Is your baby sleeping through the night?
If there’s one question that’s guaranteed to make a new mother’s heart sink, that’s it.
Isn’t it enough that we’re struggling to function on an average of 7 consecutive minutes of sleep - night after soul-destroying night - without every single person on the planet asking us THAT question?
I mean really, world. What we don’t need is you and your mother constantly drawing our attention back to the one thing that its most crippling our capacity to cope with new motherhood.
Why do people even feel the need to ask new parents about the sleeping habits of a newborn baby, anyway? When did this become *the* question to ask? And why don’t people realise that it’s about as intrusive as asking a postpartum woman how her lady bits are faring?
The OBVIOUS answer is that this is touchy subject and that if you presume to probe into the sleeping habits (or lack thereof) of a new baby you’d better understand that you are taking your life in your hands.
It’s touchy because we’re probably already feeling the pain of the answer, and having to share it with you only reinforces the grim reality of our sleep-deprivation. Frankly, if we’re going to extend our weary breath on a conversation with you, we’d rather you were offering us some tea and cake instead of investigating us on our baby’s sleeping habits.
When I had my third baby a year ago, I was ready for the sleep question. Thankfully I had finally cottoned onto the fact that it’s not normal for newborn babies to sleep through the night - indeed, it’s totally normal for babies to be wakeful at night.
This article about why sleeping through the night is not biologically normal, especially for a breastfed baby, just about saved my sanity.
“Ask any new parent and most will complain about lack of sleep. Many will also be worried that what they are experiencing isn’t “normal” and believe that their child has a problem that needs fixing. So they search books, ask friends and family or even their doctors about what to do about a child’s problematic sleep patterns. And to top it off, they feel immense anxiety and worry about them.”
And, as that article goes on to point out, it turns out that our sense of what’s normal when it comes to baby sleep is beyond skewed. Hence the absurdity of asking if an infant is sleeping through the night. It’s like enquiring as to whether a six month old has mastered potty training yet, or if your three year old has passed her driving test. Basically, it’s a bonkers question, and should be outlawed.
Let me just interrupt myself here to say that if your child is a fantastic sleeper then I’m thrilled for you, I really am. But I hope you never crow about that within earshot of someone who might not be blessed with your good fortune, and I really hope you don't delude yourself with the notion that your baby’s sleeping pattern is all down to your excellent parenting skills. Boy, will that one come back to bite you on the bum in years to come.
It might have something to do with it - I’m a firm believer in the value of a consistent bedtime routine - but I’d like you a whole lot more if you at least had the grace to pretend that you just got lucky with a good sleeper. I might then also reserve some sympathy for you later on if that great sleeper turns into the moodiest teenager imaginable…
I am convinced - and here’s my real point - that at the heart of the strong emotions and even stronger opinions which seem to pulsate beneath the surface of any conversation about baby sleep, lies this thorny issue: the implicit, deep-down anxiety that your baby’s apparent inability to sleep through the night (or even for a decent stretch of time) IS YOUR FAULT. Somehow we all secretly feel it; my baby doesn’t sleep through the night because I have a deep and secret ineptitude for parenthood, even if no-one else has noticed yet.
It’s not true. Let me say that one more time. IT’S NOT TRUE. Chances are you’re doing your absolute best for your baby, and giving your all to helping them to develop good sleep habits.
But motherhood is not a competitive sport - despite the existence of misguided mums who seem to think it is - and if you look at any aspect of baby-rearing like this then you’ll come a cropper. So give yourself a break. Step off the guilt train and quit equating your baby’s wakefulness with some sort of inadequacy on your part. That way madness lies.
Read the article above and acquaint yourself with the sobering facts about baby sleep, not the misguided myths. You really can cope better with sleep deprivation when you have a better grasp of what’s normal and begin to realise that what you’re experiencing is pretty standard, and not some sign of your own epic parental shortcomings.
And the next time someone asks if your baby is sleeping through the night? Just say yes, and smile smugly. It’s what everyone else has been doing for years.