Written by Andrea Strang, Certified Gentle Sleep Coach, Postpartum Doula, and owner of KinderSleep.
One of the most common things I hear from parents is that they feel like they are “doing it wrong”. There is nothing that can adequately prepare you for the journey into parenthood. You may find yourselves feeling overtired and overwhelmed, on the one hand, and amazed and overjoyed on the other.
Along the way, you discover ways of coping and managing on a day to day basis. Unfortunately, you may start to question these strategies and skills when all the unsolicited advice starts flowing in from the internet, books, family and friends–practically everyone you come in contact with it seems! It seems like everyone has an opinion on what you should and should not be doing with your newborn. All these various, and at times, conflicting opinions can make you feel like you are doing things wrong or that you are creating habits that will be impossible to break later on.
In my experience, the following items come naturally to parents and are perfectly fine in the early months. They will not cause long-term negative habits that cannot be undone easily. In fact, doing these things can not only reduce crying and overwhelm in the short term, but they are an investment in your child’s security and emotional well-being for life. You don’t need to be in a hurry to change these things but eventually, you can reorganize some of your routines as your family’s needs evolve.
12 Things That You, New Parent, Are Doing Right:
- Responding promptly to your newborn baby’s needs: You are always there for your little one, even when it’s inconvenient to you. Your baby is secure knowing his primary needs of safety, warmth and love are consistently met.
- Feeding your newborn baby when she is hungry: When your baby signals the need to be fed, you take the time to satisfy her, even when it may seem inconvenient.
- Nursing/feeding your newborn baby to sleep: You help your little one feel secure by giving him a comfortable “send-off” into dreamland.
- Giving your newborn baby tummy time (even if it means baby is on your tummy): You take the time to see your baby’s developmental needs, helping her on the way to becoming a confident, physically capable toddler.
- Reading/telling stories to your baby: When you invest in a child’s imagination, you are giving her a gift that will last a lifetime. Albert Einstein said, “If you want
your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
- Smiling at your baby, especially when he smiles at you: Your little one will learn that she is a delightful person when she sees delight in the faces of her most important people. This teaches her that she is valued.
- Taking care of yourself: You cannot fill anyone’s bucket if your well is dry. Understand what it is that replenishes you and be sure not to ignore your own needs.
- Talking back to your baby when she tries to speak to you: You teach your child that her opinions and ideas matter, and you strengthen your future relationship with her by showing that you care enough to listen.
- Comforting your baby to sleep: You recognize that parenting is a 24-hour job, and your willingness to respond to baby even in the night gives her a sense of security that you are there for her.
- Looking into her eyes: You show your love by being open to connecting with your little one. The eyes have been called the “window to the soul”, and by making eye contact with baby, you are allowing yourself to be seen by her, and also to truly see her.
- Bringing baby outside in the fresh air and sunlight: You set the stage for a greater level of physical and emotional health by offering her the best that nature has to offer – fresh air to revitalize the body, sunlight for nature’s vitamin D, and the love of the outdoors that comes only from exposure to them.
- Taking time for yourself, even if it means baby will cry for a few minutes: You recognize that sometimes, with moderation and wisdom, the things that seem like short-term losses will actually mean long-term gains. Your mental and emotional health are deeply important to your family, and so when you need to take a moment to just breathe, you do so, in order to restore your own inner equilibrium.
Ultimately, nobody needs or expects you to be perfect, least of all, your child. Please realize that simply by giving your whole heart to your child, you are building a foundation of well-being, health and confidence. If you are doing this at least 50% of the time, you are doing great! You are setting the stage for healthy future relationships. You are offering safety and security through a strong attachment to one another. Follow your loving instincts first, and your confusion and self-doubt about best methods and practices may begin to melt away as you realize that YOU are what your child needs the most.
Do What Works for You as Long as It Works
There is no hurry to make changes to your newborn’s sleep schedule or sleep skills. If your family is managing with what you are doing now, offering that extra support will reduce crying overall and will be an investment in your baby’s emotional well-being. In addition, responding sensitively and promptly to your baby will make it easier for her to be sleep trained later.
After working with over 6,000 children, one overwhelming lesson I have learned is that you can improve sleep later. So with this in mind, if you have settled into a comfortable pattern with your newborn and this is working for your family, there is no need to make changes. You may find, at some point, that what you have been doing stops working or gets more challenging and you can make changes at that time.
When Should You Start Sleep Coaching or Sleep Training Your Baby?
Try to enjoy your newborn and get into a groove, and then if sleep becomes challenging, you can consider whether your baby (and you) are ready for gentle sleep coaching. Babies in the early months, until at least 4.5 months of age, do not have the ability to learn long-term sleep skills, so it’s best to find some strategies that work for you and wait until she is more capable.
Even if your baby is sleeping well, you may see an infant sleep regression around four months of age, this is quite common. The easiest time frame to help your baby learn sleep skills is between 6 months and 18 months of age. It gets harder after that but not impossible. Don’t worry about waiting to sleep coach your baby, it’s important that the whole family is ready. This will help the process to be easier and gentler and help you to have long-term improvements.