Sleep is one of the most talked about and debated topics out there for parents. It is almost as if how good our babies sleep is some sort of weird competition between exhausted parents.
We think that if our baby is sleeping well or “through the night” then we must be winning in the parenting department, yet if they are waking up more often then we feel ashamed and somehow open ourselves up to opinions from our friends, parents, neighbors and the lady at the grocery store with ways to help them sleep better. It is frustrating and disheartening at times.
The competition creates a divide between us instead of allowing us to support each other through this rollercoaster ride of parenting. “Hey mama, sounds like your baby needs some extra cuddles through the night, so how about I come and bring you coffee in the morning?” is what we need to be saying versus the sad puppy eyes look while saying, “Aww, that is too bad, have you ever thought of sleep training?”
“How do they sleep?” seems to be the perfect ice breaker question when meeting a new parent. As a mom of three, I’ve been asked this question a lot. As a sleep consultant, I’ve been asked this question even more!
My response is always the same, “My baby sleeps like a baby.” I have come to realize over the last five years of working as a sleep consultant that it has less to do with how our baby actually sleeps and more to do with our expectations on sleep. There could be two babies that sleep exactly the same and one family claims their baby is a “bad” sleeper while the other states that their baby is a “good” sleeper.
This has changed how I have parented because I now know that it is more about how I feel versus reaching a goal of perfect sleep. What does “perfect sleep” even mean? Is there an actual definition? No. It is all about reaching your own individual goals no matter what they might be.
My youngest baby is 18 months old now and I would say that she is a pretty good sleeper. I would say this both from a parenting perspective and from a sleep consultant perspective but I want to share with you how we achieved this outcome through breaking all of the sleep “rules.”
We co-slept at the beginning. I say at the beginning because it ended up not working well for us but not because I didn’t want it to or because I thought it was bad. The first few months were wonderful and it helped me establish a positive breastfeeding experience and helped us all get more sleep at the time. I followed her cues and still to this day she isn’t much for cuddling and so maybe it was just her personality that made her do better beside me in her own bassinet.
I often nursed her to sleep. With my first two babies, I was always so nervous about starting any “bad” habits until I finally understood that there is no one way to put your baby to sleep that is right or wrong. Everything works differently for different babies. I could nurse her to sleep and we, as a family, felt that there was no disruption in our sleep that was out of the ordinary. As she got older, we found different ways to help her fall asleep so that dad could be involved too.
I fed my baby when she woke at night. When she would wake up throughout the night I never thought of her as being spoiled, trying to manipulate me or that she was a bad sleeper. I simply thought that she was hungry. When she woke up at night, I went in and fed her and then we both went back to sleep happy.
I didn’t try any type of “cry it out.” In fact, I never could handle much crying right from the start. If she was crying then I would be crying so we found different ways to work on new sleep cues. My favorite way was having dad go in and rock her. This helped us eventually move away from the nursing to sleep so that we could gently work on consolidating some night sleep so I could have a little freedom (I was needing it after baby #3!).
My favorite thing to tell families is “sleep is only a problem if it is a problem.” What I mean by this is that you are the only one who can determine if what you are doing is working for your family or not.
We all have parental instincts for a reason and need to trust them. If you feel rested, happy and overall like everything is going just fine, then it is. Even if this means you are breaking every sleep “rule” in the book. It took me some time to practice what I preach and when I did it felt like such a relief.
Finally, I could just do what felt right and in the end, everything worked out just fine. My baby sleeps well. Does she wake up sometimes at night? Yes, because she is human. Not every night is perfect but it is balanced which is exactly what it should be.
All of you mamas and papas out there with little babies who feel like this exhausting period of time is never going to pass. It will, and you will long for it back. Soak in the moments and do what feels best. You’ve got this.