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Live webchat with sleep expert, Dr Helen Ball - Tuesday 15th June 1 - 2pm

(180 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 09-Jun-10 14:52:42

We're being joined next Tuesday by Dr Helen Ball, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Sleep Lab at Durham University. She and her team have been part of ongoing research into parent-infant sleep culture. She has over a decade of experience in this subject and plenty of findings, advice and research on how best to approach your child's sleep habits.

Helen is also helping to promote Universities Week, which is taking place from 14th-20th June and aims to highlight how vital universities are to our everyday lives.

Join Helen next Tuesday 15th June between 1 and 2pm, if you're unable to join us at that time, post your advance questions here.

Druzhok Wed 09-Jun-10 15:24:15

Is there any measure being taken of the physiological/psychological effect of sleep training that involves leaving a child to cry for any length of time? I have chosen not to use controlled crying (I can't bear to leave a young child to cry in the dark), but I can see that is does get results very quickly and it's certainly very popular.

fruitshootsandheaves Wed 09-Jun-10 15:50:37

The Sleep Lab sounds lovely. Full of soft, pillows and duvets! I would like to go there for a holiday as long as there aren't lots of snoring people there. grin

hobbgoblin Wed 09-Jun-10 15:57:28

Do you feel that too much emphasis is placed upon how we sleep and 'teach' our children to sleep and that an instinctive approach, that would be as varied as the individuals practising it, is better? Or, do you feel that there is a right or ideal way to sleep and learn how to achieve the state?

luciemule Wed 09-Jun-10 16:20:04

My DS is 5 and still waking throughtout the night and creeping into our bed - is this usual for a child of this age?

RibenaBerry Wed 09-Jun-10 17:10:51

I hear all sorts of statistics quoted in general conversation along the lines of '50% of one year olds have sleep problems'. Such high figures suggest to me that there isn't a problem with the sleep as such, but with our expectations of it.

Do you think our expectations of child sleep (sleep routine books - I won't name authors!- tend to focus on 7-7 by about six months, or at least by age one) are realistic, and what percentage of children do you think suffer sleep problems at various ages?

OhExpletive Wed 09-Jun-10 17:28:58

My nearly-three-year-old son has never been an easy sleeper but we've gone with the flow re cosleeping etc. But now he's waking and finding it impossible to stay still, and spends long periods twitching and turning in half sleep in the middle of the night. He is insistent on company during this time, despite self-settling at bedtime with no problems, and as it's been ongoing for a few months we're all exhausted. Another baby due in the Autumn, so starting to panic a bit! Any ideas? P.S. I imagine your job is incredibly interesting - do you lie awake at night thinking about it???? grin

corblimeymadam Wed 09-Jun-10 18:10:00

OH help!! DD2 is 7 mths and a very haphazard sleeper. When she sleeps in her cot, she wakes every hr or 90 mins over night. I settle her on the breast (I think this may be the problem blush). However my husband is under huge stress at the moment and often stays on the sofa all night as he cannot sleep at all. On these nights I sometimes put dd2 in her pushchair tipped back and she will sleep most of the night waking once for a feed at 3ish.

As you can imagine, it is very tempting to put her in her pushchair every night but I am determined to get her into her bed and waking once a night at most like her sister was at this stage. Trouble is I am exhausted and the waking 4/5 times a night completely wipes me out.

She is not a great day time sleeper either.

Help - I need a routine!!!!

Many thanks!

LeninGoooaaall Wed 09-Jun-10 19:02:52

Ooh, I think they've done excellent work on co-sleeping. Can't make this but will read with interest.

LeninGoooaaall Wed 09-Jun-10 19:10:41

Here's an article, will try and find a summary somewhere.

My question is: do you think that once all common risk factors are eliminated, and indeed that all co-sleeping good practices are followed, co-sleeping might eventually be found to decrease the risk of SIDs?

Habbibu Wed 09-Jun-10 19:26:42

DS (8mo) seems to be a very light sleeper - even cuddled in my arms he can take a long and very wriggly time to get into a deep sleep - do you think that there are biological/physiological differences between babies/people in general that make them the kind of sleepers they are, or do you think it's all/mostly down to conditioning?

I sleep badly when co-sleeping with ds, which is a bugger...

Adair Wed 09-Jun-10 19:56:26

What's the most important thing we should try and teach/guide our babies to learn about sleep?

(Mine would be that sleep is a desirable, natural state and not to be feared.)

120 Wed 09-Jun-10 21:29:55

Is there a difference in the quality of sleep a child receives during the day and during the night?

My three year old will either go to bed shattered at 7.30pm having been grumpy all afternoon, then sleep til 6.30 OR nap for an hour durin the day, be bright and breezy in the afternoon and then not go to bed until 8.30 then still awake at 6.30.

So the number of hours slept are the same, but I'm not sure which pattern is better for a 3 year old. I worry about them being a bit tired and accident prone in the afternoon, but would stick with it if it is better for them to have all the sleep at night!

StarOfValkyrie Wed 09-Jun-10 22:00:16

Are sleep disorders caused by our contant obsessions with it an analysis.

We're a bit disorganised in our family. Kids sleep, - er whenever (3.5yrs and 21months), but they always sleep well and willingly.

I myself have sleep problems however. I find myself often spending the whole day just waiting to get home so I can get into bed and sleep. Often I go to bed when my dh gets in at 6:30pm and sleep through to 8pm, then get up spending the whole day dreaming of my bed, sometimes finding it incredibly difficult to keep my eyes open in a meeting. Have you any suggestions what might cause this. It has come and gone throughout my life.

moondog Wed 09-Jun-10 23:30:29

What a refreshing change to have someone who is not trying to flog a book/dvd/CD.

belledechocolatefluffybunny Wed 09-Jun-10 23:57:04

My child rolls around in his sleep and frequently ends up with bruises because he's bashed himself into the side of the bed. He used to have a low toddler bed when he was small and I'd find him on the floor every night, now he's in a midi sleeper as the high sides stop him from falling off, he always looks tired when he wakes. He's 11, is this something he'll grow out of (a night without being woken up by bangs would be lovely) smile


nottirednow Thu 10-Jun-10 06:51:27

Two questions and a comment - what is your advice on sleep terrors and how do you tell if it's a sleep terror or a nightmare? My child had both.

the comment - I was told (gp/health visitor)to practise sleep training on my crying baby. They were eventually diagnosed with whooping cough ( by paediatrician). They also have severe food allergies. I do hope before recommending sleep training all physical causes of poor sleep are properly considered.

OopsDoneItAgain Thu 10-Jun-10 09:51:18

Specific advice needed if you get a mo please! My DS is 4.7 and wakes anything from once to 5 times a night for a wee or because of a bad dream or even for a chat hmm We have tried reducing liquids/reward charts/being firm etc etc but doesnt stop him waking (and calling us of course.) He can be quite grumpy and is droopy afternoons, and I am a zombie...any tips on how to deal with it? Thanks.

dinkystinky Thu 10-Jun-10 09:54:22

My second child (16 months) is currently going through separation anxiety at nap and night times (not helped by prolonged teething and an ear infection causing multiple wake ups) - we're staying in the room with him, comforting him when he cries and employing a gradual withdrawal method. Do you have any advice on how to help him through this? He is a very active sleeper so while co-sleeping may work for him, it certainly doesnt work for anyone else in the bed.

witchwithallthetrimmings Thu 10-Jun-10 11:27:44

most of my mother's generation insist that we slept loads more than my dcss. So at 18 months my dd sleeps 11 or so hours a night and has a nap for 1.5 hours or so. At the same age I was sleeping 13+ hours a night and napping for 2 hours+. Is this true on average and if so why?

ballstoit Thu 10-Jun-10 16:18:27

Is it possible to provide some statistics on SIDS and co-sleeping which seperate sofa and bed statistics. And statistics on co-sleeping just with breastfeeding mother v. with other family members.

I co-sleep with my DD who is one on Monday (or yesterday when you're reading this!) but have been heavily discouraged by my HV and family.However, as a deliberate co-sleeper whose baby sleeps on top of the covers and without any pillow I'm unconvinced that this is really any less safe.

do you know of any evidence to back up the fact that is fairly regularly quoted about sleep being brain development time, the implication being that if you don't sleep train your child, you'll be harming their development?

EasilyConfusedIndith Thu 10-Jun-10 17:42:55

I have co-slept with both my children. One dropped feeds all by himself and is a wonderful sleeper (night terrors aside!), the second has never slept well at all. She never fed to sleep. She never cuddled to sleep. Even co-sleeping she jsut wouldn't settle until she had screamed herself to sleep. She is now 17 months and until a few weeks ago she was still waking up to 10 times a night, we are now on 2/3 times which is wonderful!

I feel a lot of guilt surrounding her sleep. I have had pnd which was untreated for a year. When we co-slept I never felt as aware of her in the same way I did my first and after waking a few times totally unaware of where she was I put the side up on the co-sleeper so that there was a small lip between us. Having read your work when researching co-sleeping with my first it just makes me feel worse, that as a bf mother I didn't instictively protect her.

Do you think that something like pnd can affect sleep for the baby? That even if you are feeding on demand and co-sleeping the feelings the mother has can have a bad effect?

I don't think I've worded that very well. I hope it makes sense.

You could just scrap that question and come have tea with steathpolarbear and me grin we are not far at all.

foxytocin Thu 10-Jun-10 19:31:52

I'm inviting myself along to the cake and tea party with Dr Helen, Indith and SPB.

Q. Do you think it is at all possible to have a national dialogue to normalise safe co-sleeping?

Looking at how many parents co-sleep at least occasionally, is the health service doing us a disservice by allowing the taboo to continue.

theboobmeister Thu 10-Jun-10 21:12:39

What's your view on the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths and their (widely-publicised) recommendations on co-sleeping?

bedlambeast Thu 10-Jun-10 21:25:02

And what research is the most effective rebuttal of accusations that bed sharing increases the chances of SIDS even for breastfeeding babies bed sharing safely?

Incidentally I enjoy your work, presentations and stuff.

GormlessHeart Thu 10-Jun-10 23:04:37

Will be reading this with interest as I have recently tried controlled crying with 19m DS to disastrous effects.

It is difficult to listen to your own instincts when the prevailing view is that solitary and uninterrupted sleep is not only normal, desirable and healthy, but a hallmark of good parenting. sad

And can I come to the tea party.

vodoplav123 Fri 11-Jun-10 00:02:09

I have been co-sleeping with my daughter since she was born 2 ½ years ago. During this time I have never had one sleepless night. As a baby she would breastfeed when hungry and go back to sleep. I don’t really understand why anyone would go through all the trauma of training children to sleep on their own at such an early age. I think it is not natural and a little bit cruel. This is a very short stage of their development when it is very important that they feel safe and secure. I feel sorry for all exhausted mothers that are getting up several times a night to comfort their children. I think we make our lives too complicated and don’t follow our own instincts about what is best for us and our children.

foxytocin Fri 11-Jun-10 05:49:02

<<sitting on hands>> can you tell us about the side car cots research at the RVI?

Habbibu Fri 11-Jun-10 08:35:46

"I feel sorry for all exhausted mothers that are getting up several times a night to comfort their children." vodoslav, I've been co-sleeping with ds since he was born. I'm exhausted! He does not just feed and go back to sleep, more's the pity!

Nurmle Fri 11-Jun-10 21:35:37

If you decide to co-sleep when is the ideal time to encourage them to sleep alone and what is the best way to go about this (without any CC involved). Is it anytime after 6mths or is there a best age to try? I have been so critised for co-sleeping, why are the benifits so underground.

GraceK Fri 11-Jun-10 23:23:46

My elder daughter (now 3 & 1/2) always slept deeply on her side with one hand under her head - from birth & still does so could transfer her relatively efficiently to her cot when she fell asleep.

Younger daugher (8 weeks)'s preferred deep sleeping postion is face down on my chest after a feed. I know that sleeping face down is linked to SIDS & should be avoided - are there any statistics for how dangerous this is when on a mother's chest - where she is not on a flat surface? I ask as it has happened quite a few times accidentally, when I have fallen asleep before her whilst feeding.

lowlybones Sat 12-Jun-10 10:00:46

Q. Why might my 3 month old be waking in the night for a feed (1am ish) but then staying awake for an hour and a half (as though it's daytime)?? And what can I do about it? This happens once or twice a week. She sleeps well for daytime naps & other nights (now waking once or twice a night for feeds, other nights goes straight back to sleep, goes to bed 7ish, wakes between 6 and 7). Am breastfeeding. I am a nervous wreck (and sleep deprived) after the nights she stays awake, and she refuses more food, and has burped! I would just live with it (and am!) if I knew it would end, but just don't know what to do at the time as she doesn't want food, or to be held (screams), just wants to interact with me! Any advice gratefully received.

sparklingchampagne Sat 12-Jun-10 18:50:23

Hello Helen
My DD is 5 (so I don't know if she is too old for you to answer my question )
She was always a fabulous sleeper, first slept through at 5 weeks, and we never had any problems until last Summer, when all of a sudden she stopped going to sleep.
We have a bedtime routine, with bath, stories, warm milk, cuddles, and she goes to bed at 7. She will get up, come downstairs, go into the bathroom, jump around her bedroom etc until half 8/9pm almost every night.
I can't work out what to do - she has a black out blind, we don't overstimulate her before bed, she's not eating sugary stuff. When we talk to her about it she just says sleep is 'boring.'
I've tried reward charts, taking things off her, taking her for very long walks/swims etc etc but can't find anything which works.
She looks tired, and is really grumpy in the mornings, also when my SD (her half sister) comes to stay they have to sleep in the same room, and it's not fair on SD, who ends up sleeping in our bed and having to be moved to hers when DD finally goes to sleep.
Help (if you can!!)
Thank you x

ExplodingBananas Sat 12-Jun-10 20:13:44

Another question about falling asleep. My 18mo DS will only fall asleep with me in the room with him. Is there a gentle method I could use to get him happy in his cot on his own whilst he goes off. Also is it normal for a child this age to take around 1h30m to fall asleep?

KMW1 Sun 13-Jun-10 19:56:20

Hi, my DS is 17 months, since about 7 months he's been a good sleeper, from about 7 / 7.30pm to around 6am. Over the last 2 months he's been waking up at around 4.30am to 5.30am. We give him a bottle and then he'll go back to sleep for about an hour. I'm worried that this is setting him up badly as he'll start to get hungry at that time. I'm not sure if this is beacause he was ill, teething, summer time (some light seeps in around the blackout blinds??), and then I read that it could be a mild lactose intolerance. I switched to formula for last 2 nights and he's slept through. Could there be any connection? Would be good to get him back to sleeping throught to 6am. Thanks

deepdarkwood Sun 13-Jun-10 21:23:37

Given you're here to 'flog' universities smile ... do you think that parents are, by & large, well-informed about baby/child sleep patterns/behaviour? What would you recommend as a layman's intro into the cultural dimension of our sleep expectations?

crunchielover Sun 13-Jun-10 21:43:39

What are your views on toddlers with ASD and sleep? It would seem that children with ASD have different sleep patterns from other children although no-one is quite sure why.

Our DS, who has ASD, frequently wakes between 2 and 4am and can sometimes be awake for up to 4 hours (during which time he is incredibly alert). We have tried a variety of sleep aids including a set bedtime routine, blackout blinds, melatonin, white noise, all with limited success. Would welcome your views on any of these (esp the use of melatonin) and any other suggestions you have to promote a better night's sleep for our little boy.

chinook Sun 13-Jun-10 21:45:10

In your opinion will babies eventually learn to self settle without any kind of sleep training? And if so, at what age is this most likely to happen?

I have a 4 month old who will sleep only when helped by feeding/pushing in pram etc and remember with a heavy heart the hours/weeks/months I devoted to helping my older child learn to fall asleep by herself. Is it inevitable that I have to do this again?

Thank you

frigatebird Sun 13-Jun-10 22:13:05

If an NT 2.5 year old has never slept through the night, does this mean that the parents are at fault for not "teaching him to sleep"? What do you make of the talk of how the "gift of sleep" has to be taught?

deepdarkwood Sun 13-Jun-10 22:34:38

Sorry, and another one
Are there any studies that show whether infant & adult sleep patterns are linked? (ie do 'good sleepers' continue that way?)

TheFoosa Mon 14-Jun-10 08:24:04

Can you help ME sleep through the night?

I wake every night after around 1 -2 hours and then find it difficult to get back to sleep

I hit a brick wall of sheer exhaustion at about 6pm, which is probably the busiest part of the evening for me

What can I do to improve my sleep?

TIA, can't make the actual webchat

kveta Mon 14-Jun-10 12:43:48

Oh, I'm hoping I can make it online for the webchat tomorrow.

We're co-sleeping with our 8.5 month old DS, and he's gradually improving his sleeping, but has been an atrocious sleeper since birth. I'm constantly being told by well meaning individuals that we should stop breast feeding and do controlled crying to get him to sleep. I am not stopping breast feeding, but am seriously contemplating controlled crying, as I have to drive to and from work every day, and am becoming hazardous from such bad sleep. So, my question(s) - can controlled crying be used in a co-sleeping situation, or would you recommend not using controlled crying at all, and if so, what methods are suitable to get him to sleep? I feed him back to sleep during the night, but he's no longer fed to sleep in the evening (because he gets up and moves away, not because I don't want to!)

Also, in your experience, has the 'back to sleep' campaign aimed at reducing cot deaths had any impact (positive or negative) on babies sleep? My mother and grandmother both say we (and my father/uncle) were put to sleep on our side/front, and slept very well as a result. I'm not sure if this is just time playing tricks on their mind, but my DS DOES NOT SLEEP on his back, so I wondered if there was anything to it?

nmanik Mon 14-Jun-10 12:47:55

There are so many conflicting 'schools' on baby/child sleep, I would really appreciate some real, live advice.

My beautiful boy is 26 months and has a 1.5 - 2 hour nap during the day and goes to bed around 8.30, waking at 6ish most days +/- an hour or so. He went to nursery at 9 months and, despite taking EBM from me in a cup (no bottle would pass his lips) he refused all fluid at nursery and stocked up at night instead. He is now eating better (although still prefers mummy milk) during the day but still drinks little at nursery and feeds whenever he wakes at night (30 mins - 3 hours). Needless to say, we have been co-sleeping since 4.5 months to minimise disruption to everyone. It's not just a comfort thing, although this is obviously a factor, he feeds for a good 10 mins.

Fortunately I've always been okay with little sleep, although would love fewer interruptions, but I am concerned that he still looks tired when he gets up. He is also showing no signs of losing interest in breastfeeding, but I am keen that he ceases before school at least! Any advice would be sooooooo welcome. Thanks very much.

looseleaf Mon 14-Jun-10 16:50:10

i have the same question as Nurmle about whether there is a good time to stop co-sleeping. I'm so happy about the sense of security etc it's given our 3 1/2 year old but now feel ready to move her to her own room and she clearly isn't ready.

MuckyDucky Mon 14-Jun-10 18:03:29

Can a nt/sn boarderline child that requires 2mg melatonin to sleep, actually be able to sleep without it as they grow up or is it going to be something relied on for the duration?

Prior to the meds he slept 6hrs/night in 2hr bursts 2-4hrs apart.

Conundrumish Mon 14-Jun-10 18:19:49

Sports Day tomorrow, so can't be here sad. Really interested to hear to what extent you think good sleeping is down to genes and to what extent it is down to environment/attachment etc.

LindenAvery Tue 15-Jun-10 10:02:07

Hi Helen

I would like to add to the posters that have already mentioned the FSID and the information they use to challenge co-sleeping such as claiming that no study has found that sleeping in the same bed as your baby reduces the risk of SIDS and that whilst this remains the case that babies should be returned to the cot once fed and cuddled. Is this true (or simply a case of interpretation) and would it not be better for them to give out information on how to co-sleep safer since many parents will probably do this at some point?

My own feelings on this is that it is probably safer to co-sleep in the same bed if you take the right precautions rather than risk falling asleep on a sofa due to sheer tiredness.

SuperAmoo Tue 15-Jun-10 10:32:37

Hello! My 4.5 year old has nightmares every night and has done since she was 2. I'm exhausted and have run out of ideas to help her. Can you shed any light on this for us?

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 12:28:38


funnysinthegarden Tue 15-Jun-10 12:49:48

Hello Helen

Do you think that poor sleeping patterns in adults are linked to interrupted sleeping patterns as a child?


RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 15-Jun-10 12:59:29

Many thanks for the questions already sent in to Helen, she's aiming to get through as many as possible during the next hour. Helen's about to join us, so a big welcome to Mumsnet Dr Helen Ball.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:01:26

Hello everyone! Meg, Catherine and Charlotte are with me in the Sleep Lab waiting to answer whatever questions we can

Mummagumma Tue 15-Jun-10 13:01:57

Hello Helen,

I'd like to know, is there any evidence, other than anecdotally, about early bedtimes resulting in better, less broken sleep?

My co-sleeping son is 5 months, and in bed from 8.30-8.30. Not asleep for all those hours; far from it, as he wakes several times and it can take a long time to put him to sleep, but those are his 'night' hours. In the UK, 7-7 seems to be the norm, although I've read that this isn't the standard in many other countries and cultures. Do you have any views on this?

Many thanks.

michaelschumacherismygod Tue 15-Jun-10 13:02:43

hi Helen should I let my 7 month old CIO when he wakes in the middle of the night for a feed (only on one) he is not hungry at breakfast so don't think he really needs it?

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:03:10

@funnysinthegarden: do you mean your sleep patterns as a child and adult, or adults sleep patterns in the home affecting children who live there?

CMOTdibbler Tue 15-Jun-10 13:04:32

Hi Helen - if the childs breathing tunes with parents sleeping, any idea what happens when one parent has sleep apnoea ? Although my DH has a CPAP now, we were debating this the other night

Oh, and on a anthropological note, any idea on what proportion of parents cosleep world wide with infants ?

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:05:32

@Mummagumma: you'll see from answers I'll post to some of the previous questions that if we look at sleep behaviour across cultures the notion of 8 or 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep is a peculiar western phenomenon -- most humans wake several times during the night and return to sleep and this is not problematic.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:07:08

@michaelschumacherismygod: he might not need the food but he probably needs you, so I wouldn't encourage CIO for a 7 month-old.

thatbuzzingnoise Tue 15-Jun-10 13:07:47

I've asked this question already a few days ago but it sounds like only new questions will be answered so reposting. <<pushy>>

(I've namechanged since for fun)

Q. Do you think it is at all possible to have a national dialogue to normalise safe co-sleeping?

Looking at how many parents co-sleep at least occasionally, is the NHS doing everyone a disservice by allowing the taboo to continue?

michaelschumacherismygod Tue 15-Jun-10 13:08:14

Thanks - thats what I thought - now to persuade MIL!

funnysinthegarden Tue 15-Jun-10 13:08:21

Helen, I mean do sleep patterns in childhood determine how well you will sleep as an adult.

MrsJamin Tue 15-Jun-10 13:10:34

2 Qus
1) How can you be so overtired that you cannot sleep? (DS1, 2.5 yrs)
2) When can you reasonably expect a baby to go longer than 2-3 hours without a feed in the night, i.e. "sleep through" (DS2, 4 months).

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:10:55

@CMOTdibbler: (glad to see a fellow Discworld fan ) I think the mother tunes in with the child's sleep states (according to Peter Fleming her sleep cycles become shorter). The baby's awareness of parental breathing helps with arousal, but I wouldn't say the 'breathing tunes in' in the sense that you mean (babies breathe faster than adults etc).

In western societies approx 50% of babies and parents cosleep (same surface), but in other places the proportion can be as great as 100% where sleeping together is the norm.

kveta Tue 15-Jun-10 13:11:47

can I ask one further question (feel free to ignore me!) - how did you get into sleep research in the first place? are there required undergrad subjects? it sounds fascinating!

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:11:49

@thatbuzzingnoise: i'll be posting answers to the previously posted questions as soon as i get a minute

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:14:18

@funnysinthegarden: we think there is an influence of child sleep patterns on adult ones, but we can't answer this one definitively without going and reading more. There are some genetic, biological features of sleep that are likely to stay with you throughout your life.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:15:50

response to 1st post of the thread:
@Druzhok: This is a heavy topic to kick off with! There is an increasing amount of neuropsychology research that indicates that children who experienced ‘controlled crying’ develop different behavioural-physiological profiles than those who are not exposed to this technique as research is now demonstrating that early infant experience drives neural and hormonal development. Nils Bergman argues that in a VERY simplified scenario, controlled crying results in infant fear; the experience of fear results first in infant protest (crying), fear-terror (screaming) and then in despair/dissociation (shutting down). Despair ultimately causes harm to the structural organisation of the brain. Immunological, hormonal and neurological functions are depressed. Controlled crying ‘works’ not because infants necessarily ‘learn to sleep’, but because they dissociate and shut down when abandoned. This is an adaptive response to the infant’s perception that it has to survive in a malevolent environment. We haven’t researched this ourselves, but what I’ve read makes me think controlled crying is not an appropriate technique for use with infants – only for older children with the cognitive ability to understand what is being expected of them – and then only as a last resort. See Sue Gerhardt’s book ‘Why Love Matters’ for a synopsis of some of this research.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:16:35

@Fruitshootsandheaves: the Sleep Lab is lovely, if I say so myself . You’d be snoring in splendid isolation.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:16:50

@Hobgoblin: how we sleep and how much we sleep is as individual as everything else we do. So long as we get enough sleep to meet our individual needs (which are widely variable) then that is sufficient. The ‘rules’ we have created about how much sleep people ‘need’ (and the environments we ‘need’ to achieve ‘good’ sleep) are artificial. That being said, though, children need more sleep than adults, and infants need even more. In our 24-hour artificially illuminated world children do need some amount of parental regulation to help them achieve sufficient sleep to meet their needs (previously we would be regulated by environmental cues) – but there is no ‘right way’ to accomplish this – there are lots of different ways that work for different families and circumstances

funnysinthegarden Tue 15-Jun-10 13:17:07

Thanks Helen. Thats what I thought. I suspect that there isn't a definitive answer as with most things!

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:17:13

@Luciemule: not common for this age group, but perfectly normal for some children of this age. Like everything else, night-waking and the need for parental presence in the night is distributed on a bell-shaped curve. Some kids grow out of it early, others late, and most in between. All are normal, some are just the outliers on the normal distribution. Yours sounds like one of them for this particular feature – with regards to other developmental features he’ll be in other places on the curve. If the night waking is frequent and every night you should probably talk to your doctor about whether there might be an underlying cause. Otherwise extended cosleeping is not atypical cross-culturally – it only seems unusual in a western industrialised context where we ‘expect’ children to sleep alone. There is some research indicating that people who cosleep as children are more independent and socially developed as young adults!

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:18:03

@RibenaBerry: Absolutely! Most so-called ‘sleep problems’ in children are problems of parental expectation, not child sleep. I have no stats to quote on frequency of sleep problems in children because we (in my lab) focus on normal sleep, not sleep pathologies. But you don’t make a living as an author of books on sleep by telling people their children don’t have sleep problems …

thatbuzzingnoise Tue 15-Jun-10 13:19:15

thanks for that. I thought I was being pushy too. smile

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:19:23

@OhExpletive: I no longer lay awake at night thinking about work – these days it is my teenagers that occupy any insomnia-fuelled anxiety I don’t know of any research on twisty cosleeping preschoolers! Sounds like you need to convince him you’ll all be better of with a different sleeping arrangement though.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:19:43

@Belgianbun: So, what’s different about the pushchair and the cot that allows her to sleep well in one, and wake every sleep cycle in the other? Is it the location? Proximity to you? Position she sleeps in? Solve that mystery and you’ll be able to crack the frequent cot waking. Don’t expect DD2 to have the same developmental schedule as DD1 however! They won’t – they are different genetically, why would they be identical developmentally? Remember also that babies/small children can be very sensitive to parental stress and emotions, so if your husband is stressed and not sleeping your daughter might be hypervigilant because she’s somehow aware of that.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:20:07

@LeninGoooaaall: thanks for posting the link of my NCT article! I think SIDS is one of those things that will never be completely eliminated. I also don’t think all SIDS result from the same ‘cause’ whatever that may turn out to be. I don’t think SIDS is ‘caused’ by cosleeping, but babies who are vulnerable may have their vulnerability increased by certain ‘unsafe cosleeping’ practices. Trouble is we have no way of knowing at present which babies are vulnerable. Safe co-sleeping may help protect some SIDS-vulnerable babies as McKenna originally hypothesised. But I personally think cosleeping is even more beneficial in terms of breastfeeding, attachment, and ‘normal’ neurological development, and the obsession with SIDS sometimes obscures these other important issues.

OxyMoron Tue 15-Jun-10 13:20:17

Hello Helen,

It's interesting you say (@13:10:55) that the mother tunes in with the child's sleep states. Is it the mother particularly? My dd, who is just over 2 still cosleeps & bf's at night. She has type 1 diabetes and has continued to cosleep so we can keep an eye on her (she has had a lot of trouble with nighttime hypos) and feeds mostly to keep her blood sugar up to safe levels. I have noticed that if sleeping with DH, not only does he not respond to her agitation when she drops low, but she also doesn't seem to rouse as easily as she does when she's next to me.
How long do you think this attunement (maybe not a real word!) continues?

Thank you.

CrawlDaddy Tue 15-Jun-10 13:20:32

Hi Helen

Following on from Mummagumma's question, does the actual bedtime have have any effect on quality of sleep?

i.e does it matter if DS goes to bed at 8.30pm, say, as opposed to 7pm?

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:21:08

@Habbibu: Interestingly babies fall asleep differently from adults. While we fall straight into deep sleep, babies fall first into REM sleep and after 20 minutes or so (on average) fall into deep sleep. Babies can take variable amounts of time to get to deep sleep (floppy baby stage) however. And yes, there are biological differences in the kinds of sleepers we are, just as there is variation for all behavioural/physiological systems. Physiology can be regulated by conditioning to some degree but can’t ‘standardise’ everything. So long as the amount of sleep he gets meets his needs (he’s not constantly cranky etc) I wouldn’t worry – his sleep is most likely normal for him!

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:21:26

@Adair: I agree with your choices. For me the MOST important thing babies need with regards to sleep is security – to feel secure that they are safe while they are asleep, not abandoned, alone, afraid. If we think about the environment in which human infants have evolved, never, in thousands and millions of years would infants have been intentionally left alone for sleep by their carers (too dangerous). To wake alone would, for an infant, have been a life-threatening situation, and only the result of some very severe event, so it is predictable that they’d be fearful.

Tanaz Tue 15-Jun-10 13:22:16

Hi Hellen my son was born 8 weeks premature and he has never slept through the night he is now 26months and we decided to co-sleep since 6-7 months ago.finally he sleeps through most nights or wakes 2 times. When shall I try to put him back in his bed?he hasn't got his own room yet!everyone around me are giving me grief over this :-(((

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:24:50

Back to answering current posts for a while...
@MrsJamin: I don't think I can give you a sensible answer to your first question. Re. your 2nd one -- if your baby is breastfed and nothing else is introduced until 6 months as recommended, then baby will keep needing to feed in the night most likely until 6 months or more. Baby's digest breastmilk quite quickly and wake up when they need refuelling!

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:28:36

@oxymoron: it seems that the attunement lasts at least as long as regular bedsharing lasts. In our lab we have noticed that fathers are sometimes less attuned to babies when bedsharing than mothers. About 50% of dads were synchronised with their partners and babies, but the other 50% were fairly oblivious. We have though some across some cosleeping fathers who are primary caregivers, and they have been very attuned. Fathers tell us that when mum is there they tune out, but when alone with baby they sleep much less deeply.

suiledonne Tue 15-Jun-10 13:29:08

Hi Helen, it has been about 4 years since I have had a satisfactory night's sleep.

Just wondering if there are consequences to one's health from ongoing sleep interruption/lack of sleep.


helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:30:22

@CrawlDaddy: for toddlers/preschoolers it is the regularity that is more important than the actual bedtime -- and being sure that the child gets enough sleep, so either sleeping later if they go to bed later, or having a regular daytime nap.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:32:33

@Tanaz: if it doesn't bother you that he shares your sleep, and you are both getting sufficient sleep then don't listen to other people! Do what works for you and your family. He'll go in his own bed when he is ready, assuming you eventually get him one

ExplodingBananas Tue 15-Jun-10 13:34:37

I agree with you on controlled crying and haven't tried this but my 18mo DS takes up to 1h30m to fall asleep after I put him down and needs me to be sat in the room with him.

I really want him to fall asleep on his own (which he does for his daytime nap) so I can reclaim my evening.

Do you have any advice on alternatives to cc which would help me.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:34:58

@suiledonne: this all depends on what you want from a 'good night's sleep'? If you are not tired during the day and begin the day feeling refreshed, don't worry about it. Most people wake up during the night and go back to sleep. If you are suffering long periods of wakefulness and are tired in the morning or sleepy during the day then there are long term health consequences for things like heart disease etc -- so in that case see a GP.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:36:05

a few answers to previous questions going up now...

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:36:24

@120 – an excellent question. I was discussing this with paediatric sleep researchers in US recently. The consensus currently is that the most important thing is total sleep time in 24 hours – it doesn’t seem to matter if this sleep is achieved at night, or in combination with daytime naps so long as it is sufficient to alleviate sleep pressure. In the US 3-year old children routinely have afternoon naps, but it is not a routine custom in UK.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:36:39

@StarofValkyrie: what a lot of people interpret as sleep problems are simply variations in normal sleep needs and behaviours, especially in children. Trying to force infants and young children’s sleep into patterns that conform with 21st century adult lifestyles is at the root of what a lot of parents perceive as their child’s ‘sleep problem’. Unrealistic parental expectations of child sleep needs can be a problem!. Your own situation does sound like a clinical issue however. Things like sleep apnoea can leave you feeling really tired during the day regardless of how much sleep you get because the brain isn’t obtaining sufficient oxygen. Diabetes can have similar effects, so can thyroid problems. I’d suggest you seek medical opinion on this one.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:36:57

@moondog: thank you and thank Universities Week for offering academics the opportunity to justify our existence to the public!

Druzhok Tue 15-Jun-10 13:37:04

Thanks very much for 13.15 reply to my question. I really appreciate you taking the time to reply, particularly as your information seems to confirm what our instinct was telling us.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:37:08

@belledechocolatefluffybunny: this sounds like a parasomnia (unusual behaviour during sleep) to me; I think you should consult a clinician. Does he also snore, or sweat a lot? These with restless sleep are signs of obstructive sleep apnoea which needs medical assessment and treatment. Violent body jerks during sleep can be part of brain’s arousal mechanism if it is not getting enough oxygen and would be consistent with your son being tired in the morning. If this were my son I’d discuss the situation with a doctor (or several).

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:37:24

@nottirednow: we haven’t studied sleep terrors, so I don’t know a lot about them. From what I’ve read the difference is to do with their intensity, and the child being non-responsive and confused. I wouldn’t give advice about them as I am not a clinician! Regarding your comment, I would hope so too, but remain somewhat skeptical – sleep training seems to be promoted heavily these days.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:37:40

@OopsDoneItAgain: if you can’t think of an obvious explanation for frequent waking in a child of this age (e.g. being disturbed by something) then I think you should rule out a medical cause (such as apnoea). I suggest you talk to clinician. Reward charts/being firm etc won’t stop a child from frequent waking – only discourage them from letting you know they are waking frequently. Sounds like he is getting poor quality sleep. Does he fall asleep at the beginning of the night on his own?

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:38:04

@dinkystinky: sounds like he is having a rough time with pain during sleep, and you are managing it sensitively. Separation anxiety is common at this age and separation anxiety at sleep time is also expectable and normally something children grow out of.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:38:18

@witchwithallthetrimmings: yes, it is true that duration of child sleep has declined in recent decades. There are a host of reasons – parents working later and more varied schedules, children’s TV programming 24 hours per day, less emphasis on daytime naps, early wake-up to be dropped at childminder – all sorts of reasons. Parents truncate their own sleep to gain time to fit everything in to busy lives, and children’s sleep gets truncated also.

Hermya321 Tue 15-Jun-10 13:38:33

Hi Helen,

I'm currently pregnant and have been looking into the benefits of co-sleeping. I've seen things like bedside cots and the arms reach co sleeper etc etc. Do you feel that these sort of devices allow for the benefits of co-sleeping without the worry for the parent of squishing the child? If not, what do you feel is best to encourage good sleeping habits in babies?

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:38:34

@ballstoit: first of all SIDS-risk is greatest around 2-3 months of age. On average in the UK the rate is 1 in 2000. For smokers the risk is increased 5x, SIDS-risk for sofa sharing is 20x; bed-sharing if you are a smoker or smoked in pregnancy is a 12x risk (different studies have produced different stats, but these are UK data). Bed-sharing if you are not a smoker carries no significant increased risk. Breastfed babies have a reduced risk of SIDS compared with nonbreastfed babies. No one has studied the relative risks for breastfeeding related bedsharing, but they have been estimated as maybe 1 or 2 per 10,000, compared to 1 per 2000 generally.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:38:46

@StealthPolarBear: this is an ‘interesting’ justification of sleep training! Yes, sleep is brain development time, particularly for infants. Newborns spend 20 hours or so a day asleep, and 50% of this is spent in REM sleep (so 10 hrs a day). REM is when neural connections are made, when learning and memories are consolidated. Adults sleep for 7-8 hours on average, and 20% is spent in REM sleep (so 1.5hrs). Babies brains grow rapidly in the 1st year, so they do need to sleep. HOWEVER – sleep training is a) inappropriate for babies because of the reasons mentioned above in my reply to Druzhok., and b) is often undertaken to try and modify when babies sleep, not to encourage them to get sufficient sleep.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:39:04

@EasilyConfusedIndith: an interesting story raising some good questions. I don’t know of any research on pnd and cosleeping, but I would hypothesise as you do that there may well be something interesting going on. One of the features of depression is fatigue, so it is unsurprising that you were unaware of your daughter during sleep, and did the right thing by keeping her in a separate sleep space. It is possible that your pnd and her sleep behaviour were related but I don’t think anyone has researched how it might happen (hormonally, behavioural cues??). I’d love to come for tea, especially if it will involve cakes... (we are very partial to cakes in our lab!)

countryhousehotel Tue 15-Jun-10 13:39:05

Hi Helen - My question is about self settling. Ds is 5 months old and falls asleep at the breast every night while I'm reading to dd, and gets put in to his cot once he's asleep. When he wakes in the night to feed I usually end up cosleeping for the rest of the night. Is this setting us up for problems longer term (the fact that he's not self-settling I mean, not the cosleeping!).

suiledonne Tue 15-Jun-10 13:40:02

Thanks Helen.

Lack of sleep due to 19 month old still waking for regular night feeds following on from dd1 who was a terrible sleeper and has only started sleeping well (co-sleeping) in the last few months.

I never wake feeling refreshed and often fall asleep at 8pm when putting the children to bed. I feel tired a lot of the time.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:40:31

@foxytocin/@thatbuzzingnoise: there are lots of people (women mostly) working within the health service to change this situation, and I think it is slowly changing. But we are turning an ocean liner here, so it is very SLOW. Health service staf need evidence though on which to justify changing practice and policy (and it is very frustrating to them that a lot of current practice is NOT evidence based, but because it is ‘the way things have always been done’ it doesn’t have to be rigorously justified, but anything seemingly ‘new’ is challenged every which way). This is why I started doing clinical trials – they’re certainly not the normal domain of an anthropologist – but they need doing so the ‘right kinds’ of evidence are available in the ‘right kinds’ of journals, and no-one else was getting on with them! The more the merrier for the tea-party

DidEinsteinsMum Tue 15-Jun-10 13:42:13

I have had years of sleep disturbance due to child with sleep problems. Now that he has been medicated his sleeping has improved over the last year, but mine is still really bad and I am constantly tired but unable to sleep. Reluctant to take meds as still need to be able to wake up if he gets up in the night for safety reasons (think 5yo escapologist who can unlock doors/windows and has no fear)

How long could it be before I am able to settle down to a sleep pattern that is cloesr to what i need rather then what my body had to become used to?

Druzhok Tue 15-Jun-10 13:42:24

Tanaz: I hope you see this!

I had a very similar experience with my DS. He is now 4 and we finally got him into his own bed at night when he was 3.5. DH took a mattress into DS's room for a week, so that Daddy was there to offer reassurance when DS woke up.

It took 4 days to get him used to the idea. I think DH got into DS's bed with him for a short period on the first night, but otherwise reassured him from outside the bed.

DS still comes into our bed sometimes: we praise the nights he is in his own room, but accept him into our bed when he feels the need.

We tried all this when DS was 2.5 and it didn't work: like potty training, it seems to be easier if you wait a bit longer.

I don't regret it for a minute. Actually, I rally miss the physical closeness, now that he's less willing to cuddle up.

Like Helen says: do what works for you x

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:44:08

@Hermya321: yes, bedside cots seem to be a good alternative to having the baby in the bed if you would prefer. We would like to look at breastfeeding outcomes with these cots to see if feed frequency is similar to bed-sharing, but we haven't got the funding to do so yet. When we looked at similar side-car cribs in hospital on the postnatal ward there was much more frequent feeding than with rooming-in (which is good for bf inititation), but no difference in sleep for mother or baby.

thatbuzzingnoise Tue 15-Jun-10 13:45:54

Thanks for that. I just seem to always hear of the HVs who look like this: hmm when you mention co-sleeping.

One said to everyone at the surestart breastfeeding support group once: well we (British people) like to get them in their own beds as soon as we can. (I am obviously foreign.) When I mentioned to stimulate dialogue that breastfeeding babies and toddlers benefit from co-sleeping.

EasilyConfusedIndith Tue 15-Jun-10 13:45:59

Thank you Helen, great web chat

eastdevongirl Tue 15-Jun-10 13:46:26

my baby wakes once or twice each night. he is hungry so i feed him, but then he doesn't want breakfast - should i push for no feeds at night , if so how?
the second wake tends to be an early morning (5am) with no sleep afterwards. any ideas how i can improve this - lack of sleep is taking it's toll on me

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:47:59

@countryhousehotel: what you describe is what we have called in our research 'combination bedsharing' where a baby starts the night in one sleep location and ends the night usually in bed with mum. This was the most common kind of bed-sharing we discovered, a third to a half of all breastfeeding mums do this. I know of no evidence that indicates this pattern of cosleeping prevents children from falling asleep by themselves as they get older.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:50:22

@DidEinsteinsMum: there are various treatments for poor sleep that don't involve medication. talk to your GP about referring you for CBT.It definitely helps some people.

Runningwithscissors Tue 15-Jun-10 13:50:57

Hi Helen,

My 2.4 year old has, for the last 6 months, been getting up and playing in her room once she's been put to bed at 8pm (after bath, milk and stories, plus quiet reading time by herself), and often stays up playing or reading until 9.30pm. We try sitting with her, but she gets up and starts playing as soon as we're gone!

She has 30 mins nap in the day at nursery. On days at the weekend when she doesn't have a nap, but runs round a lot, she can sometimes go straight to sleep...

I worry about her not getting enough sleep and jeopardising her development; I generally have to wake her up in the mornings at about 7.15am, and she can be a bit grumpy....

Should we just let her do her own thing as she's obviously not tired at 8pm, or should we be trying something else? Cut out nap completely in the day?

Would appreciate any thoughts smile

countryhousehotel Tue 15-Jun-10 13:50:58

Thanks Helen but what about letting him fall asleep at the breast ie not self settling?

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:51:56

@eastdevongirl: how old is your baby?

LindenAvery Tue 15-Jun-10 13:52:36

Helen - I have another question if there is time - if you are breastfeeding and wish to co-sleep in a bed but your baby actually prefers to sleep alone in a cot is this just one of those individual things or does it mean that there could be something wrong with your baby?

Hermya321 Tue 15-Jun-10 13:52:56

Thank you Helen, I do plan on Breast feeding so I would intridged to see the outcome of that particular study.

DidEinsteinsMum Tue 15-Jun-10 13:56:51

Thankyou. I think i was wondering whether or not you can change your body's need/demand through bad habits but i suspect that this is not the case. Will ask but know that gp is keen on the med route.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:57:26

@countryhousehotel: you'll eventually stop breastfeeding him to sleep and he'll fall asleep without it at some point... why do we want to encourage babies to self-settle? Again this is a very culture-specific parenting requirement in our society and doesn't reflect babies evolved needs i.e. to ensure closeness with caregiver at vulnerable periods (such as the transition into sleep).

Carriemumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 15-Jun-10 13:57:31

Hi there

My sister has 8 month old twins - in a one bedroom flat. dd sleeps through from 8 til 7. Ds is awake two or three times a night. Sleep training is obviously tricky in a confined space - even if she wanted to do it and I doubt she would - and she often ends up feeding him to keep him quiet, but is worried this is perpetuating the habit/ problem. Do you have any other suggestions?

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:58:49

@theboobmeister: What’s your view on Cancer Research UK or the British Heart Foundation? They exist to raise awareness of a particular health issue and provide support for people affected by that issue. FSID is no different to any other medical research charity in that respect – to be successful at what they do (raise awareness of SIDS and raise money for various research, support and education programmes) they need to publicise that issue and keep it in the public eye (media interest is good for fundraising). Their focus is on reducing/eliminating unexpected infant death, and their recommendations on co-sleeping stem directly from that. Their remit isn’t to promote breastfeeding or mother-infant attachment. I might wish their stance on cosleeping/bed-sharing was more nuanced and took these other things into account – but the statement they make that ‘the safest place for an infant to sleep is in a cot’ is not wrong – it is just (from my perspective) limited. On a population level, considering all the dangerous things some people do when sleeping with their baby, if it was compulsory that all babies slept in cots at all times then some babies would undoubtedly be prevented from dying. The issue is, would all the other babies suffer in some way in order to save the lives of a handful? And what’s more important? Where do we draw the line between preventing death of a few and promoting health and well-being of the many? All of us are going to draw that line in a different place! I do wish that people would realise that all organisations issuing ‘guidance’ have an agenda of some kind, and think about whether that agenda is relevant to them.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:59:03

@bedlambeast: Thanks for the kind words! there really are no SIDS risk studies that have considered breastfeeding babies who bed-share separately from other babies who bedshare. And to do one now that the rate of SIDS is so low (and it is really low for breastfed babies) would take years, and require thousands of participants, to get enough deaths in breastfed babies with no other risk factors (eg no smoking etc) to ascertain whether those that bed-shared were at greater risk than those in a cot. This is one of the reasons it is a difficult argument to ‘win’ one way or the other – the data simply aren’t available (and probably never will be) to give a definitive answer.

eastdevongirl Tue 15-Jun-10 13:59:03

sorry - he is 6 1/2 months old.
he is predominantly breast fed - but takes a bottle at bed time after refusing to feed at all for a few days (i think he had earache) about a month ago.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:59:17

@GormlessHeart: Yes, the idea that silent, comatose babies are ‘Good Babies’, and therefore a measure of our ‘success’ as parents is load of rubbish! It seems to have started in the 1920s and 30s with ‘Infant Care Experts’ like John B Watson and others. He completely screwed up his own kids (do an internet search for their stories). Why on earth do we keep perpetuating his views?

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:59:31

@vodoplav123: Many parents are frightened to follow their own instincts and feel more secure if they seek the instructions of experts ! I’ve always argued parent’s should be given the info and should make up their own minds about what is right for their own family – but you do so, you have to be prepared to take responsibility for those decisions, and many people would prefer that have someone else to ‘blame’ if things go wrong...

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 13:59:44

@foxytocin: that depends on what you want me to tell you about! If you are after the results, you’ll have sit on your hands a while longer The 1st paper is drafted...when it has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication we’ll be able to share! Keep your eyes on our website (www.dur.ac.uk/sleep.lab)

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 14:00:02

@Nurmle & @looseleaf: we’ve not researched this specifically, but many mothers we have interviewed have talked about it. A common strategy is to wean baby out of bed when weaning off night-time feeding – whenever it is you plan to do that (in the mums we’ve talked to this has varied greatly) – and like most things involving a potential battle of wills between you and your baby, doing it gradually seems to work but requires persistence. Other mums just don’t even try – children do eventually leave the bed of their own accord! A one-sized approach doesn’t suit all children or all families so there is really no ‘best age’ at which to do any of this! I’m sorry to hear you have been on the receiving end of criticism. People who don’t sleep with their babies don’t value it as a parenting practice because they think it is ‘not normal’ or are frightened of SIDS/accidental deaths – which is why it is much maligned. But at least 50% of parents sleep with their babies, so it is normal, and we need to talk about it to normalise it!

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 14:00:17

@GraceK: Nope, no statistics whatsoever – which suggests it has not happened very often if no-one has investigated it. No-one knows why the prone sleep position in a cot is a SIDS risk – only that ‘Back to Sleep’ dramatically reduced deaths in cots. People have investigated rebreathing CO2 when face down on a mattress, inhaling noxious mattress chemicals, overheating in prone position, bacterial toxin accumulation in airways and many other theories. Some, like toxic gas hypothesis, have been disproved. Others like bacterial toxins seem to hold some clues – but in all cases, sleeping prone on a mother’s body is a very different scenario to sleeping prone alone in a cot, so I don’t think we can necessarily assume the former is a SIDS risk just because the latter is.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 14:00:38

@lowlybones: It will end! Babies start to get a circadian rhythm when they are about 3 months old (happens later for breastfed than formula fed babies), but this is a gradual process. Over time sleep gets consolidated into night-time and waking into daytime. You might be able to help her achieve this sooner than later by providing cues for what is night and what is day (keep night-time dark, keep interactions quiet and calm etc). You might just have to wait for her circadian rhythm to develop – there is individual variation in this, as in everything biological, of course! Another thing to consider is whether something different is happening on the nights she stays awake compared with those when she goes back to sleep? Something in her environment, in your diet, your behaviour? You might be able to figure out a trigger if you keep a diary of when it happens...

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 14:01:02

@sparlingchampagne: she has a long sleep latency – 90 minutes or more. Children on average fall asleep in around half an hour. Daytime activity has been found to reduce sleep latency in children, but it sounds like you’ve tried all the normal behavioural and sleep hygiene type stuff and she just doesn’t sound ready for sleep at 7pm (or isn’t allowing herself to be). Have you ruled out medical issues that might be keeping her awake? I've heard sleep paediatricians recommend temporarily making bedtime later to just before child normally falls aslepp -- and then when they are in the habit of going to bed and falling straight to sleep, start moving bedtime gradually forwards again. I don't know if that works, but sounds sensible!

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 14:01:33

@ExplodingBananas: 90 mins is another unusually long sleep latency – but at 18 months he may well be experiencing separation anxiety with sleep. If so he’ll grow out of it. We’ve not researched ‘techniques’ for soothing toddlers to sleep though I’m afraid.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 14:01:49

@KMW1: what was he being fed before bed before you gave him formula? It might just be that formula takes longer to digest? Maybe he’s having a growth spurt?

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 14:02:01

@deepdarkwood: you’ll see academics all over the place this week, trying to justify our existence! I think many parents are not well informed about ‘normal’ infant and child sleep – our ideas are often influenced by recent historical cultural trends and infant/child care fashions. A nice short discussion of how anthropologists have studied sleep patterns/behaviour can be found here. http://www.open-spaces.com/article-v4n4-sack.php, and this is a comprehensive (and free) article about Children’s sleep, culture and biology: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/reprint/115/1/S1/204

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 14:02:17

@crunchielover: am sorry but ASD and sleep is one of those areas I know absolutely nothing about!

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 14:02:26

@chinook: yes, babies don’t need to be sleep trained to develop self settling. There is great variability in when it happens, partly to do with genetics, rates of development, and also what babies are fed. The idea that babies will self settle from 3 months of age comes from research on infant settling patterns done in the US in the late 50s when almost all babies were fed formula – so what it now considered ‘gold standard’ about settling and appears in lots of paediatric text books and popular literature, is abnormal settling for babies fed on cow’s milk formula. Breastfed babies need to be fed frequently at night and night waking can continue for several more months – but breastfed babies do self settle at their own pace when left to their own devices! Remember also the clinical definition of ‘settling’ is uninterrupted sleep from midnight to 5am – which is not what most parents imagine when thinking of their baby ‘sleeping through the night’!

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 14:02:38

@frigatebird: see my reply above, I don’t think sleep has to be taught – but I also don’t think prolonged sleep with no breaks is typical for humans. I think it is an artifact of western post-industrial lifestyles. Night waking is normal for humans all around the world of all ages. I think too much emphasis is placed on everyone getting a ‘good’ night’s sleep and sleeping through the night – see articles referenced above!

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 14:02:49

@deepdarkwood: No, I can’t think of any research that has looked at this…

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 14:03:03

@TheFoosa: it depends what is keeping you awake! if it is anxiety/mind racing sort of stuff then there are various CBT techniques that can help. Consumption of alcohol before bed causes you to wake up after a couple of hours, as do certain types of food, and various illnesses. Modfying your ‘sleep hygiene’ might be all it takes. I’d suggest you consult a GP, and see NHS advice for insomnia: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Insomnia/Pages/Treatment.aspx

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 14:03:14

@kveta: If you’ve read my previous replies you’ll know by now that I am not a fan of controlled crying. I don’t see how it could work with co-sleeping, or continued nighttime breastfeeding. Cessation of night feeds normally spells the end of breastfeeding in a short space of time. If his sleep is gradually ‘improving’ then he’s on a normal trajectory. Re. back to Sleep, babies do arouse less frequently and sleep more deeply when in the prone position – this is one reason there was lots of opposition to back to Sleep at the beginning, and why some parents still refuse to sleep babies supine. You don’t say how often you feed your son in the night, but if once or twice then this is common for breastfed babies under a year old, regardless of their sleep position. Most babies of your parents generation weren’t breastfed… and slept prone.

Druzhok Tue 15-Jun-10 14:06:27

Is anyone else finding this thread extremely therapeutic??

Dh and I have come in for some real criticism re our co-sleeping/very gentle approach. I am unused to such consensus!

kveta Tue 15-Jun-10 14:06:44

thanks - all babies in my family were breast fed apparently, but we're the first to co-sleep. We've decided not to try controlled crying just yet - but if he's not sleeping better in a month or so, may have to. it's just so frustrating to hear of so many babies who are breastfeeding successfully AND sleeping!!

when you say 'Cessation of night feeds normally spells the end of breastfeeding in a short space of time.' is that really the case in older babies? I thought it was possible to keep breastfeeding with only one or two feeds a day for years?

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 14:08:34

@eastdevongirl: thanks -- do you want to keep breastfeeding him? the risk with cutting out night feeds is that this often triggers rapid decline in milk production and rapid cessation of breastfeeding. If you want him to keep receiving the advantages of bf, don't completely cut out night feeds.

eastdevongirl Tue 15-Jun-10 14:10:33

sadly i have to go back to work in a few weeks and so it is unlikley that we will continue to Bf

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 14:11:25

@kveta: if milk is being removed on a regular basis it will keep being produced, but if you go long spells without suckling it tends to wane. It is possible to keep feeding with a limited number of feeds a day, but at least one of these is a night-time feed which is when the most prolactin is being produced.

Druzhok Tue 15-Jun-10 14:11:40

EDG: I did. It can be done.

eastdevongirl Tue 15-Jun-10 14:12:41

Druzhok - how?

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 14:13:28

@Runningwithscissors: see my reply above to sparklingchampagne (similar question).

kveta Tue 15-Jun-10 14:13:39

east devon girl - I'm still bfing and have been back at work for 2 months - only expressing once a day, seems to be ok so far (apart from the sleep, obviously )

Helen - does 8pm count as a night time feed?

countryhousehotel Tue 15-Jun-10 14:13:46

Thank you Helen! You have no idea how much I needed to hear that what I am instinctively doing is the right thing. The parenting "advice" that I have encountered again and again is that you MUST teach your baby to self settle. We did it with dd using some controlled crying when she was a few months old (although never left her to cry it out) but I can't bear to do it again and bitterly regret doing it the first time.

Druzhok - same here!

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 14:14:47

@eastdevongirl: nighttime feeding with cosleeping is one of the most effective ways of contuning bf when you return to work!!!

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 14:17:18

@LindenAvery: nothing wrong with your baby, they all individual and have their own preferences. If he/she is happy, go with the flow!

kveta Tue 15-Jun-10 14:17:47

I have to go now, but wanted to say thanks to helen (and her team) for coming on for this webchat - it's been illuminating!

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 14:20:59

@Carriemumsnet: What works for her should guide her choices. She shouldn't do anything that she's not happy about doing joust because other people think it 'might' cause problems I know of no research demonstrating that responding to your baby's needs causes long-term problems

Druzhok Tue 15-Jun-10 14:20:59

Eastdevongirl: what Helen says, really.

DD feeds throughout the night, then I make sure she gets a good feed when we wake up. That's it until I pick her up. We have an ecstatic initial reunion and then feed a couple more times before bedtime.

It was difficult in the beginning (she was 9 months when I went back to work). She missed the breast terribly and I had to express at lunchtime to prevent myself spontaneously lactating at 2 o'clock. She's now 17 months and I do without the expressing. My breasts are very full when I see her, but she deals with that within about 10 minutes.

The most difficult aspect was managing workwear with breastfeeding. In the first months, I had to feed her as soon as I saw her (or she would become incredibly distressed), so that ruled out high necks or normal bras. Also had to establish the pattern with nursery, who were unused to someone feeding at pick up time.

The first months were a little difficult, but not half as much as I feared. And it has been well worth it.

helenball Tue 15-Jun-10 14:25:11

@kveta: last answer I think. How did I get into sleep research. Quite by accident in reality. I was a primatologist (studying monkeys) and when I got hired in Durham and had my 1st daughter chasing monkeys seemed a futile and too difficult thing to study. I switched to observing mums and babies instead because they stayed still, and as a new mum I had lots of questions about them I learned everything I know about anthropology of sleep by watching people, thinking about evolution of infants sleep needs, and reading everything I could get my hands on! My PhD students would encourage you to come to Durham if you want to learn more about anthropology and sleep

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 15-Jun-10 14:26:53

I'm afraid that's all Helen's got time for now. We will be archiving this webchat so you can see all the Qs and As together as we think there's some really useful information here. Thanks very much for sending the questions in and big thanks to Helen for joining us.

thatbuzzingnoise Tue 15-Jun-10 14:29:57

Thanks for the chat Helen. I have to catch up with my mate at DU who is studying anthropology. Maybe she'll talk me into becoming a student.

Druzhok Tue 15-Jun-10 14:31:30

Thanks very much.

Gleeb Tue 15-Jun-10 14:36:18

Really enjoyed reading this, thank you.

TheFoosa Tue 15-Jun-10 15:57:28

Thanks for the answer Helen, will chat with GP

MrsJamin Tue 15-Jun-10 19:03:32

A belated thanks, what a very interesting thread and I'm a little jealous of Helen living in Durham (went to uni there).

LeninGoooaaall Tue 15-Jun-10 19:35:51

Marking to read later. I've looked through quickly and can't see my question was answered, can anyone see that it was please?

Lenin, see the post at Tue 15-Jun-10 13:20:07

LeninGoooaaall Tue 15-Jun-10 20:08:18

Thanks Lady, on my phone and couldn't see. Seems a fair enough response to me, similar to Sears even whom I first happened across when I wondering what on earth was up with me or my babies when we just didn't want to go with the other flows.

<otherwise othordox conformist as you all well know smile>

neolara Tue 15-Jun-10 21:03:47

I think that's the most interesting and informative webchat I've read on MN. Thank you very much indeed.

dinkystinky Tue 15-Jun-10 21:12:44

Very belated thank you for the chat Helen - it was really interesting.

frigatebird Tue 15-Jun-10 21:18:45

Thanks, what an excellent webchat. Very helpful and reassuring.

hellymelly Tue 15-Jun-10 21:23:43

Thanks for the chat,Helen and your team.As others have said it is lovely as a breastfeeding and co-sleeping parent (of a three year old and a not bf but still cuddled in bed with 5 year old) to read positive and sensible comments on co-sleeping rather than negative.I co sleep because it seemed weird for me to not have my baby next to me,and I'm still co-sleeping because they want to still sleep next to me and I like having them there too.BTW I would be happy at any point to answer any questions on my experiences of co-sleeping if your students were doing any research.

SoBloodyTired Tue 15-Jun-10 21:55:55

Just caught up with this. What a FAB webchat. Really interesting, enlightening and no agenda - refreshing!

Thanks very much Helen

Oh poo I missed this!!! I wanted to ask her why my dd wont sleep! Its driving me nuts!

very interesting read though and has made me feel less guilty about co-sleeping with a 2 year old!

deepdarkwood Wed 16-Jun-10 09:42:07

Sorry not to have been there for the webchat, but thanks Helen & the team - really interesting & I will certainly follow up those links.

twinmumplus1inthetum Wed 16-Jun-10 10:21:39

vodoplav123 - You make it sound very simple but I wonder what you would have done had you had twins? Your options re co-sleeping are very reduced, due the the size of the bed and you have very reduced options over positions for double breastfeeding etc.

My question for Dr Ball is whether she has any specific advice for parents of multiples? My twins are now 3 and have been excellent sleepers for some time - they co-slept in a cot from birth until 4 months and this certainly helped them settle - but in the early weeks / months it was possible to go through a night and have not had ANY sleep myself as if one wasn't up the other was, or they could both be crying together. I think that it is almost impossible not to use some controlled crying with multiples as the logistics make it very difficult to soothe two babies simultaneously. Also are the risks for co-sleeping with multiples (with parents together) raised, simply due to lack of space?

twinmumplus1inthetum Wed 16-Jun-10 10:22:51

oops, it was yesterday. But it does make for interesting reading.

blinder Wed 16-Jun-10 11:47:06

Great great thread! Better than any sleep book.

GormlessHeart Wed 16-Jun-10 13:36:55

Great thread, thank you to Helen and her team. Feel dreadful for trying cc in retrospect, and angry that I just didn't listen to my instincts. Lovely to read of so many others who bf/co-sleep out there.

Nurmle Wed 16-Jun-10 20:52:01

I feel so much better about co-sleeping and not trying CC (was starting to think it was something I should do to teach him to sleep alone). Thank you so much Dr Helen Ball.

Aargh can't believe I missed this!
Thank you for answering my quesiton.
i feel guilty ~(and frustrated) that my two seem to survive on so little sleep, and that's exacerbated by being told that they need loads of sleep for development.

porcupine11 Mon 21-Jun-10 11:19:10

Fantastic thread, just read the whole thing & agree with Blinder it's 100% more useful and reassuring than any of the sleep books I've read. So refreshing to hear from a real expert academic rather than someone with a book to sell - more like this please MN!

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