(picture of Will at 1 week old.)
Does he sleep through the night?...Ahhh!! Why is this always one of the first questions someone asks you when they meet your child? Whether your baby is 3 months old or 2 years old there seems to be some sort of belief in our culture that they should have the same sleep pattern as an adult. I find it odd that we think this when in reality more than 50% of babies younger than 2 years of age wake up during the night. It seems that "sleeping through the night" becomes an important goal for so many moms and when it is not accomplished or we choose not to "train" our babies we feel like we are failures. Why?...The only reason I can think of is that we may look like we are doing something wrong as a parent. Absolutely not! I am not an expert by any means, but I have read through several infant sleep books with all sorts of philosophies thinking that my baby was not normal only to learn that after reading these books by child is totally normal. Not only is my child normal, but that many other moms feel the same way, and we shouldn't need a book to tell us that. Sometimes we even feel as if we have to tell a little white lie about how many times our baby wakes up in the night in order to look like our child is normal. hmm...that's not good; and we should not have to feel this way.
Why don't they sleep through the night?...the simplest answer that I came up with is that a baby's nervous system is not quite fully developed yet. A baby's brain is only one-quarter of adult size at birth, compared with at least one-half adult size in other animals. (...at least that is the info. I have gathered from a few different resources.) This makes human babies the least capable and most dependant on their parents of any species. Then as the baby grows they start teething, they go through all sorts of developmental stages. They wake up wanting to crawl because they know that they can. There are many times that our babies become overstimulated, just like adults do. We all have nights were we have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Our baby may wake up more frequently to nurse then the night before because they simply might be going through a growth spurt or may be fighting some sort of sickness and they need those extra antibodies from the breast milk to help fight it off. Maybe they just want the comfort of their mama for a few minutes. There is a full list of reasons a baby may wake up in the night; things we can help control and others that we cannot, but we can always be a comfort...and sometimes that is all they really want anyways. I think that is okay.
As many of you know I like to quote Peggy O'Mara. She is never biased and always full of wisdom that comes straight from her heart and her experience as a mother. Below is a caption from an essay she wrote about night waking...
"Infants are not supposed to conform to our convenient 20th century sleep schedule, our nine-to-five lives inside our houses. They are preceded by 100,000 generations of hunter-gatherers. They expect to be carried. They cannot soothe themselves. Our response to their needs creates a model for the internal psychological structures by which they will eventually be able to soothe themselves. Babies' cries are an instinct and a resource. The reason it hurts in our bellies when we hear a baby cry is because it's supposed to. We are not supposed to be able to endure a baby's cry. It is what ensures a baby's survival. We have to take care of the baby to alleviate our own suffering. If you have a baby who wakes during the night, know that it is perfectly normal. You can go to your baby with comfort and affection, and he or she will learn comfort and affection. If you find your baby's night waking terribly inconvenient, you can go to a sleep clinic where your baby will be diagnosed with a "sleep disorder" and where people who have learned about babies in institutions or through studies will give you permission to control your child's behavior so that it will no longer be inconvenient to you. If, instead, you would consider this inconvenience part of the job description of a parent, and if you realize that this first conflict of needs sets the tone for all future conflicts with your child, then you may want to consider the corny old adage that has been passed down from generation to generation:"When they're young, they step on your toes. When they're old, they step on your heart. You can be sure they will step on your heart when they are old if you do not let them step on your toes when they are young."
It is normal.
This also leads into co-sleeping and bed sharing. Does that have an effect on whether my baby will sleep better?...maybe so, maybe not...I guess you have to decide what really matters to you. Co-sleeping is the norm in most human societies. It not only strengthens the bond, but is safer and said to be important in helping your child develop into a loving, self-confident, and independent person. There are many studies on this and there are soooo many benefits of having a family bed that I could get into, but we may have to save that for another day. Many people have asked us why we chose to do this, and the real reason is that ultimately Will chose to sleep with us. When we were planning for Will to come we decided that we were not going to choose a way of sleep, but leave it open for what our baby adapted to best. We had a crib set up in another room and a co-sleeper set up next to our bed. The first night at home with Will I put him in the co-sleeper next to our bed and he kept spitting up a lot each time I would lay him down inside that thing. I was a naive new mama, freaking out, and did not know what to do. He kept crying and crying...and I realized that the only way he was content was in our bed right next to me. He was right next to me where we could hear and feel each other breathing. We tried a few different ways of sleeping, but it did not take us long to figure out that we all slept best and were most comfortable with him in our bed. We loved hearing his sweet sounds in the night, and waking up to him rolling over with a smile. It increased my milk supply tremendously, and he has always been well fed and healthy. It has been especially nice for Thad being able to share this time with him because as a busy grad student there were many nights when he wouldn't even get to see Will. They have been able to bond through sleeping together. I don't think I really was ever sleep deprived because I never had to actually get up in the middle of the night and spend hours feeding. We just cuddled in close and nursed while sleeping. It is incredibly relaxing! I love that we have had this bonding time together... As for now at just 16 months old Will was starting to get extremely squirely and we were all getting a bit uncomfortable and not sleeping as well. Maybe this is just a phase, but it was the cue to try something new. We got the futon mattress all set up in a nice comfy bed for Will and he got so excited about it. Every time he walks into the room he gasps with excitement and pounces on the bed. He for now sleeps on a futon mattress low to the ground. There are many nights that I end up in bed with him, but also nights where I wake up in my own bed only to realize that we all are sleeping much better now. Maybe in a few months he might sleep better back in our bed and maybe he never will want to again, but we learned that the coolest of experiences happen when we really listen to our child and what he needs from us and not focusing on what a book tells us to do. I do miss him in bed with us, and still cherish those moments when I do get to nurse him in the night. It is our quiet time together when really nothing else is going on. It's just us.
I believe it is important to set up a good bedtime routine and to help guide these little ones in the direction of good sleep, but like any other developmental stage sleeping through the night happens at the pace of each individual baby. The question I often ask myself when feeling overwhelmed by society is...Are my baby's wakeful ways truly upsetting me, or does the problem lay more in the perceptions of those around me?
Your baby's sleep is only a problem if you feel they are.