From the moment you find out you’re going to be a parent, the next nine months of pregnancy will be spent planning, reading, and learning everything you possibly can about parenting and what to do with your new little person once he or she (or they) get here. While I’m still constantly learning every day, one of the greatest lessons I’ve gleaned from living with my little miracles is the value of laying a healthy sleep foundation during the first five years of their lives.
Just like riding a bike, reading or writing, learning to sleep is an actual skill your children will learn, and you can begin teaching them very gently early on. All it takes is a little knowledge and practice for both baby and parents and the foundation for a lifetime of healthy sleep habits will be set in place.
As soon as your little one makes his or her (or their) appearance in their new home, your world is no longer the same. Your focus shifts from “doing your own thing” to doing your baby’s thing: changing diapers, every-two-hour-feedings, and loving and nurturing your fully dependent new housemate. It’s the start of a whole new journey of unchartered territory, and this journey can quickly become foggy when you start to lose sleep due to all the adjustments that are happening.
So I’m betting you’re ready to know the answers to a few questions,aren’t you? Well, you’re in luck! I’ve got answers for all of your questions. Let’s go!
“How can I help my baby sleep well?” During the first six months of life the sleep goals and expectations should be very simple. You should not expect your baby to sleep through the night. Although some do, that’s not the case for majority of babies.
Also during the first six months of life your baby will sleep anywhere from 14-16 hours in a 24 hour period. That includes daytime naps and night sleep.
“Is there a schedule?” Most likely not, and there shouldn’t’t be since sleep is not well organized neurologically during these first six months. That just means your baby is in lighter slumber stages. This also means your baby is most likely not ready to be sleep trained before six months of age.
“Does this mean sleep is all over the place?” Not at all. After about three weeks, you can begin to gradually introduce some routines and patterns for your baby. It’s important to be flexible during this time and NOT look for minute-by-minute schedules that may not be developmentally appropriate for your baby.
One my favorite routines for babies comes from the Baby Whisperer, which creates an EASY routine that is gentle. EASY stands for Eat, Activity, Sleep, and then You time. By establishing an EASY pattern, it helps mom and dad know what to do but also allows baby to enjoy some predictability.
“How can I lay a healthy sleep foundation?”
- In the early weeks, keep visitors to a minimum and create a calm environment for baby.
- Establish healthy feedings from day one whether you are nursing or bottle-feeding. Check with your pediatrician to assure that baby is growing well.
- Create a basic routine like the EASY routine, which will be followed during the first years of your child’s life.
- Engage with your baby after feedings to help them have short periods of stimulation during wakeful times.
- Explore other ways other to soothe your baby other than nursing and feeding. Sometimes our babies simply need to be held or rocked.
- Observe and learn your baby’s cues for eating and sleeping to help guide you.
“What happens if I don’t understand what my baby is telling me?” As new parents, sometimes you might not know what your baby is really trying to communicate to you. This was one of the big reasons I spent over 3.5 years sleep deprived — I didn’t’t know what I didn’t’t know. Reaching out for help, along with having a postpartum support plan, is crucial. A postpartum doula, sleep consultant, or newborn specialist can help you interpret what each of your baby’s nuances mean. Other trusted resources can be lactations consultants, nurses, doctors, specialists, support groups and even mommy gatherings.
“What do I do when someone asks, ‘How can I help?’” Be sure to guide them towards your dishes, folding some laundry, preparing a meal, or any other tasks you need done. During these first few months, you are going to need some time to get acquainted with your little miracle. Take advantage of all of the help you’re offered. If your family lives too far away to be a consistent source of in-house support, it’s okay to ask for gift certificates to help provide some of these services and support for you.
By asking for help you ensure the well-being of both mom and dad is in place. If mom or dad isn’t well there’s a good chance your baby won’t be either, and this could be one of the reasons he or she isn’t sleeping. If you are a mom that is experiencing any stress, anxiety or depression, this could hold you back from delighting in this journey with your little one. There are many wonderful resources to reach out to and get support locally.
“When should I sleep train my baby?” It is not recommended for you to sleep train or coach your baby until after six month of age. Developmentally your baby may not be ready to sleep through the night. And yes, it’s still common for babies to have night wakings that include night feedings.
“I hear about all these babies that are sleeping through the night. Why won’t mine? What’s wrong with my child?” Nothing at all! There is absolutely nothing wrong with your baby. Each baby is as individual and unique as you and I are. They all have their likes and dislikes. Some babies are easy going, while others need more “entertainment.” The key is to figure out what your baby needs, love your little one right where he or she is, and use the process that works best for your little blessing.
It takes time, patience, and consistency to establish healthy sleep habits, and using the first six months to practice this will pay off in spades — in sleep! — in the long run.
As an educator, I believe all children can learn healthy sleep habits, and your baby will is no different. You are your child’s best and first teacher as you guide them through these first years. When you begin to establish these gentle sleep habits with your little one, you’ll be amazed at the foundation you’ve laid. And you just might find yourself not having to sleep train your baby!
Irene, wife and mom of 2, is a Pediatric Sleep Consultant and founder of Loving Lessons (www.loving-lessons.com), supporting tired families with gentle sleep solutions. She is one of the “First 50” graduates of The Gentle Sleep Coaching Program, which is currently the most extensive, & professional sleep certification programs available.
Now a Gentle Sleep Coach in the Raleigh and the surrounding areas, she works to empower parents with positive and gentle solutions to help their children transform their sleep habits, set children up for academic success while enjoying the parenting journey!
For more sleep tips and positive parenting inspirations follow Irene on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/LovingLessonsPediatricSleepConsulting) or Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/lovinglessons)
BE TRUE IMAGE DESIGN SPECIALIZES IN NEWBORN, BABY, MATERNITY, AND FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHY IN RALEIGH AND SURROUNDING AREAS INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO WAKE FOREST, DURHAM, ROLESVILLE, CARY, AND KNIGHTDALE.