Adapted excerpt from Stuff I Wish I Knew…About Newborns.
Baby sleep! There are countless books devoted to this topic and for good reason. How much or how little your baby sleeps can have a huge impact on your life as a new parent. Now I’m not about to dish out a ton of advice about what you should or shouldn’t be doing. My goal as always is to help prepare parents for what they might expect during those early days and to hopefully offer a little reassurance along the way.
Newborn Sleep in the First Few Days
During the first few days at least, most newborns sleep, a lot. It may not be for long stretches as they need to feed very often also, but they generally aren’t awake for very long. Also, some babies are extra sleepy or drowsy due to drugs administered to their mother during the birth, but these effects usually don’t last a long time. One reason some people find it unnerving that their newborn sleeps so much is that you often hear friends or relatives getting excited about how “alert” a baby might seem; but this doesn’t mean that the awake baby is better or healthier or smarter than a sleepy one, and they may just have caught her during one of her rare awake moments of that day.
Baby Sleep in the First Few Months
The number one question that new parents get asked is how their baby is sleeping. Unfortunately, the term “sleeping like a baby” can be very misleading. Sleep is so important for everyone, which of course is why it is such a big issue for many families, particularly during the first few months and often well into the first year and beyond. From how to put your baby to sleep to how to get them to stay asleep, from how to get them to nap regularly and for long stretches to how to get them to sleep through the night, the breadth and complexity of this topic are the reasons for all of those books I mentioned. However, there are many aspects of baby sleep that I hear parents talk about over and over, and there are certain things they simply wish they had known. I’ll touch on some of the standout sleep topics around newborns and sleep that I hear from new parents all the time.
Books Are A Great Resource But Don’t Work For Everyone
The books about sleep habits and routines are full of knowledge and advice and can be invaluable to some parents, but they simply don’t all work for every baby. While some parents manage to get into a solid routine early on, others don’t and find themselves struggling to get their baby to adhere to a schedule. Many parents suggest that it may be worth giving up on the routine if isn’t working and is becoming a cause of stress. Often families are happy to go with the flow in the first few months with each day being different to the next, and might start to work on routines later if and when they feel the need.
Count On Spending Time Trying To Figure It Out
During the struggle to help babies sleep it’s so common for parents to spend hours and hours trying to figure out what’s wrong and how it to make it better. Whether it’s timing of naps and bedtime, how much baby has eaten, whether baby has burped, gas pain, room temperature, bed temperature, clothing, swaddling, bedding, too much or too little light, too much or too little noise, there are just so many variables that may or may not affect a baby’s sleep. And just when you think you have it all figured out, everything changes again. If only they did come with a manual!
It’s Okay to Go Back on Your Word
When preparing to have a baby, it’s normal to read all the books and listen to all the advice and then resolve to do or not do a whole list of things. Just keep in mind that once you’re living it you might go back on your word, and that’s okay. Whether it’s where your baby sleeps, how you get him to sleep, or whatever else it is you’ve changed your stance on; the important thing is that you make your decisions based on what you feel is best for your family. Parents who are uncomfortable with certain ideas but are persuaded by friends or family, or feel they need to conform to other standards, might make choices that they regret later. Similarly some parents who feel something is right for their family are made to feel guilty about their decisions by others. It’s your baby, your family and your choice.
Fussing or Crying?
Many parents say that they wish they had been able to distinguish fussing from crying early on in their newborn’s life, so they would have known when to step in or let her settle herself. While some parents would rather try to deal with all of their baby’s sleep issues without the event of any crying, other parents agree that some amount of fussing is okay and may be necessary for your baby to get herself to sleep. The amount of fussing that is tolerable completely depends on you and your baby. Again, it’s every parent’s job to do what they feel is right for them and their family.
White Noise and Swaddling
White noise can be a miracle. One sleep tactic that so many parents wish they’d discovered earlier is white noise. It can literally work miracles for some babies. Whether it’s a sound machine, the radio, the vacuum or the fan in the kitchen, chances are you’ll be able to find something that will instantly calm your baby and even send them right off to sleep. Swaddling can be so effective too. If you can manage it with a blanket, well done you! But those clever zip and Velcro swaddle blankets can be a great alternative.
Motion Often Works But…
Motion can work wonders but it’s easy to fall into a habit of using motion to get your baby to sleep and then the notion of them getting themselves to sleep gets less and less likely. If you’re okay with it, that’s perfectly fine of course, but it’s surprising how a quick jiggle of your newborn can escalate to half an hour of bouncing on an exercise ball while rocking and patting your 20lb six-month old wondering when your arms will fall off. Yes, that was me!
Sleeping Through the Night
Sleeping through the night can mean different things to different people. A baby sleeping through the night doesn’t necessarily mean twelve straight hours. Also, the way some people talk about it, it can often seem like a competition. It isn’t a race, and although you probably really want to get there as soon as possible, you have to go with what works for your family.
It Gets Better
Sleep issues improve eventually. While your baby’s lack of sleep and your consequent sleep deprivation may take over your life at first, know that this too is a phase and your baby will sleep well eventually. It may take months or even years but it won’t last forever.
I regularly post adapted excerpts from my “Stuff I Wish I Knew…” series of books. My goal is to help new and expectant parents feel a little more prepared for what to expect on the journey to parenthood.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post from the third book in the series Stuff I Wish I Knew…About Newborns.
If you want to read more from me about pregnancy and beyond check out my books available on Amazon: