Have I already mentioned that I’m a recent first-time auntie? If you know me in real life, I’m sure I’ve already told you several times (and I don’t even care if I know I’ve already told you – I have no problem telling you again).
As I watch my sister-in-law and brother-in-law struggle with getting their 2 week old (absolutely stunning) son to sleep at night, I’m revisiting our early days with Aliya (now 9.5) and Sam (now 7).
I’m reminded of the exhaustion and frustration, the self-doubt, the second-guessing and the exhaustion (oh, did I say that already?).
I’m also reminded of all the BS advice you hear and read, and then feel guilty about since you assume it’s your fault it doesn’t work for your baby.
Following are 10 facts about baby sleep that everyone things are true: and it’s time to stop beating yourself up with them!
1. “Put your newborn to bed drowsy but awake”.
Has anyone ever – especially those with a fussy or high need baby – ever actually pulled this one off? I know I haven’t in my 10 years of parenting.
Here’s my philosophy about sleep and newborns: Do whatever works. Your baby is just learning to adjust to the world, to the lights and loud noises, to the cold, and to his sense of self in the world.
Now is not the time to be stressing out over ‘teaching bad habits’. Now is the time to do whatever works for your baby and your family, and to help your baby get as much sleep as he or she needs.
As your baby gets a little older and more comfortable with, well, being alive, you can work on the whole ‘drowsy but awake’ routine. When she can soothe herself a little, this is much more likely to work.
2. “Never wake a sleeping baby”.
Um, except what if your baby sleeps all day and is up all night? Do yourself and your baby a favour, and feel free to wake her if she’s sleeping most of the day without eating.
Babies, especially newborns, need to get a certain amount of food during the day or they *will* wake up at night to get it.
The first couple of weeks is a great time to start a routine (not a schedule): Waking him or her every 3 or so hours during the day will give you the best possible chance of having peaceful nights.
3. “Put your baby to bed later so he sleeps in later”.
Flat out wrong. This is one I see parents with kids of all ages trying with little success.
Babies, and especially fussy ones, will tend to be fussiest in the evening hours. I remember our daughter in particular was fussy from about 5:30pm on.
The evening hours are typically referred to as the ‘witching hour’ for this very reason. This is when many babies are naturally the most fussy and inconsolable.
But guess what? It doesn’t always have to be this way. I’m not saying it’s easy or even always possible, but fussiness in the evening can simply be a sign that your baby wants to go to bed.
Generally speaking, kids who go to bed early actually sleep in later, contrary to what many parents think.
So rather than keeping your fussing baby up late in the hopes that he sleeps in longer in the morning, try the opposite: put him to bed early (even as early as 6pm) so he can get more sleep at the front end of the night.
4. “Keep your baby up during the day so she sleeps more at night”.
I’m sure by now you’ve heard the expression “sleep begets sleep”. Well, it’s one of my favourite expressions, especially in relation to fussy babies.
A common reason babies sleep poorly at night is because they sleep poorly during the day. A baby who catnaps during the day, or who is kept awake for most of the day by well-meaning parents will quickly become overtired and sleep-deprived.
Overtiredness leads to a lessened ability to be able to fall asleep, and when she does finally fall asleep, her sleep is likely to be more restless and less restorative.
For this reason it’s important to make sure you do everything in your power to help your baby sleep during the day. Stroller rides, car rides, and baby wearing are all methods you can use if your little one doesn’t like the crib or basinet.
If you’re not sure how much sleep your baby or toddler actually needs, here are some general guidelines from Marc Weissbluth, author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child (note: this is an affiliate link).
Chart courtesy of Southeast Psych
5. “Put your baby to sleep when he becomes fussy”.
According to Dr. Weissbluth, all babies gives us sleep cues when they’re ready to go to sleep. Unfortunately, many parents think that fussiness is one of those cues.
The problem with this is that fussiness is a very late cue that your baby is tired. Once they’re fussy, it becomes increasingly difficult to get them to fall asleep and stay asleep.
If possible, it’s best to put your baby down immediately when he or she starts to show early sleep cues such as:
- Eyebrows turning red
- Slowing down and ‘zoning out’
- Rubbing eyes, ears or face
- Gazing off into the distance
- Less interactive
For parents of fussy babies, however, reading these sleep cues can be more difficult. In cases where your baby is fussy most of the time, using the clock as a general guideline for nap time can be very helpful.
In general, newborns 8 weeks or less can only tolerate a maximum of 1 and a quarter hours of wakefulness (often more like 30-45 minutes). As babies get older, they can tolerate longer periods of wakefulness (up to 2-3 hours), but be intentional about watching for early sleep cues if possible.
6. “Sleep training means cry-it-out”.
Sure, most sleep training will involve crying to varying degrees.
However, sleep training does not mean putting your child in his or her crib, saying good night, and coming back in the morning (this is known as the extinction method, and most good sleep coaches will be able to help you without resorting to this!).
Proper sleep training is about learning and implementing good sleep routines, good sleep hygiene and using best practices for enabling your child to sleep. It’s about educating yourself on normal infant sleep, and understanding what your child is capable of, given his or her age.
Some sleep training will involve being with your child and soothing him while he learns a new way of falling asleep. Some strategies will be very gradual, and will involve little to no crying.
Don’t dismiss sleep training as a viable option for your family just because of what you may have heard.
Not sure sleep training is right for you? Check out my ebook, Sleep Training and High Need Babies.
7. “You can’t co-sleep with a newborn”.
I understand that co-sleeping is not for everyone. However at least according to members of our Facebook Group, it seems to be one of the most effective ways to help baby sleep.
I also understand the hesitation of parents of babies under about 6 months old when it comes to co-sleeping. Parents fear that in their sleep-deprived state, they will inadvertently roll over onto their baby. And according to many reputable sources, this is a risk that needs to be addressed.
What many parents don’t realize however, is that there are ways to greatly minimize any potential risks of co-sleeping. Having your baby in a bedside sleeper allows you to pat, calm or comfort your baby without having to leave the bed, and makes breastfeeding in the night a breeze. It also allows baby to be close to you, without you having to worry about any potential safety concerns.
8. “Don’t let your newborn get used to sleep crutches”.
You’ll find this advice EVERYWHERE you look online, often in relation to newborns. A ‘sleep crutch’ could be:
- A pacifier
- White noise
- A swing
- Rocking him or her to sleep
- Feeding him or her to sleep
- Using the car or stroller to get him to sleep
Again, in an ideal world, getting our newborn to fall asleep in a crib without any assistance would be some parent’s idea of winning the lottery. However, as we know, oftentimes this simply isn’t realistic.
There does come a time when it may be appropriate to slowly assist your baby with falling asleep without sleep aids. However in the beginning, I say do whatever works. There will be plenty of time to learn about self-soothing later on: help your newborn get healthy sleep in whatever way you can, and don’t feel guilty about it.
9. “Your baby will sleep better in a big boy/girl bed”.
Yikes. Can I just point out how NOT true this is? Some parents think that moving their toddler into a regular bed will magically solve their sleep problems.
But once you spent an evening carrying your child back to bed, oh, about 100 times, you’ll quickly realize this is not the case.
Case in point: After my husband TAUGHT our 18 month old how to climb out the crib (don’t get me started), we had to move him to a big bed to avoid falls. He went from sleeping like a champ, to requiring someone lay with him to fall asleep every night, and coming to our bed in the middle of the night. I’m not complaining, mind you: I’ve always kind of liked the little routine that developed.
That said, don’t assume that your child will be happier in a big bed. Yes, they will probably enjoy the freedom that comes with being able to roam around when they should be sleeping, but you may not.
I hope what you’ve gotten from this post is that there is no one-size-fits-all, magic sleep solution that works for all babies. You are the expert on your baby; that doesn’t mean it isn’t helpful to read and listen to what the experts say, but you also have to realize you’re not a bad parent if don’t follow the advice without question.
Above all, remember that how well (or how poorly) your baby sleeps is not a reflection of you as a parent.
Some parents smugly talk about how their baby slept through the night at 2 weeks old because of the awesome sleep routine they established. However for every parent who uses that routine with success, I bet there are 10 others for whom it doesn’t work.
Do what you can to help your baby sleep, especially when they’re a newborn. This is such a short stage of life, and while it can be utterly exhausting, it will be over before you know it.
Try to enjoy the nights with your baby (finally) asleep on your chest, or snuggled up in your arms after hours of screaming. And if you don’t enjoy those moments, that’s OK too. As long as you’re loving your baby and helping him or her sleep, that’s all that really matters.
What do you think of the list above? Agree or disagree? What other BS facts about baby sleep would you add to the list?
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici