Before I had my first daughter, a little over seven years ago, I was prepared. I went to tons of classes because I was going to know all there was to know. Plus, I had time (oh, those were the days). I read every book I could get my hands on. I’ve always been obsessed with babies. I’d been a babysitter since I was, well, practically a baby myself. Given all of my “experience,” I knew I had this. I mean, I could basically swaddle a newborn with my eyes closed, uphill, in the snow, while chewing gum (impressive, I know).
Then I had her.
She was perfect (except for a serious cone head and some bruising resulting from the 37 hours of labor and the 5.5 hours of pushing). I certainly wasn’t expecting any issues with breastfeeding or sleep. I thought those two things just happened. And even if they didn’t, well, see above. . . I was prepared! Boy, was I wrong.
After numerous sessions with lactation consultants and money copiously but well-spent on nipple cream and shields, we kind of got on track. The lactation consultants in the hospital were definitely helpful and got the process started. By the time I left, I felt more confident with our breastfeeding relationship and my nursing abilities. I thought it was so nice that I was able to meet (numerous times) with a lactation specialist before I was released back into the wild on my own. As our feeding routine got on track, I now could transition my train of thought (or what counted as sleep during those early days) to sleep. I had read the books and the blogs. She was born knowing how to sleep; how hard could it be?
Now that this was real, my focus began to shift away from how A baby sleeps to how MY baby sleeps. I thought, “Wouldn’t it have been nice to have a pediatric sleep specialist give me some advice before I left the hospital?!” Basking in the (tired) bliss of being a new mom (something I had dreamt about since I was a young child), I noticed that I was getting increasingly sleep deprived. I also realized I didn’t really know what I was doing.
Wasn’t my baby supposed to be doing exactly what all the books said she should be doing (I mean it’s in the book because it’s true, right???)? Was she supposed to stay awake three hours between sleep or was it sleep for 3 hours? AGH! If I had gotten some pointers before I left the hospital with my new non-sleeper, I would have been so much better off. I would have at least been able to set some realistic expectations, avoid some seemingly inevitable frustration, and been on track to turn my brand-new, cone-headed, non-sleeper into the sort-of-new, round-headed, dream-sleeper I knew she could become.
So, here I am! I’m giving you some of the pointers I never got, so you’ll be more prepared than I was when you bring you new (non-)sleeper home from the hospital!
There is nothing better than that newborn baby smell. Enjoy your miraculous creation and spend the first few weeks (or even months) bonding with your new spawn (before he or she realizes that, ugh, Mom, you’re so not cool).
Pattern, What Pattern?
There won’t really be one. In the early months, babies sleep off and on. Their whole day/night is essentially comprised of short naps. There is no need to focus on (or attempt to create) a routine and/or schedule. Enjoy lunches and dinners out (this is your chance)! Don’t be concerned about establishing any habits or having your baby sleep in his crib at home. . . yet.
New babies cannot stay awake long without becoming overtired. In the first few months, your baby will probably only be awake long enough for a feed and diaper change before it’s time to go back to sleep. Don’t let your baby stay awake longer than 1 – 1.5 hours between sleep.
Feed Me, Seymour.
Make sure you are feeding your baby often. Every 2 – 3 hours is pretty typical in those early months. Maybe even every hour during the late afternoon/early evening (known as the dreaded witching hour(s)).
Don’t Read and Parent.
Don’t read every book out there. Resist the urge. No, seriously, resist! There are some great books on sleep, but they are books that are speaking to a general population. My pediatrician told me something that really resonated and sticks with me to this day: those books are written about A baby; they aren’t written about YOUR baby. So when YOUR baby isn’t following the script, don’t worry. Hold on to ideas that speak to you and your parenting style, but do not be discouraged if your baby isn’t doing what a book says he should be doing. EVERY baby is different (especially and inevitably yours).
Don’t Worry (if you don’t) Be Happy.
Don’t enjoy every minute because, well, frankly, you won’t. Life isn’t a late 1990s sitcom. Maybe it was my sage pediatrician or more likely it was a fortune cookie or Alanis Morrissett who astutely pointed out that without the bad days, we can’t appreciate the good ones. Enjoy the moments that you enjoy. Get through the ones you don’t. It’s ok to be tired, irritable, and frustrated at times. Remind yourself that those feelings are normal. You are doing awesome!
Cheers to enjoying the enjoyable moments, setting realistic expectations and sleeping whenever you can!