As a new mother, you are bombarded with information about babies and routines and sleep. You are told that you should put your baby down awake but sleepy at the same time of day so that they learn to get into a routine with their sleep. You are told that a routine is key for their development, and that without one, your baby won’t develop the way that you think they will. Routines are a good idea for older babies, and the best routine you could ever have is the one that your baby sets for themselves.
Sure, there is research to show that babies sleep better with consistency and familiarity, but it’s important that as a new mother you know that this does not apply to newborns. There is so much pressure on parents to conform to sleep patterns and schedules and pushing babies into a routine that makes life easier for parents. The problem is that the babies do not read those books or listen to the research. A baby just wants to be held and we are here to tell you that this is perfectly fine. It is okay for you to say no to routines for a newborn in general. It is okay for you to pause the housework and just hold the baby. You can look at bedtime routines for newborns and get an idea of how you can help them learn day and night differences, but there should be no pressure on you to make those routines stick. A baby will stick to their own routine, and it’s perfectly fine for this to be their routine in your house. You will feel tired with a newborn: when you have a baby, you throw a human grenade into your life. You have to rearrange your whole life around this small person the size of a Christmas turkey – and it’s okay to do that because you knew this would happen.
You may get told that too much contact will “make a rod” for your back with your baby and attachment to your baby is a bad idea. The thing is, you are a parent and it’s natural instinct for you to want to hold your baby close. You want to keep that little baby close to your heart and you want to make them feel secure, and the best way to do that is to pick them up and hold them close, and you can do that without panicking you haven’t got the routine down by six weeks old. Babies tend to set their own patterns, but the one thing that you should always remember is that if your instincts tell you to pick up your baby and hold them, you need to do exactly that.
It’s common to be told that you should put your baby down when they are fed, changed and warm. They may not be hungry anymore and they may have a clean diaper, but does that mean you must put the baby down and leave them there? Absolutely not. Babies are more than just a digestive system. These are living, breathing humans with feelings and they will tell you how they feel with their cries. Mothers can often tell the difference between the cries that a baby gives off. There are different pitches and noises that come with each cry and you can hear if the baby is hungry, grumpy, uncomfortable or in pain, and picking up your baby is the smartest thing to do when they are crying.
Let’s put it this way: imagine you were in unbelievable pain (physically or emotionally). Imagine you are alone and crying and someone pops their head around the door, checks that you aren’t dead, and then leaves you to continue crying. You would feel abandoned and upset, confused and alone. This is exactly how a baby would feel, too. They crave your comfort and closeness, just as you would crave it from your partner or someone you love. You need to know that it’s okay to put the housework down and pick up the baby. So what if you’re stuck on the sofa with the TV and a baby on your chest? Life is about being there for your baby and keeping them feeling secure and safe, so take the time to snuggle down and let the housework wait a while. The only rod you make for your back is the one that makes your baby trust that they can rely on you to be their no matter how they feel happy or sad.
It takes time for babies to know about night and day. Their internal systems tell them when to eat and sleep regardless of time, and the best thing that you can do as a parent, is to go with that. You would sleep and eat as you felt hungry and tired, too, and babies need the same respect. When you go back to work and you worry about your baby and their sleep patterns, a routine is a nice introduction but it doesn’t have to be fixed or rigid. It’s a nice idea to start a “bedtime” routine every evening but be realistic and open-minded about it not working for some time. Most parents don’t worry about this until the baby is around 8+ months in age, as this is the optimum time for a routine to sink in and work well. Your baby knows night and day by this age and it’s much easier to show them consistent behavior with a bath, story and milk before sleep. They learn to connect a dark, comfortable room with bedtime and they sleep very well for a few hours at a time when they feel secure and safe.
You may find that you rock your baby to sleep for the first few months of their lives, and the important thing to remember is that this is OKAY! Babies are rocked to sleep inside you for nine months as you move. They sleep to the sound of your heartbeat and that doesn’t change at the start. The fourth trimester is very real and you need to be aware of it before the baby comes along. Knowing what to expect and actually living with a baby are two very different things, so it’s important that you are aware of what baby sleep looks like. The last thing that you want to do is set yourself up for sleeping through the night from the moment your baby is born when it’s unlikely to happen. If you prepare yourself to be awake a lot, you won’t feel so bad when you are!
Babies need to be held, and mothers need to hold their babies. Sleep is lovely, but when you have a baby, you need to learn to adapt to them and not always the other way around. Give yourself some time to get used to your new life as a mother, and don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t following the baby books closely. Your baby is the first priority in your life, and that often means being okay with living on less sleep than you are used to having. It’s okay to pick your baby up, hold him close and just be for the moment. You can breathe him in and know that putting life on pause is perfectly fine. Sleep will come in time and you will know you listened to the needs of your baby at every turn no matter what.