Regardless of how much research you do before your baby arrives, there are some things you’ll need to discover for yourself. This usually happens as you’re going through the motions – especially when it comes to sleep. You can never fully prepare for things like breastfeeding because, well, it’s not something that can rehearsed until you’e on the job! And everyone’s journey is completely different.
People will tell (read: ‘warn’) you about sleep deprivation in those first months – or years, for some. I personally think any advice in the vein of ‘get all the sleep you can before baby arrives’ is completely misleading. You just can’t bank sleep – although isn’t that a nice concept!
Accepting that factors like sleep will be a certain way, will help you through this time – along with understanding how feeding and sleeping work hand in hand. One of the biggest misconceptions is that once you work out the sleep/feed/play pattern, you’re sorted! The reality is, these little people change a lot in their first years.
But you aren’t on the toddler train just yet, so let’s chat babies! They are all kinds of wonderful, and navigating through each development stage is exciting from one to the next. Since sleep can have such a big effect on most, it’s helpful to understand what lies ahead. Besides the commonly discussed topics such as resettling and swaddling, there are a few other things worthy of sharing.
1. They will outgrow the bassinet faster than you thought
I was the person who had read the SIDS guidelines and planned on having my little one beside me in the bassinet for the first 6 months – and I did for the most part. Having your little one sleep close to you will not only reduce their risk of SIDS, it will make feeding throughout the night much easier. As your baby grows, they will become bigger and start to move around a lot more. They will also start to wriggle their way out of their wrap or swaddle, and once they start rolling? It’s time to transition them into a sleeping bag.
Whilst there is a process on how to do that, once you make the transition, your little one’s arms will be free. This is when they will start hitting the sides of the bassinet, which can wake them. Now, each child will be different with regards to their size and development, but chances are that if your child is growing on the 50th percentile, like mine, you have them in a cosy bassinet and they have started (or will start) rolling by 5 months, then you are likely going to experience something similar. This is when you will need to decide on whether or not to move them into a cot.
2. Right when you’ve nailed wrapping, it’s time to transition to a sleeping bag
Those first few months will fly by. You will feel like you have finally nailed the art of the swaddle – and sleep, and then it’s time to change things up again. All of your hard work learning to wrap and swaddle your baby will become obsolete once your little one starts to roll. This is why we see new parents delay the process of transitioning – nobody wants to mess with a sleeping baby!
The reality is, though, it will become unsafe for them to stay swaddled. They will need to use their arms to turn themselves over for unobstructed breathing. Try not to worry too much about making the transition – the process will only take a few days.
3. Once you start using the dummy for sleep, you will need to put it back in when it falls out. Well, at least until they learn to do it themselves!
Let me start by saying that I am a big fan of the dummy when used as a sleeping aid. A lot of people have some pretty strong opinions on them, so I thought I would share mine. I personally don’t use dummies too early (i.e. those first days in the hospital). For me, this was always a time when I would feed or comfort my little one. If you are breastfeeding, your baby will be feeding frequently to help your milk to come in. I always bunkered down during this time and just fed and slept on repeat. As your little one starts to become more aware, it will be harder to settle for sleep. This is generally when I have introduced the dummy, although it was at different times for each one.
My firstborn had tummy trouble, so it was at the three-week mark for her. Whereas my third child didn’t take it at all in the beginning! This is why I introduced it as a sleeping aid around the 3-4 month mark. I always wanted to avoid relying on it when out and about, so simply used it as a cue for sleep.
The dummy, therefore, remains in the cot and is simply used at sleep times. This makes it much easier to remove when needed to. There will be a (short) period of time, where your baby will lose their dummy and not be able to put it back in themselves. This will result in you having to go in to the bedroom to pop it back in when they become unsettled. This stage generally passes by quite quickly, and before you know it, they will be able to soothe themselves.
4. Once they learn how to stand in their cot, they will protest when you leave the room
This is a fun one – not! Well, it’s cute the first few times but then you will need to teach them how to get back down and sleep. Once they learn that they can stand up and ‘call out’ for you (getting a reaction, no doubt), it can turn into a nice little game. Your response to this will be dependent on age but it’s likely to start once your little one learns how to stand. Our Mothercraft Expert, Chris Minogue, suggests treating this like you would with any other resettling technique. Don’t race in and pick them up, instead, keep calm and tell them that it is time for sleep. You may need to help them go from standing to lying down again, and repeat this a few times.
Don’t worry, they will soon get the hang of it – consistency is key. If your baby is older, it may have become more of a learned behaviour. This is when they realise that they can get you back into the room. Try to leave them for a few minutes, so they get the hint that it’s time for sleep. Of course, if they become too unsettled, you can go back in to reassure them. This can be done by helping them back down, using any sleeping aids and telling them it’s time for sleep.
5. You might want to take advantage of that extra-long nap during the day but you will pay for it overnight
This is the juicy stuff that you quickly learn on the job – and is one of the big reasons I created Kiindred. Once you learn how your baby’s developmental needs change, and how the feed/sleep balance works, it’s a game-changer. I have definitely been in situations where I wanted to take advantage of an extra-long nap during the day, only to pay for it at night.
As with anything, it’s important that you do what’s right for your family. if you do want to learn more about your baby’s feed and sleep needs we have ‘Daily Rhythms’ broken down by development stage. These will give you useful tips on what sleeps work best for ‘catnaps’ and what sleeps work best in a bed, where you can support them through resettling.
Feeding also plays a big part in this, as you will want to be sure that your baby isn’t waking due to hunger. It’s definitely a learning curve! Having the info on hand will make you feel more confident in navigating through each stage. Remember, though – there are always plenty of support groups and experts around if you feel you need a little extra help.