Is your baby sleeping through the night?
I imagine you were asked the question above at least once. The other famous one is “Is she/he a good baby?” as if sleeping or not was a determinant for a human to be good or bad. Well, I know most people don’t really understand what these questions represent to a new parent and they do have good intentions. However, these statements being thrown out there when we feel so vulnerable ends up adding a layer of unrealistic expectations around sleep (and ourselves). They are embedded with the expectation that babies should follow our needs and not the opposite. The “Are they good babies? Are they sleeping through the night?” are basically what starts shaping our distrust in the ways our babies sleep and prompts us to fix it all ASAP because otherwise, they will never sleep well (which is NOT true.)
Now, I am aware that every single parent lives a different reality. There are many reasons driving us to the “fixing sleep” role when our society doesn’t understand the importance of our role as parents in our children’s childhood. The lack of support and empathy towards parents starts way before our babies arrive. It seems like everyone has a say and wants to fast forward to let us know of everything they experienced forgetting that the only way to parent our children is by going through the experience ourselves. Different experiences are seen from different lenses, and once we know more about what’s expected from a human development perspective, we are able to see things as if we were wearing brand-new pair of glasses.
But before we continue to discuss what to expect during the first year of infant sleep, I highly recommend that you read a post I wrote on some of the Red Flags that would lead me to refer my clients to see other specialists – read more here.
The Parenting Performance
On top of everything I mentioned above, there are the hidden expectations, the idea that once our babies arrive we should be able to continue to live our lives as if nothing had happened, and if we are not able to perform this way then we are failing or “giving in”. After all, “babies should adapt to us or we are being too permissive”. This is one of the things that upsets me the most because in a relationship both parts are adapting and learning from each other, it’s about mutual growth, and although most people don’t realize it, when we add a person to our family it takes time for EVERYONE to adjust, including the baby.
I usually tell my clients that the first year is an adaptation period, a stage to get to know each other and you do not have to prove anything to anyone but to focus on building this bond. The idea that because we are on maternity leave our house will be clean, we will prepare creative meals, exercise, relax in the evenings after our babies “well-timed bedtime”, and that naps will be predictable and scheduled, contributes to the frustration most of us find ourselves in.
“What Am I doing wrong? It wasn’t supposed to be this way, right?” a client emailed me the other day. I replied “Yes, it wasn’t. Society should not be sending all these messages to us, including that we should be able to handle it all on our own.” And it is because of these messages, that when we see ourselves struggling, the first thing we do is to look at our babies and think we need to fix them. And unfortunately, there are tons of “experts” wanting to help you by fixing the brand-new human you have in your arms. I’m sure you agree with me that your baby isn’t broken, societal expectations are.
Although this is not a “fix your baby’s sleep in 3 days” post, I hope you can find some comfort in knowing that what’s happening in this season of your parenting is expected. There aren’t shortcuts in Child Development.
During the FIRST THREE MONTHS, you may experience/observe
- Baby Blues (Ask your Health Care Provider for the PPD/PPA Questionnaire. Mental Health is as important as everything else you are doing for your baby)
- Having to hold your baby a lot because they love to sleep on you
- Feeding all day and night
- Difficulties putting baby down into the crib or bassinet
- Periods when your baby is fussier (around 6 weeks), especially when their stimulus barrier starts to go away, and the world can become overwhelming as they adapt.
- There’s usually a growth spurt around 3 months when you may notice more feeding sessions.
During the FOURTH MONTH, you may experience/observe
- That baby is waking more at night than before, and falling asleep has now become a bit more challenging than before, requiring more effort and creativity on your part.
- That the process of learning how to roll is now impacting sleep
- Some periods of wakefulness during the night (split nights are common at this stage)
- Naps can become shorter than they previously were
- Transferring to a sleep surface can become more challenging
During the FIFTH TO SEVENTH MONTH, you may experience/observe
- Short naps continue to happen at this stage
- Frequent night feedings
- Bedtime can become more challenging and new ways to parent to sleep may become necessary (rock, nurse, snuggle, pat, sing…)
- Developmental milestones may be one of the reasons your baby might be waking more often (rolling, crawling…)
- Separation anxiety can start to show up
- Hourly wakings for a couple of weeks can be expected as well as early wakings
- Feeds can be interrupted during the day (read more here)
- The last nap of the day can become more challenging (cat naps by the end of the day are perfect! Add motion to support the baby to fall asleep)
During the EIGHTH TO TWELFTH MONTHS, you may experience/observe
- Night feedings are still common, normal, and expected.
- Some babies may start stretching naps a bit longer.
- Primary caregivers can feel super exhausted since they may be showing a strong preference to be exclusive with them.
- Bedtime difficulties and a longer process to fall asleep.
- Some split nights are still typical at this stage, especially through developmental milestones
- A peak of separation anxiety is also common at this stage
One last thing! I know you must be tired of hearing that you need to take care of yourself and ask for assistance from your village of support. It would be wonderful if we all had the romanticized villages and opportunities for those amazing self-care suggestions we read about out there (and if that’s your reality, wonderful! You are lucky to be able to count on a village of people who respect you, so go ahead and ask for their support often because this will be crucial for the months and years to come.) Now, if you don’t have support around, I see you. If you have a partner, let them step up as much as possible from day one.
Every opportunity you get to go outdoors take a walk, even just for 10 minutes, can help clear the mind and regulate the nervous system.
I hope this helps!
June 29th, 2021
Hi! I’m Mariana. A mom to three, published author, Early Years Consultant, and 4x Certified Sleep Specialist (having worked with thousands of families over the last 7.5 years). My background is in Child Development and Psychology, specializing in Infants and Toddlers. I’m here to support families slow down childhood and simplify parenting.