Why dont babies sleep at night? You asked Google heres the answer | Paul Kelley

Every day millions of internet users ask Google lifes most difficult questions, big and small. Our writers answer some of the commonest queries

Looking down into the pushchair I saw a young baby drifting off to sleep, and then flick his eyes open. At one point one eye was open and the other was shut.

What a lovely baby, I said. How old is he? Your first?

Yes. Four weeks. But he hasnt slept through the night once since he was born. I dont know what to do do you?

This mothers sleeplessness explains why Google is so often asked: Why dont babies sleep at night? To find out the answer you need to go back to the beginning.

If youre a mother, when you conceived your baby, they brought a number of changes into your life and theirs. For you there was a new lifestyle (healthy food, physical changes, no drinking) and a huge responsibility. For your baby, it was the beginning of a life where their only guide for nine months would be their genes and the environment in your womb.

Your baby will have rapidly developed a sense of time from the rhythms in the womb, including your heart beat. They will also have had two sets of timing genes. The first set ensures they sleep, just like other animals. This very large set of genes is very robust indeed: every baby sleeps, and no disease or experience will change that. The second set of genes creates their 24-hour sense of time throughout the day, including waking and sleeping.

Genes are, of course, a bit of a lottery. Although you may have a very distinct sense of sleep and the timing that suits your day (and night), your babys genes are a mixture of yours and your partners. Babies are different and have different sleep patterns, so the chance that their sleep patterns will match yours is very small.

During pregnancy, your baby experienced the rhythm of night and day, sleep and wake, only through you. These messages are confused in pregnancy because your sleep patterns change for many different reasons (physical changes, babys movements, needing to urinate more at night, tiredness and not getting enough sleep yourself). Your baby may have been soothed by the experience of you moving around during the day, and more active at night when you rarely moved. Throughout pregnancy, your good sleep will have helped your baby. We know that around the 32nd week of pregnancy, your baby sleeps too.

Thats one of the reasons why sleep needs to be a high priority for every pregnant woman; another is that sleep is vital for giving birth. Although being fatigued during pregnancy is normal, women who sleep less than six hours a night, on average, have longer labours and are 4.5 times more likely to have a caesarean delivery.

At birth the need to feed dominates a babys world and that of its parents. Feeding is hard work for a baby, and makes them tired so they sleep, rest and recover. Then the need to feed comes again, often in a pattern of every four hours or so. Babies have no established sense of night or day, and they tend to have cycles that are far shorter than 24 hours long. This is because their timing systems for the 24-hour day are not yet fully formed at birth, and they wont function consistently until a baby is about two to six months old.

So the short answer to the question is this: babies dont sleep through the night because they cant.

At between two and six months, a babys timing systems should develop so that their sleep has clear patterns. A very recent scientific discovery has shown that although a babys sleep, like an adults, is divided into a time of dreams (REM rapid eye movement sleep), and quiet deep sleep (non-REM), a baby has far more REM sleep than an adult. It appears this is necessary to consolidate a babys rapid learning about the world, including their understanding of night and day. And for a baby, sleep is vital for brain development in other ways too.

Thats all very well I hear mothers (and partners) say, but what can we do to make our baby sleep at night? Were desperate. Do we let them cry or not? Does breastfeeding help? How can we make sure they are safe?

Most sleep advice for babies applies to the whole family. The difference is that babies have to learn the timing of day and night only from signals in the environment.

Sunlight is the strongest environmental signal of all. Going outside is vital for your baby (and you) in setting your internal clocks to the same time. So the darker the bedroom, the better it is for sleep. In contrast, the light-emitting screens of televisions, phones or computer devices used before sleep, or night lights during sleep, are not a good idea.

Night is signalled by a fall in temperature, so cooler bedrooms are better. It is important to establish a regular pattern of waking and going to sleep, so the routine becomes familiar and pleasant.

Breast milk contains the hormone melatonin, which signals your sleep time to your baby, just as it did during pregnancy, if you decide to breastfeed. In the early weeks a baby is likely to doze off for short periods during a feed. Carry on feeding until you think they have finished or are fully asleep.

Guidelines are available for keeping babies safe while theyre asleep: Helping Your Baby to Sleep (NHS) and Keeping Your Baby Safe (NIH) offer good advice.

Also, trust yourself: if you cant bear your babys distress when they still wake up crying at 14 months, go to them.

And try not to worry. In the end, all of us will sleep.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

How does the pill work? You asked Google – heres the answer | Holly Grigg-Spall

Every day millions of internet users ask Google lifes most difficult questions, big and small. Our writers answer some of the commonest queries

The pill was the first drug to be created and prescribed for healthy people. Oral contraceptives became available in 1961 and within a decade were so ubiquitous as to gain the pet name of the pill. Fast-forward to the present: 100 million women will take a form of the pill today, right after brushing their teeth or before they go to bed. In fact, 80% of women will use oral contraceptives at some point during their lives. Many women now start taking the pill during their teens and continue taking it, every day, for several decades. The pill has become such a normalised, commonplace part of womens daily routine that its easy to forget that the pill is actually a powerful medication. But all of us, at some point, will want to know: How does the pill work?

The pill is made up of a synthetic estrogen and synthetic progesterone (known as progestin). These synthetic hormones are not the same as the hormones produced by the female body. The pill actually stops the production of those endogenous hormones via the brain. It suppresses the creation and fluctuation of hormones that make up the menstrual cycle and replaces that cycle with an artificial, flat stream of synthetic hormones. The body stops producing its own hormones and the pill acts as hormone replacement.

This process switches off the ovaries, preventing ovulation (the release of the egg from the ovary). The pill also prevents the production of fertile cervical fluid (essential for sperm to reach the egg). Plus, the lining of the uterus does not grow thicker (this uterine lining is what would usually, in an unmedicated cycle, become your period). This is the three-fold action by which the pill prevents pregnancy. Although women are only able to get pregnant on six days per menstrual cycle, the pill is taken every day to ensure infertility.

The usual language used for describing how the pill works is too often a mix of half-truths, platitudes, and a simple fudging of the facts. Understanding how the female body works when not on the pill can help us understand how the pill works. However, the female body and reproductive health have long been after-thoughts in science, as in our society. As a result, the pill has become both a product and a proponent of a sexist set-up, creating a gap in knowledge that gets filled with a host of medical myths.

For example, you may have heard that the pill regulates periods. The pill doesnt manage the menstrual cycle, it replaces it, and therefore the pill does not regulate the menstrual cycle. When women take the pill, they do not experience a cycle or periods. When they take a break from the pill once a month or take the placebo/sugar pills and bleed, this is not menstruation. The bleed experienced on the pill is a withdrawal bleed (your body is withdrawing from the synthetic hormones) and very different from a physiological period.

Why birth control can never regulate periods

Early pill researchers decided to create the break week (or the few days of placebo pills) to allow women to experience a bleed each month. At the time, it was considered a good sales tactic to design the pill packs this way; they thought women would be concerned by not bleeding month-in-month-out and, as such, would be reluctant to take the pill. Today youll often hear that there is no medical reason to have periods on the pill. What is meant is that theres no medical reason to have withdrawal bleeds on the pill, and thats precisely because the bleeds on the pill are not real periods. Withdrawal bleeds are an inessential design feature of the pill, but actual menstruation is different. There are many good medical reasons to have a period in fact, the American Committee of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends women view their periods as the fifth vital sign of health.

Part of the mythology that surrounds the pill is the idea that menstruation is unnatural. This developed from the paleofantasy of one doctor. He assumed that, because paleolithic women did not experience many periods in a lifetime (presuming they were pregnant often, breastfeeding, and then, of course, dying very young) in comparison to modern-day women, it is therefore more natural for women today to not have a menstrual cycle. It is more natural, he reasons, for them to be on hormonal birth control. So, the theory is that the pill takes women back to our presumed natural state of constant pregnancy and breastfeeding (no ovulation, no periods).

But its just a theory, without evidence, as we cannot know what occurred pre-science, or pre-society for that matter. Anyway, the pill does not actually mimic pregnancy; what happens to the body on the pill is more like a chemically induced menopause. The pregnancy hormones are estradiol, estriol and progesterone, which give many benefits. The pill contains ethinylestradiol and a synthetic progestin (like levonorgestrel or drospirenone, for example, as there are many kinds), which do not give the same benefits, and actually have many of the opposite effects.

Rather than questioning if a biological function is natural, it makes more sense to investigate whether it is important for good health. Its interesting to note that there are few functions of the male body we consider obsolete, unnecessary, or unnatural. Ive yet to hear a doctor make the argument that men might actually ejaculate too much, and as such should avoid ejaculation (preferably with ejaculation-preventive drugs), unless its for the purpose of conceiving a child.

The connection between the menstrual cycle and womens health is not theory, but scientific fact. The menstrual cycle and ovulation, specifically female biology, allows women to get pregnant and give birth, but thats not its only reason for being. Menstruation and ovulation are two connected parts of the same biological system. That we ask do women need periods? rather than do women need to ovulate? reveals that theorising around the necessity of menstruation is always wrapped up in the culture of period shaming and taboo.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/09/google-autocomplete-how-does-pill-work