adults. Most adults have a first half of the night sleep block which consists of two or three or four cycles of deep (quiet) sleep blocked together, protected by melatonin and growth hormone. The second half of the night has a different sleep pattern, where cortisol is high, this sleep cycle has more time in REM (Rapid Eye Movement sleep). This is important for emotional brain wiring.

So we should never “force” a baby to sleep through the night.  We can use the same conditioning that is used for laboratory rats to make the baby learn to sleep through the night. Actually, it is not sleeping through the night, it is spending a lot of time awake, but it is learnt that it useless to cry and seek attention, to keep its misery and loneliness to itself.

“There’s no harm in a child crying: the harm is done only if his cries aren’t answered … If you ignore a baby’s signal for help, you don’t teach him independence… What you teach him is that no other human being will take care of his needs.” Dr Lee Salk.