What You'll Learn
- What a Holistic Approach to Baby Sleep Is
- Why Moms Measure Their Success With Sleep (And Why They Shouldn’t)
- The Underlying Factors That Play Into Infant Sleep
- The Steps Involved in a Holistic Baby Sleep Approach
If there’s one hot topic in motherhood that can get everyone riled up in an instant, it’s sleep. We often try to measure our worth as moms in terms of baby sleep, feeling like failures when we simply can’t get it to work. Unfortunately, conversations about a holistic approach to baby sleep can easily devolve into extreme feelings on both sides.
Paediatric Nurse and Holistic Sleep Coach Lyndsey Hookway brings a balanced viewpoint to this hot topic, offering a judgment-free look at infant sleep.
(For the second part of our conversation, making an informed decision about co-sleeping, catch our blog post for part two!)
Sleep Deprivation and Feeling Like a Failure
When I was pregnant for the first time, I knew I would get less sleep once the baby came. But I was entirely unprepared for wakeups every 45 minutes to an hour and years of uninterrupted sleep.
It was hard not to feel like a failure. Babies need sleep to survive—how could I not make sleep work the way the books said it should?
My husband and I had to create many workarounds on sleep. As a nursing mom, I wanted to take night feedings. But I also had to prioritize my own sleep. Together, we created our own approach to sleep that worked for us, and, despite it feeling like we would never sleep again, we did get through it.
So many moms go through similar struggles, feeling like they fail if their babies don’t sleep through the night. The answer to sleep questions is different for everyone, and we tend to believe that our method is the only right way.
I was excited to speak with Lyndsey Hookway on this subject—everyone kept telling me that she was the queen of responsive sleep.
She offered insight into a holistic approach to baby sleep without judgment for any parent who chooses an alternative path. As she pointed out, her job is not to judge those who make an informed decision to sleep train, but to support those whose philosophies align with a different approach.
What a Holistic Approach to Baby Sleep Is
It’s easy to think of baby sleep as black and white. Either you go full-on cry-it-out, or you co-sleep and nurse your baby every time they make a sound. But the truth is, infant sleep, and our responses to it, are a lot more nuanced than that. There are sleep training methods of all kinds, and different approaches work for different families. You can build independent sleep in a variety of ways.
It’s easy to think of baby sleep as black and white.
There’s a common misconception that a holistic sleep approach means gentle or alternative. But Lyndsey pointed out that a holistic sleep approach is simply taking into account all of a baby’s needs beyond sleep.
Holistic sleep actually lies more in between sleep philosophies than we might think. Lyndsey describes it as a negotiation with your baby. They might be perfectly happy to wake up and nurse back to sleep every hour, but that might not be sustainable for you. With a holistic approach, you try to get to the root of the sleep issue and slowly try to work toward better sleep.
Why Moms Measure Their Success With Sleep (And Why They Shouldn’t)
Human beings like certainty, and they tend to evaluate their worth in measurable means. (For example, how many years you’ve been at your job, what your salary is, how much education you have).
With motherhood, very few things can be measured—that’s why we tend to fall into talking about how much your baby eats and how much they sleep. Those are two of the most easily measured criteria.
However, those things are at least partially out of your control. That’s why it’s unhelpful to measure our worth as mothers in terms of sleep. Maybe the apps and books and courses and downloadables simply don’t work for your baby.
We’re beating ourselves up based on measurements that just don’t apply to all babies.
Sometimes sleep “milestones” aren’t even evidence-based. Lyndsey shared that there is no evidence that babies “should” sleep through the night at a certain point. We’re beating ourselves up based on measurements that just don’t apply to all babies.
The Underlying Factors That Play Into Infant Sleep
So, why are some babies “better” sleepers than others? Some of it is just a natural tendency. But sometimes, there are more factors at play than just sleep.
An infant could be dealing with illness, being too hot or cold, or undiagnosed feeding issues like a tongue tie that are contributing to sleep difficulties. They could also be getting too much sleep or not enough stimulation during the day.
If we overlook those underlying factors and simply focus on the sleep, we run the risk of making ourselves even more frustrated or giving ourselves yet another thing to feel like we’re failing at.
The Steps Involved in a Holistic Baby Sleep Approach
A holistic sleep approach takes all of those factors into consideration. But Lyndsey says that the first step a holistic baby sleep expert would take is to work with the parents on their own mental health and stress. According to the holistic sleep philosophy, babies need to co-regulate. Our own stress can get in the way of that.
The next step is to have realistic expectations. Not all babies can sleep for 12 hours straight. In fact, it’s actually very common for children to have night wakes up to age 2. It might feel like all other babies are sleeping, but that isn’t always the reality.
It might feel like all other babies are sleeping, but that isn’t always the reality.
We also have to look within—why do we feel like we want our babies to sleep more? Is it out of need? Out of concern for our own physical or mental health, which is completely valid? Or is it out of social expectations and pressure?
Sometimes the problem isn’t with our babies—it’s with our own expectations and reasoning. Sometimes, sleep isn’t a problem that needs to be “fixed.”
This is part 1 of a two-part series with Lyndsey on responsive sleep. Make sure to read the second part of the blog post about the ins and outs of co-sleeping!
If you are struggling with sleep deprivation and your own mental health, never be afraid to prioritize yourself. Our Wellness Center can connect you with a mom therapist who can help you through your mental health difficulties. Book a free virtual consultation today!