For the last several months I've really been noticing the topic of baby sleep as it shows up in conversation among parents and non-parents, in the real world and on various places around the Internet.
"Cute baby, how does she/he sleep?"
"Is she/he a good baby? Does she/he sleep through the night?"
And the post that broke the camel's back, a serious, non-trolling post someone made because they were concerned their 10 day old baby wasn't sleep through the night and that their wife was nursing the baby too much and spoiling the baby. Do I think this was the concern of a cruel, heartless person? Nope. I think this was the concern of an exhausted person who doesn't necessarily understand what to expect of a young baby because we live in a society of people that considers "sleeping through the night*" to be the mark of a perfect baby.
Has anyone asked you this question about your baby at a time when they weren't sleeping very well in your opinion? Did you feel like you had to answer "yes" or risk parental judgement? I have. But instead of just saying "yes" I said "no he doesn't sleep through the night but we are ok with that and he gets enough sleep in a 24 hour period. Thanks for asking!" I've come close to just saying he sleeps through the night, but I feel like if I were to say yes, I'd just be doing a disservice to other parents in my same position, who would then feel like they were the only ones.
And now I think it's time for me to confess something I don't think I've ever confessed.
I am 29 years old and I still don't sleep through the night. Bonus confession: neither does my 2.5 year old. And neither of us are bad because of it. I'm just a lot better at laying in my bed and working through it and going back to sleep than he is, and probably better than a lot of young babies.
I understand where these sleep concerns come from. Sleep is incredibly important to babies and kids (and adults!). Getting enough sleep is important for both physical and intellectual development no matter how old you are, perhaps even more so in babies. The thing is, sometimes sleep doesn't happen in 12 hour stretches between 7pm and 7am. Our 8 hour, 9-5 type of working world certainly makes it more convenient if our kids and ourselves are able to do all our sleeping straight through and at night. Of course, this isn't often a reality. If it's a reality for your kids and for you, that's awesome and you are lucky. If it's not, it isn't a mark of bad parenting or a bad baby... it's just the way it is. People have different sleeping styles and preferences, and that includes babies.
Now I know there are lots of you out there who have kids that are amazing sleepers. Evidently my middle sister was and I know I have friends whose kids are amazing sleepers. I personally have never been and probably never will be; around 3am I wake up without fail. 99% of the time I just close my eyes and go back to sleep. I sometimes wake up even more times than that, I probably just don't remember. Babies almost all wake up 2-3 times a night and they are either able to get themselves back to sleep, or they aren't. Those of you with kids who are great sleepers, your kids get themselves back to sleep. Those of you with kids who aren't great sleepers, your kids don't have that skill yet. When Aias used to go to sleep, he'd lay with his eyes peeled open and then sleep would hit him like lightning. As he gets older, he's finally learned to close his eyes and let himself fall asleep. It's interesting to watch this development but it's definitely taken some time.
I could go on forever on this topic, but my point here is not how to be a sleep expert or even the science of sleep. The point of this is to let you know that if your kid doesn't sleep through the night, it doesn't mean they are "bad."
And to those of you whose babies are sleeping in such a way that it leaves you feeling exhausted yourself, hang in there. It will get better someday.
*I often see baby websites saying: sleep through the night = 5 hours. This is all well and good, but really, is 5 straight hours what you really hoped for? Is it what people are talking about when they ask you if your kid sleeps through the night? Probably not.
Some articles on sleep (thanks Kellymom!)
- Is Your Baby Sleeping Through the Night Yet? by Jennifer Rebecca Thomas, MD, FAAP, IBCLC
- Night Waking: or, “Will I Ever Get A Good Night’s Sleep Again?” by Anne Smith, IBCLC
- Pillow Talk: Helping your Child Get a Good Night’s Sleep By Paul M. Fleiss, author of Sweet Dreams: A Pediatrician’s Secrets for Baby’s Good Night’s Sleep
- FAQ on Sleeping through the Night from LLL
- Why are nursing babies often night owls? by Kathy Kuhn, RN, BSN, IBCLC
- Myth: Good Babies Sleep Through by Linda J. Smith, BSE, FACCE, IBCLC
- Rethinking “Healthy” Infant Sleep by James J. McKenna, Ph.D.
- Sleeping Through the Night by Katherine Dettwyler, Ph.D. Babies and toddlers should not be expected to sleep through the night.
- Slumber’s Unexplored Landscape- an interesting article that discusses sleep research and “normal” sleep patterns
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