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Your baby's sleep is important, but probably not in the way you are thinking.

In her book "How Babies & Toddlers Really Sleep" [1], Erica Neser [2] talks about how sleep has a specific kind of impact on how a baby's brain develops.  In just one cycle of roughly one hour, your baby will store memories, lay down paths between brain cells, and then finally secrete growth hormones.

It is important that your baby goes through these cycles during sleep, and according to Dr Nils Bergman [3], babies that sleep on their mother's chest experience all the correct sleep cycles and phases.  However, babies that are left to sleep alone might not experience these cycles at all.  According to Dr Nils, while babies that sleep alone might look like they are sleeping, their brainwaves are scrambled.

One of the many fears of parents is that their babies' brain will not develop properly if they do not get enough sleep.  Erica believes that this is one of the major factors to why parents try to "teach" their babies to sleep through the night.  It often leads to what is called the "cry-it-out" method, where babies are left alone until they essentially cry themselves to sleep, often taking hours.  This however, does not lead to healthy brain growth, a fact many psychologists today agree with.

A healthy sleep pattern will consist of a number of sleep cycles, typically an hour each, with feeding and comfort seeking throughout the night. According to Erica: "Babies aren’t supposed to sleep through from very early on. It’s normal to wake up often in the first year to nurse or be comforted".

So what can we do as parents to help our baby's brain growth and development?  Basically, accept that interrupted sleep until the age of about 3 or 4 is normal,  don't worry if baby wants to sleep with you in the bed, and respond with love when baby is looking for comfort during the night.  This will lead to healthy brain cycles during sleep.

The Majors for Minors music has been shown to help babies achieve better sleep.  Give it a try by playing Symphony of Sleep softly on repeat during your baby's night sleep and see the difference.

[1] Available as a free e-book:

[2] Trained Counsellor (BA Psych UP; Advanced Counselling UNISA), International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), Certified Infant Massage Instructor, Infant and Child CPR Instructor

[3] Paediatrician and academic from the organisation Neuroscience for Improved Neonatal Outcomes in Cape Town, South Africa

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