Melbourne paediatrician, and dad of three, Dr Golly (Dr. Daniel Golshevsky) knows all about poor sleep. After experiencing a deeply unsettled baby, and distressing postnatal period as a parent, he directed all his energies into finding solutions for unsettled behaviour and poor infant sleep – to prevent others from going through what he experienced. He put these learnings to practice every day, with extraordinary results but one problem remained, reaching more people. One doctor can only see one person at a time. So Dr Golly created an online sleep and settling program for children 0-5 years old and here’s the cool bit… it focuses on fathers (or the non-breastfeeding parent) as the secret weapon to a good night’s sleep. Golly, tell me more…
For years, women have been achieving more and more in society. Greater heights of education, expectation and employment than any other time in history – but have we seen an equivalent reduction in the expectation to do the majority of newborn parenting?
When a baby enters a family unit, there’s so much focus on the baby and on the mother, especially if the mother is breastfeeding, as is most often the case. This makes perfect sense – the baby is the new arrival, requiring round-the-clock care and attention, and the mother is the one recovering from pregnancy and delivery, while simultaneously being the source of nutrition at the same time.
“But I’d like to shift the paradigm a little and put the spotlight onto fathers, we play a significantly greater role than many think – and we might just be the key to having a perfectly well-settled baby and entire family unit.”
Nowadays, babies arrive into families of all different shapes and sizes. From traditional couples to single parents, surrogacy, same-sex families and more. It’s wonderful that almost everyone has the ability to become a parent now – but regardless of the look of the family unit, it’s important we focus for a moment on the role of the non-breastfeeding parent. For ease of explaining, I’ll just refer to them as the father for now, but know that it can be anyone else in the home.
Following a baby’s birth, a mother gets a flood of oxytocin (hormone) which plays a fundamental role in social bonding, love, trust and generosity. It also activates a part of the brain called the amygdala. This is important for processing memory and drives emotions like fear, anxiety and aggression. The heightened amygdala activation is what drives a mother’s hypersensitivity to their baby, making her attentive, loving and deeply affectionate. This also makes the mother far more likely to want to feed an unsettled baby.
It’s close to impossible for a breastfeeding mother to not feed when picking up an unsettled baby. And if the baby is being held right next to a food source, knowing that it will be comforted by the closeness and the sucking reflex – then why wouldn’t they want to feed? That is why fathers are more likely to be able to resettle a baby, if something wakes them before a scheduled feed.
If you could give parents just one tip what would it be and why?
That’s mean. How could I possibly stop at just one?! The single most important thing that I want to convey when I’m talking with parents is how skilled they already are. They have the instincts and warmth already – all they need is to grow their understanding of a baby’s forms of communication and not to underestimate how well our babies talk to us when they need something.
What are the common mistakes parents make?
Not trusting themselves and their own abilities as parents. There is so much noise in the wonderful, wild and windy world of newborns. Social media (and the internet in general) have made information instantly accessible, but dangerously unreliable. Parents of unsettled babies will often jump from one solution to the other, out of desperation and sleep deprivation. You needn’t trial treatments to manage colic and unsettled behaviour.
Instead, find out why. Identify the problem, eradicate it – and guess what? Your baby will settle. It seems simple – yet so few resources seek to identify the underlying problem; and there always is one.
What are 1-2 common patterns or themes that you see?
The most common pattern I see is babies sitting in a negative cycle. If the root cause of unsettled behaviour isn’t identified and addressed, the go-to method for calming a baby is just to feed them. Then we enter a negative cycle of frequent feeding, just to stop the crying.
After that, it’s parents believing that poor sleep, developmental leaps and sleep regressions are actual things. These are the terms that people use when they can’t identify the problem, or are having trouble solving it. Babies don’t go through identifiable leaps at strict time points, you never have to ‘ride out’ unsettled weeks and sleep regressions are absolutely preventable.
Does letting a child cry it out lead to anxiety?
Leaving a child to cry-it-out has never been studied safely in children under 6 months of age. Therefore it shouldn’t be used as a method of achieving a desired routine. Beyond this age, crying is always avoided but it’s important to understand that cries come in many different forms, for different reasons. These need to be acknowledged and addressed individually.
While controlled crying remains controversial, capped comforting is ok in smaller babies – involving a more hands-on approach. Spaced soothing is a far gentler approach than controlled crying and is easier on babies and parents!
Regardless of which settling technique is chosen there is bound to be some crying as the baby adjusts to a new routine. It’s important to remember that this is not because your baby feels abandoned or unloved, but rather because your baby is tired or perhaps frustrated that expected reactions are not taking place. The crying should be interpreted as a protest, as opposed to pain or suffering.
With the settling techniques recommended in the Dr Golly Program, make sure you choose one that is achievable for your family! Every parent and family is different, but both caregivers should be on the same page to give your baby the same, consistent message.
The Dr Golly™ Baby Sleep Program is the only sleep and settling program globally designed and written by a paediatrician, as well as the only one that focuses on dads (or the non-breastfeeding parent) as the secret weapon to a good night’s sleep. It was written with input from a wide range of healthcare professionals including midwives, infant sleep consultants, lactation consultants, paediatric dieticians, dentists and paediatric psychologists. For more information visit www.drgolly.com