So I have been through it all -twice in fact. Looking after newborns, infants, toddlers and preschoolers can be a struggle. Without sleep because they are not sleeping well can make these wonderful times beyond frustration and exhaustion. You begin to second guess yourself about everything. I am reminded of just how difficult these times can be. I am also reminded of the BS advice everyone was telling me or I was reading and then feeling so guilty because I thought I was not trying hard enough or working hard enough as all this good advice was my fault it wasn’t working for my baby.
Here are some facts about baby sleep that most people think are true and we are going to set the record straight and help you stop beating yourself up because your child is not sleeping.
1. “Hey remember to put your newborn baby to bed when they are drowsy but awake.”
I can not honestly say that I ever did this with either of my daughters. Let me know if this worked for you. These are my thoughts about sleep and newborn babes- do whatever works for you and your baby. Your little one is just figuring out about their world, and adjusting to noises, lights, cold, heat, and his sense of who they are in the world.
This would not be the time to stress yourself out by making sure you do not set up ” bad habits”. Now, however, is the time to do whatever works for your baby, and for you as well as helping your baby get as much sleep as they need.
As your little one gets a bit older and feels more comfortable in being alive, you can figure out the drowsy but awake thing. When your little one can soothe themselves a little then it is much more likely to work.
2. “Don’t ever wake a sleeping baby”.
Okay, so your little one has their days and nights backward. They are all up night and sleeping all day. Forget this one- feel free to do yourself a favor and wake them up if they are sleeping all day an
Newborn babies require a certain amount of food during the day or they absolutely will wake up at night to get it.
This first couple of weeks is the perfect time to start a routine meaning wake them up every 3 hours or so during the day will give you and your baby the best possible chance of having peaceful nights.
3. “Have your baby go to sleep later so they will sleep in later.”
This is completely wrong. Parents of children of all ages try this one without much success. I remember trying this one too. It did not work and both the baby and I were both exhausted because we stayed up later and the baby woke up the same time anyhow.
Babies, and especially the fussy ones, tend to be fussy in the evening. Both daughters were fussy around 5:00 pm and onward. These evening hours are often referred to as ‘ the witching hour” for the very reason that this is the time that babies are the most fussy and not easily consolable.
But…it may not have to be this way. It is not easy and not always possible but the fussiness may be a sign that your baby wants to go to bed.
In general, children who go to bed early actually sleep in later, which is contrary to what most parents believe.
So instead of keeping your fussy baby up later hoping that they sleep in longer in the morning, try doing the opposite and put him to bed early, even if it is 6 pm so that they can get more sleep at the beginning of their sleep.
4. “Keeping your baby up during the day so he will sleep more at night.”
One of the common reasons that babies sleep poorly at night is because they sleep poorly during the day. If you keep your baby up during the day and they only get to catnap, they will quickly become overtired and sleep deprived.
Being over tired leads to the baby not being able to fall asleep easily and when he does than the sleep will likely be more restless and less restorative.
So it is important to do whatever you can to ensure your little one sleeps well during the day. Use the stroller, car, and baby wearing devices if your baby does not like sleeping in their crib or bassinet.
Here is a general guideline chart if you are unsure about how much sleep your child needs at whatever age they are. The guideline is from Marc Weissbluth.
5. “When your baby becomes fussy put him to sleep.”
All babies gives us sleep cues when they’re ready to go to sleep, according to Dr Weissbluth. Many parents think that fussiness is one of those cues, unfortunately.
The thing is that fussiness is actually a very late cue. Once they are fussy, it becomes much more difficult for them to fall asleep and stay asleep.
It is always best to put your baby down immediately when he starts to show signs of early sleep cue such as:
- Slowing down and zoning out
- Eyebrows turning red
- Rubbing eyes, ears or face
- Less interactive
- Gazing off into the distance
For some babies who are fussy, it can be difficult for parents to read the sleep cues. If your baby is fussy most of time than using the clock as a general guideline for nap time can be very useful as it is hard to read the usual cues from them to know when they are tired.
Generally speaking, 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 will begin to tolerate longer periods of wakefulness (up to 2-3 hours), however it is good to intentionally watch for early sleep cues if you can.
6. “Sleep training means cry-it-out approach.”
Most sleep training can involve crying to varying degrees.
However, sleep training does not mean putting your child in their crib or bassinet, say good night, and coming back in the morning (this is known as the extinction method, and most sleep coaches will be able to help you without to this!).
Proper sleep training is about learning and using good sleep routines, good sleep hygiene and using best practices for enabling your child to sleep without causing either of you more stress. It’s about learning about normal sleep patterns for infants and understanding what your child is capable of at their age.
Their are many approaches and some involve being with your child and soothing them while they learn a new way to fall asleep. Some strategies will be very gradual and involve little if any crying.
Try and be open to sleep training as an option. There are many excellent sleep specialists. You just need to find out what will work for you and your baby.
7. “Never co-sleep with a newborn”.
Co- sleeping is not for everyone however it is common practice in many countries. I did co-sleep with my second daughter and it worked very well. I also know of several other Mothers personally who also used this method with great results for both the baby and the Mother.
It is understandable that parents of babies under the age of 6 months that they are worried they will roll over on the baby and hurt them. However there are safe ways to co-sleep with your baby.
One such way is a bedside sleeper which you attach to your bed. This allows you to have the baby right beside you without the risks of the baby being right in the bed with you. You can attend to your baby, comfort and calm them and even breast feed with great ease.
8. “ Oh no, not a good idea to get your newborn used to sleep crutches.”
There is advice for new parents everywhere you look online on what and how to help your baby and you sleep. A ‘sleep crutch’ could be any of the following:
- Using the car or stroller to get the baby to sleep
- Using a swing, baby seat or even bassinet that vibrates
- Feeding the baby to sleep
- A pacifier
- Rocking the baby to sleep
- Staying in the room with the baby and patting or rubbing their back to sleep
We are often lead to believe that our little newborn will fall asleep in their crib without any assistance easily however this is unrealistic.
When the baby is older there may come a time when it may be appropriate to begin to gradually assist your baby to fall asleep without any sleep aids however in the beginning DO WHATEVER WORKS FOR YOU BOTH. There will lots of time later on toe learn self soothing strategies. It is important to help your newborn get enough healthy sleep whatever way you figure out in the beginning. And don’t feel guilty about it either.
9. “Your baby will sleep better in a big kid bed.”
Well this one is NOT true. Although there are parents that think that moving their toddler into a regular bed will magically solve their sleep problems.
Well once you spend even one night carrying your child back from your bed into their own bed, maybe like 50 times, you will realize quickly that this is not the best decision for your baby or you.
Our youngest daughter climbed over the crib rail and came running into our room one night after she outgrew the co- sleeper and was sleeping in her own room in the crib and then we had to put her in her own little bed for safety reasons. We did not move her from her crib to her toddler bed because we wanted to, she made the decision by climbing out the crib.
It was a big transition and it took quite a bit time for her to get used to and eventually she was happy but she seemed to love sleeping in our bed the best. Yes, she seemed to enjoy the freedom that came with being able to roam around her room but we were never sure about this, when she should have been sleeping.
It is my hope that by reading this post you can see that there is not a one size fits all approach to helping your child sleep, a magic solution that works for every baby. Although you are the expert on your baby; reading or listening to what others say including experts can be helpful but it does not mean you are a bad parent if you do not follow the advice of others without question and come up with your own solutions to help your child sleep.
Most importantly, remember that how well or how poorly your baby sleeps is not a reflection of who you are as a parent.
There are some parents who brag about how their little 3 week old slept through the night because of a sleep routine they established. Just know that what works for them with their baby’s routine, may not work at all for you or others the way the routine is set for this family.
Do what you can to help your baby sleep as a newborn. This stage of life is so short and while it can be utterly exhausting, it will pass by so quickly and you will be on to the next stage of your baby’s life, before you know it.
Try your best to enjoy the nights with your baby after they finally fall asleep snuggled up in your arms or on your chest, after hours of screaming. Even if you do not enjoy those moments, that is okay too. Most importantly, as long as you are loving your baby and helping them sleep, that is all that matters.
I would love to know what you think of this post… please leave me a comment.