What's Realistic to Expect During the First Year of Your Baby's Life
Before we discuss what's biologically normal when it comes to Infant Sleep, I highly recommend that you read a post I wrote on some of the Red Flags that would lead me to refer my clients to see other specialists (you can read more about this here).
Is your baby sleeping through the night?
If you are reading this, I imagine you were asked this at least once. The other famous one is "Is she/he a good baby?" as if sleeping or not was a determinant for a human to be good or bad. Well, I know most people don't really understand what these questions represent to a new parent and they do have good intentions. However, these statements being thrown out there when we feel so vulnerable, ends up adding a layer of unrealistic expectations around sleep (and ourselves). They are embedded with the expectation that babies should follow our needs, and not the opposite. The "Are they good babies? Are they sleeping thought the night?" are basically what starts shaping our distrust in the ways our babies sleep and prompts us to fix it all ASAP because otherwise they will never sleep well (which is NOT true.)
Now, I am aware that every single parent lives a different reality. There are many reasons driving us to the "fixing sleep" role when our society doesn't understand the importance of our role as parents in our children's childhood. The lack of support and empathy towards parents start way before our babies arrive. It seems like every one has a say and wants to fast forward to let us know of everything they experienced forgetting that the only way to parent our children is by going through the experience ourselves. Different experiences are seen from a different lens, and once we know more about what's biologically normal from a human development perspective, we are able to see things as if we were wearing a brand new pair of glasses.
The Parenting Performance
On top of everything I mentioned above, there are the hidden expectations, the idea that once we become parents we should be able to continue living our lives as if we hadn't, and if we are not able to perform this way then "we are giving in to our baby's wishes." After all, "babies should adapt to us or we are being too permissive". This is one of the things that upsets me the most because in a relationship both parts are adapting and learning from each other, it's about mutual growth, and although most people don't realize, when we add a person into our family it takes time for EVERYONE to adjust, including the baby.
I usually tell my clients that the first year is an adaptation period, a stage to get to know each other and you do not have to prove anything to anyone but to focus on building this bond. The idea that because we are on maternity leave our house will be clean, we will prepare creative meals, exercise, relax in the evenings after our babies "well timed bedtime", and that naps will be predictable and scheduled, contribute to the frustration most of us find ourselves in.
"What Am I doing wrong? It wasn't supposed to be this way, right?" a client texted me the other day. I replied "Yes, it wasn't. Society should not be sending all these messages to us, including that we should be able to handle it all on our own." And it is because of these messages, that when we see ourselves struggling, the first thing we do is to look at our babies and think we need to fix them. And unfortunately, there are tons of "experts" wanting to help you by fixing the brand new human you have in your arms...
Although this is not a "fix your baby's sleep in 3 days" post, I hope you can feel less pressure in 5 minutes
During the FIRST THREE MONTHS, you may experience/observe
Baby Blues (Ask your Health Care Provider for the PPD/PPA Questionnaire. Mental Health is as important as everything else you are doing for your baby)
Having to hold your baby a lot because they love to sleep on you
Feeding all day and night
Difficulties putting baby down into the crib or bassinet
Periods when your baby is more fussy (around 6 weeks), especially when their stimulus barrier starts to go away, and the world can become overwhelming as they adapt.
There's usually a growth spurt around 3 months when you may notice more feeding sessions.
During the FOURTH MONTH, you may experience/observe
That baby is waking more at night than before, and falling asleep has now become a bit more challenging than before, requiring more efforts and creativity from your part.
That the process of learning how to roll is now impacting sleep
Some periods of wakefulness during the night (split nights are common at this stage)
Naps can become shorter than they previously were
Transferring to a sleep surface can become more challenging
During the FIFTH TO SEVENTH MONTH, you may experience/observe
Short naps continue to happen at this stage
Frequent night feedings
Bedtime can become more challenging and new ways to parent to sleep may become necessary (rock, nurse, snuggle, pat, sing...)
Developmental milestones may be one of the reasons baby might be waking more often (rolling, crawling...)
Separation anxiety can start to show up
Hourly wakings for a couple of weeks can be expected as well as early wakings
Feeds can be interrupted during the day (read more here)
Last nap of the day can become more challenging (cat naps by the end of the day is perfect! Add motion to support baby to fall asleep)
During the EIGHTH TO TWELVE MONTH, you may experience/observe
Night feedings are still common, normal and expected.
Some babies may start stretching naps a bit longer.
Primary caregiver can be feeling super exhausted since maybe may be showing a strong preference to be exclusively with them.
Bedtime difficulties and a longer process to fall asleep.
Some split nights are still common at this stage, especially through developmental milestones
A peak of separation anxiety is also common at this stage
I know you must be tired of hearing that you need to take care of yourself, and ask for assistance from your village of support. It would be wonderful if we all had villages and opportunities for those amazing self-care suggestions we read about out there (and it that's your reality, wonderful! You are lucky to be able to count on your village, so go ahead and ask for their support often because this will be crucial for the months and years to come.) Now, if you don't have support around, I see you! I truly do.
I guess this is something I can't really say what would be best because it is particular to each case, family and culture. If you have a partner, try to involve them as much as possible since day one because every opportunity you have to get out by yourself and take a walk (even for 15 minutes) can change our mood.
Also, I have a freebie for you! It's called Taking Care of Mama and you can grab it here.