If you are a new mom, you are probably already keenly aware that babies can be notoriously bad sleepers. All of my boys have all had different sleep issues. My first son, as a baby, was the lightest sleeper in the world that hated naps. My second son slept well as a baby but sleepwalks now. And my third son has still never recovered his normal sleeping patterns since transitioning to a toddler bed, almost ONE YEAR AGO. Now with the birth of my fourth son, I am more focused than ever on developing healthy sleep habits early.
Along the way, I’ve learned some things that make a big difference that I was not aware of when I first became a mother. While I cannot say they would have completely changed all of my experiences, I think they could have made a big difference. This is why I want to share them with you today. And especially if you are just starting on the journey of sleep or sleeplessness with your first.
5 Important Things About Baby’s Sleep
1. Sleep Habits are Important.
This sounds like a strange and obvious thing to say, but I think with my first, I never knew that sleep habits were anything to focus on. I focused on being in love with my son, and I wasn’t thinking about much else. And while I feel that it’s (the most) important for a mom to bond with her baby after birth and get feeding established (I cannot highlight that enough) — I would say that establishing a healthy sleep routine should come next, especially if you plan to have more than one child.
2. Breastfeeding to Sleep Does Not Help You Long-Term.
I am a huge proponent of breastfeeding. It would be a lie to say I’m anything else. I actually added up all of my months of breastfeeding up until now with my fourth son… And I have breastfed a total of 70 months! And I LOVE it. However, when I first became a mom, I looked at the breast as an end-all, be-all tool for everything related to baby. And it is. However, if the breast is always used to put a baby to sleep, I have found that most babies won’t naturally outgrow that pattern, which I originally assumed. If anything, I feel it encourages a habit of night-waking where a baby wakes up and wants to breastfeed to go back to sleep.
For my first son, this didn’t bother me. But by my second son, I realized consolidated sleep for both myself, and my baby was needed to sustain energy to make it through busy days of motherhood. And it seemed they began waking more as they got older instead of less. This led me to put them in bed with me. While I love co-sleeping, the more children I’ve had, the more I see why this pattern is not always realistic. And that there is a great benefit to teaching them to fall asleep on their own. And while I am NOT a proponent of obsessing over scheduling a baby, BabyWise by Dr. Gary Izzo and Dr. Robert Bucknam focuses on helping parents develop a schedule that stops eating to sleep patterns from developing, if you are interested in learning more.
3. A Sleep Object has Great Benefit.
Introducing a paci, stuffed animal, and or blankie from the start can help you. My kids have never been drawn to an object on their own, but I notice children who have a sleep object can be signaled for sleep in various settings. It also helps break the association of eating to sleep, as mentioned earlier. We have always struggled to put our kids to sleep in an environment that isn’t their bed, but having some kind of object can help. (Sleep tip: If you travel often, occasionally have your child nap in their pack-n-play at home so that when you travel, the pack-n-play isn’t a foreign setting to them.)
4. An Overly Cranky Baby Resists Naps.
Before having my first son, I assumed that you knew that a baby was tired when they started acting cranky. And that once you noticed they seemed tired, you would go lay them down. But what I’ve learned is that at the point the baby is cranky, it is infinitely harder to lay them down than if you catch them in the window of drowsiness (not crankiness). And when you wait for cranky, you either have to find an elaborate routine to get them to fall asleep, or you have to listen to a lot of crying. And neither is fun. So learning more about a baby’s natural sleep patterns is helpful!
Did you know, the average baby gets drowsy after an hour to an hour and a half of wakefulness? But many parents do not know this. They keep them in a stimulating environment for too long at a time, which gets them overtired.
5. The Earlier the Bedtime, the Better the Sleep.
This is a counterintuitive concept, but man, oh man, is it ever true. Essentially, the more rested a baby is, the less they resist sleep. And the better they sleep. I initially thought that if a baby is kept up until 10 pm, they would have a better chance of sleeping through the night. But then I started reading about sleep and discovered a common theme amongst varying approaches to sleep. It was this: the earlier a baby is laid down, the better they tend to sleep at night. I first learned about this in Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth, and I have found it true. For more details, check out his book.
All Babies are Different.
Now in order not to set you up for feeling bad, I think it is also incredibly important to know, no two babies are alike. No matter how much of an expert you are in sleep, every baby has its own personality and likes. Some babies naturally love sleep and do not fight it. One parent could have great habits and still have a baby that resists sleep. Another could never do one thing to help promote good sleep and have a rockstar sleeper. It’s not always fair! My first son would wake up from sleep with the creak of a floor. But my fourth son sleeps better when he is surrounded by noise. My two-year-old has always slept better with someone next to him, and our family friend’s daughter can only sleep in a quiet room by herself.
All this to say, no matter what you do, every baby is different. And if your baby doesn’t sleep as well as your friend’s baby, you are not a failure. They are different. And give yourself some grace. I hope some of these tips are helpful to you. Cheers to good sleep!