The other day I came across an advert for a baby sleep consultancy service that stopped my scroll, and not in a good way. It was for a baby sleep program, which is nothing new itself, but the reason why this one got my temperature rising was because it featured a picture of a newborn baby.
It ticked me off for a few reasons. The first is that I think tired mums with new babies are already vulnerable to the pressure to get their babies sleeping a certain way, and ads like these only make this worse, suggesting that there is something they need to fix. Secondly, newborns and young babies aren’t supposed to sleep through the night, so any program promising this, or suggesting the importance of this is irresponsible and immoral.
Lastly, I just hate this whole emphasis on babies and sleep, and the idea that getting bub to sleep through the night is the holy grail and most important milestone of parenting EVER.
Don’t get me wrong – I know the torture of sleep deprivation. I’ve been there with my babies and know the pain and anguish of repeated night-waking and getting lost in a sea of techniques to try to fix the ‘problem’. It’s only now I have the benefit of hindsight that I can see that the problem was more about my mindset than anything else. The other thing I’ve learnt is that new babies are complex and have needs far beyond sleep training.
I think that when it comes to newborns, it’s worthwhile remembering a few things to help you get through the early months. And next time someone tries to tell you that your newborn should be self-settling and taught to sleep early on, you can remind them of a thing or two….
Your newborn doesn’t need to learn to sleep
The first thing to realise is that your newborn doesn’t need to be taught to sleep. She’s been doing it in-utero perfectly well for nine months – why would she suddenly stop knowing how to sleep? As a brand new baby, she might need some help getting into the sleep space, so offering an extra feed and lots of comfort can help set the scene. Newborns are too small to be taught to self-settle, and any sleep program that suggests otherwise is way out of line.
Your baby’s sleep isn’t broken
If your new baby will only sleep in your arms, catnaps, or has you getting up frequently in the night, rest assured you have a normal newborn. There is nothing wrong with your baby and there’s nothing wrong with you either. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you should be encouraging her to self-settle and learn to sleep in bigger blocks. The best thing you can do for her is accept that she’s a regular baby and offer whatever comfort, warmth and food she needs from you.
Normal newborn sleep
Biology is such a clever thing. To ensure her survival, your baby is hardwired to wake through the night to seek food and physical contact, which is crucial for her development. Newborns are born with tiny stomachs, so they need filling up regularly. And while there’s always going to be someone you know whose newborn started sleeping through the night at three weeks old, this is just random luck. Repeat after me: it’s NORMAL for new babies to wake in the night.
New babies need so much more than sleep training
Don’t let anyone suggest to you that your newborn’s sleep needs fixing. As brand new little people, newborns need so much more from us than sleep skills, and those needs might see them waking up repeatedly in the night during the early weeks. While they’re so little, newborns will need you and your partner around the clock for food, reassurance, comfort and warmth. They need to know that their new world is safe and secure, and this is down to us to provide.
Better sleep will come
Sleep deprivation is one of the toughest battles of motherhood, and it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But once you get past the early months, you’ll find that your baby is more likely to sleep in bigger blocks. If things get harder rather than easier, your GP is a good first port of call to rule out anything medical that might be interfering with your baby’s sleep. You can also check in with your local childhood health centre, who may be able to organise some extra support for you.
Mums with new babies need support
Speaking of support, mums with new babies need more of it. If we normalised the realities of newborn sleep and offered strategies to cope with the demands of a new baby, this would ease up on the pressure to have a perfect sleeper which doesn’t, and shouldn’t exist.