Does Your Doctor Know About This?

Sep 29, 2020

“Imagine the birth of your first child. 

“At the hospital, the doctor enters the room and says, ‘Congratulations, it’s a healthy baby boy. We’ve completed all of the preliminary tests and everything looks good.’

“She smiles reassuringly and starts walking to the door. 

“However, before exiting the room she turns around and says, “There is just one thing. From this moment forth, and for the rest of your child's entire life, he will repeatedly and routinely lasp into a state of apparent coma. It might even resemble death at times. And while his body lies still, his mind will often be filled with stunning, bizarre hallucinations. This state will consume one-third of his life and I have absolutely no idea why he'll do it, or what it is for. Good luck!’

“...Until very recently, this was reality: doctors and scientists could not give you a consistent or complete answer as to why we sleep.” 

(As quoted from Why We Sleep by Dr. Matthew Walker, who attempted medical school, and ended up becoming a professor of neuroscience and psychology and, yes, is a specialist in Sleep Medicine. Full bibliography below.)

So let me ask you, then: does your doctor know about this?

The things they don’t teach in medical school

They teach about a LOT in medical school. About the parts of the body and the systems of the body. Anatomy, disease process, medication. They teach about imaging, and treatment plans.

But, despite the very many things they learn, and the work, time, energy, studying, and monetary investment in becoming a pediatrician, family practitioner, or pediatric medical specialist, they don’t learn about sleep.

In medical school, they don’t teach how sleep works.

They don’t teach why we sleep.

They don’t teach how much sleep babies and young children need or how to enable babies and young children to fall asleep. 

(They also don’t teach about tongue tie, breastfeeding, how to interact with kids, and a whole host of other topics relating to your babies’ and young children’s needs, but that’s not for here and now.)

So what does that mean for you?

That means, in quite simple terms, that most pediatricians - or their teams of nurses, since they don’t teach this in nursing school either - simply don't know anything about babies’ sleep.

A Conversation That Really Happened: 

[phone rings at nurse’s station; nurse picks up, and greets mom on the other line]

Mom:  I don't know what to do about my baby. She keeps on waking up every 10-15 minutes in the middle of the night. She knows how to fall asleep by herself, but I feel like there’s something wrong with her because she’s just not able to resettle.

Nurse: Hm…  And how old did you say she is now? Nine weeks old?

Mom: Yeah, she just turned 9 weeks two days ago.

Nurse: Well you know, babies this age just don't sleep well, and will need some help falling asleep.

Mom: No, but my baby knows how to fall asleep by herself. I know she knows how to fall asleep by herself.

Nurse (skeptical): Babies who are 9 weeks old can’t really fall asleep on their own.

Mom: I’ve seen her fall asleep on her own - she did it at bedtime! I just don’t know why she’s waking up so many times in the middle of the night!

Nurse: You know, Mom, I’d give it some time. Babies this age can’t really fall asleep by themselves yet and sometimes they just need to cry a little bit at night, and that's okay. So you can go and resettle her, you can try giving her a pacifier or picking her up if she doesn't need to be fed yet. But it's okay if she's not falling back asleep by herself because, you know, she’s just really too little for that.

While that conversation is not word for word, I assure you, it did happen. Because I was Mom. And the baby - well, it was two of ‘em. And they DID know how to fall asleep by themselves at bedtime. Yes, even at 9 weeks old. (And P.S.: I now know what their problem was -- and I help my clients with problems like this all the time.)

But no one on that medical team - none of the doctors or nurses - had a real answer for me. 

Just like the nurse that I’d spoken to a couple weeks earlier told me that it was “normal” that my babies were up for 4-6 hours(!!) at a time without falling asleep.

Not because they’re bad doctors or ignorant nurses. But because they know nothing about babies’ sleep and what babies need or are actually capable of. They never were taught, so they never learned.

But it’s not just me and my kids’ doctors and nurses.

It’s my clients’, too.

And, likely, it’s yours, too.

Because the only way a doctor or nurse would know more than bubbemaisas about sleep in general, and infant/children sleep in particular, is if they made the time (which, they generally don’t have), to do continuing research in an area that, as Dr. Walker (who was quoted above) discovered when he attempted to do research, there was nearly NO information until very recently.

And this is why so many of my clients have spoken to their pediatricians, and either received advice that didn't turn out to be that helpful, or were told to read a book, or were given a vague non-answer.

And this is also why some of my clients don’t even bother to ask their doctors.

No One Knows Everything

The truth is, we cannot fault our doctors for not knowing about sleep. Like I said, there’s been little research done, not a lot of information available, and: they weren’t taught anything about sleep in medical school or nursing school.

No one knows everything. And no one is supposed to know everything.

While nothing can exist in a bubble, and every area of your, your children’s and your baby’s health and well-being are intertwined and interconnected, if this is not an area that your pediatrician specializes in, or an area that he has chose to do further research or education in, then he simply won’t know.

But the good news is that, while your pediatrician doesn’t and can’t and shouldn’t know everything, there are people who specialize in those areas that your pediatrician doesn’t know.

Some of them, he’ll know that he doesn’t know about, and can refer you out to them.

And sometimes he may not even know that he’s lacking knowledge in that area, because, as the saying goes: you don’t know what you don’t know.

The Good News

The good news is that there are ALWAYS answers.

You may not know them.

Your sister/SIL, mother/MIL, friend, cousin, neighbor might not know them.

And, no, your doctor probably doesn’t know about this, either.

But if you’re wondering why your baby is so kvetchy, why your baby is impossible to get to sleep, why your baby can’t seem to sleep for longer than 30, 45 minutes, or only a few hours at a time at night - then there are definitely answers for you.


And this is exactly what I do with my clients -- click here to see how we can work together! 

*Walker, Matthew. "Chapter 1: To Sleep..." Why We Sleep Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. Scribner, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, 2017. 5-6. Print

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