Babies and sleeping. A controversial topic I know, but an important one. Our modern Western society places unrealistic expectations on babies (and parents!) to be sleeping through the night at a very young age. The fact of the matter is, babies are MEANT to wake frequently overnight. It is the biological norm. So here I’ve put together a short list of Do’s and Don’ts to help save your sanity when it comes to your baby’s sleep.
DO expect to be woken frequently overnight for the first 2 years of your baby’s life. And remember this can extend to the first 3-4 years. Humans have evolved to wake frequently and even adult’s rarely sleep the whole night through without waking, we just don’t remember it!
DON’T equate “good” baby with a baby that sleeps for more than 5 hours in a stretch overnight. A good baby is a baby that signals their needs, no matter what time of the day or night. Sleep does not equal good.
DO follow your baby’s cues. If they wake, go to them. Check their nappy, make sure they’re comfortable (including how hot or cold they are!) and feed them. Ultimately, following baby’s cues is going to make for a much happier baby and a much less frustrated set of parents!
DON’T compare your baby to anyone else’s! Mary from next door’s baby has been sleeping 8 hours a night since she was 6 weeks old. Your nephew is 2 and only sleeps in 45 minute blocks round-the-clock. Both are within the realms of normal! You know your baby is going to roll, crawl, walk and talk at different times to everyone else’s babies, the same holds true for sleep! With 4 children, I have run the gamut from first baby sleeping 7 hours a night from a week old to fourth baby still waking hourly at 13 months. Second and third babies were both different again. Comparing your baby’s sleeping patterns to everyone else is only going to cause more frustration.
DO find what works for your family and stick to it! If co-sleeping works, fantastic. Is bed-sharing the only way you can get those precious few hours? Then do it. Does your baby need silence and darkness in their own space? Run with it. Forget the “experts.” You are the expert on your baby and their needs. Roll with it, your sanity will thank you later.
DON’T sleep train by way of controlled crying or cry-it-out! There are multiple studies that show sleep training using these methods is detrimental and can potentially cause problems in the future. Essentially, when babies are left to cry-it-out, the cortisol (stress hormone) levels in their brains spike. While their brains are developing at such a quick pace, this action helps to set down neural pathways that can cause predispositions towards anxiety, stress and depression. I know you don’t want this for your baby, so do the research, and if your baby’s sleep is becoming a problem, check out some gentle resources like Dr Jack Newman, Pinky McKay or Elizabeth Pantley.
DO take advice with a grain of salt. Everyone has a story about what worked for them and that’s great! But what worked for them may not work for you, and it may not sit right with you. So take the bits that you like and leave the bits that you don’t!
Finally, remember, this too shall pass. While it may seem like forever, your baby will learn to self-regulate and put themselves back to sleep eventually. Sleep deprivation does end and you will go back to having blood, not caffeine, running through your veins.