Pre-kids, I had no idea of the magnitude that sleep (or the lack thereof) would impact my life. There is a plethora of information at our fingertips, telling us when our baby should be sleeping through the night; and if we don’t meet these expectations, then we somehow feel like a failure of a parent – or something must be wrong with our baby.
I really feel the need to set the record straight: you are doing a great job. Your baby is perfectly normal, and you are a good parent. And with the intention of making you feel a little more normal, and a little less concerned – here’s what you can really expect with sleep in the first year:
- Your baby will cry…. a lot….for many reasons. Be responsive to your infant’s primary needs first and foremost (i.e. hunger, discomfort, pain, stimulation and touch). If you have addressed all of these needs and your child continues to cry, then support them to offload tensions and stress and provide them with the opportunity to heal from birth trauma by listening lovingly – birth trauma affects an incredible 95% of births in the US!
- Colic and reflux are extremely common (symptoms usually clear by three to four months). Both can make sleep a challenge. Try where possible not to “over-feed” as this can exacerbate symptoms. Again, listening is an effective tool to help infants recover from the discomfort and overstimulation that is inextricable with these conditions.
- Our baby’s circadian rhythm (internal body clock) is not established until around 10 to 12 weeks. Cat napping, inconsistent sleeping patterns, and day and night confusion are common as a result.
- Cluster feeding is normal in the early weeks (to stimulate milk production), and to support growth and development during growth spurts – which commonly occur at around 10 days to two weeks, at three weeks, at six weeks, and at three months.
- Feeding on demand, or every two to four hours around the clock is perfectly normal. Ensuring you are doing this during the day may prevent them from waking as much to feed overnight. A dream feed may help get some more mileage overnight
- Your baby may start to display symptoms of teething as early as three months.
* Placing your newborn in a light room (or next to a window) for nap time in the first 6 weeks (and dark room thereafter) will assist with developing their circadian rhythm and preventing day/night confusion – as will ensuring your newborn doesn’t sleep too longer stretches during the day (two to three hours maximum) and feeding on demand (every two to three hours).
* Respond to your babies cries accordingly. Allowing them to ‘cry it out’ may curb the crying and eventually “train” them to sleep – but for all the wrong reasons. Afforded the opportunity, babies are more capable of self settling after the fourth trimester (between three to four months).
- The four-month sleep regression kicks in – expect cat napping, increased hunger, and more frequent night waking – even in babies who have previously slept well.
- At four months of age, a child’s sleep pattern changes from ‘newborn’ to ‘baby’ (i.e. more distinct cycles of REM/active sleep and Non-REM/deep sleep – similar to adults. This change can be unsettling for them as they learn to adjust to their new sleep cycle.
- Babies commonly experience a growth spurt at six months, so you may notice that they are more hungry during this time, and/or sleep may regress slightly for a few days.
- Most children begin teething – dirty nappies (around the clock), a slight fever, restlessness, drooling, irritability, cat napping, crying, and frequent night waking is common
- It is recommended to transition out of the swaddle when your baby shows signs of rolling. Expect disturbed sleep for a few days whilst your baby adjusts to their newly found independence at sleep times.
- I recommend weaning from the dummy by four months if you haven’t already – after this age, habit replaces the sucking reflex (and the longer a habit persists, the more difficult it is to break!). The dummy may also become a control pattern or sleep need with prolonged use – and especially when used outside of bedtime.
- Many children will start solids during this time – this can be treated in the same way as any other developmental leap; you may experience disturbed sleep for few days whilst your baby’s body adjusts to having to digest foods other than milk. A great guide for what foods, when here.
- At six months old, babies’ night time sleep patterns are heavily influenced by genetics. (from 18 months we begin to see patterns emerge which are more responsive to environment and routine).
- You can expect your baby to still wake one to two times per night for a feed. A dream feed may help get some extra mileage overnight between feeds
- Expect to drop from four naps to three.
- Teething continues…
- Behavioural issues around sleep may develop – usually stemming from fear (insecurity of their changing emotional and physical state, developmental frustrations, object permanence and separation anxiety). Most sleep problems can be improved, if not resolved, with an increased focus on the parent-child connection: special time, play listening, and listening.
- Daytime sleep patterns become established, and catnapping usually improves – considering all foundations to sleep have been addressed.
- Babies commonly experience a growth spurt at six, and nine months, so you may find they are more hungry during this time, and/or sleep may regress slightly for a few days as they wake more often overnight to feed. Focus on substantial milk feeds during the day in a quiet and relaxing environment away from distractions. Once solids have been established, aim for three meals per day with a balance of carbs, protein, and healthy fats.
- Separation anxiety most commonly starts from eight months (up until two to three years) – think stage 5 clinger, moodiness, nap refusal, bed time resistance, and more frequent night waking. Implementing the connection tools i.e. special time, play listening, and listening. can work wonders to make your child feel safer and more connected at these times – diffusing the fear, and hence the sleep and behavioural challenges that arise during these times.
- More milestones – sitting, crawling, cruising, standing with support – expect your baby to practice all of these at bedtime and upon waking overnight. Difficulty getting to sleep, nap and bedtime resistance, and frequent night waking is all common.
- One to two feeds overnight is still perfectly normal. A dream feed may help get some extra mileage overnight between feeds – especially during growth spurts.
- If you have decided to night wean, babies of this age are more capable of sleeping through the night without feeds.
- Expect to drop from three naps to two (closer to eight months where possible).
- Teething continues…
- Growth spurt (again!) at nine months.
- Separation anxiety continues… made worse by their ability to follow you EVERYWHERE!
- Developmental leaps continue…. this translates crawling, standing, walking – day and night.
- Your child will have a heightened need for independence, and frustration at not being able to communicate as effectively as they would like, can lead to regular tears and tantrums.
- In my experience, this is the most common age group where parents feel most comfortable night weaning – especially mothers who are still breastfeeding.
Not all children will be affected by change and transition in the same way. Although in the minority, I know of babies who have woken in the morning with brand new teeth without as much as a grizzle, and those who make it through the first 12 months almost unscathed by developmental leaps!
Despite the developmental and environmental variables, here are five things we CAN do to ensure our baby sleeps the very best they can given their current circumstance:
- Implement a consistent routine from three months.
- Optimise their sleeping environment.
- Be respectful of your child’s current developmental stage and accept that regression is normal.
- Nurture the parent-child connection (the majority of sleep difficulties are fear related – the perfect antidote to which, is establishing safety through love and connection!).
- Ensure adequate nutrition.