Three things I wish I had known when I was pregnant
I’m sure that during your pregnancy someone at some point must have told you that you will never sleep again. Or advised you to sleep while you can because once the baby is here, you can say goodbye to your peaceful nights.
While that might not be what you want to hear, it’s sadly true. With the arrival of a new baby, your sleep will change dramatically. But I wouldn’t say there’s nothing that can prepare you for it. I believe that knowing what’s to expect, understanding why it’s happening and having realistic expectations makes a world of difference.
BABY SLEEP DIFFERENTLY TO ADULTS
Babies need a lot more sleep than adults. And I mean A LOT! This, however, doesn’t happen in one long uninterrupted block of sleep, in the quiet of the night, like we would all prefer.
Newborn babies sleep in little chunks anywhere from a few minutes to 4 hours, and their sleep is initially equally distributed throughout day and night. Even after a couple of months, when most of the sleep start happening at night, it is still very much interrupted.
One of the main reasons babies sleep the way they do (besides their need to feed of course) are their sleep cycles, which are very different from adult sleep cycles. Firstly, they are shorter and last on average around 50-60 minutes, as supposed to adult sleep cycles which last around 90-100 min. When babies approach the end of a sleep cycle, they often wake up, because they can’t connect one sleep cycle to another yet.
The second big difference is the amount of time we each spend in different stages of sleep.
When babies are born, they spend almost 50% of their sleep in active sleep, also known as REM sleep (rapid eye movement). With premature babies, as much as 80% of their sleep can be REM sleep. For adults on the other hand only around 25% of their sleep is REM sleep.
This is a light sleep when dreams occur and the eyes move rapidly back and forth, the infant’s brain is developing, consolidating, and solidifying various cognitive and physical skills.
For babies, it means that around 50% of their sleep is relatively light, which is an added reason your baby might wake so often. And because their sleep cycle is so short, they are prone to fully or partially wake up during the transition from deep sleep to light sleep more often.
EVERY BABY IS DIFFERENT
Your baby is just as individual as you are!
There is no golden rule that tells us when a baby will sleep through the night when he will stop his night feeds, when the daytime naps will stop or if sleeping with a dummy is right or wrong.
At some point, you will be questioning your baby’s sleep (or more likely lack of sleep), and there will be advice coming from left, right and centre. While all this advice might be well-intended, it won’t necessarily work for your family. Something that worked for your friend, neighbour, or mum X on the internet, might be a wrong fit for your baby.
Your baby’s personality and wellbeing, your own character, your parenting approach and the dynamics of your family will all determine how your baby sleeps, and consequently, how you sleep.
That’s why it is crucial not to compare yourself with others or your baby with someone else’s baby.
This doesn’t mean that you have to accept the fact your baby just doesn’t sleep or that for the next few years you won’t sleep either. It just means you need to find an approach that works for you. One that is centred around your baby and your family. Always remember – you know your baby best and no-one can tell you what’s right and what’s wrong. Just listen to your instinct and have trust in what you’re doing.
IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY TO START IMPLEMENTING GOOD SLEEP HABITS
Good sleep habits don’t come naturally, it’s something babies have to learn.
Establishing good sleep habits is not a quick thing, it’s a process. And you can start and guide your baby to good sleep from the very beginning.
Introduce a calming bedtime routine. That will be short at the beginning and you can build on it as the baby grows. It will play a fundamental role in your babies sleep though so it’s a great way to start.
Another thing that you can do to help your baby sleep is to create a nice sleep environment for him, a place that feels comfortable yet safe, and most of all relaxing for you both. Even though he might only want to sleep on you for the first few months (which is absolutely normal and ok), you can ease him into this slowly and gently.
Also, keep awake times short. Newborns can’t stay awake for long and preventing overtiredness will result in better naps and better nighttime sleep. It’s also much easier to settle a baby that’s not overtired so keep those awake window between 30min and 1h and only increase them gradually.