As a parent of a new baby, you have probably found that the first question people may ask you is “Are they a good sleeper?” or “Are they sleeping through the night yet?” Even strangers suddenly become rather interested in your current sleeping habits! Sleep really is the hot topic of all parents, from “Are they getting enough?” to “Why are they waking up in the night?” or even “Is your baby STILL not sleeping through?”
Understandably, this puts extra pressure on parents who may be already under tremendous pressure to get their babies to sleep. If your baby isn’t sleeping like the text books or others say, many parents tell me they feel like it is their parenting at fault, or that there is something wrong with their baby. If a stranger asks you about something as personal as your baby’s sleeping habits, then it must be super important, right?
I believe there is no such thing as a 'text book baby'; text books are guides, not gospel. ALL babies and parents are beautifully unique with their own patterns and rhythms, and what can work is finding out what works for you and your family. Shoe-horning a baby into a text book ideal can end in tears - with both yours and theirs! You may even end up feeling that you are failing because your baby is not sleeping as it should.
1. Babies are born on our time zone
Newborn babies are naturally nocturnal and biologically not programmed to sleep through the night. This stems from our survival needs, from our caveman days. It was far safer to feed at night, and food was more available at night after a day’s hunt. The second is that, when your baby was in your womb, your movement and heartbeat during the day would soothe them to sleep; then, when you slept at night and all was calm, they liked to party! It can take time to adjust and get on your day and night schedule. All they need is a little time and patience!
2. There is no set age when a baby SHOULD sleep through
There is no magic sleep switch that turns on when your baby is six months old to guarantee your baby will sleep through the night. We are all different with unique and different needs, and babies will sleep through in their own time. Some very young babies will sleep through from day one, whilst another 18-month-old may not. Both are perfectly normal, and it is not an indicator that anything is wrong with either your parenting or baby!
3. If a baby wakes up in the night, it must be for food
This is not always the case at all. Babies can wake up hungry in the night - especially young babies, whose tiny tummies can’t sustain themselves throughout the night without a feed - but they also wake for: comfort, thirst, a need to fart or burp, a nappy change, or just to be near YOU.
4. Weaning or moving on to formula will help them sleep through the night
This is not always the case. It may have an adverse effect and cause even more night disruptions as their digestive system copes with the changes of new solid foods and formula.
5. If a baby isn’t sleeping well at night, it is time to ditch the day time naps
It may be that the day time routine needs a slight tweak with timings and length of naps, but sleep breeds sleep and day and night sleep are all a circle. If you start cutting out day naps or stopping altogether, you risk having a very over-tired baby by bed time, making them extremely hard to settle at bed time and having them wake up even more frequently during the night.
6. Co-sleeping, feeding to sleep, or staying with them to get them to sleep are making rods for your own back
There are no rods to be made with a baby. Do what feels right for you and your baby. What matters is that they get to sleep and not how they get there. By making your baby feel safe, secure and attached the sleep follows naturally.
7. Children SHOULD be in bed by 7pm
I have no idea where this 7pm bedtime originated from, but it does not have to be gospel. Yes, it is nice having some adult time, and an evening; but don’t stress if your little ones are up later or go out to dinner with you. On the continent, many families can be found eating out later together in the evenings - family time is just as important.
8. The only way to get a baby to sleep better is to use controlled crying or leaving them to cry it out
There are lots of gentler ways to help improve your little one's sleep. I work with so many parents and their little one to improve sleep without training or leaving them to cry. There is a lot pressure everywhere for parents to do this and it can lead to parents feeling guilty, if they feel it is not right for them but do it because they may not be aware of alternatives. Pin-pointing why your child wakes up and gentle tweaking can make a huge difference to their sleep overall.