I know from all my investigating, reading and researching that babies cry for a reason. I admit, there comes a time in their development that they will begin to test your responses and their ability to get a reaction from others, but that does not apply to sleep situations. When a baby wakes from sleep crying or screaming, it is for a reason. When a baby cries desperately when laid down to sleep, it is for a reason. When a baby begs and pleads for you to pick him up or hold him, it is for a reason!
The following is a perfectly written (I agree 100%) article explaining some of the most simple and basic of needs a child experiences during night time wakings and why you should not ignore their needs.
By Tracy G. Cassels
With all the press scrambling to tell parents just to leave their kids to cry-it-out at night (see my response to the latest here), I thought I’d just present a few of the many reasons a baby or toddler may be waking and/or crying in the night. And why you should respond.
- They are hungry. Especially younger babies need to nurse frequently and expecting them to sleep long stretches without food is actually starving them and messing with their ability to regulate how much they eat at a given time.
- They are scared. Night is freaking scary. It’s dark and quiet and eerie. I’ve been scared as an adult when left alone to sleep, is it any wonder our babies and toddlers get scared? Especially if they’ve had a bad dream?
- They need you. Especially around the time of separation anxiety, babies will fear that you aren’t coming back and need to see you and be reassured by your presence. This is one of the hypotheses around why so many families see a “sleep regression” between six months and over a year. But regardless, they are experiencing rather severe anxiety and need to be reassured by your presence.
- They are in pain. For some it’s reflux, for some it’s food intolerance, for some it’s gas, for some it’s teething, for some it’s a growth spurt. And there are probably other reasons I’m not thinking of now too. But our babies are growing at an astronomical rate with so much happening to their bodies and it HURTS. And they need comfort.
- They are learning to move in new ways. One that won’t surprise many parents, but researchers are just figuring out that babies who are learning to crawl tend to wake more at night. Reason is currently unknown but it wouldn’t surprise me to know that some of it comes from muscle pain. Have you ever started using muscles you weren’t using before? Yeah, it hurts. Most parents I know report a similar rise in wakings when babe starts walking and I imagine it would be for the same or similar reasons as with crawling.
- They are, quite simply, awake. As frustrating as it can be, many children go through a period of waking for an extended period at night and want to play (quite like we used to sleep as adults – 2 periods of shorter sleep with an extended waking in between in the middle of the night). These often don’t last too long (a few months perhaps), and no one quite knows why, but they are very normal and your child simply won’t go back to sleep, just as you probably wouldn’t at 4pm.
With that being said, I'd like to add a few excerpts from a wonderful book called "The No Cry Sleep Solution" written by Elizabeth Pantley. I bought and read this book while still on maternity leave. Even though at that age, T man was way too young to even consider "sleep training" (a practice I don't completely agree with) I learned a lot of helpful information regarding infant sleep patterns. By educating myself I was able to accept T mans night wakings without feeling resentful towards him.
>> Cry-it-out advocates make it sound so easy. A few nights of crying, and your baby will be sleeping all night, every night. If only it were so simple! [....] Some babies cry so violently that they vomit. Some parents find that the nighttime crying affects their baby's daytime personality - making them clingy and fussy. Many find that any setback (teething, sickness, missing a nap, going on vacation) sends them back to the previous night waking problems, and they must let the child cry it out over and over again.
>> [....] A child cannot comprehend why you are ignoring his cries for help. Ignoring your baby's cries, even with the best intentions, may lead him to feel that he has been abandoned Babies are responding to biological needs [....]
>> [....] It is true that a baby whose crying is ignored may eventually fall back asleep, but the problem that caused the night waking in the first place has remain unsolved. [....] the underlying or accompanying emotional stress will remain.
>> A baby's biological clock begins maturing at about six to nine weeks of age and does not work smoothly until about four to five months. As the biological cycle matures, a baby reaches a point then she is mostly awake during the day and mostly asleep during the night. At about nine to ten months, a baby's sleep periods consolidate so that she wakes up and goes to sleep at about the same times everyday, and her sleep spans are longer.
>> Babies move through the same sleep cycles as adults do, but their cycles are shorter and more numerous. Babies also spend much more time in light sleep than adults do, and they have many more of those in-between stages of brief awakenings.
>> [....] They spend much of their time in lighter sleep. This is most likely so that they can easily awaken in uncomfortable or threatening situations: hunger, wetness, discomfort, or pain. [....] Encouraging a baby to sleep too deeply, too soon, may not be in the best survival or developmental interests of the baby.
>> As he matures, so does his sleep cycle; attaining sleep maturity is a biological process.
>> [....] Sleep Specialists [....] agree that up to twelve months of age, some children truly are hungry after sleeping for about four hours. They recommend that if your child wakes up hungry, you should promptly respond by feeding her.
>> [....] When she cries, she is signaling - in the only way she knows how - that she needs you to be with her.
I could go on and on and on, but what it all comes down to is this. Baby's can not talk. They can not tell you what they need or feel or want. The only method of communication they have is either body language or crying. We (as parents) have to be alert and responsive to these signals so that our baby's do not have to suffer unnecessarily.
We are the adults. We are the parents. We have the understanding and ability to cope with a lack of sleep, altered schedules and the stress of new parenthood. We need to be the strong ones and allow our babies to be babies, no matter how erratic their behavior may be.