The big “BUT” that comes after: “You can’t spoil a newborn”

“…and my pediatrician said that when he’s 8 weeks old I can sleep train him.”

Ah – what?

Come again?

Did she just say what I thought she said?

So I very politely asked her just what the pediatrician meant when he okayed sleep training at 8 weeks old.

To which, she calmly replied, “You know, like having a bedtime routine, and putting him to bed before I go to bed.”

  1. phew.

I was actually worried there. 

Because I thought she was actually going to sleep train her newborn. Which is a no-no never-ever uh-uh-uh.

Bedtime routines, though?

Well, how early can you introduce that sort of thing?

And – wait, if you can’t sleep train a newborn, then how can it be possible for a newborn to sleep well (and can a newborn sleep well?!)

You can’t spoil a newborn

It’s a problem, really, it is.

Because newborns, in all their sweet-smelling goodness, are just not smart enough. Not smart enough to know, not smart enough to chap, and not smart enough to be spoiled. 

You could hold that baby forever; rock, nurse and whatever else her to sleep; use every prop in the book and then some – and your baby will remain blissfully unspoiled.

But here’s the problem: when does your sweet little bundle of newbornness transform into… and infant? Is there some kind of magic fairy dust you’ll see sprinkling down? Does it happen with a crash of thunder and flash of lightning? Or maybe it happens at the stroke of midnight at 6 weeks? 12 weeks? 3 months?

How do you KNOW?

And that’s exactly the problem: you don’t.

The transition from newborn to infant is a gradual one that happens with every tick of the clock during those first 3-4 months.

And suddenly, you’ll turn around to find your helpless newborn holding his head up, rolling over, grinning at you.

And that newborn? The one you could never spoil?

Well… hate to say it… but he may just have turned into a spoiled infant.

Newborns vs. Infants

Newborns are not the same as infants.

(And to clarify: when I say newborns, I mean babies below 3 months/12 weeks of age. Infants are what we call them post-graduation.)

Newborns and infants have different needs and different abilities.

Newborns have not yet mastered the art of self-soothing (being able to go from crying to calm on their own), their circadian cycles are still developing, and daytime and nighttime sleep is still consolidating.

They need a lot more hands-on assistance when nursing, need lots of cuddles, and they’re doing a whole lot of learning.

For newborns, everything is a lesson: every feed, every sleep, every diaper change and bath is a learning experience. 

They don’t yet know to expect anything, have no concept of cause and effect, and, for new newborns, anything can be “normal”

During the second half of the newborn stage, from ages 6-12 weeks, newborns start to become more aware. They’re learning how the world works, what “normal” is, and are making some order in the confusing hubbub all around them.

By the time your baby hits the end of the newborn stage, around 12 weeks or 3 months, their brains are ready for infancy: they’ve graduated the fourth trimester, and are ready to conquer the world with a developmental leap that will bring rolling, sitting, crawling, walking, eating solids, and learning speech.

Before the transition

But, like I said before, the infant stage doesn’t happen in the snap of a finger. You’ll see your baby slowly growing and maturing during the newborn stage, particularly the final six weeks.

And that means that whatever habits you’ve built for your newborn – sleep included! – will come along for the ride as they enter infancy.

So while you can’t spoil your newborn, you most definitely should be aware of what habits they may be forming – and what you can do to facilitate good habits and avoid habits that’ll have you pulling your sheitel hairs in the months to come.

From 2 to 6 weeks is a particularly valuable time; your baby’s adjusted to the world, but hasn’t yet built any level of awareness. Use those weeks wisely to establish your baby’s circadian cycle, give him the opportunity to develop good sleep hygiene, teach him to latch properly, and to show him that you will meet his needs.

When I begin working with a newborn who’s already born (as opposed to my prenatal clients with whom I create a plan of action before the baby even comes), we always try to hit the ground running before that 6 week mark — because that’s when the transition to infancy begins.

The bottom line

So should you soothe your newborn? Absolutely!

Should you wake up to feed your newborn in the middle of the night? 100%.

Can you use props to help your newborn fall asleep? Yep.

But.

But if you don’t want to get yourself into a prop-shaped hole down the line, it would be wise to do so with an eye on the bigger picture: what are your long-term goals, and how are you going to help your baby meet those at age-appropriate times?

The key to not “spoiling” an infant or toddler down the line is helping your newborn create the habits that will serve him for the rest of his life.

The beauty of the KinderWink sleep method is the flexibility of my techniques. What I do with a 1 week old looks very different than what I do with a 5 week old, 8 week old, or 8 month old. Because every baby is different, and every family is different.

Let’s talk about making this happen for your family. Schedule your Discovery Call here.

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  1. CM

    Amazing article- good to know!