I can clearly think back to the day we brought my daughter home from the hospital. I was consumed with feelings of love, gratitude, exhaustion, and excitement. Looking back, I would say I was blissfully ignorant to what it really took to keep this tiny human of mine alive and thriving. Now that I’m, a certified Fort Collins baby sleep coach, I just have to almost laugh at myself.
As so many feelings set in, I quickly started experiencing the overwhelm of the advice, opinions, and suggestions from those close to me (and those not). Although given with the best intentions, it was overwhelming, nonetheless. Phone calls and texts started pouring in, often starting, or ending with “you’ll want to” or “you need to.” Being a first-time mom, I took many of these suggestions to heart, buying many contraptions we never used and changing my opinion of sleeping and eating several times. The number of suggestions a new mom receives in the first year must in the hundreds and I was one of those moms.
As your Fort Collins baby sleep coach, I’ve firsthand worked with hundreds of parents who are just starting out in their parenting journey. What I’ve learned is that there is no such thing as a “casual mom” or part-time mom or dad. Whether you are staying home, working full time, or somewhere in between. Your baby is on your mind 24/7.
This 24/7 responsibility also comes with making many decisions. As I look back now, I wish my daughter came with a manual – wouldn’t have been nice? I’ve spoken to many parents that say the same words – did we lose the manual? Why can’t we figure this out?
As a Fort Collins baby sleep coach, I want to focus on the sleep needs of newborns and babies, to dispel some of the more popular myths I’ve seen in parenting blogs, Facebook groups, or many, many books on the market.
Myth 1: Letting your baby sleep too much during the day, will keep them up at night
This was the first myth I fell for as a parent and it’s simply not true. If you are letting your newborn go past about 45 minutes before offering them a nap, likely they are becoming overtired. Remember, sleep begets sleep in children. A well-rested baby equals happier parents.
Newborns especially need a ton of sleep. In fact, up until about 6 months, I don’t recommend that your little one be awake for more than about 2 – 2 1/2 hours at a time. For newborns, that number is more like 45 minutes to an hour. You may worry that you never see your newborn baby awake but trust me, the sleep they require now will set them up to thrive later on.
If you’re wondering why your baby isn’t going down for bedtime well or is waking up frequently at night, either briefly or for long periods of time, I suggest you evaluate daytime sleep. What keeps babies awake at night, more than anything else, is overtiredness. You might think that an exhausted baby is more likely to fall asleep quickly and for longer stretches however this is the opposite of reality. Remember, sleep begets sleep.
There are substantial variations on how much daytime sleep your baby needs, depending on their age and the length of their naps. It’s safe to say that in those first few months, your newborn will be sleeping 18 total hours in a 24 hour stretch. Remember to wake your sleepy baby if it’s time for a feed. Balancing feeding and sleeping is paramount for your baby’s growth and development.
Myth 2: Sleep naturally develops and is not a learned skill
Sleep is a basic human need that we all have. There is no such thing as “sleeping through the night.” In fact adults and babies alike, wake up multiple times in the night, falling back to sleep. The need to sleep and the balance between being asleep and awake is controlled by circadian rhythm, which can be shaped by parents over time. Ever heard of a baby having nights and days mixed up? Your best bet is lots of light during periods of being awake and darkness during periods of rest and sleep.
What can be taught is independent sleep. This means when your baby wakes up naturally at the end of a sleep cycle, they are able to put themselves back to sleep, without external assistance.
Often times I hear parents call their children “terrible sleepers from the start” or claim that they just don’t need daytime sleep. This often isn’t true and more likely their baby is more prone to waking up because they haven’t learned independent sleeping skills. When a baby depends upon a “sleep prop” to get back to sleep, their sleep is constantly disturbed. Once your little one has figured out how to sleep without external assistance, they start connecting sleep cycles together, resulting in longer naps and longer stretches of sleep at night. This is the secret to the long awaited goal of “sleeping through the night.”
Keep in mind that it is not appropriate to be sleep training your newborn or any baby under 16 weeks old. Instead, work on setting healthy habits and avoid overtiredness. When your baby turns about 4 months old, you have the green light to sleep train.
Myth 3: Babies will naturally set their own sleeping schedule
Newborn babies need extensive care and help in their development, including the regulation of sleep and the ability to get enough sleep. Newborn sleep cycles are unbelievably erratic if left unregulated, starting with the mix up between nights and day. As parents we can gently shape their sleep by exposing them to light during awake periods and darkness during sleep. Also, we can avoid overtiredness by putting baby down at the right time. Knowing that they need a nap every 45 minutes, if this is missed by even 15 minutes, their cortisol production can increase which causes a surge in energy, and things quickly spiral out of control. So as much as I wish babies could always just fall asleep when they’re tired, it simply doesn’t work that way. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t respond to their cues, but you shouldn’t rely exclusively on them either.
Myth 4: Sleep training damages the parent attachment
Sleep training is a gift that many parents give their child and themselves, when they feel like their child is not quite sleeping as often or well as they should. Sleep is a basic human need, and your baby needs lots of it to grow and thrive.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) points to a 2016 study conducted by eight of their top researchers, behavioral intervention, (A.K.A Sleep training) “provide(s) significant sleep benefits above control, yet convey(s) no adverse stress responses or long-term effects on parent-child attachment or child emotions and behavior.”
I compare sleep training to any other skill your child will learn as they grow. Eventually your child is going to learn how to ride bike. Will they struggle at first? Yes. Will you help them learn? Of course! What if it does not go as planned, will they need therapy? Nope! You will stick with your kiddo until they master the skill. Sleep is no different from any other skill your child will learn to thrive.
Myth 5: Babies are not “designed” to sleep through the night.
Sleeping through the night comes when a baby is totally dependent upon themselves to get back into sleep. There is technically no such thing as “sleeping through the night.” Adults and children briefly wake at the end of every sleep cycle. The difference between an independent sleeper vs a baby reliant upon a prop, is that this waking is so brief, they go right back to sleep without parental assistance.
All children have the ability to self soothe and sleep independently. How you decide to teach these skills to your little one is totally up to you. Whether you choose to read a sleep book, follow an Instagram guru, or hire a sleep coach. Your dedication to your child sleeping well is a gift that you are giving them far past their early childhood.
Our children need our expertise and authority to guide them through their early years, and probably will for decades after that. This is especially true when it comes to their sleep. Some babies are naturally gifted sleepers, for sure (I call these unicorn babies), but many others need guidance to become expert sleepers. My best advice as the mom to a daughter and a Fort Collins baby sleep coach is to spend time learning about the “why” behind sleep so you can easily carry out the “how.” Sleep is too important for you and your baby to miss long term.
Are you dreaming of more sleep? I can help! Set up a FREE initial consultation to learn more about my services and how we can work together. Click here to get started. Otherwise, check out all my blog posts for even more tips and tricks.