The challenges of the first year and how a baby sleep consultant can help
When your baby is born, her sleep is very different from that of adults and even that of babies older than 3 months. In what ways?
Circadian rhythms are not in place. Newborns do not distinguish between day and night and tend to sleep in short intervals around the clock. Circadian rhythms start to get established only around six weeks after birth, and from then on, and throughout the first year, sleep slowly consolidates around nighttime, as daytime sleep becomes shorter.
Newborns wake up a lot to feed at night. Their stomachs are tiny and they need to eat every 2-3 hours. Do not expect a newborn to sleep through the night, and if they do tend to sleep long stretches, make sure they are gaining weight properly. Otherwise, your health care provider may advise you to wake them up and feed them at night.
Newborns enter sleep through a lighter stage of sleep, which takes up ca. 50% of the sleep cycle. The length of the sleep cycle is about 50 minutes in newborns. This means that the first 25 minutes of sleep, the baby can easily be woken up, but after that their sleep becomes deeper, until a new sleep cycle starts.
Newborns need help to calm down and enter sleep. Sleep “props” can include sucking (breast, pacifier, or own thumb), being rocked and other kinds of motion, being swaddled or held tight, body contact with a caregiver (being held or snuggled), white noise.
Some newborns sleep a lot and are able to sleep alone in a pram or crib. Others need much more help and can only sleep in close proximity to a parent. Whichever is the case for you, it is normal! After the first three months, it tends to become easier to get the baby to sleep in places other than your arms! Meanwhile, a baby sleep consultant can help you brainstorm the ways to survive the first couple of months and set the baby up for becoming a good sleeper in the future.
SLEEP AFTER THE FIRST THREE MONTHS
Your baby is now entering deep sleep very quickly. Normally, the first 3-4 hours of the night, sleep is deepest and you may now be able to easily transfer the baby from one place to another without waking them up. However, read on to see why it is best that the baby falls asleep where you expect her to sleep the rest of the night!
Gradually, babies become better able to fall asleep with less help from adults. Any form of sleep training, if you choose to go this way, should not start before the age of six months. However, from around 3 months of age, you can start supporting your baby in becoming an independent sleeper. The best way to do that is to put them into their crib (or wherever you expect them to be sleeping the rest of the night) drowsy, but awake: when they have started to fall asleep, but can still register where they are. Otherwise, when they wake up in the middle of the night and discover they are no longer in your arms or next to you, they will cry for you.
When the baby wakes up at night, give her a moment to see if she will fall back asleep without your assistance, before you rush to soothe her.
It is also important to diversify the ways you baby falls asleep, even if they still need your help. For example, if you nurse your baby to sleep, try to make sure that your baby will fall asleep with other “sleep props” as well (rocking, holding, snuggling, white noise, pacifier, etc.)
If you always resort to the same method of soothing your baby to sleep, for example, nursing him to sleep, then by the age of 5-6 month, a steady sleep association may develop, where the baby is not able to fall asleep any other way. Even if you don’t mind it at bedtime, this becomes problematic in the middle of the night, when the baby wakes up between sleep cycles (we all do that every night, even as adults) and is not able to fall back asleep without being nursed, rocked, or whatever else you do to help them sleep at bedtime (read more about sleep associations frequent night awakenings here). Sometimes it will mean hourly wake-ups. The cure to this is to remove the sleep association. Many parents and baby sleep consultants resort to the so-called “crying it out” method (or CIO in baby forums), where the baby is left to cry alone until she falls asleep.
I do not recommend "crying it out" to my clients as there are gentler ways to work with sleep associations, such that the baby is always supported throughout the process. As your baby sleep consultant, I can help you make a smooth transition away from unsustainable sleep associations. Yes, your baby might not necessarily be happy about the change for the first few days, but they will never be left to cry alone and I will never ask you to do anything you don’t feel comfortable doing as a parent.
Throughout the first year, the baby's sleep need changes rapidly, and the awake time needs to be constantly adjusted. If you wait too long to give the baby a nap, she will get overtired and might sleep poorly. If you put the baby for a nap too early, she might do a cat nap instead of the two hours you were hoping for. Napping too late? The baby may have hard time settling for the night! There are so many things to navigate and as a parent, you might sometimes feel at a loss! A baby sleep consultant can help you establish age-appropriate daily routines, teach you to read your baby’s tired signs and to adjust to his constantly changing sleep needs.
Are you struggling with your infant's sleep! Let us see if I can help you!