When I became a new mom, I didn’t have a clue about baby sleep.
Sure, people tell you it’s exhausting, but there is nothing that can prepare you for that newborn sleep deprivation haze.
Luckily it passes, but it can be really hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, especially with your first little one.
With my second born, I am so much less stressed and less exhausted.
This isn’t because she’s a better sleeper.
It’s mostly because I now have a healthy understanding of normal baby sleep and my expectations are realistic.
The pressure is off and my mindset is completely different than the sleep-obsessed first-time mom I was with my son.
So here are a few things I wish I’d known back then; and what I want you to know, Mama, about normal baby sleep:
1. Babies are meant to wake throughout the night
Did you know that night waking is a survival mechanism?
Babies are designed to stir regularly at night to make sure their caregivers are still close by.
Waking frequently is an infant’s way of getting close to their mama, and being near her body helps regulate all of the body’s functions - from breathing and heart rate to blood pressure and temperature.
Human infants are unable to shiver to keep themselves warm, so they’ve evolved to seek the mother’s body for warmth.
Somewhere along the way our society has evolved to think babies need to be sleeping 12 uninterrupted hours per night from a very young age - which is just not true.
In fact, no one sleeps through the night, not even you or me.
We all rouse slightly between sleep cycles and babies are no different.
Some babies just need a little more support going back to sleep (and that’s ok!).
Most babies nurse to sleep and wake at least 1-3 times during the night for the first year or so, and most research studies actually consider “sleeping through the night” to be sleeping from midnight to 5am, or for any 5-hour stretch during the night.
2. You know what’s best, mama
Somewhere along the way many of us have stopped believing that we know how to do this.
Not that we’re born knowing how to care for a baby - because let’s face it, it’s hard work - but deep down we always know what’s best.
If we trust our babies and trust ourselves, we can’t go wrong.
Will we still make some mistakes? Of course. It’s ok to mess up!
Don’t you worry, babies are very resilient and they love us unconditionally.
I encourage all new mamas to tune out the noise.
Stop listening to your sister-in-law’s friend or your partner’s co-worker who tell you how to get baby to sleep or send you their unsolicited sleep tips for newborns.
You’ll be so much happier if you quit the comparison game and just do what feels right.
3. You don’t have to follow a schedule
If the “eat, play sleep” type of routines work for you and your baby, that’s amazing!
You probably have a very easy-going little one. But for many mamas, this routine causes nothing but anxiety, inadequacy, and frustration, because not every baby is the same.
Feeding to sleep is the biological norm, especially when thinking about newborns and very young babies.
So when we think we can’t let them fall asleep while feeding it can cause a lot of unnecessary worry - but you do you, mama!
Plus, babies are always changing.
There will be periods of sleep progressions, growth spurts, illness, teething, and a whole host of other reasons why your little one might want to nurse more frequently or sleep less.
Sticking to a schedule during these ups and downs is likely to be a struggle, so it’s okay to say no.
4. You will get there, I promise
After a tough night, it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel - but you will get there. I promise.
Remember that your baby’s sleep is not a linear journey!
All babies have rough nights, and things sometimes get worse before they get better again.
Babies wake for all kinds of reasons and it’s very important to remember that night waking is normal.
It’s the only way they can get their most basic needs met, but it’s also their way of saying ‘are you still there Mama? I miss you!’.
Try to carve out some time for yourself to do whatever you need to do to reset after a hard night.
Staying in the anxious and stressed feeling transfers to your baby and makes it harder for them to relax, too.
Which leads me to…
5. It’s ok to take care of yourself
Self-care looks different for everyone.
As a mama, it’s so important to know the signs of PMD (perinatal mood disorders), to pay attention to your mental health, and to prioritize self-care.
I think a lot of us picture self-care as a bubble bath with a glass of wine or a girl’s spa weekend, but it’s ok to think a little smaller.
If the thought of leaving your little one is too much for you to bear right now, why not take them for a walk while listening to your favorite podcast with a thermos of hot coffee?
That counts as self-care too.
Or sit in your car listening to some relaxing music after a trip to the grocery store… yep, that’s also self-care.
Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
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