It’s the first question we ask far too many new parents: “Is he a good sleeper?” “Getting any rest?” “Sleeping through the night yet?”

And when the answer is a huge, resounding “Nope!” (as it most certainly is about 90% of the time in the early days/weeks/months), the asker will often give a deeply pitying look and respond with the fact that their child slept 15 consecutive hours a night from day three of life because they did Baby Wise/CIO/Ferberizing/witchcraft/etc.

How is the shell-shocked new parent supposed to respond to this, exactly? Because there is literally nothing less helpful in the universe than subtly shaming a brand-new mom or dad for being exhausted. Comments like these leave the parent feeling like a failure, like their child is somehow deficient, and reminds them yet again that they are just. So. Sleepy.


Here’s the thing: Lots of babies take a really long time to start sleeping through the night. Lots of babies will never respond to the popular make-a-baby-sleep tricks. And plenty of parents just aren’t comfortable with anything resembling sleep training. And that’s more than okay.

My child is one of the happiest and healthiest toddlers I’ve ever encountered. He’s bright, curious, adventurous, active, nurturing and a really healthy eater. He’s 19 months old. And plenty of nights he still wakes up for some snuggles. And while he finally (finally) will actually sleep through the night on a semi-regular basis, this is a new development.

In the early days he wanted to sleep all the time. In the hospital, the nurses even had to put cold water on his feet to wake him from his deepest slumber. But due to some major breastfeeding problems, he lost tons of weight in his first two weeks of life and we had to start setting alarms to wake him up every two hours to eat. (If there’s anything more depressing than waking up a peacefully sleeping newborn when you’re more tired than you’ve ever been in your life, I can’t think of it.)

Did we destroy his natural bent toward sleeping long stretches with this routine? Maybe so. We’ll never know. But he needed to eat, so we did what we had to do.

Only within the last month or so has my son learned to put himself to sleep on his own with minimal fuss. Cry-it-out methods always tore our hearts out, and honestly, even when we got really desperate and gave modified CIO a try, he didn’t respond well. Swaddling didn’t help. Sound machines and pitch-black rooms made no difference. We tried it all. But still he woke up for hugs.

Sometimes in the desert of new-parent exhaustion, you will be seduced by the shimmering oasis of The Sleep Magic Bullet—that one time your baby wore the astronaut footie pajamas and drank exactly 7 ounces of milk before bed and had the swaddle blanket with the monkeys on it and Jupiter was in retrograde and he slept through the night!

In your sleep-deprived state, you will start to see patterns that might relieve you of your exhaustion everywhere, but often, you’re just looking for things that aren’t there.

So don’t get discouraged if exactly re-creating that magical night yields less-than-satisfactory results. There are so many factors at play, sometimes it’s impossible to find the elusive Sleep Magic Bullet. And that’s okay.

We survived. It’s been 19 months, and we are all reasonably well rested. Even though he still wakes up sometimes, he gets 10 to 11 hours of sleep a night. Our sanity, marriage and sex life have emerged intact.

Healthy, happy babies with completely wonderful parents can be totally terrible sleepers. You’re not a failure. Your baby is not deficient. You’re doing a great job and your baby is doing just fine. It will get better, but sometimes it just takes a while. No two babies are the same, and there’s no one-size-fits-all way to be a parent.

And one day, your baby will be a teenager who sleeps 15 hours a night. It will happen. So at least there’s that.

(Note: The writing of this article was interrupted by my child waking up for a hug.)

Join Motherly

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.


The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.

As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

As mamas we want our babies to be safe, and that's what makes what happened to Glee actress Naya Rivera and her 4-year-old son Josey so heartbreaking.

On July 13, the Ventura County Sheriff's Department announced the 33-year-old mother's body was found at Lake Piru, five days after her son was found floating alone on a rented boat. According to Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub, Rivera's last action was to save her son.

"We know from speaking with her son that he and Naya swam in the lake together at some point in her journey. It was at that time that her son described being helped into the boat by Naya, who boosted him onto the deck from behind. He told investigators that he looked back and saw her disappear under the surface of the water," Ayub explained, adding that Rivera's son was wearing his life vest, but the adult life vest was left on the unanchored boat.


Ayub says exactly what caused the drowning is still speculation but investigators believe the boat started drifting and that Rivera "mustered enough energy to get her son back onto the boat but not enough to save herself."

Our hearts are breaking for Josey and his dad right now. So much is unknown about what happened on Lake Piru but one thing is crystal clear: Naya Rivera has always loved her son with all her heart.

Keep reading Show less