Updated: Nov 28, 2022
Often when night-time responsiveness or nurture is spoken about, it's in a negative light. As a parent you feel compelled to sugar coat it, omit, or outright lie about your baby’s real sleeping patterns, the support you give them, or your sleeping arrangements - even if it is working for you, or, forbid, you LIKE it.
It’s no wonder - if you’re honest, you are practically inviting the fear mongering and misinformation, like:
"You’ll never sleep again", "They'll never sleep independently", "You've created bad habits".
Anyway. Enough of that for now. Today I want talk about the positives of nurturing your baby at all times of the day and night. Because there are so many!
1. Sweet baby snuggles. I mean, enough said, really. Is there anything more positively delicious than snuggling and sniffing a baby? Nurturing your baby's sleep and responding to them when they wake means more snuggles, and that can never be a bad thing. You don’t even need the support of science for this one.
Breastmilk is full of sleep-inducing hormones like melatonin and tryptophan. It's a sleepy cocktail for you AND your baby. The benefits don’t end there; melatonin and tryptophan also positively affect your baby’s immunity, the regulation of their circadian rhythm generally, and relieve pain (3).
For those of you who breastsleep (co-sleep and breastfeed, can be same sleep surface or separate space next to caregiver)- research shows you get the most sleep and feel better rested out of anyone, even though you and your baby wake as much or even more than separate sleeping babies (4). This is because your sleep cycles synchronise and the waking you experience is shorter and less disruptive, so sleep quality and duration is higher overall.
3. Responsiveness grows your baby's brain and helps them learn healthy self-regulation skills.
Research shows that responsiveness predicts better emotion regulation skills in childhood (5) and these benefits extend into adulthood, too (6). Physiologically speaking, the only way your baby knows how to be calm and regulated is by being in the presence of a calm and regulated caregiver. It's not something they can do alone. This is because they don't have the brain maturity necessary to initiate this process on their own and being alone is inherently alarming to them. Your calmness indicates to them they are safe, and they can be calm too.
This coregulation teaches their brain and helps them practice it so they can eventually do this on their own without external input. Babies need help doing this no matter the time of day.
4. Responsiveness promotes secure attachment.
Responding to your child reliably and dependably day and night promotes a strong, secure attachment (7).
The fact is children who feel safe and secure in the reliability of their home base (you and other close caregiver/s) also feel safe and secure to explore from that base. Research supports that responsiveness facilitates the development of a lifelong secure attachment relationship (8, 9).
For those of you who bed share or co-sleep, do not worry that it will create a clingy or dependent child. If whole societies that practise this as standard are not evidence enough, one study found that those who co-slept in the first few years of life showed higher levels of self-reliance (independence) at preschool age (10). This doesn't mean if you don't bedshare or co-sleep (room share) you won't or can't have a securely attached child. It's about responsiveness. It just so happens that responsiveness may be eaier to achieve when your baby is close by. However, it does put to rest the commonly repeated myth that sharing sleep with your baby is harmful to their development of independence or will create a clingy or overly dependent child.
There are many ways you can optimise sleep and well-being while parenting responsively and intuitively. Follow me on instagram for free daily resources, tips, and reassurance, and sign up from the landing page to receive your free guide "How To Survive Sleep Regressions". If you need more personalised support, I would love to help you find the balance you need. Get in touch via the contact form, book a single or sleep support package consult, or book a free discovery call
- Jess | Infant Sleep Scientist