It seems everywhere I look at the moment there is a new sleep “specialist” promising the miracle technique to get your newborn baby sleeping through the night. We are offered “sleep school” for our babies. I have to call timeout on this. Babies do not need to be schooled!
Almost every day there is an exhausted, stressed out mum on social media at her wits end because her newborn never sleeps and doesn’t want to be put down and she is asking for solutions. Most of the time there will be multiple comments from other mothers who have used one technique or another to get their baby sleeping well.
We’d all love our newborns to sleep longer and better, but it’s not abnormal for a newborn to wake multiple times overnight and want constant comfort in the form of breastfeeding or cuddles or rocking.
I was lucky enough to have the advice of no routine for the first 12 weeks at least and I am a firm believer in the “fourth trimester” school of thought. Up until at least 12 weeks of age, babies just aren’t wired to sleep for long stretches by themselves. After that, there are techniques that will help your baby sleep longer.
I am not saying that newborn babies never sleep well but in my experience, if they do, it’s down to their nature and luck of the draw, so to speak, rather than any professional techniques or parenting styles.
Sleep consultants have their place, the good ones are a fantastic source of knowledge and expertise and use science based methods to encourage better sleep patterns, but only in older babies.
Baby sleep is an area of huge demand right now and there are so many sleep specialists/consultants. When a mother is in the newborn daze and her mental, physical and emotional exhaustion is at its peak, she will do just about anything to get some decent sleep.
But, before you part with the small fortune you will pay for this service, consider that somewhere along the line, women are missing out on the advice that newborn babies don’t sleep. They all go through horrendously unsettled periods and there will be times when you will be waking multiple times overnight and feel like you are feeding 24/7 and can’t even get a minute to yourself to go to the toilet.
It’s incredibly hard and at times it will break you. However, barring any health issue such as reflux, tongue tie or an allergy (all quite common and treatable), it is completely normal newborn behaviour and it will pass in time.
As most mothers will be able to tell you with the benefit of hindsight, there is no magical solution to your baby’s sleep. Even if something works now, teething, developmental leaps, sickness and more will throw everything out the window and you will be back where you started.
The fourth trimester is about survival, particularly if it isn’t your first baby. If you have a toddler to look after at the same time, the pressure to get your baby onto a routine quickly will feel even more intense. Now, not only do you have the exhaustion and stress of a newborn but you have the added stress of feeling guilty that your older child isn’t getting enough attention.
Give yourself a break here and just do what works. Sometimes, just deciding to give in and use a swing for some sleep or to wear your baby so you get some respite for an hour or two can make all the difference to your sanity and mental health.
Rather than promises to “fix” a baby we should instead be offering support, guidance and care for new mothers and there should be better and more honest preparation during pregnancy. No one expects having a newborn to be quite as hard as it is, but there needs to be better education during pregnancy and in hospital so that women are better prepared for how a newborn behaves.
While it seems like an absolute eternity when you are in it, you will soon reach a stage when little by little things get easier. Your baby will sleep longer stretches, leaving the house won’t seem like an Olympic event and you will start to feel like you have some control over your day. In the meantime, ditch the pressure and take help wherever you can get it. Above all else, remember you and your baby are figuring this out together.