Baby Sleep: What's "Normal" and What's "Not."
We've all heard it. The first question is always, "Is the baby sleeping through the night yet?" Chances are they aren't - and that's actually normal.
I think as parents, and especially new parents, we often consider babies to be just babies. We don't necessarily see them as a little human being with their own personalities and their own habits until they become much older (around 6-9 months when you really start to see a personality). But in reality, babies are already born with innate personalities (they just haven't come out yet) and different genetic traits that they inherit from their parents. This creates a unique human being that parents don't often realize is the case - especially first time parents in survival mode. I certainly didn't.
Before kids, I was a Sleep Princess. I could literally fall asleep anywhere. With the TV blasting on the couch. In the back of a car. Anywhere. I loved sleeping. If society deemed it acceptable, I would have slept 12 hours a day easily. And the biggest thing was, I could not function well without at least 8 hours of sleep. If I didn't sleep, I was just miserable.
My husband, on the other hand, can get 6 hours of sleep a night and be perfectly functional and happy. I kind of hate him for it actually. This is something I still cannot comprehend, but some people can just sleep less than others. I consider this genetic.
When we had our first son, I was in absolute survival mode (as most parents are). I heavily researched sleep in infants because I was convinced there was something wrong with him. After he became "aware" around 3 months old, he only slept 30 minutes at a time during the day. I was lucky if he slept 45 minutes for naps. At night, he was up every 3 hours almost on the dot. I started going insane. Why won't this baby sleep?
After about three months of what I considered literally torture because I never slept, he magically started sleeping all night for about 8 hours at a time. It was heaven for approximately 4 weeks. And then the dreaded 4 month sleep regression happened and we literally never slept again for a year. This is when I really became crazy, because I was convinced I was doing something wrong to make him not sleep through the night like he used too.
Did you know that babies go through certain sleep cycles?
Imagine it from a baby's point of view. First of all, most animals are born fully functional out of the womb. They can walk. They can somewhat communicate. And all they really rely on their mothers for is milk and protection.
Human babies, on the other hand, are born much early and less developed than other animals because of the way our bodies walk upright and are designed. So babies have to be born before they're more "self sufficient" like other animals. Otherwise, our bodies couldn't handle birthing them.
This is where the "Fourth Trimester" comes in. The theory behind the Fourth Trimester is that until about 3 months old, babies are still majorly developing their physical and mental bodies. This includes sleep. As a result, they need much more care and attention than other animal babies do, because they literally are not as well developed to survive outside the womb.
Why is this important?
Because we've really only been in modern culture and had a "modern" view of parenting for a few hundred years. For thousands of years before that, parents carried their children with them everywhere. They wore them when they gathered berries. They slept right next to them in caves. They did not have separate rooms and separate beds. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics now suggests that babies sleep in their parents' rooms (in a separate side crib) for at least the first six months of their lives and, optimally, for the first full year. The statement says that this helps protect against SIDS.
Babies' constant waking is actually a normal, environmental response. Not only are they often hungry, but they are waking to ensure that they are safe and secure and a parent or caregiver is still present. Think of the dangers presented thousands of years ago that are no longer present. Babies don't understand that they are safe in their cribs on their backs in a separate room. Babies are innately ingrained to survive, and survival is based on the presence of a parent.
So when will my baby start sleeping?
This is the MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION. Some people believe you have to "sleep train" them to teach them to sleep alone. Some people say they can "smell" mom's milk if they're in the same room and so when you move them to their own room they will sleep. Some people believe that they will sleep once they are weaned. Some people believe they will sleep when they start eating solids. I can tell you right now that, in my personal experience, none of this is true. I tried everything (absent hardcore "sleep training") to get my eldest son to sleep. Nothing worked.
As much as you probably don't want to hear it, your baby is going to sleep when your baby needs and wants to sleep. Both of my children are very different and I believe it depends on the child and their own genetics. For example, my oldest could take no naps and sleep for 6-7 hours (like my husband) and be perfectly happy. On the other hand, my youngest would take three naps a day and sleep 12 hours at night (like me) and be the happiest kid in the world.
So to all you new parents, my advice is this. Take it day by day. Try to sleep when the baby sleeps. The dishes can wait. The floor can be swept later. The laundry can fold itself (not really but don't we all wish). Everything can wait. You just have to wait for your baby, as unique as he/she is, to figure out their sleep cycle and learn to naturally sleep on their own. There are ways you can help facilitate this gently, and I will talk about it in later blog posts. But I will say that the magic number for both of my boys was 18 months - if that's any consolation to any of you new parents struggling with sleep.
In the next few weeks, I will post most details on sleep and developmental milestones of babies and toddlers to help you prepare for the big "leaps" and fussiness that comes along with them. In the meantime, tell us in the comments, when did your kids start sleeping all night?
DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical doctor. I am a mother that had two sons, 18 months apart and heavily researched multiple subjects on growth and development in children - including sleep. As always, you should discuss any and all sleep habits and sleeping arrangements with your Pediatrician or a qualified medical care provider.