Growing up as the youngest of six, I had a pretty angelic view of babies. I loved them. I had almost no experience with them, but in my mind, my dolls had given me all the knowledge I needed on baby expertise. I begged my mom for another baby - a little brother or sister would be the perfect birthday present! But, alas, for five-year-old me, my dolls would have to suffice for the baby-hungry child I was.
Then, at fourteen, I got the next best thing - a niece. And my world, including my "expertise" on how to raise a baby, flipped upside down. Babies were far more demanding than I had expected. I watched my brother and sister-in-law instantly become the near walking-zombies that almost all new parents become as they suddenly give up their sleep hobby.
For many parents, the first six months of a child's life can feel like a big haze. Waking up multiple times a night takes a toll on your mind and body. But there are certain things you should understand about baby sleep that will help this insane time be more manageable.
Even though babies basically sleep all through the day, having a set bedtime at night is extremely beneficial, according to sleep specialist Dr. Jodi Mindell. And keeping that bedtime early - about 7 or 8 p.m. is recommended.
"We know that babies who go to bed later take longer to fall asleep and wake more at night," Mindell told Fatherly. "Overtired babies take longer to fall asleep and wake up more often."
Give the baby some (appropriate) independence
You've heard of self-soothing before, but according to "The Gift of Sleep" author Elizabeth Sloan, there are a lot of misconceptions that come with self soothing.
In their first two months, babies most likely won't be able to self soothe. But if all is well with your baby: he's not hungry, sitting in his own filth and is safe, then it's OK to let them make a little fuss.
"I think there is this mixed signal that once the baby makes a noise, you have to immediately pick them up," Sloan told HuffPost Australia. "In actual fact you will probably make the baby more overtired and confused, as they will wonder why they are being picked up when there's nothing actually wrong. All they're doing is trying to go to sleep by themselves. The best gift you could give them is the opportunity to try."
Use their bed what it's intended for
Many parents wait until the baby is asleep to put them in their bed, but according to "The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight," author Kim West, it's helpful to put your babe to bed before totally asleep.
Once your baby is about 6 weeks old, West said it's helpful to create a sleepy scale from 1 to 10; 1 is wide awake and 10 is completely asleep. Place your baby in bed when she hits a seven on the scale. This eventually helps your baby learn to self-soothe.
Stop feeding their emotional eating
During the day, your baby should be able to go to sleep without having to eat around eight weeks, according to Sloan.
"Feeding shouldn't be used as a tool to make them fall asleep, because if you get into that cycle, chances are they aren't even feeding because they are hungry. They are just associating the sucking as a behaviour to put them back to sleep," Sloan told HuffPost Australia.
Do things consistently
Comfort is essential for your baby's sleep, and comfort is often created by keeping a routine. Doing the same things before bedtime each night (i.e. reading a story, taking a bath) get your baby in the bedtime mindset. Mindell also said research shows that the more a father is involved in the bedtime process, the better the child will sleep.
Avoid eye contact
It's such a simple thing, but parenting adviser Claire Lerner said making eye contact with a drowsy baby can snap them out of their sleepiness. Try to keep your night-time interactions as low-key as possible.
"The more interaction that takes place between you and your baby during the night, the more motivation she has to get up," Lerner told Baby Center.
Overall, the most important thing to remember is that babies DO have a crazy sleep schedule, but gradually it will get better. If you have already developed bad habits. For your sleepy baby, those habits can be broken in time. In the meantime, keep on keeping on. It will get better!