We have covered our Expectations for Pregnancy, Labor, and the 4th trimester in the previous installments of this series. But I want to talk about something that no one really talks about: what happens for the rest of the first year of your growing baby’s life before they become a full fledged toddler.
Whenever you read any blog posts about babies, the main concentration is on the newborn days or surviving the first 6 weeks. But have you ever wondered what happens after the first 6 weeks? I think because there isn’t much discussion about it, many parents walk away with a false belief that life all of a sudden gets easy after the first 6 weeks. The baby starts magically sleeping, you start feeling like a pro, and life resumes normalcy.
And they are so baffled by the fact that it doesn’t happen like that. There are so many moms asking questions in public forums whether it’s normal for their 3 months old to have super short naps and to only want to sleep in their arms. Or should they start sleep training at 3 months and start night weaning? And what happens as the baby gets closer to a year and becomes more mobile and sleeps less? How do you keep up with your non-sleeping bundle of cranky energy?
I want to talk about all of those things because I have a 10 month old. And even though I’m a second time mother and live for baby information, I still struggle with what’s normal. And it doesn’t help when the older generation chimes in with their outdated and wrong advice and expects you to follow it. So here are some answers to your burning questions.
What is Normal for Your Growing Baby’s Sleep?
Just like any parent of a growing baby, I spent countless hours looking up the baby sleep guidelines. What is the appropriate amount of time for them to sleep in a day, how much of the sleep should be at night and how much during the day, and what is considered sleeping through the night (psst……there is no true consensus here)?
And all the information I found just felt daunting and didn’t fit my children at all. While my older one started putting in 8 hour stretches on his own from 3 months old, my younger one is 10 months old and can wake up anywhere from 4:30 to 7:30 on any given day. Also my older one fed every 2-3 hours for the first 2 months of life, while my younger one put in 5 hour stretches between his night feeds from birth. So all kids are different and we need to remember that. All the guidelines out there are just that, guidelines.
We also need to remember that a lot of our beliefs about sleep are culturally based and are not a universal truth. So we need to approach with caution when our pediatrician or Sally from down the block tell us about what babies are “supposed” to do by a certain age. They are expressing a narrow view rooted in their own beliefs when they give you information. If you want to read about some infant sleep studies, click here.
So what is normal? It’s normal for your growing baby to have cat naps (roughly 30 minutes) and have them frequently throughout the day. It’s normal for your growing baby, especially a breastfed one, to wake up to nurse throughout the night. There is no established weight or age at which you should cut your baby off and start night weaning. And it’s normal for most naps to occur in your or another caregiver’s arms. All of those things are perfectly normal and don’t signal a sleep problem.
Sleep Training and Night Weaning your Growing Baby
Let me just say, that it’s not necessary to sleep train a baby. Your child will learn to sleep through the night on their own. It’s not a skill we have to teach.
But being said, it doesn’t mean you can’t try to expedite the process if they’re ruining your life (emphasis on the word “try”). You just have to know that you may be doing this for your benefit and not the baby’s. But that’s OK! Parents’ well being is very important and needs to be taken seriously. So if you are constantly exhausted because your 6 months old is nursing every 2 hours, it’s OK to start night weaning (provided there are no health or developmental issues).
Start by trying to replace one of the feeds with a pacifier or a bottle with water (most likely better done by your partner so baby doesn’t smell your milk), and if it goes well, try to eliminate the rest the same way. Do this slowly and make sure your baby is growing properly and getting enough nutrition throughout the day. But also watch your milk supply. Some women need the night feedings in order to keep up their supply. Some don’t.
Same goes for baby needing to fall asleep at night. If your baby just won’t go to sleep and cries no matter what you do, it may be time to let them cry it out, so they can finally learn to go to sleep by themselves. We did that with our oldest son when he was 10 months. The usual tricks no longer worked, he wanted to fall asleep but couldn’t and so we let him figure it out. He cried for about 3 nights and that was it. He learned to put himself to bed.
Our youngest son is still requiring us to rock him and provide physical contact (through touching a hand) to fall asleep. And I’m not sleep training him to get rid of this. If he needs more physical input than my older one, then so be it. I don’t want to hear a baby screaming just because it’s inconvenient to sit with him for 10 minutes while he falls asleep. Ok, more like 30 minutes, but who’s counting.
But if you insist on sleep training using the “cry-it-out” method, beware that “cry-it-out” does not mean put your baby down and let them scream their head off the whole night. That is cruel and unnecessary. Make sure to check in on them. You can use the Ferber Method of gradual extinction to allow your child to learn to put themselves to sleep.
So as you can see, there is a spectrum of normal and your baby will fall somewhere on it. And don’t forget to use the strategies that worked for you before, like a sound machine and black out curtains.
Growing Baby and Awake Time
Now that we’ve got the sleep questions out of the way, let’s talk about awake time. Because there is much more of it now that the baby is older.
As your baby grows, they tend to sleep less during the day and have more awake time. On one hand, this seems like fun. On the other hand, it’s incredibly daunting, as you are responsible for their entertainment during the awake hours.
So what do you do all day? It all depends on age but your doctor will primarily tell you that you need to focus on Tummy Time to strengthen those baby muscles. The cool part about Tummy Time is that you can do it anywhere. Just grab the mat for baby and place in any part of the house. You can do some other tasks next to baby while baby is exercising. Utilize your baby swing when both you and baby need a bit of a break. And make sure to go on stroller walks when the weather allows it. It’s so good for both you and your growing baby. (Click here for some more ideas of what to do with baby).
Growing Baby and Separation Anxiety
Around 6 months of age a new experience will be introduced into yours and baby’s relationship: separation anxiety. It’s not fun and it lasts a while. It also makes life much more difficult for mom because now it’s harder to leave baby with anyone, even dad. Baby will cry and cling and not want to spend time on their own. While that’s all sweet and fine, life doesn’t stop just because baby discovers that mom still exists even if she can’t be seen. Rest assured that it’s normal behavior and not indicative of your baby growing into a dependent person. (Click here for tips on how to deal with separation anxiety). But it’s a rough period that makes you feel like a slave to your baby.
I found that the only real way to combat that is to make sure that when someone else is caring for my baby, that he neither sees nor hears me. And when it’s just the two of us, I try to set him down in a safe place with his toys and try to get out of his sight. It may allow me 10 minutes to do what I need to do, if I’m lucky, I may get more. But for the most part, I’ve just been spending more time entertaining him and less time getting anything else done. Having his brother around has been helpful at times because he is very interested in what his brother is doing and forgets about me.
These are some of the big items to expect from your baby as they move out of infancy. If you have any other questions, let me know in the comment section.