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For his first 8 months, my middle child woke up every 40 minutes. Every night. Every day. The child. did. not. sleep. He also would not take a bottle and he would not go back to sleep if my husband went in. So for 8 months, I too woke up every 40 minutes.
It was hard—I mean crushingly, how am I going to make it through this? hard.
But make it through, I did—and I want to share what I learned in case it is helpful to another parent going through a similar struggle.
Because over the course of our sleep journey (or rather, our non-sleep journey) I realized that I had absorbed a lot of lies about babies sleeping through the night that I thought were truths. Unlearning these lies was a huge part of getting through this really difficult chapter of my motherhood journey.
Here are the 12 lies I believed about my baby sleeping through the night.
1. That it would never happen
I have such a clear memory of crumpling in a ball and just sobbing because I was tired to my core and really and truly believed that I would never sleep again. I was wrong. It took a long time, and it was unbearable at times...but finally, it happened.
When I woke up this morning I was bummed because I "only" got 6 hours of sleep last night—a feat that a few years ago seemed completely out of reach.
Know this: Sleep will come.
2. That there was something "wrong" with my kid
The truth is that there is something wrong with our society and the way we talk about babies' sleep. The questions are they a good baby? and do they sleep through the night? are so often uttered together, as if they are related concepts. They are not. Many, many "good" babies do not sleep through the night.
Babies, especially very young babies, are not designed to sleep through the night. They are supposed to wake up often to eat, poop and snuggle.
There was nothing wrong with my baby.
3. That by 6 months, all babies sleep through the night
Similarly to lie number 2, I absorbed this message from Dr. Google. Yes, many babies can start to sleep through the night at 6 months. But "many" does not mean "all."
Just like will all milestones, children develop differently. Milestones are meant as a guide, not law. My kid that took the longest to sleep through the night was also the first one to walk. My kid that was the first to sleep through the night took the longest to say their first word.
Just like grownups, kids have different sleeping "abilities." It takes me forever to fall asleep at night and I love sleeping in; my husband is exactly the opposite. We're humans, not robots.
4. That my child's sleeping habits were a reflection of my parenting
Every time I Googled a sleep-related question, I left the experience feeling like a bad parent. Everything I read told me that it was my fault; I had spoiled him, I had created bad habits. Oh, and then there was the pediatrician who told me that I had taught my baby to manipulate me.
So, on top of being utterly exhausted, I felt guilty.
I wish so badly I could wrap my arms around my sleep-deprived slightly younger-self and tell her it wasn't so. Even if the things I did lead to unideal sleep habits, I realize now that I did them out of necessity at the time. And ultimately I was doing the best I could, with the very best intentions for my child. There is nothing guilt-worthy in that.
5. That I was selfish for wishing my kid slept better
When I did my Google searches, most of what I found made me feel guilty for not having a good sleeper. But some comments made me feel guilty for wanting a good sleeper. "Enjoy this time, you'll miss it."
I don't miss it. At all. I miss the baby stage, yes. But it was not selfish to want more sleep—it was human. And that's okay.
6. That there was one right way to get my child through the night
There are a lot of ways to teach a child to sleep through the night, and I learned that it's okay to choose the method that works best for you and your family. The book that worked for your sister may not work for you.
My advice: Do some soul searching before embarking on sleep training—and that involves deciding whether or not you even want to do sleep training in the first place. Consider what your goals are, what you feel comfortable with and what works best for your family. And remember that you don't have to go it alone. Your pediatrician and sleep consultants can help!
In reality, getting your child to sleep through the night may take some trial and error. One trick that seemed like magic for us was using some gentle white noise to soothe my baby back to sleep.
7. That sleep training automatically meant cry-it-out
Sleep training is simply the act of teaching your child how to sleep better—and again, there are many ways to do it. Many of the methods for sleep training actually involve very little crying. This is a great thing to chat with your pediatrician or sleep specialist about: What are the risks and benefits of each method and what is your preference?
8. That giving babies lots of solids at dinner will make them sleep through the night
We fed that sleepless baby so much, thinking that maybe if his belly was full, he would sleep. Nope—at least not for my child (and it turns out it doesn't work for many children). Now, this may work for some people. But the AAP does not recommend starting solids until about 6 months old; and for the first year of life, solids are primarily about teaching babies how to eat, rather than providing calories. Babies get most of their calories from milk (human or formula).
The other part of this is that it assumes that the reason that the baby is waking up at night is that they are hungry. They might be! But they might also need their sleep association (the thing they have learned to associate with falling asleep such as being rocked).
So with the guidance of your pediatrician, you can definitely try the solids; if it doesn't work, it's not because you've done something wrong.
9. That formula-fed babies automatically sleep through the night better than breastfed babies
Just like with solids, giving your baby formula might help them sleep better—but it also may not. The theory here is that formula is digested slower than breastmilk, so a baby will stay full longer. But if the reason your baby is waking up at night isn't related to be hungry (which is likely), a bottle of formula probably won't help.
10. That keeping babies awake longer will help them sleep through the night
Common sense would have us believe that keeping a baby up at night, and therefore making them tired, would help them sleep through the night. But when it comes to sleep, sleep begets sleep. This means that a well-rested baby (and adult) actually sleeps better than an overtired baby (and adult).
Instead, keep a very close eye on your baby's tired-cues (like yawning, eye rubbing and frowning). And, be aware of the average windows of awakeness for the age of your baby; it might be less than you think. For example, after waking up for the morning, a 4-month-old should probably only be awake for 90 minutes before taking their first nap.
11. That when my baby slept through the night, I would sleep through the night, too.
It turned out that when my baby finally learned to sleep through the night, I needed to learn how to sleep, too. I was so used to waking up frequently, that it took time to reset my clock.
Plus, there were the sporadic "let me just make sure he's okay" checks—which dramatically improved with help from an upgraded baby monitor. (Only wish I had one this the Miku Pro when my baby was little. This Smart Baby Monitor can even track breathing patterns without wearables!)
12. That once they slept through the night, they would always sleep through the night
This is not what you want to hear right now, but this is a lie. Babies (and children and adults) change, and with those changes come sleep changes. My baby finally slept through the night for a while, but then he had a sleep regression. Then we'd get back on track, and he'd start teething, or get sick, which would make him wake up again.
Even now, my first grader (who is, for the most part, an excellent sleeper) will wake up because he has a bad dream, or feels sick.
That's the thing about parenthood: It's not linear and it's not predictable. This goes for sleep and so many other factors. But I have learned the biggest truth of all, and it has made all the difference: Whatever happens, I can handle it. I've got this—and you do, too.