What I wish I’d known about normal infant sleep before I had my first baby

What I wish I’d known about normal infant sleep before I had my first baby

Before I had my first baby, I didn’t read much about anything to do with baby care aside from reading up on breastfeeding. I will be eternally grateful that I did learn about breastfeeding pre natally as it really set me up for success because I knew the basics. I knew what was normal. I knew when to get worried and who to call if I was.

I’m not sure why I felt like breastfeeding was the only thing I needed to learn about. I’m pretty sure in my ignorance about infant sleep, I was oddly confident that things would just fall into place and we’d just work it out once we met our baby.

It is true that all babies are individuals and what works for one won’t for all but just like breastfeeding, it does help to understand the variations of normal and have some tools and support up your sleeve to set out with.

I have hyperlinked links throughout this post to help you gain more information if you want to get started. 

I recently asked the question on my blog Facebook page, ‘If you could rewind the clock to while you were pregnant with your first baby, what do you wish you’d been told about infant sleep?’

Here are a few responses from some beautiful mamas.

I wish I’d been told that not all babies are relaxed by nature and might need a lot of help to sleep and stay asleep. I wish I’d been told the was no such thing as a ‘bad habit’ or spoiling a baby. If something works and it’s safe, do it! I wish I’d been told that safe bedsharing can be done and is a great way to get more sleep if you learn to feed lying down. – Carly

I wish I’d been told that all babies are different and can be really tricky to work out sleep-wise and so the books etc don’t always apply/can just add to your stress and ridiculous expectations. Also, not to rule anything out, as something you think you will never do or that is a supposed “bad habit” might be the one thing your baby needs/likes. Go with whatever works (safely) for you and your baby to be healthy, happy and get sleep!! Oh and that newborns are REALLY noisy sleepers lol- Kelly

 I wish I’d had an elaboration on what “help” is in a gentle way. I was told of so much that made me scared, afraid, guilty, doubt and question much of what I wanted to do. This in turn didn’t help when my little one came and required and still requires help to sleep. – Sarah

Expect nothing, you have never been truly tired before, listen to your baby, trust your instincts, listen to the experience & advice of others but do what works for you & your family, ask for help, take nothing for granted & just because your baby sleeps through at 6 weeks…don’t expect it to last!- Danielle

That 40 minute naps are normal for a long time. That babies will link sleep cycles when they’re ready developmentally. That cosleeping would give me so much more sleep at night. That a baby who sleeps through the night is not the goal of parenting. – Katie

That all babies are so very different from one another and a ‘one size’ fits all approach is not the answer. That there is such a thing as a ‘high needs baby‘ and Dr Sears will become your lifeline. That having a ‘very alert, demanding and loud’ newborn who prefers to view the world around him rather than sleep, is not a bad thing but rather a blessing, as these spirited, independent and determined babies grow into beautiful, sensitive little beings. That as challenging as these times will be, they only stay little for such a little while and ‘this too shall pass mama’. – Jessica

That they form their own patterns in their own time, and stressing about why they aren’t sleeping as expected is just a waste of energy. The moment I relaxed and started telling myself he is doing exactly what babies do I became a much happier mummy!- Jamee-lee

I wish I knew how much I would love this little soul and how horrible it is to hear them cry. I wasted so much time reading some books! – Jacqui

Let your baby guide you as to how much sleep they need and when. And don’t compare your baby to others as they may have very different temperaments and what works for one might not work for others. I have a highly active baby and it takes a while to help calm her down and get her to sleep! – Liliane

As you can see from these responses, these mums all really wish they’d understood that infant sleep is unpredictable by nature. It is not linear. Progress is cyclical and going through times of waking more frequently than ever is normal right up to 12 months and even beyond.

If you are keen to learn more about normal infant sleep then I can highly recommend a few books to get you started – Sleeping like a baby by Pinky McKay, The Gentle Sleep Book by Sarah Ockwell Smith and The Discontented Little Baby Book by Dr Pamela Douglas.

If you read nothing else, do yourself a favour and read this awesome article by Pinky McKay, Sweet Dreams – Pinky’s tips to help your newborn to sleep

It may not be something that’s high on your radar right now while you prepare for labour and birth but I can guarantee it will hit sky high priority within weeks of bringing that baby home. So much stress and worry about what is or isn’t normal sleep behaviour for human babies can be avoided with a little reading.

And a word of caution, books that give you a prescriptive method to get your baby to sleep are not evidence based. There is no winning recipe for perfect baby sleep and these books while sounding ‘good’ in theory, often leave parents feeling like failures and stressed out when their baby is in fact behaving normally.

See The Milk Meg‘s fabulous article about why she’d love to burn sleep training books, here

Finally, follow your heart, follow your baby and follow your instincts. Babies will all learn to sleep more independently in time. Good luck soon – to – be mama x

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