Welcome to the first of my “touchy subjects” series. More than anything, I want these posts to document my feelings and experiences as they happen – because I know I’ll forget by the time we start thinking about baby number two. Let it be said: good parenting comes in lots of shapes and sizes. We just have a particular shape and size that works for us. Without further ado…
Every new parent can attest – sleep is a hot topic! What’s the first thing people ask you when you have a new baby?
“Does your baby sleep through the night?”
How many times have you cringed when you heard that question? Because, let’s face it, very few babies sleep through the night in the first few months. I quickly learned that doctors and sleep experts consider babies under 3 months to be “sleeping through the night” if they sleep 5 hours straight. I don’t know about you, but I call that a nap, not “the big sleep”.
With all the “sleep through the night” questions – and your own fatigue – it’s easy to feel as though you are failing if your baby doesn’t sleep for long stretches at night or if they don’t nap well during the day. The fact is, whether your baby sleeps 2 hours or 10 hours straight probably has very little to do with you. Some babies are just restless sleepers. Some babies get hungry faster or are more sensitive to being hot or cold. Some babies do well with a total of 12 hours of sleep in a day; others are little bears without at least 16 hours a day.
Sleep is such a pressure point for parents that we’ll do just about anything to get our babies to snooze. Most of us look to soothers for help – swaddlers, pacifiers, swings, and white noise machines, to name a few. A few days into having a newborn, I was ready to try anything to get a little extra shut-eye, even the pacifiers that I had previously sworn off. Here’s what worked – and didn’t work – for us.
Come to find out, Vivi wasn’t a fan of many of the standard soothers. We tried at least 3 different kinds of swaddling blankets (velcro swaddlers, the Miracle Blanket, and muslin blankets). Even as a newborn, she didn’t like to be swaddled. From day one she preferred to have her hands near her face or in her mouth. Having her arms swaddled tightly on her chest or by her side just made the little darling furious!
Next we tried pacifiers – again, several different styles and brands. They all made her gag… which was awful to witness! She spit them out faster than you can say “yucky plastic”. In the last month or two, she will occasionally chew (yes, chew…) on a Soothie brand pacifier that is attached to a little stuffed monkey. It’s more of a distraction technique than anything – she doesn’t fall asleep with it.
The Snug-a-bunny bouncer was a V-favorite from day one. She’ll sit in it for short periods of time when I need to do something around the house (make-up does a lot to lift your spirits when you’re feeling post-pregnancy ugly), and she’ll sleep like an angel in it for naps or for “the big sleep”.
Since she loved the bouncer so much, we bought her a Snug-a-Bunny swing too. Early on, Vivi wasn’t a huge fan of the swing; she had enough after about five minutes. This girl wasn’t your average newborn, folks… no paci! no swing! Such a non-conformist. This all changed about two weeks ago. Now the swing is high on Vivi’s list of favorite things – she actually breaks into a grin when we put her in it. I think it’s because she now notices the mirror on the mobile. Sugar Bear loves to smile at the baby in the mirror. Just goes to show you – you think something doesn’t work? Try it again later, and you might be surprised.
Sleep location has caused endless fretting for the adults in the Ray household. As a newborn, Vivi really just wanted to be held. She basically fell asleep one of two ways: nursing in my arms or being walked around the house by me or Brad.
During the first 2-3 months, Vivi was especially partial to falling asleep after nursing. Sometimes she wouldn’t even nurse; she would go right to sleep as soon as I held her close to me on the boppy. I was warned against letting her nurse herself to sleep, but this was one area I didn’t worry much about – as long as we were both happy with the arrangement, I didn’t see a problem. For as long as she breastfeeds, I’m happy to nurse her to sleep.
What I did worry about was naptime. For months, Vivi struggled to nap on anything other than a person. She would sleep for hours on Brad’s chest or on my lap. We both actually loved snuggling with that sweet sleeping baby, but we were cautioned that it could be a bad idea, that we might be creating bad sleeping habits. In the end, we went with our gut and just enjoyed those precious moments. Sure enough, now that Vivi is older, she can be transferred out of our arms to finish off her sleep elsewhere.
She’s even starting to figure out how to self-soothe lately, albeit with a little thumb-sucking here and there. (I’m sorry… thumb-sucking is ADORABLE!)
Just as I’m starting to worry about something, Vivi always seems to say, “Don’t worry, Mom! I got this.”
So, fellow parents, when you are feeling defeated, remember: a large percentage of babies don’t sleep 8 or more hours straight until they are 6 months or older. And you know what? Lots of babies sleep in non-traditional places – bouncers, swings, car seats, for example. It’s one of those sort-of secrets of being a new parent. For every newborn who sleeps in a crib or bassinet, I know three other babies who sleep in a non-traditional “bed”. And if your baby doesn’t nap? Well, are they happy or fussy during the day? If they are happy, maybe they just don’t need as much sleep as other babies.
Whenever I started to feel stressed when Vivi wouldn’t sleep in the early months, I just reminded myself: her little body isn’t programmed to sleep for long periods of time. New babies sleep lightly for a reason – without light sleep, they might not rouse when they are hungry or cold, potentially dangerous situations for little ones. Once I came to terms with that, it was much easier for me to rationalize getting very little sleep. Sure, I was still tired, but I didn’t feel frustrated.
It just so happens, my baby sleeps great at night now. She started sleeping 6 (or more) straight hours a night at six weeks old. Vivi now sleeps 8-10 hours straight a night. Not many parents are so lucky. Sure, two or three times a week she might wake in the middle of the night and want to nurse, but more often than not, she surprises me by sleeping such long stretches.
For months, Vivi only took cat naps lasting 30 minutes or so. In the last couple weeks, she has started taking a 1.5-2 hour morning nap. I used to worry that she would never nap! As with most things, a little time was all it took. Being a parent is an amazing lesson in patience. Your child will tell you when they are ready for the next step – we just have to listen!
Our next step is moving Vivian into her crib. Vivi currently sleeps in a cradling bouncy seat in our bedroom. She seems very comfortable and cozy – it’s basically an elevated bassinet, which seems to help her mild case of reflux. I know in time that she will be too big for the bouncy, as we fondly call it. It may not happen for another couple months, but I’d rather move Vivi to her crib on our own time rather than out of necessity. So, we’ve started the slow process of moving her. Right now we are working on letting her play in the crib several times a day, and I also put her down in the crib when she seems sleepy. No naps in the crib yet, but we are making good progress!
To end this loooooong post, I say to Future Adria (and any other new parents who are reading): don’t despair. The days of little-to-no-sleep may feel endless, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Do what’s in your heart. If you want to hold your baby all night, do it! Only you know what’s best for your baby, and those precious moments go by much too fast. Just relax, be patient, and soak it all in.