I am a little nervous to post this blog (a suggestion from one of my mum’s) as every baby is different and all families are different. So this is my PERSONAL opinion from my experience. It is not based on research, it is not evidence based …. This is just what I see when working with parents.
10 bad habits parents can unintentionally create for their babies
1. Parents keep their baby awake for too long
It is important to understand that from newborn to about 6 weeks your baby will only be able to manage to be awake for up to an hour at a time. From 6 weeks to 3 months your baby will be able to stay awake for up to an hour and a half at a time and from 3 months to 6 months your baby should be having 3 definite sleeps during the day and going to bed at the same time every night. If you try and keep your baby awake when they are tired, or you have missed the tired signs and not managed to get your baby into bed early enough, they will become overstimulated, overtired and irritable. They will find it harder to go to sleep.
2. Parents allow their baby to fall asleep on the breast, bottle or in their arms
This works for some parents and I am not here past judgement – you need to do what works for you and your family. However, after the initial few weeks of taking your baby home, most parents need to return back to day to day life and this is very difficult, for some parents, to do if your baby can only sleep on them. Babies thrive on predictability and learn from repetition. If you continually allow a baby to fall asleep in your arms or in a chair, they then associate that with going to sleep and will protest when you decide it’s time they slept in a cot as they don’t associate the cot with sleep. OR if your baby falls asleep in your arms or a rocking device and then wakes up in their cot 15 minutes later they will become disorientated, even startled and will probably need assistance to transition into the next phase. This is why it is fundamental that your baby learns the skill of falling asleep on their own, in their cot. That way they can easily transition from REM sleep to NREM sleep and from one cycle into the next (see point number 4 for a more detailes explanation of this).
3. Parents establish negative sleep associations
Rocking to sleep
Feeding to sleep
Soothers / dummies
Sleeping in your bed
4. Parents don’t understand sleep cycles
Bear with me on this one. To understand what I am trying to say you need to understand REM (active) & NREM (deep) sleep cycles. Your baby will transition in and out of these cycles during their sleep.
REM (Rapid eye movement) or Active sleep is a light sleep and takes up approximately 50% of a newborn baby’s sleep cycle, and is the first phase of the cycle they will enter when they fall asleep in the first 3 months after birth. Your baby will be active during this phase. Their body may move or limbs twitch, their breathing will be irregular and shallow, many babies will grimace, or make funny faces – they may smile or frown, they will make some mimic chewing or sucking actions with their mouth, their eyes may move under their eyelids and your baby will be more easily disturbed by the outside world.
At the end of each REM phase there is usually a brief waking period. THIS IS WHAT I AM HIGHLIGHTING. In order to sleep longer than this initial 10 – 20 minutes, your baby must transition to deep NREM sleep. What happens is parents hear their baby or see their baby’s eyes are open and they pick them up thinking they are awake. When in fact, they were just transitioning into their next sleep cycle. Your baby needs to have the opportunity to transition into the next cycle being the NREM (Non rapid eye movement) or Passive sleep. NREM sleep is quiet, deep and restful sleep: where eyes are firmly closed and they lie very still, their breathing is deep and regular and your baby will be less easily affected by the outside world (phone ringing, door banging etc).
5. Parents aren’t consistent
Remember that babies thrive on repetition and consistency. It makes them feel safe, loved and reassured. Parents need to decide on a settling strategy that they are comfortable with and that they can follow through from beginning to end. If you swaddle to sleep today and not tomorrow, if you rock to sleep today and not tomorrow, if you feed to sleep today and not tomorrow ….. how can you expect your baby to understand what you are expecting of them? Imagine for a second, if I came into your home and took away your bed. How well are you going to sleep tonight?? Your baby is no different. Be consistent, stick to the SAME bedtime routine (day AND night) and when assisting your baby to settle: do as much as necessary but as little as possible ensuring your baby does that last little bit on their own!
6. Parents confuse the cues their baby is trying to tell them
Before your baby can talk they must find another way of letting you know what they need. Of course your baby will cry, and you soon begin to know what each different cry means but they will also give you a variety of other cues using their whole body to communicate. If you watch your baby you will learn to pick up on these cues and this takes out all the guess work when caring for them.
“Engagement” cues (= playtime) are all the positive signs and body language, telling you that your baby is enjoying an experience. Engagement cues are designed to attract and hold your attention, so that you will continue to be involved with your baby.
“Disengagement” cues (= I am tired and need to go to sleep) are the signs your baby gives you when he has had enough of a situation. They tell you that your baby needs a break from whatever is happening and it is time to withdraw the stimulation. A disengagement cue is a good indication your baby is tired!
Getting to know your baby is a gradual and ongoing learning process. Looking for the cues your baby is giving is just another way to learn about them. Understanding your baby can make caring for him less stressful and more enjoyable.
7. Parents mistaken tired signs for colic, reflux or wind
Generally, following a wakeful period, your baby will start to become tired and begin to show you signs that they are ready for sleep. Learning how to recognise these signs may take a little while, as they are generally quite subtle and can be easily overlooked.
Begin to cycle their arms and legs (jerky movements)
Change in mood (happy to grizzling/crying)
Staring into space
Clenching of their fists
Scratching their face/pull at their ears
Sucking their fingers/fists for comfort
When slightly older they may….
Bury their face in your chest
Rub their eyes
Become visibly less coordinated
If held, they’ll arch their back or lean backwards
8. Parents withhold solids
Australian Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents and Infant Feeding Guidelines recommend that infants be exclusively breastfed or formula fed to around 6 months of age. Somewhere around 6 months, but not before 4 months, depending on growth and development, an infant will be ready for solid foods. These guidelines are always under review as recent scientific reports are suggesting that delaying the introduction of solids until 6 months may increase the risk of allergy. They suggest that solids should be introduced from around 4 months.
9. Parents seek too many opinions of others
It does NOT matter how you birth your baby: naturally, emergency caesarean, elective caesarean, epidural, no pain relief, all the pain relief available, if you were induced or spontaneously went into labour, water birthed, home birthed, public or private care. It does NOT matter how you feed your baby: breastfeeding or bottle feeding, expressing or a bit of everything. It does NOT matter where your baby sleeps: in your room, in its own room, in a cot or bassinet. It does NOT matter if you swaddle or do not swaddle, demand feed or are trying to get your baby into a routine. What DOES matter is that you have all BIRTHED beautiful baby’s and love them to bits. You all love, care for and cuddle your baby’s and do what works for them AND your family. It does NOT matter if you return to work within a month, 6 months or never. What DOES matter is that you ask for help if and when you need it.
Parenting is the most amazing experience and yet, in the same breath, it can also be one of the hardest roles you may ever experience. We should NEVER judge each other on our choices. Support each other and congratulate each other on what amazing jobs you are all doing for your beautiful baby’s.
It breaks my heart when I see the pressures my parents put on themselves for what they believe ‘should’ have happened or what they ‘should’ be doing. Parenting is one of the hardest jobs you will ever have, we all make mistakes and we all learn from them. What worked for your mum, sister, best friend, neighbour or even for professionals … may not work for you. I have found that parents need to trust their own instincts. When they do …. The family thrives. When parents are too busy trying to do everything ‘right’ they don’t enjoy their babies. STOP, BREATH and enjoy your baby. This time is precious. It doesn’t matter if your baby has been in the same clothes they slept in, it doesn’t matter that you decided it was all too hard you too stayed in your PJ’s all day, play with your baby, sleep when the baby sleeps. Resist the urge to do the dishes and other household chores. I know, this is easier said than done. Although resting might feel like a waste of time when there is so much that needs to be done, it will keep you refreshed and if breastfeeding will do wonders for your milk supply. …. What matters is that you enjoy your baby.
10. Parents do not ask for help
It is not impossible to raise a child all by yourself and it may or may not take a village: but it asking for help can certainly make a huge difference. BUT to get that help you have to ask.
Join a parents group. Getting together with other new parents is one of the most important support networks you can have. These groups can be established through your antenatal classes, community groups (www.playgroupaustralia.com.au/qld) and postnatal exercise classes such as Mummylicious fitness (http://mummyliciousfitness.com.au). Accept all offers of help / Ask for help from family and friends. Parenting can be overwhelming at times and completely exhausting. This isn’t helped when we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves. Asking or accepting help should never been seen as failure. No parent is perfect. If you have sleep and settling or breastfeeding issues …. Or just general parenting questions contact Parents 2 B
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