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Talkin' Sleep

9 baby sleep basics that every parent should know

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the roller coaster journey of your baby’s sleep habits? You’re not alone! As a mom, I’ve been through my fair share of sleepless nights and frustrating wakeups. I wish someone had shared these extremely essential pieces of information with me earlier. So, why should you care what I wish? I’m a therapist who specializes in mental health for babies aged birth to six years old and has helped over 1000 families get sleep.

I have found that it’s vital to understand the biology behind your baby’s sleep. This is because you could help relieve some of the stress and worry that come with being a parent. Understanding this information can really help you understand your baby’s sleep and how they sleep. It’s important to gather as much knowledge and information based on experience as possible in a world where there are many contradicting opinions and unrealistic expectations. Buckle up as I tell you the things you have to know about your baby’s sleep!

The Biology Behind Baby Sleep

First things first: let’s talk Biology! Sleep is a biological function. It is not something you can “teach” your baby like a science lesson or a dance move, it evolves over time. There is a lot of misconception out there (thanks to the information on the internet) that sleep is something you should teach your baby. Sleep is not a skill to be learned, but a fundamental biological function, just like breathing and eating. Your baby is not a robot, they are a delicate human being whose sleep is affected by more than just their schedule or following the right sleep habits. It’s helpful to remember that your baby’s sleep is a work in progress.

Sleep Cycles

Speaking of rhythms, did you know that  just like adults, babies sleep in cycles? Now, their cycles are much shorter than adult cycles are, but they are there from birth. These cycles can be as short as 20-30 minutes for newborns, and as their system develops, cycles become approximately 45 minutes long until eventually it is fully developed and it evolves into the 90-minute sleep cycle you may be familiar with.

Your baby goes into cycles as a way of security and protection. So, when your little one wakes up, it’s usually because they’re doing this thing similar to a security check to make sure everything is safe. It’s a biological function that has been ingrained in us through generations. So if your baby wakes up at night, it’s usually because they are doing this check inside and outside of their body. If they need something; a fresh diaper, a feed or to alleviate discomfort—they’ll let you know by crying. If they don’t need anything, they will continue sleeping without alerting you. 

To learn what’s normal baby sleep based on Biology and normal development in terms of overnight wakes, and how long babies should sleep by which age, make sure to get this FREE Normal Baby Sleep Guide.

Developmental Milestones

Have you ever heard that every baby is different when it comes to when they learn to walk? It’s okay for this learning stage to take longer or an even shorter time to occur. Their walking skills can develop from as early as 7 months (which is the exception, not the rule) to as late as 18 months.  However, just because your baby doesn’t start walking at 7 months, doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with them! Each baby has their own pace and own developmental needs that affect the way they walk and sleep too! Much like learning how to walk, your baby’s sleep evolves at their own pace too.

Sleep is a developmental function, and comparing your baby’s sleep habits to another baby’s will do you no good as each baby has an individual sleeping habit. Most babies will sleep through the night by around 10-12 months, with about one easily resettled wake to feed. Just know that sleeping through the night occurs at different times for every baby and that even though there is a wide range of when they start, it’s all normal and completely healthy.

Your baby’s sleep stretches increase throughout their first year, but not in a linear way. And most babies will have some form of sleeping throughout the night by around 10-12 months. But whether this happens to your baby at 6-8 weeks or happens at 18 months is developmental. Again, there is no one perfect answer to baby sleep stretches, it all depends on your baby’s individual development.  

Debunking The Habits Myth

As opposed to popular belief, your baby does not form habits. The truth is, it’s you, the parent, who forms these habits of how you respond to your baby. And what about those habits? They are flexible. At some point, there might be something that was working for you to keep you less stressed, or get sleep more easily. But now, these strategies might be causing you more stress as your baby gets older. 

Your baby is not doing that on purpose; they are not ruining your sleep because they enjoy doing that. They’re just asking for their needs in the only way they know how to, which is by crying. It’s good to remember that crying is communication. So don’t be too hard on yourself if it takes some trial and error to learn what they are communicating. If your baby’s sleep routine doesn’t feel like one perfect, straight line of progression, that is completely normal and not a result of your “habits”. To see what to expect for when your baby sleeps, check out our Normal Baby Sleep Guide !

Navigating The Unpredictability

Now, let’s address the elephant in the room: unpredictability. Navigating the unpredictable nature of baby sleep can be frustrating, but don’t worry, you’re not in this alone! Before you start blaming yourself for this unpredictable pattern, let me tell you, it’s not your fault. The truth is, it’s not because you’re doing anything wrong, it’s usually because of biology and development. 

The reason your baby’s sleep feels so unpredictable is because of the rapid development they are going through. Your baby’s sleep will change quite a lot in the first couple of months. In the first 6 months, it’s as common as diaper changes, with new phases coming up every few weeks. But they start to decrease in the first 2 years of their lives.

Nighttime feeds are not only expected, but should be regarded as a biological need, especially if your baby is breastfed. Check out our Normal Baby Sleep Guide to learn more about nighttime feeds! Did you know that it is still normal to feed 1-3 times overnight all the way to 18 months and beyond? It can also feel like a rollercoaster, going up and down, but it all depends on what your baby is going through. It is not a linear process. For example, if your baby is going through a growth spurt, they might be having more overnight feeds. But this is an issue that resolves itself within a few days. 

You might be thinking that before your baby, you were sleeping great with no night wakes. But the reality is nobody—even you, an adult—can sleep throughout the entire night. You just don’t remember these wakes because they weren’t disturbing you. But just like your baby, your body goes through cycles where it checks in and out of the body when you need something.  When you wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom for example, you don’t think too much of it because it feels like a normal part of your life and you can simply go and do what you need. Whereas with your baby, you think about it more often because they are waking you up, and it’s disruptive to your sleep. 

Accepting Lack of Control

Here’s a hard truth: you can’t control your baby’s sleep. Yes, there are things you can do to maximize your baby’s sleep, like setting expectations, the right schedule and environment to minimize nighttime wakes. There are genetic factors at play and what your baby needs might be different from other babies. It’s important to remember that they are waking up because of their physical needs. This is something you can’t control. This phase of your baby’s life goes by quickly and it is important to learn how to get through that phase by adjusting to their needs rather than trying to manipulate their sleep to try to fit  into your lifestyle. This can be very stressful because it goes against your instincts and biology.  

This is a very special time in your life that can be full of joy. However, if putting your baby to sleep is making you feel stressed or anxious, then it may be  because you are going against what is needed for you and your baby at this stage in life. Don’t suffer through this; it’s time to get our Baby Sleep Essentials Course! But I am here to remind you that it’s okay to do what you need to do at this point in your baby’s life to get through it. Just don’t forget to enjoy your time with your baby! You can’t be enjoying time with your baby if you are constantly worrying about the right schedule because you think you are failing all the time. 

The Reality Behind Sleep Training 

Sleep is a biological function. You can’t teach your baby how to sleep. However, you can teach them what to expect when they cry at night. Cry-it-out based approaches, for example, teach your baby what to expect when they wake up at night. If cry-it-out based approaches are something you feel comfortable with and align with your personal choices, then the choice is yours! But my programs don’t offer cry-it-out or sleep training based methods. Need programs to help you get to the root cause of your baby’s sleep issues? Need to learn how to have healthy sleep while accepting the realities of baby life? Then my programs are the answer for you! 

There are some questions that you should keep in mind when you are deciding what approaches to use when it comes to teaching your baby about what to expect when they cry at night such as “what do I want to teach them?” or”does it align with my values?” or “is this approach sustainable for me?”. And remember, there is no one perfect solution to sleep problems. There are a lot of different options for different babies. If you’re wondering what methods there are to baby sleep and what may or may not work for you, check out this blog about baby sleep training!

Every Baby is Unique

One important thing to keep in mind is that every baby and family is different. What is needed for your baby for a good night sleep, does not have to be similar to what another baby needs. One thing that annoys me about online information about baby sleep is that they give generic sleep information, like it’s a one-size-fits-all approach.

As if every baby needs a 7PM bedtime; WRONG. Every baby must have 2-hour long naps; WRONG. It’s very important to go for the approaches that result in peaceful, happy, and enjoyable sleep for you and your baby. Happy, easy sleep requires you to figure out what specifically works for your unique baby. That’s why I created the Baby Sleep Essentials course. But if you think courses are great but not for you because you need one to one support then click here to learn about our one to one program – Sanity Solution

One Last Thing! 

I want to leave you with this one final thought. Your baby and early postpartum phase should be handled with care. It is a unique and vulnerable time where your brain is changing as well as your baby’s. Your baby is going from a helpless newborn to a walking and talking human; it’s mind blowing 🤯. There’s a lot of changes happening around you that you’re not used to. It’s a very vulnerable time for you as you are doing something you’re never done before and a lot of people might be taking advantage of that. So, choose who you listen to carefully and wisely! Only listen to advice that makes you feel supported and encourages you to do what you feel is best for you and your family.

Now It’s Your Turn!

Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments down below! I’d love to hear from you all; Did you learn anything new from this blog? Was there something that you already knew before reading this blog? Do you have something that you believed was true but turned out to be a myth?

 Are you looking to find out what is normal about baby sleep? Do you want to learn more about the root cause of your baby’s sleep habits? Make sure to get the FREE Normal Baby Sleep Guide.  Check out our Instagram for more tips and tricks about baby sleep!

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