Sleep. You used to take it for granted, didn’t you? All those late nights and lie-ins… you thought life would be like that forever. And then you had a baby.
Tiredness is the new norm, as you spend your days battling against extreme brain fog. It's been so long since you had as many as four hours of glorious uninterrupted sleep. You fantasise about a hotel room with a do not disturb sign on the door where you can catch up on all those missed hours between the sheets — of sleep, obviously, because you don’t have the energy for anything else.
Your morning cup of coffee doesn’t even scratch the surface of how tired you feel. As you sip the last cold drop, you’re still struggling to keep your eyes open. As if that wasn’t bad enough, all the entire world seems to want to talk about is how much sleep you’re not getting.
Every person you pass during the day offers unwanted advice about how to get your newborn baby to sleep through the night. Some even offer critiques of your parenting style, to help you understand exactly where you’re going wrong (thanks, strangers!). As irritating as this is, you can’t help but admire the bravery of the people willing to say these things to a person suffering from extreme sleep deprivation.
As you lie awake at night, you can’t help but wonder if there’s any truth in what the people say. Are you getting it all wrong? Are you making big mistakes that are affecting your baby’s sleeping patterns? The simple answer is ‘yes’, you’re probably making at least a couple of the following sleep mistakes, because you’re a new parent and learning as you go (as we all do).
Enter, The 5 Baby Sleep Mistakes
Here are 5 baby sleep mistakes you could be making:
Baby Sleep Mistakes #1: Comparing Your Baby To Other Babies
It is almost impossible not to… especially when you’re sitting beside a fresh-faced mother of three who is telling you about how her newborn baby slept through the night again last night. But you should avoid comparing your baby to other babies or you'll drive yourself mad.
All babies are different, and you have enough to worry about without also obsessing over the fact that your baby hasn't rolled over in the same month as other babies. Another problem with baby comparisons is that you are basing the comparison on information from the mothers, and not scientifically collected, unbiased, factual information. Of course mothers are going to gloatingly talk up their babies! That’s new motherhood.
Fact is, sleeping through for a baby is a grand average of five hours. So while most babies will be somewhere around this average, there will be some babies who sleep more and less than this, because that's what happens to calculate an average figure.
Baby Sleep Mistakes #2: Having Unrealistic Expectations
One of the major problems when it comes to sleep stress is that parents simply don’t know what is normal. All we know about normal is that it’s a setting on the clothes dryer. If you have a baby who doesn’t sleep for very long, you can quite easily end up terrified that you will never ever sleep again. When in reality, your baby’s sleeping behaviour is age-appropriate. Yet, unrealistic expectations can put you on a freeway to low self esteem, anxiety, depression and more.
It may help you to know the following:
- at one week old, your baby will spend around 16 hours asleep during a 24-hour period. Only eight of these will be at night and they won’t be consecutive.
- young babies go through growth spurts and will rely on frequent feeds (also known as ‘cluster feeding’). The more they feed, the more signals they send your breasts to make more milk to satisfy his hunger. Cluster feeds are a normal part of your baby’s development. Many new mothers panic about milk supply at this point and some may end up using formula. Make sure you speak to an IBCLC (International Board Lactation Consultant) or breastfeeding association for support and advice before you panic or accidentally wean your baby.
- at one month old, your baby still has a tiny tummy, and will still need to wake to feed at least every four or five hours during the night. Some mothers believe formula or other additives in a bottle will make their baby sleep longer. Find out the truth here.
- sleeping through the night is defined as five consecutive hours.
- almost half of all babies still wake during the night by three months of age.
- it is normal for babies to continue waking in the night at six months.
- by their first birthday, most children sleep through the night (remember, this does not mean for 12 hours long), but not all.
Baby Sleep Mistakes #3: Listening To Outdated Advice
No offense to your mother-in-law or that old woman you met crossing the street the other day, but times have changed. It is no longer acceptable to dip your baby’s dummy in brandy in the hope of getting a decent night’s sleep, thank goodness! We now know that controlled crying doesn’t teach babies to self soothe, and instead simply teaches them that no-one will respond to their cries.
One study found that the babies still had high levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) even though they had stopped crying. For this reason, many modern parents are choosing not to follow controlled crying, much to the horror of the grandparents. Though previous generations may have believed babies could be ‘spoilt’ for attention, we now know this is not the case. Responding immediately to your baby’s cries doesn’t spoil your baby, instead it encourages him to trust his communication skills and teaches him how to manage his emotions.
Baby Sleep Mistakes #4: Not Trusting Your Instincts
There are plenty of baby experts out there with conflicting advice on how to help your baby sleep through the night, but the only person who really understands your baby is you. You are the expert when it comes to your baby. You are the one who feeds him, changes his nappies and soothes him when he cries. Start listening to your gut and trust your instincts. You know what you’re doing, you have this covered, all you need to do is trust that and you’ll see.
If you'd like to know which parenting authors and educators are worth following, check out BellyBelly's list here.
Baby Sleep Mistakes #5: Ignoring Your Baby’s Cues
Everyone has an opinion over how and when you should put your baby to sleep, and what you should do if he cries. These range from caring to downright cold. One thing that very rarely gets mentioned is your baby’s cues.
Your baby may not be much in the way of a chatterbox, but he is trying to tell you things. He is using facial expressions, movements and even noises to try and tell you when he’s ready for bed. Missing these cues could leave you with an overtired baby (aka demon baby who will not sleep), so it’s worth looking out for and responding to these cues early. Look out for yawning, becoming quiet, losing interest in people and toys, a knotted brow, frowning and rubbing his eyes. If you notice any of these cues, your baby might be trying to tell you he’s ready for a sleep. Read more about how to interpret your baby's cues here.
So, how many of these baby sleep mistakes are you making? Let us know in the comments section below.