Yes, another post about sleep. Moms of babies think about sleep a lot. And I’m one of them!
With my first baby, I thought about sleep a lot because I was worried. I hadn’t survived on broken sleep before. It scared me a bit to feel fuzzy during the day. How would I take care of the baby on broken sleep? This worry, more than the broken sleep, made it hard for me to function well on some days. Also, I didn’t know how to make rest a priority for myself yet — nap with the baby, meditate, ask for extra sleep on the weekends. And when I was really sleepy — take it slow, cancel plans, scale back. The worry actually kept me up at night (and who needs extra sleep interruptions when you have a baby waking you up already?). I knew for sure that I wouldn’t let my baby cry, and I knew I wanted him to sleep with me, and nurse when he needed to, but I didn’t know for sure that he would sleep longer stretches eventually, and one day sleep through the night without help. I had heard this would happen, but I didn’t quite believe it. Part of me was certain my baby would need me at night for his entire life. You think these things when you’re a first-time sleep deprived mama.
Anyway. He did sleep through the night. Without me. Eventually. On his own schedule. And I survived. I was fine. Looking back, I hardly remember the sleep deprivation. Most days, I was able to be a good mom to him. Somehow, through all the sleep deprivation, I was able to be a good person to all those around me, including myself. I remember the worry more than the state of sleepiness.
My second baby sleeps almost exactly the same as my first, waking several times a night to nurse, but I am much more well rested. The reason why? I am better at not worrying about sleep (and about other things too!). I am better at sleeping through his wake-ups, especially when they are brief little nursings where I can latch him on and drift back to sleep with him. Of course, I have made a choice that not all mothers choose to make. I share sleep with my baby, and I nurse him whenever he wants throughout the night. Studies have shown that breastfeeding moms (especially ones who share sleep) actually sleep better, longer, and more deeply than moms who supplement with formula or do not share sleep (here is a good summary of these studies).
But most importantly, I changed my perspective about sleep. At my baby’s nine month check-up, my pediatrician (who I love for many reasons, and this is one of them) asked me if the baby is sleeping through the night yet. I hedged for a second. I was actually a little annoyed, because I know so many moms of wakeful babies who get freaked out when their pediatrician asks them this question. They feel worried that they have done something wrong, that they are somehow causing the wakings, and that their baby should be sleeping through the night by now. Before I could even answer the question, my pediatrician said “I mean, he nurses all night, but then goes back to sleep most of the time, right?” Oh yes, with the change of definition, my baby slept through beautifully!
My pediatrician is very traditional in some ways. I mean, he’s an MD after all. But the great thing about him is that he can think outside the box. He is not from this country, and has traveled the world seeing babies and children from all different cultures. He knows that waking at night is normal, not just for months, but years.
My baby doesn’t “sleep through the night” according to this definition all the time. Sometimes he wakes up crying (teething, bad dreams) and we’re all awake for a bit until he goes back to sleep. Sometimes he wakes up ready to play in the middle of the night (cute and infuriating at the same time). But most of time he stirs for a minute, latches on, and continues to sleep. This happens a bunch of times some nights! Hourly some nights! But according to my pediatrician’s definition of “sleeping through the night,” these brief nursings, however frequent, count as sleep. And I do notice a big difference between the nights he simply wakes up to nurse, and the nights he’s all the way awake for an extended period of time.
So much of life is perspective, isn’t it? Change your mind, change your life. Let’s take my pediatrician’s lead. Let’s change the definition of “sleeping through the night.” How many tired mommies would we save? How many moms would rest with their babies without guilt and worry? How many babies could sleep the way they are meant to sleep without unnecessary, often distressing sleep training? How many moms would receive support from family and friends, rather than critique? Because really, support, love, nurture, and a few hours of extra rest is what moms of little ones need, right? Let’s push away the nonsense our culture perpetuates about sleep, and let in the light.