Baby Expectations: Physical and Sleep

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Clique aqui para transferir o artigo no português – Thank you to Gabriela O. da Silva for the translation!

As my daughter gets older I’ve become more aware of the expectations that we place on babies these days.  From the reasonable expectation that they will walk (someday) to the more perplexing expectation that your infant should sleep through the night (and the thousands in between), it seems as if we’re putting a lot on babies’ shoulders these days.  And I’m not convinced it’s for their own good.  Here I’d like to talk about these expectations—what they are, why we have them, and whether or not they do any harm—with the hopes that some parents will be able to let go of some of these expectations and simply enjoy the ride that your baby is bringing you on.  Or at least decide which ones are reasonable and which ones may be causing the family more stress and heartache than is necessary.  After all, parenting is demanding enough for parents without having to place irrational expectations on their child, ones the child can’t possibly live up to without pain and suffering for everyone.

Physical Expectations

These are probably the absolute first expectations to emerge because we can include here the number of times your newborn should pee, poo, how many hours they should sleep, etc.  I’m going to leave sleep for a category unto its own (which I’ll get to next), but let’s take a look at the first physical expectations of the, shall we say, sticky kind because I’m not sure I’ve met a parent who didn’t start counting the number of times their baby peed or pooped that very first day.  Starting in your prenatal classes, you’re told that your newborn should pee 5-6 times a day and poop at least once a day.  So that’s what we expect our newborns to do.  Heaven help the parents whose baby only pees 4 times a day or goes a day without pooping.  Our expectations that there is a set right number is so strong that there are forums for these parents – they can get online, panic while they type their question, then get loads of answers about how it’s PROBABLY normal, but maybe they want to call their doctor just in case.  They may lose sleep over it, wake their babies up more frequently to get them to feed more out of fear that it’s because they aren’t getting enough, or just remain stressed enough all the time until their babies start following the ‘expected’ pattern.

As our babies get older, we start adding to this list.  Are they crawling? Clapping? Cruising? Walking? Picking up small objects with a pointed grip?  We act as though these milestones have to met by a certain stage or the world will end.  If you admit that your child hasn’t met one, you’re bound to get that look – you know the one – that says, “You may want to consider that your child is a bit slow”.  And so the stressing continues and the online forums flourish with more half-assed words of comfort that always have in them couched that sinister advice that, just maybe, you’ll want to see your doctor about this.  Might I inquire what a doctor is going to do about this?  I’ve yet to meet a doctor who could get a baby to suddenly crawl, clap, cruise, walk, or pick up tiny objects.  Of course they can check for any physical problems, but let’s face it, if there is a physical problem, it’s probably manifesting itself in various ways, not just because your baby isn’t crawling at 7 months.  These expectations have gotten to be so bad that I’ve actually met parents whose 13-14 month olds weren’t walking yet (no biggie) who actually apologized because of this.  They prefaced their statement with, “I’m sorry, but…”  Should I start apologizing to other parents because my daughter only has 6 teeth?  Is that not enough?

I think we need parents to relax a bit more.  Let’s start with crawling because it’s one of the first expectations that parents start to truly worry about.  All the books tell us that around six months of age (or a bit after), your baby should start crawling.  But this ignores some very real changes that have occurred in recent times that aren’t being taken into account.  Recent research has shown that we’re now off the average age by a few months[1].  Why the change?  In the effort to cut the SIDS rates down (a highly laudable effort, fyi), we’ve been putting babies to sleep on their backs, thus they aren’t getting used to the motions of pushing themselves up and rolling front-to-back.  None of the standard literature out there has even bothered to update this leading to paranoid parents worldwide.  But there’s more, it used to be that only 5% of babies just never crawl and go straight to pulling themselves up and walking, but that number too seems to be rising as a result of the Back-to-Sleep campaign (and even more find other ways of getting around, like pulling themselves on their bums and use that instead of crawling).  Furthermore, some people have suggested that the age at which a baby starts crawling and walking is inversely related to how heavy they are.  While there are no studies on the topic (that I can find), it makes sense.  Heavier babies have to bear more weight in order to crawl, and so will take a bit longer to develop this skill than lighter babies.  Now what about walking?  Dr. Sears has a great summary of early-versus-late walking which suggests that there are personality types associated with each too[2].  While early walkers may be the impulsive, on-the-go babies, late walkers may be more cautious and be waiting until they’ve mastered the skill before trying it (meaning late walkers are also less accident-prone).  Additionally, the weight issue is brought up by Dr. Sears here as well—leaner kids tend to be earlier walkers for the exact same reason.

We must ask ourselves, though, what are the effects of these expectations?  To start, we have parents forcing their children into things like tummy-time, buying toys to ‘help’ their child crawl (or walk or clap), and eager parents trying to force these physical milestones onto their babies.  Many babies hate tummy-time so this is an activity that causes distress.  The same could be said for many of the ways in which parents try to force their children to perform these skills.  As for the toys, they may be fun for babies, but not always in the ways that will get them to crawl or walk and if parents don’t let their baby simply enjoy the toy, it’s another example of causing our babies distress.  At a deeper level though, we have parents who are perpetually stressed about their infants instead of simply enjoying the time they have with them.  While it hasn’t been studied experimentally, I would imagine that a caregiver who is always worried (though within what we have decided is the ‘normal’ range of worry) and thinking that her child isn’t up to snuff will pass some of that stress onto her child and that just can’t be healthy.  Babies pick up on emotional cues quite well[3] and we’d be wise to remember that—our emotional state affects them just as it affects us.

Despite the plethora of worries out there about the physical expectations, they sadly tend to be the least of our concerns when it comes to our baby expectations.  While there are the obvious exceptions (and I think I’m met many of them), most people seem to be able to calm themselves down enough around the physical milestones, knowing that they too will come, even if just in time.

Sleep Expectations

I will start by saying there is no way to fully cover this topic in such a brief forum, but I hope to his to key points here.  Somewhere along the line, parents in Western societies decided that babies should sleep according to the parents’ schedule.  I don’t know how or why this came about, but that is the new expectation for babies when it comes to sleep.  Five-month-olds are expected to sleep through the night and if they aren’t, well, you need to do something about it.  This expectation has led to a flourish of sleep training books for babies — as babies won’t naturally do this so it’s up to us to train them to do it.  After all, we need to treat our children like dogs, monkeys, or circus animals, didn’t you know?

In all seriousness, I can’t help but wonder what people think about babies to make them think that they should be sleeping through the night.  First off, a baby’s stomach is TINY (the size of a pea at birth) and so it only makes sense that they would need to wake regularly in order to feed themselves.  On top of the size of their stomach, human breastmilk has some of the lowest fat and protein contents of all mammalian breastmilk and thus babies are expected to feed regularly in order to grow and thrive.  Secondly, a human’s natural circadian rhythm can take up to nine months to develop(for a review on the literature, see [4]), meaning that messing with it ahead of that time may be detrimental to the development of a child’s sleep patterns later on.

Outside of these very real, physical reasons for waking, there are reasons to believe it is also highly adaptive for young infants to wake throughout the night.  For example, James McKenna has hypothesized (and is researching) the utility of infant arousals as a protective mechanism against SIDS[5][6].  The hypothesis is based upon the assumption that one possible manifestation of SIDS is that infants fall into states which they cannot arouse from and the body shuts down.  Infant arousals, therefore, serve to keep the brain awake (so to speak) to keep baby alive (according to this hypothesis).  In addition to McKenna’s arousal hypothesis, it is known that newborns do not share the same physiological sleep-wake cycle that adults do[7], and thus attempting to force that sleep pattern on them can have detrimental effects to their stress-reactivity.  How is that?  Well, turns out that the development of our sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, is intricately linked to the development of our cortisol cycles[4][8] and changing one seem to affect the other.

What are we doing by imposing these expectations?  Well, this is a huge topic that depends on how we deal with these expectations.  The fact that there is a plethora of Sleep Training books out there suggests we’re not doing our infants a favour when it comes to what we want them to do sleep-wise as methods such as Cry-It-Out have been linked with increases in cortisol to the brain which affects neural development, leading infants to develop a stress-reactive neurological profile (for a review, see[9]).  As a less benign response, children who are left to sleep alone (one of the main tenants of these Sleep Training books) are more likely to develop attachments to ‘security objects’ like stuffed animals or blankets and use them as sleep aids[10].  In and of itself this isn’t a bad thing, but the implication is that our children are not having some important psychological needs being met and are therefore finding that comfort in other ways.  As a parent, I can say that I would hope that I am able to provide the comfort and psychological security my daughter needs as an infant (because we all know they’ll need to cope as they get older, but infancy is not the time to start pushing that, but we’ll get to that later).  In line with the idea that a parent isn’t meeting his or her child’s psychological needs, these sleep methods can also contribute to insecure attachments as they recommend that, in order to get your baby to sleep, you ignore his or her calls of distress and consistent failures to respond to distress negatively affect the parent-infant attachment relationship[11].   Interestingly, there is evidence of a vicious cycle in this regard as these methods promote practices that can damage the attachment relationship and insecure attachment has been found to be a strong predictor of sleep disorders in early childhood[12].  Go figure.  And for breastfeeding moms, the effects can be particularly deleterious.  Keeping up a mother’s supply of breastmilk requires mom to breastfeed regularly, even through the night, and in fact breastfeeding at night is one predictor of a mother breastfeeding later and breastfeeding exclusively[13].  Given the innumerable benefits of breastfeeding, a mother having her supply decrease because she’s forcing her baby to sleep longer at night can have more global health effects.

Unlike the physical expectations, sleep expectations don’t just go away.  The pressure on parents and in turn babies to have infants fit this unrealistic pattern is unbelievably intense and only increases as infants’ age.  As a classic example of this, I was reading a scholarly paper on sleep disturbances across development and there was a tiny chart on one of the pages outlining what the sleep disorders are by age[14].  The author, one Dr. Carolyn Thiedke, stated that night waking was considered a “disorder” between 0-4 months of age and that between 4-8 months of age, any night waking should be treated with “systematic ignoring” and in turn doesn’t even suggest that any infant should be waking after 8 months of age.  When family, friends, and then the family physicians are giving this type of information to parents, what are parents supposed to do but heap that burden onto their tiny, beautiful little baby, setting themselves and their infant up for heartbreak and pain?

Click Here for Baby Expectations: Feeding and Independence

[1] Markel H. Who says you have to crawl before you walk? Sudden infant death syndrome, crawling, and medical history. In J. Duffin (Ed.) Clio in the Clinic: History in Medical Practice (pp. 146-159). New York: Oxford University Press (2005).

[3] Schwartz GM, Izard CE, & Ansul SE. The 5-month-old’s ability to discriminate facial expressions of emotion. Infant Behav Dev (1985);  8:65-77.

[4] de Weerth C, Zijl RH, & Buitelaar JK. Development of cortisol circadian rhythm in infancy. Early Human Development (2003);7:39-52.

[5] Mosko S, Richard C, & McKenna J. Infant arousals during mother-infant bed sharing: Implications for infant sleep and sudden infant death syndrome research. Pediatrics (1997); 100:841-849.

[6] McKenna J, Thoman EB, Anders TF, Sadeh A, Schechtman VL, & Glotzbach SF. Infant-parent co-sleeping in an evolutionary perspective: Implications for understanding infant sleep development and the sudden infant death syndrome. Sleep (1993); 16:263-282.

[7] Carskadon MA & Dement WC. Normal human sleep: An overview. In MH Kryger, T Roth, WC Dement, & T Roehrs (Eds.), Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine (4th Ed., pp. 13-23). St. Louis: Saunders (2005).

[8] Spangler G. The emergence of adrenocortical circadian function in newborns and infants and its relationship to sleep, feeding and maternal adrenocortical activity. Early Human Development (1991); 25:197-208.

[9] Gunnar MR. Social regulation of stress in early childhood. In K McCartney & D Phillips (Eds.), Blackwell Handbook of Early Childhood Development (pp. 106-125). Malden: Blackwell Publishing (2006).

[10] Hayes MJ, Roberts SM, & Stowe R. Early childhood co-sleeping: Parent-child and parent-infant nighttime interactions. Infant Mental Health Journal (1996); 17: 348-357.

[11] Ainsworth MDS. The development of infant-mother attachment. In BM Caldwell & HN Ricciutti (Eds.), Review of child development research (Volume 3, pp 1-94); Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1973).

[12] Benoit D, Zeanah CH, Boucher C, & Minde KK. Sleep disorders in early childhood: Association with insecure maternal attachment. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (1992); 31:86-93.

[13] Ball HL, Klingaman KP. Breastfeeding and mother-infant sleep proximity: implications for infant care. In W Trevathan, EO Smith, JJ McKenna (Eds.), Evolutionary medicine, 2nd ed (pp. 226-241). New York: Oxford University Press (2007).

[14] Thiedke CC. Sleep disorders and sleep problems in childhood.  American Family Physician (2001); 63:277-284.

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  1. asrai says

    With my first daughter I tried to follow all the advice, but it just wasn’t working. We tried CIO, we co-slept, we did this, we did that. In the end, we decided do what worked for her. We rocked her to sleep until she was 2, and then we laid with her in her bed until she was at least 4, possibly older. She’s 8, and she often says, “I’m ready for bed” on nights she can stay up later than usual.

    So, my son is 18 months and I’m just going with the flow. But I like to read different opinions to see if there are any ideas that I could incoperate that may work for us.

  2. Marion says

    Thanks so much for writing this. I had a few weeks of real struggle at the beginning with my daughter about accepting who she is and her needs. The more I have accepted it the easier life has been. However I keep having to remake that decision as she gets older. Now I am struggling with learning to respond differently now she is over two. Her needs and wants are no longer the same and I need to renegotiate some of the boundaries for my own sake, as well as her. It is a continual learning curve.

  3. says

    I love that both of you talk about how much easier life got once you started just following your own child – I think that’s one of the biggest issues. We MAKE things harder by putting these expectations on our children instead of letting them lead the way with respect to these behaviours. As Marion pointed out, it’s still a lot of work to follow your child’s lead, but it’s a very different type of work (and less frustration) than forcing your child to fit a particular idea of what a baby should be.

  4. Katherine says

    So many people tell me to sleep train my baby daughter so that i can have more sleep. the same people tell me they stopped feeding overnight so they could have more sleep. I keep reminding myself that although i feel tired during the day, the special time we share together for a few minutes every couple of hours overnight will come to an end and i will miss our quiet cuddles. we wanted a baby so much, it makes no sense to wish for a tiny adult so that we can sleep.

    • says

      What a wonderful statement – “We wanted a baby so much, it makes no sense to wish for a tiny adult so that we can sleep” – I think way too many people forget what it is they wanted :)

  5. Anna says

    The problem of expectations starts with people going to prenatal classes, reading books by “child experts” and reading online blogs and forums (your blog may be an exception, though it still tells people what to do, albeit more sensibly than most). I never had dreams of motherhood, I didn’t read baby books, and I never changed a diaper until my first daughter was born. So I was lucky, I think, in that I was older, self-confident, and didn’t really look too far into what babies are supposed to be doing. I didn’t go to prenatal classes, so I didn’t have any idea in my mind of “how it was going to be”. Now, I have calm kids who didn’t cry much or seem distressed as babies. They slept well from the start – sometimes on their backs, sometimes on their sides, and often (gasp) on their stomachs. They slept with me for the first while. I didn’t expect to do that. But, it worked out well for the first 5-6 months of their lives and my partner was supportive – he was possibly the one who suggested it first. After that, they never seemed distressed by the crib, and they sleep well. For a while if they woke in the night, I nursed them. When it seemed time, I stopped nursing in the night and my partner went in and sang a song or cuddled them instead. When it seemed like that had started to increase in frequency, we would wait a while before going in to see them in the night. So they cried a bit now and then, but I really doubt they’ve been scarred for life, or will suffer emotional withdrawal as a result. By not really giving a damn about what’s good, what’s bad, what the research shows this week, and what the doctors say about things they often seem largely ignorant about, I have kids that are happy in their own beds, who nursed till it seemed good to stop, and kids that can put themselves to sleep for both naps and bedtime (after stories and songs time). I think we are all overthinking everything about parenting – from growth percentiles to WHO breastfeeding recommendations. It’s time to relax and have a little faith in yourself and you partner. If something doesn’t feel right in your parenting, maybe you shouldn’t do it – like leaving a kid to scream for half an hour, or like forcing a restless child to sleep on its back, or trying to force an infant into a crawling position. I consult books, and online stuff, but I make my own decisions and don’t believe in the almost religious rigidity that almost all websites, researchers and authors tend to demonstrate when they write about what is best. There is no best approach that suits every child’s needs. Weirdly enough, we are all unique, and I believe that starts before we are little more than tadpoles in the womb. That’s why one baby takes 37 weeks to be ready to come out, and another, like my first kid, takes 43 weeks instead. Guidance is helpful, but taking any guidance as gospel is, in my view, underestimating our own skills and instincts as parents, and missing out on a pretty fundamental aspect of parenting: it’s your own kid, so be its parent – don’t let a doctor, book, blog or other “authority” parent it for you. A final note: when I had my first child, at one point I made some comment about sleep and my partner turned to me and said, “It’s not about you now, so suck it up.” I think in the end,that’s the lesson of parenthood: it’s not about you. Keeping that in mind makes it easier to tune out the people who suggest I should be pumping milk so I can leave my baby behind for several hours, or that the baby should be “on a schedule” or whatever other nonsense people tend to say. Sorry for how long this turned out to be!

    • says

      I love your partner’s comment… so many people forget that it’s not all about us anymore and there’s someone who needs us even more. And yes, I think people need to trust their instincts – sadly I think for most they’ve ignored them for so long, it’s hard to do.

  6. says

    I really don’t understand the obsession so many parents have in getting their infants to sleep like adults. I remember how scary nighttime was for me as a child–it’s dark and lonely and our ape-brains are still hardwired to be alert for predators. As an adult I can rationalize my way around my fear of the dark and of monsters under my bed (still present at 25 years of age, thanks ape-brain!), but we can’t expect children to, and we certainly can’t expect babies to.

    My one goal regarding my four month old’s sleep is to ensure that she always feels safe, and always knows I am close by. We bed share and nurse during the night, and despite the fact that she wakes me often with little wiggles and grunts for food, she never fully wakes up herself, and we both sleep long and well every single night.

    Rather than expecting my baby to learn to sleep like an adult, I adjusted my expectations for myself. It only took me about a week to get used to sleeping lightly with many interruptions, and now I am always well rested. In fact, I feel like I often get too much sleep since I tend to turn in earlier and stay in bed longer with my daughter.

    • says

      I too still get freaked by the dark and hate being alone at night so I hear you on the whole issue of expecting a baby to be fine! I also bedshare and nurse with my daughter (still at 15 months) and it’s great – she doesn’t fully wake up and I get more sleep :) It’s a win-win when it works for people and like you, when my daughter was younger, I felt like I was getting too much sleep because of it!!! Especially as I would sometimes nap with her too.

    • amy says

      I completely agree! I hate sleeping alone. The whole reason I ended up bringing my daughter to bed with me was because I felt so guilty leaving her to sleep all by herself. She still wakes several times during the night to feed and she’s 13 months. She is very active and petite she needs the extra calories. When people ask if she sleeps through the night I just laugh!!!

      • says

        Amy – I’m with you! I hate sleeping alone as well so why would I expect my daughter to want to do it? My daughter still feeds a couple times at night and she’s 25 months :) But she goes a good chunk of sleep (6 or so hours) before nursing again so no complaints here :)

  7. says

    While my first was in the NICU I kept having nurses asking me how the kids at home were doing. They were so surprised a first time mom could be so comfortable with a newborn. This is why I strongly urge all young women (and young men really) to babysit as much as possible with as many kids as possible. Having taken care of dozens and dozens of babies and children of all ages (youngest charge I had was 4 weeks old!)it becomes abundantly clear that babies and kids are different. That ‘average’ is the magical point in the middle of ‘normal’. Some kids crawl at 3 months, some crawl at 9 months. Some walk at 6 wmonths, others wait til 20 months. Some kids jabber away at 7 months, sometimes a mute at 3 years. It’s *all* normal and not worth stressing over. Concern is warrented only when multiple things start falling late. An 8 month old who isn’t crawling is no big deal, but if an 8 month old isn’t crawling, doesn’t bounce when you put his feet to ground, isn’t cooing, and shows no interest in food *then* it’s time to check with a doc for issues. Maybe, or maybe he’s just quiet and likes to watch things. Kids are so different it’s just unneeded stress to expect anything but that they be themselves.
    Now, the sleep thing I was unconcerned with just because I was familiar with other cultures whose perfectly healthy kids aren’t expected to act like adults when it comes to sleep.

    I do want to add that I am refering to kids expected/known to be in good health. If you have a child who suffered nerve damage at birth, or who was premie, or who is born with a disability, it’s important, I think, to work with them and have them evaulated frequently. For instance my 1st, a NICU graduate who had a severe MecAsp and a hypoxic brain injury will have basic developmental and hearing checks until he’s 5 or 6 because brain issues can crop up until then. He did have some tone issues that were successfully dealt with, and we had to work to get his right hand dexterity up, but since that resolved (around 8 months) he’s shown no signs of lingering issues. But, as several doctors have said as well, hitting specific milestones isn’t nearly as important as just seeing overall increase in growth and development.
    My 2nd (no issues at birth) is 18 months and has a vocabulary of all of 4 words, 2 of which are handsigns. *shrug* she clearly *understands* when we are talking to her so what’s the big deal? She’ll talk when she’s ready. (My perfectly normal brother didn’t talk until he was 3 and then it was in sudden full sentences. A kid I babysat was also nonverbal at 2, and still wouldn’t talk to anyone but his mom or dad at 3. He was perfectly normal too. So was my husband who talked in 3-4 word sentences by 10 months.)

  8. Jude says

    I have to admit that with my little daughter, now 1 year old (my first baby) I was torn between just doing what I felt was right and the advise of others… It wasn’t so much the books, but more the other mums at groups that set me off thinking “maybe she really shouldn’t be ‘demanding’ to nurse again after two hours at seven months…”, when she suddenly started to wake up again more often. I ended up holding her but not giving her the breast for about twenty minutes, which she screamed through… I gave up, gave her what she wanted and next time she woke up she got the breast straight away as usual. Three days later, she was back to having a drink just two to three times a night – turned out it was just a growths spurt! And I had just been a complete muppet to think that I know better when she’s hungry than her! I could have saved us both those terrible twenty minutes had I not heard the ‘knowledge’ from so many people that she does not need the breast and that I need the sleep…

    In general it seems that most advice that involves ‘being strict’ with a baby ends up creating the exact problem it claims to solve. One good example where we went with our gut instinct from the start and never had ANY problems is putting her to bed. When she is tired! In her case any time between 7pm and 8.30pm. I’ve so often read and heard that it’s important to put a baby to bed at the same time every day, BUT days can be so different and one day is more tiring then the next, so it seems to make sense to watch the signs of tiredness and go for those rather than the clock. I just don’t understand the struggle and fighting and frustration people go through putting their baby to bed at a certain time. Isn’t it better to keep playing / reading etc for half an hour longer than fight that time, if the baby happens to be still full of energy? And equally, why force a baby to stay up when she’s obviously struggling to keep awake?

    • says

      I think it’s so amazing that people seem to ignore things like growth spurts when they talk about what a baby “needs”. As you so rightly point out, what our children need varies not only week to week, but day to day! Some days are more tiring than others, some they need more food, some more comfort. Just like adults, not every day is exactly the same!

  9. Shianne says

    Love this!!
    Since our daughter (7 months) was born, despite people telling me I needed to schedule her, and crying was fine (strengthens their lungs – REALLY? REALLY?), that she needs more tummy-time, etc, we chose to ignore the “advice”, and it’s been perfect (but not always easy) for us…
    I breastfeed on demand (which is literally every 15-45-60 minutes), she naps in my arms, we co-sleep (bedtime may be 7pm, it may be 10pm), she hates tummy time, so we don’t do it….she loves sitting upright, so we do that :-) She’d rather watch me do things from the Moby wrap then play with toys.
    She’s a sweetheart, growing well, and not yet crawling. She’s smart, super alert, and interacts with us.
    Babies let us know exactly what they need, if we’d only slow down and take the time to LISTEN, not just with our ears, but our “mommy hearts”, specifically designed to respond to our precious little ones :-)

  10. Kerri says

    I’m feeling very sad now after reading this. My 1st daughter, who is now 2 years 4 months, was separated from me after birth for the first 48 hours as she was in the neo-natal unit (I could visit her when I was able – had my own medical issues – & start our breastfeeding relationship). She slept in our room until she was almost 2 when she was ready (& excited) to move into her own room. I breastfed her on demand until she was 16 months and decided she didn’t want any more. She began to eat solids at 4 months because she wanted to.

    She was always alert, walked early, is advanced for her age in areas of language & mostly a happy child. She does get very frustrated / angry at times, which worries me.

    I had to return to work when she was 5 & a half months old & while she gets a lot out of going there (activities and interaction with others that she wouldn’t get here) she still gets upset when I have to leave her. She has formed attachments with other carers as a substitute for me.

    She sleeps with a few toys and has to hold them while going to sleep. She sometimes brings one of them out of bed with her when we first get her out in the morning. She is still in a cot, as she doesn’t yet want to move into the full size bed that is also in her room – & is her choice.

    My sadness comes from those first 48 hours that we can’t get back, and the fact that I have suffered from fibromyalgia / chronic fatigue and that I haven’t been able to be the ‘earth mother’ I always wanted to and haven’t been able to do as much with her or be here for her 24 hours a day.

    I know I’ve done the best I could, I still wish I could do more / better. I worry that I have caused damage to her for the above reasons, and would love to know how it could be ‘undone’ – even the bits I had no control over.

    • says

      Kerri – first off, there is nothing you should feel bad about for the first 48 hours and it sounds like you’ve done a wonderful job since! Having her close to you in your room to sleep for 2 years is great and it sounds like she made the choice, which is exactly what we should be doing – following our children.

      Children do get frustrated – you can’t worry too much about that. It’s part of growing up and knowing what you want to achieve and realizing your own limitations. The only thing I can suggest there is to try and see what it is that frustrates her and work with her to see how she can fix it or ask for help. It may help her frustration abate.

      It seems the hardest part for you has been the separation from work and your own limitations re fibromyalgia. It saddens me that so many mothers go through the worry about the separation because of work. It’s unfair to our children and families that we live in societies that value companies over people and families, but it is what we have. First of all, it’s great she’s formed attachments – if she hadn’t that would be a larger concern. I realize it’s heart wrenching to leave her and know you can’t be there for her, but you mention that she’s advanced verbally – can you talk to her about how she feels and why you have to leave? Another possibility to help instill an extra connection would be if you had a pager or phone that she could reach you on when she wants to talk quickly. Make sure you’re clear there’s a quick time limit and that sometimes you might not be able to answer right away but that you will call her back and that way she gets the sense that you are there for her 24 hours a day, even if you can’t be physically present with her. Unfortunately I know this doesn’t work for all jobs, but hopefully you have one where you can take the occasional phone break to talk to your daughter. Do you think that might help?

      At the end of the day there’s no “undoing”, just going forward. Doing all you have suggests to me you’ve already negated the 48 hours in the NICU and continue to be a wonderful parent. It’s never too late to make yourself even more available to your child, but it sounds like you’ve been doing a lovely job as is!!!

    • says

      Kerri, I really share your pain and frustration. My 1st was in the NICU for 31 days, and it was most of 3 weeks before I got to hold him for the first time. In fact it was most of 48 hours before I could even stand up and see him in his tall isolette, a kind nurse took a picture of him for me the first day sol I could see his face! He’s a happy, healthy, well-bonded 3 year old now, but I too feel keenly the loss of that newborn period and wonder what possible harm was done by that forced separation. I also suffer from infirmery, Ehlers-Danlos Hypermobility (which ironically has a large cross over into fibermyalgia but I do not have that as well thankfully). I suffer from chronic pain and physical limitations that keep me from being the mother I know I *should* be, and it can be very depressing at times. I just wanted you to know you aren’t alone, and that others out there struggle in the same way. I know chronic infirmery can make you feel very isolated sometimes. But you’re not alone.

  11. Vivienne says

    I wish I’d found all this information with my first baby. I didn’t read books and decided to follow my instinct, but when he was sleeping really badly I felt like it was my fault and my instinct had let me down. We co-slept and breastfed, but by the time he was 6 months co-sleeping had gone from being a joy to something I resented. I thought it was my fault he wouldn’t go in the cot (and I worried what I’d do when he could crawl as the bed wasn’t safe to leave him) and would wake every 30-120 mins. He wasn’t even hungry as if I picked him up he went back to sleep on me, I just fed from tiredness. Everything and everyone said you need a routine and had advice to fix it, nobody said ‘this is normal and some babies wake A LOT’. I tried everything from a no-cry book and nothing worked and I was exhausted and spending 6 hours a day trying to get him in his cot and never letting him fall asleep at the breast (instead of continuing to let him sleep on me or in the pram), and because he was put there for naps he didn’t nap as well as if we walked or he napped on me, so he ended up tired. At which point I did controlled crying, and because it worked it was my solution for any sleep problem for over a year. I weaned night feeds (although at least kept breast feeding until 2 years), but it’s only recently (2.5yo) that I’ve stopped stressing and getting in a state if he goes through a stage of fighting bedtime (which is rare), and when my second was born I was stressed about sleep from the start! Fortunately he’s been a better sleeper and I’ve relaxed about everything now, and am enjoying co-sleeping at 8 months and plan to continue, but I feel sick and guilty that I did CIO and worry that I may have harmed my first baby’s development in some way. If I hadn’t expected so much from him, and someone had said it’s normal for him to wake that much, instead of all the advice on training, maybe I would have stuck with it, as had I been in less of a state I’m sure I could have coped for longer. Nothing really excuses it but I have to try and remember how desperate I felt or I feel like more of a monster. This is a great article and unfortunately I’m definitely guilty of comparing my first to other babies at times and expecting too much, and this makes me very sad. I’m trying to use a much more positive and calm approach now, hopefully it’s not too late.

  12. Amy says

    Great post! I generally agree with everything in here, but if want o make a comment regarding “tummy time.” I’m a physiotherapist, and during our pediatric development section in school we learned about all the physical milestones… There was always a range, never a set date. However, as you pointed out, since the widespread adoption of the back to sleep campaign there have been delays in these milestones. Also, it was noticed that with all the back sleeping, the rising popularity of infant swings and bouncy seats and car seats and strollers, babies were spending A LOT of time on their backs during the first few months, and then there came a significant increase in plagiocephaly and torticollis. Not a severely significant developmental issue, but one that is completely avoidable, thus the coining of “tummy time.” I have to defend it because it was used to counter all this time newborns were spending on their backs… It is something that is appropriate for all babies, however is not just simply laying babies on their bellies on the hard floor and causing them distress. It should be gentle and guided and most often does happen from birth when parents hold their babies upright on their shoulders (that counts as tummy time), or for those of us that wear our babies in slings or wraps that counts as tummy time too!

    If a baby is being carried or worn or not left to be in seats or swings for most of their days during the first few months, then no, there is absolutely no need to do “tummy time.” But, it is something that I believe holds value in educating and countering the effects of the promotion of babies sleeping on their backs. Maybe not as strongly applicable as it was a decade or two ago, but still something that needs to be put out there, especially for parents of babies who are showing some head flattening or torticollis. It is completely curable with physiotherapy, which mostly just entails a lot of education and guidance on positioning, maybe some stretching for torticollis and encouragement.


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