First of all, I want to commend you for taking a few minutes to read this post. If you happen to fall asleep mid-read, I will not be offended. I promise.
Before my daughter was born, I received all sorts of advice regarding how she would sleep. I am sure many of you experienced the same. I was told she would probably nap X times a day and for X amount of time. She would probably wake up X times a night. She would probably start sleeping through the night at X months. And so on. Books and blogs that I read outlined the same theme.
I have to admit, most of what I heard or read sounded relatively promising. While the first few months of parenthood would be exhausting due to middle-of-the-night feedings, my baby would take long naps during the day, and not too far down the road, she would begin to sleep long stretches at night. It seemed as if all babies fell into a sleeping groove rather easily, and that meant that I would be able to sleep, too.
So, when I brought a beautiful, bright-eyed baby girl home from the hospital on a frigid New Year’s Eve, it’s not surprising that I had specific expectations about her sleep. But much to my chagrin, my beautiful baby ended up being a dream crusher. When my expectations didn’t materialize, and it became apparent that she didn’t like to nap during the day or sleep much at night, I felt confused and defeated.
What mistakes could I be making? What was wrong with my baby?
I mean the refusing to nap was one thing. Her cat naps would somehow hold her over until bedtime, where she would finally get the restorative sleep her little body needed. But around four months, when her napping habits finally improved, that nighttime restorative sleep was quickly in jeopardy (as was my sanity), and she slipped into what so-called baby experts call the “four-month sleep regression.”
Four-month? Singular. That must be a mistake. They clearly must have meant four MONTHS…plural.
And while it took me months and countless wasted hours perusing sleep training information to come to this realization, I had to make a conscious effort to throw all of those preconceived sleep expectations out the nursery window.
Because guess what? All babies are different, meaning their sleep habits will be different, too.
And in a more healthy approach, I’ve recently decided to create my own expectations for my daughter, which fit her own sleep needs and lively personality.
Why is our culture obsessed with having our babies sleep through the night in the first place? How many of us, as grown-up, self-aware, mindful adults, sleep through the night? Very few. We have our own methods of self-soothing that we practice when we wake up. We turn on the TV, play games on our phones, check Instagram, and so on.
As these “grown-up” self-soothing methods have been dissected over the years by medical professionals, it’s often been found that they are not good for our sleep habits and are, in fact, counter-intuitive to getting us back to sleep, therefore contributing to our insomnia-filled, caffeine-laced society.
Honestly, when you really think about it, maybe it’s the babies who have the right ideas of how to be comforted when met with the inability to sleep. They cry out to be rocked, to be held, and to be loved. They crave natural, instinctual mechanisms to help them drift back into dreamland and don’t depend on artificial means to go back to sleep. What would our sleep habits as adults be like if we responded to waking up in the middle of the night the same way? It seems that they’re smarter and more in tune with their sleep needs as infants than we are as adults.
That said, I’m not a doctor. I am not a sleep specialist. I don’t know the science and complexities involved in infant sleep (or lack thereof). But I do know this: it’s not just you, and it’s not just your baby. You’re not the only one questioning your ability to make it through the day due to your exhaustion. You’re not the only one worried about your parenting skills. And you’re definitely not the only one feeling frustrated because it seems that all the other babies are sleeping, except for yours.
Because you know what? They’re not all sleeping.
In my sleep struggles with my daughter, I have had many other parents tell me that they are going through the same thing; that their babies don’t want to sleep. But somehow, through endless platforms of social media and sleep training books, we have convinced parents not only that if their baby isn’t sleeping in a certain way, by a certain time, that something is wrong, but also that we are mutants in our baby sleep conundrum and that no one else is experiencing the same battle. Shame on us for doing so, as this is just not true.
So, in case you’re unsure, let me remind you that you’re doing an excellent job as a parent, and one day, although it seems hard to believe, we will sleep again. Until then, hang in there and try to take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone.
And as crazy as it sounds, I like to think that years from now, when our little ones are all grown. We are desperately missing their previously tiny form. We will look back at our lack of sleep as a blessing, for in the wee hours of the morning, we were able to enjoy our sweet babies for more hours than our counterparts who were fast asleep.