Unsolicited parenting advice. Ahhh, isn’t it your favourite? You or your significant other (SO) get pregnant and suddenly everyone is a fountain of knowledge on parenting. A topic that seems to be a particular favourite is sleep. Oh, you can’t sleep now when you’re pregnant? JUST WAIT. You will never sleep well again. If I put a dollar in a jar for the number of times I heard that (or something very similar) during 40 weeks of pregnancy, I’m pretty sure I’d be a millionaire and I could afford a postpartum night nanny.
I’m here to tell you that you will get to sleep again. I’m not saying don’t take advantage of every minute of uninterrupted sleep you can get pre-pregnancy and during, because you absolutely should, but you’re not going to spend everyday for the next few years as a sleep-deprived zombie because you have a child.
On the flip side of that, its highly unlikely that your newborn or infant will sleep through the night from day 1. That seems to be the “other” thing other people like to tell you. If your baby isn’t sleeping through the night by say day 7 of life, your child is the worst and you should ask for a refund because *my* child has slept through the night since the day it was born. Whatever you say, Karen.
So when will your baby sleep through the night, and when will you get sleep yourself? There’s a lot of different information out there regarding baby sleep, so as usual I’m here to help you sift through some of it and answer some common questions and dispel some common myths. There are a lot of myths regarding sleep, so it will be impossible for me to cover them all in one go – however I am happy to update this blog with any questions I come across in the future.
*Disclaimer: This blog is intended for informational purposes only. The information on this blog should not be used as a substitute to medical advice or medical treatment. As always, your Primary Care Provider, a doctor, or another health professional is your best resource for specific questions and medical advice. If you believe you or a loved one are experiencing a medical emergency, please contact 911.*
Myth: Sleep when your baby sleeps.
Probably one of the more common myths, and unsolicited pieces of advice you receive as a soon-to-be or new parent. People say it as if this is something that is easy to do. From experience, this is not so easy to achieve with a newborn – it is probably more achievable as your baby gets older and takes more scheduled naps.
The first problem is the location where your newborn falls asleep. Oh just sleep when your baby sleeps! So you know, sleep drive your car and sleep walk while you push the stroller around outside. You could also try sleeping while rocking your baby back and forth!!! Errr.. not exactly a piece of cake.
The second problem is the length newborns sleeps for. Babies also don’t always sleep for very long – you might get the 3-4 hr stretch for a nap, but you might not. Night time is the easiest time to follow this piece of advice, however because newborns generally do not sleep through the night because they need to eat, your sleep is going to be achieved in bits and pieces. I do recommend trying to go to bed early, at least at the beginning, to optimize your sleep time.
The third problem is that you probably have other stuff you either need or want to do during the times they do sleep. Shower. The dishes. The laundry. Nothing?? Sometimes doing nothing is needed and important. If you are truly exhausted though, it’s worth it to try and prioritize rest even if that means you get a really short nap in. Something my midwives told me at one of our postpartum home visits was that a parent with some sleep is much better than a parent with none. So do your best to catch a few Zzz’s where ever you can – but don’t be disappointed if this isn’t as easy as those people who gave you the above advice made it sound.
What I can tell you is, a small sample of 29 people who responded to my poll regarding baby’s napping at scheduled times after 4 months of age, showed that 62% of babies had a regular nap time by this point (I realize this is a very small sample size but still, it’s a ray of hope!). This points to the idea that getting a sleep in at the same time as baby may be easier to do at 4+ months. Something to look forward to if you’re still in your first few months of parenting. Unless you have a cat-napper.
Myth: My newborn should sleep through the night.
Sleeping when baby sleeps would be much easier if baby slept through the night. You could literally just continue life as usual. Unfortunately, this likely won’t happen for a bit (and some babies take longer than others because every baby is different). It is normal for a newborn to wake up at night and this is because they need to eat.
How many times should baby wake up overnight? Because each baby is different and there could be a variety of things going on in their life (such as growth spurts or illness), there is no right or wrong answer to this. Babies don’t have a set sleep rhythm till closer to 6 months, so you may see a ton of variety in nighttime wakings on a day-to-day basis. Or you might not. Both can be normal.
Generally speaking in the first 2 weeks of life, night feedings should be happening – this may vary based on your PCP’s advice based on your child’s particular situation. At usually around 2 weeks, if weight gain is good and baby is growing as expected, baby is eating enough during the day, and has sufficient wet and soiled diapers, then what often happens is that you are allowed to let baby sleep through the night if they so choose.
But my baby doesn’t sleep through the night and he/she is 2, 4, 5, 6… etc. months old?! That is in no way abnormal and don’t let anyone make you feel like it is. If your doctor has no concerns about your baby’s growth & development or well-being, then your baby is likely just a part of a population of babies who still wake up in the night (which – surprise – is actually most babies). Per the American Academy of Pediatrics, it’s actually good if your baby wakes up in the night because it’s a normal part of development. Even a baby that sleeps through the night is still waking (most likely)- they just may be better at soothing themselves back to sleep and therefore don’t wake up as much.
Your baby is not a bad sleeper because they wake up in the night – as long as they can easily return to sleep. This will get easier as babies get older, but a newborn is still learning so you’re expecting a lot from your fresh little bean if you think they are automatically going to know how to self-soothe and go back to sleep. That’s why they might need your help for awhile, and like I said every baby is different – so there definition of “awhile” may vary…
If your baby does wake up in the night, give them a few minutes and see if they settle themselves back to sleep. If not, see what baby needs but do so with minimal stimulation – dim lights, quiet voices, and so on.
Myth: You should not rock your baby to sleep or let them fall asleep in your arms.
This is one I have seen a lot online from non-reliable sources. I read an apparent interview with a “sleep expert” that advised not do these things to help your baby sleep. Personally, I believe that you should do what works for you and your family. If you are comfortable with rocking your baby to sleep and don’t mind doing it – why stop? Additionally, the Canadian Paediatric Society advises that in the first 4 months (when babies have less predictable sleep schedules, as I mentioned) this is totally okay – it is not spoiling your child to help them get to sleep like this. The AAP echoes this sentiment and suggests helping your baby fall asleep using rocking or even comfort sucking at the breast, if you are breastfeeding (do not give your baby a bottle in their bed for comfort however).
If you don’t want your child to fall asleep these ways then try using a consistent bedtime routine and setting your baby’s environment to help them get to sleep (this can also be followed by people who rock/soothe their baby to sleep). Put them to sleep in a darker/quieter environment, in their bassinet or crib. The advice is usually to put them down drowsy not asleep but this can be, admittedly, very challenging. It is possible though – but I wouldn’t worry if it doesn’t happen seamlessly every night. So if you are rocking your baby to sleep (or doing something similar), the actual advice from both the AAP and the CPS is to do so until baby is only drowsy not asleep, then place them in their sleep space so they can get themselves the rest of the way.
Pacifiers are another option and are safe to use to help baby go to sleep. Studies show that they may decrease the risk for SIDS.
Question: Does a nap/sleep schedule matter?
Yes, but this is also a preference based question because there are lots of different ways to “schedule” sleep.
So why does it matter? Infants need a certain amount of sleep in the day (naps) and a certain amount of sleep at night. You do not want your newborn to become overtired (though they certainly will be at certain points and you will know when they are). Missing out on naps or night time sleep can lead to babies being overtired and miserable. You will also be miserable if this happens (and again, it likely will at some point).
Newborns should sleep somewhere around 8 hrs a day and 8 hrs at night, according to Stanford Children’s Health. 12-16 hrs total sleep is what is recommended for infants, 4-12 months of age. This is night time + day time total. Of course these numbers are all rough estimates, and repeat after me: every. baby. is. different.
Babies should therefore nap AND sleep at night – this is a schedule. Whether you choose to be more specific (sleep training, and there are many different methods for this – something I might cover in a continuation of this posting) is based on your preferences and lifestyle. What matters is that your baby IS napping and sleeping at night (even if this is interrupted). Following their cues and even keeping a record of when they usually nap (around 3 months because before that is very sporadic) can help for you to understand when baby usually sleeps and help them to get down to sleep around those times. Napping is important because then baby is not overtired and will be able to sleep better (and hopefully longer) at night.
Bedtime should also be scheduled around 3-4 months, or it should at least be around the same time every night to build good habits for the future and ensure an adequate amount of sleep. Having a good bedtime routine (you can also do a shorter version or altered version of this for naps) is important to help baby settle down for bed. What you do for your routine – again, totally preference based. Some parents do baths every night, others don’t have time to accommodate this and that’s okay. Do what works for you, what you and baby enjoy, and whatever helps baby settle down. This may be something off the beaten path of normalcy – and that’s cool!
So that’s some of the more common myths/questions. As I mentioned, this is a HUGE topic. I will do (at least) a Part 2 to this blog in the coming weeks to cover more. Until then – may your sleep be as good as it possibly can be!