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Why your baby shouldn't be sleeping through the night.

Worrying about when your baby is going to start sleeping through the night can add a huge amount of stress to early motherhood. Particularly when you hear of other people's babies giving their parents a full eight hours of restful sleep. 
It may be a relief to know that having a baby that doesn't sleep through for the first 6 to 12 months is completely NORMAL. Mama Life London interviewed Professor of Perinatal Education and editor of International Journal of Birth & Parent Education, Mary Nolan, for her advice and expertise on sleep routines, and how parents can support each other through the early years.

The first few weeks at home with a newborn are exhausting and there can be a certain amount of pressure on mums to have their baby in some form of routine from the get go. What is your advice to mums, and even dads, on managing the initial time at home with their baby? 

Prof Nolan: "Babies don’t come into the world with any idea of a routine. Their main concern is to stay physically close to someone who is going to look after them – generally mum and dad – and to be fed when their tummies tell them they need feeding.

"On average, babies double their birth weight in the first six months of life and triple it in a year. That means a lot of feeding. Babies know best when they are hungry – just as older children and adults do. If a baby calls for food, it’s for real. Imposing a routine is not how babies work. The time for routines comes later on; at the right age, they’re great because small children thrive on them.

"A pattern of day-time waking, regular feeding and night-time sleeping isn’t going to emerge until the baby is at least six months old.

"So there’s no point in trying to get him or her organised before then. In fact, it’s much easier to accept things the way they are than fight it - you’ll almost certainly use up more energy trying to get your baby into a routine than simply going with his or her flow."

How can parents try to work together to support each other in the early stages of having a baby? 

Prof Nolan: "If you’re still pregnant – plan ahead! It is SO much easier to think straight before you have the 24/7 responsibility of your new baby with all the tiredness that goes with it. So agree who is going to do what after the baby arrives. Discuss which parts of your life you really want to hang onto (football with the team on Saturday mornings; evening out with best friend once a month….) and how you will support each other to continue with those activities. 

"Decide on your priorities – if you’re working on your house, what has to be done and what can wait until your baby is older? Is visiting family members vital – or is controlling their visits more important?! 

Tell each other what worries you most about the first few months with the baby, and work out ways of helping each other manage these particular stresses.

"If your baby is already here, keep talking to each other. Tell each other how you’re feeling and try, as far as possible, to make sure each of you grabs every opportunity for sleeping, cat-napping, resting, winding-down with a cup of tea/glass of wine……And keep on communicating……"

Do you think there is an expectation for babies to start sleeping through from fairly early on? Is this realistic?

Prof Nolan: "Babies simply do NOT sleep through the night. They are not designed to do so. For them to sleep from 7.30pm (when their parents might like them to kip down for the night) to 7.30am (when their parents might be happy for them to wake up) would be harmful. A baby’s tummy is very small and he or she has a great deal of growing to do, so they simply have to feed very regularly, and certainly can’t go 12 hours without feeds. In addition, babies are programmed to check that you’re still around during the night hours – human babies are very vulnerable and nature hasn’t taken into account that we have baby alarms in the 21st century. Babies are primed to signal to their carers at regular intervals to make sure they’re still there.

"Your baby is looking for you because you’re the most important thing in his or her life – the source of security, love, food and warmth.

"Research is very clear that babies are going to wake regularly throughout the night for around the first six months of their life and perhaps for longer than that. They’re all individuals. Some adults don’t wake at all during the night, but others will wake once, twice or even more often. Babies are just the same. But babies need to feed as well, so their wakefulness is geared towards survival, unlike adults’.

"Health professionals consider that a baby is ‘sleeping through the night’ when they’re going from around 11pm to about 5am – still only 6 hours and not what we would consider a satisfactory night’s sleep. Things will change and by a year – maybe earlier, maybe later – most infants will be sleeping for most of the night, letting their parents get some proper rest."

Five tips for your new role as a parent.  

  1. Remember that YOU are the best mum or the best dad for your baby. Your baby thinks you are amazing and is devoted to you.
  2. Most babies will, during the first year of life, get the hang of settling themselves back to sleep when they wake in the night. So hang in there!
  3. It sounds twee – but do ENJOY your baby, especially the moments when she or he doesn’t seem to want anything. Those calm moments are the wonderful times when you can talk and sing to your baby, dance with them, play, read stories and build the positive life-long relationship you want to have.
  4. The person who knows your baby best is YOU. If you feel there’s something wrong, you’re probably right, so speak to your midwife or health visitor. 
  5. Get out of the house and talk to other mums and dads as often as possible. They’re the ones who really know what you’re going through and who can offer the best support.

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