The definition of regression, according to Dictionary.com, is reversion to an earlier or less advanced state or form, or to a common or general type. The human species is one of the most sophisticated and advanced among the species on Earth. In the absence of physiological or genetic anomalies, the human design is perfect and with innate intelligence.
Infant And Early Childhood Brain Development
The human brain develops to about 80% of its full capacity by age 3 and 90% by age 5. A newborn baby has all of the brain cells, or neurons, that they will have for the rest of their life. The connections between these cells, however, are what really make our brains function. Brain connections are what enable us to talk, to move, to think, to communicate, and to do just about anything that we are capable of doing. Infancy and the early childhood years are a crucial time for making these connections. At least one million new neural connections, or synapses, are made every second, more than at any other time in our lives. This is A LOT of activity!!!
Different parts of our brain are responsible for different functions like movement, language and speech development, and emotions. Each center develops at different rates and overall brain development is progressive. As each area develops connections, the connections start to interlink in increasingly complex ways. There is nothing regressive about infant brain development.
Infant Sleep in The United States
In our country, infant sleep is a topic of lots of contention! It has become, like politics and religion, a taboo social topic due to the very strong emotions that are evoked on both sides of the argument. In our society, we have led parents and families to believe that infant sleep is broken requiring “fixing” in the form of an ever growing lucrative new field of sleep “training.” There are countless books that tout the efficacy of their sleep training techniques. So called sleep “experts” or “consultants” can run a family from upwards of one thousand up to three thousand dollars.
The “philosophies” of these “experts” and “consultants” vary greatly but all involve some form of not responding to an infant’s need or cries when they wake during a particular, randomly selected, period of time that is estimated by the person the family hires and the time can range from 10 to 12 consecutive hours in addition to naps during the daytime. The applications of these trainings can range from “gentle” but very precise form of responding to wakings, which typically start with some kind of light physical contact and evolve to no contact or response at all, and span all the way up to very cruel methods of allowing an infant, some times as young as 6 to 8 weeks old, to cry so excessively that they vomit and sweat profusely, hence parents are advised to put protective mattress covers under the sheets. Some sleep “consultants” will require parents to leave the home and to find lodging while the “consultant” stays home dealing with the terrifying spectacle of allowing a baby to cry for hours without response until she tires herself to sleep. Now, I did say that “philosophies” vary differently so not all “consultants” will have the same approach.
Babies do not regress, they PROGRESS!! YES, it is different! It is not just semantics but a crucial component of this conversation. If we call this normal developmental progression a regression we automatically assign a negative connotation to what is normal behavior and what are normal developmental markers, thereby necessitating the fixing of something that isn’t broken at all.
Infant Sleep Stages
Did you know that babies, just like adults, have different types, stages and depths of sleep? There are two types of sleep: REM which is a light stage of sleep when dreams occur and which is characterized by rapid eye movement. Babies spend about half of all their sleep time in REM sleep.
The other type of sleep is called Non-REM and it has four distinct stages. Stage one is when your baby experiences drowsiness. Their eyes droop and may open and close, and they are generally dozing. Stage two is light sleep, where your baby moves and may startle or jump with sounds. Stage three is a deep sleep state where your baby is quiet and tends to not move. Stage four is a very deep sleep stage during which time your baby is quiet and does not move.
Babies enter stage one at the beginning of their sleep cycle, then move into stage two, then stage three, then progress on to stage four, then back to three, then stage two again, and finally REM sleep. These cycles may occur several times during your baby’s sleep time. Babies, just like adults, may awaken as they pass from deep sleep to light sleep and may have difficulty going back to sleep in the first few months of life and up to a year of age.
Normal Infant Development
Though there are many great developmental advances during the first two years of life, infants have more advanced developmental leaps at around the age of 3 to 4 months, 9 to 10 months and at around 18 months of age. During these particular times the brain is working even harder than usual to achieve new or more complex skills. At about 4 months of age, your baby is making great leaps in motor skill development. This is the time when your baby becomes more dextrous moving her hands together and grabbing at any object in her vicinity, often times including your food (more on this on the upcoming post on introducing solids).
At between 9 to 10 months old, your baby will be really babbling and working hard to develop language at the same time that she will start to take her first assisted steps working her way up to unassisted walking that will take place anywhere between 9 to 10 months of age up to 14 to 15 months old. During these developmental leaps the extra connectivity activity of your baby’s brain will result in CHANGES, not regressions, in what her sleep patterns might have been up to that point. These leaps can last 2 to 4 weeks.
Infants And Adults Are Not Very Different
Here is a more relatable way that I explain to parents infant sleep changes due to developmental leaps. Think about a time when you had a project due for school or work. The quality of the project would result in a passing or a failing grade at school or a promotion or demotion at work. You have very specific deadlines that you are finding hard to meet. You are working long hours every day for weeks and just as the deadline approaches you are experiencing extra anxiety over the completion of your project. The few days before the deadline you find that your normal sleep patterns are interrupted by uncharacteristically restless sleep and repeated wakings. Have you regressed in your sleep or is your sleep changing because your brain is in a state of hyper activity due to the extra demands you are experiencing? See, no different than what your baby experiences during her developmental leaps when her brain is on over drive. Would you consider calling a sleep consultant and spending thousands of dollars to “fix” your sleep? Or in another scenario, would you understand it if your partner shunned you if you asked for cuddles during this time to help you sleep better? If your partner ordered you to go sleep in another room and to not disturb him or her would you find his or her response appropriate?
The Problem Is Not Infant Sleep. The Problem Is How We Have Come to Define Infant Sleep.
In our society we are faced with two major issues regarding infant sleep. The first is the fact that we are being sold that infant sleep is broken. The second is that our society does not value families and we do not have adequate family leave to care for our newborn infants or adopted children. There is nothing wrong with a baby, infant or toddler who wakes in the night. Wakings can happen because of a need for calories, hydration, soothing, or because of extra brain development during specific phases of your child’s growth.
If we are able to start to really understand what is perfectly NORMAL infant sleep and infant behavior, it will not make us any less tired but we will be able to use more appropriate measures to meet our children’s needs in a way that supports normal infant development. There is plenty of scientific evidence that shows us that the choices we make now will have an impact throughout the life course. Just because our parents did something with us, and in your estimation you turned out “okay,” it does not mean that we shouldn’t strive to educate ourselves with evidence-based information to make better choices for our children.
Instead of paying exorbitant amounts of money to fix something that isn’t broken what we need to do is demand paid family leave so we can take care of our children without sacrificing our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. A perfect time to accomplish this is to make sure you make it to the voting booth this upcoming midterm election and to every local, state and national election thereafter. Make sure you write to your representatives and ask them about their stance on paid federal family leave.
What You Can Do Now
Until we get adequate support from our government and society which, under the current state of affairs, seems like an impossibility now, consider the guidelines of safe co-sleeping or bed-sharing. Sharing a bed with your child means you can respond more rapidly and if you are also breast or chest feeding this means a much quicker return to sleep for both of you.
You can also try to negotiate, with your employer, a later start time, or some work from home days, or reduced work hours for a period of time immediately following your return from family leave. I know it may feel scary to ask for these considerations but if we do not start asking nothing will ever change. Remember the tenets of negotiation, make sure that you present a strong case on why providing these temporary concessions for you will make you a more valuable asset to your company. It is quite possible that your supervisor is a parent, herself, and knowing what it is like first hand can mean a more compassionate review of your request and may just lead to some concessions.
Infant Sleep Is NOT Broken
In the end, the most important thing to remember is that your baby is not broken. Your baby does not need fixing. Your baby is undergoing very normal leaps of development which I promise will truly not last too long. As a parent to a fourteen year old daughter, I can tell you that the time in retrospect really is very short lived.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men [and women].” Frederick Douglass