One of the most common questions people seem to ask of parents with children under one has to do with their sleep habits. Are you getting any sleep? Is she sleeping through the night yet? What’s his sleep schedule like? It’s amusing to me that there is so much interest in this subject. No one ever asks about our sleep habits, but those of our children seem to be fascinating. At the same time, it almost saddens me, because I think it’s indicative of unrealistic expectations and a lack of respect for the natural development of infants.
It is almost expected that the parents of a one or two month old will get little sleep and are likely to be up at odd hours of the night. During this time, we’re reasonably believed to be adjusting to life with a new baby. By three or four months, there seems to be a shift, however, and the expectation is for the child to fit more conveniently into our lives. If they aren’t “sleeping through the night,” suggestions are given on various ways to of convincing them to do so. New parents are often made to feel like this elusive sleeping through the night thing is a goal to be worked toward, not something that comes with time. Parents of older babies who still wake at night are often painted as being naive, allowing their babies to “run the show.” Some parents sadly don’t know any better and their frustration with the fact that their baby is apparently not behaving as they ought to can drive them to following such ill-advised programs as Babywise. Many mistakenly think that their baby’s night waking is merely habit and is not associated with any actual needs. I hear, “He’s not hungry, and he’s dry. He doesn’t need anything. He doesn’t need to be awake.” I find this heartbreaking, since of course infant needs go deeper than the superficial need to be fed and kept clean and dry. While I know that many who ask about infant sleep are merely curious, or possibly trying to show an interest in the new life, these types of questions can undermine the confidence of new (and even not-so-new) mothers and perpetuate unnatural and unrealistic expectations of brand new humans. The reality is that nighttime waking is normal, and it’s something that we do even as adults.
Annabelle has been up and down with sleep. She, like most newborns, seemed to have her days and nights mixed up for awhile. She would have many wakeful hours in the night and do a whole lot of napping during the day. Around the one month mark, she started to spend more time sleeping at night, and was awake more during the day. At times, she would sleep for as long as 4-6 hours on a stretch. She had a few 6 hours nights in a row and even a night or two of 8 hours around 6 weeks and had me convinced that she may be one of those mythical early sleep-through-the-nighters. With the arrival of her next growth spurt, however, she started waking every 2-3 hours again. There have been a few nights when her energy needs must have been particularly great that she woke hungry, every hour on the hour. At this point, she has been regularly waking every 2-3 hours for quite awhile, and I have no desire to change that.
I won’t write at length about the importance of night waking, and the case against sleep training, as that has been done. For anyone interested in this topic, Peaceful Parenting has a wonderful list, complete with links to research-based information in this article.
What I do want to share are the tips that I have picked up so far to make nighttime peaceful for both of us, no matter how frequently we wake.
I realize that there is controversy on the safety of this practice, but I strongly believe that when practiced correctly, it is far safer than putting an infant to sleep alone in a crib and there is plenty of research to back me up on this. Feel free to contact me for links to information if interested. Peaceful Parenting, linked above, is a great resource on this and many other topics related to parenting.
Sharing sleep has allowed me to respond immediately to Annabelle’s needs at night, which prevents both of us from waking fully. It eliminates the need to turn on overhead lights, and even the need to get out of bed at all much of the time.
I have heard women joke that they are too lazy not to breastfeed, and never is the ease on which this statement is based more apparent than in the middle of the night. I do not have to get up to prepare or warm bottles. I don’t even have to *sit* up, which brings me to my next tip:
The Side-Lying Nursing Position.
When Annabelle wakes up to eat, all I have to do is clear away anything that might block her access to the breast and sometimes scoot one or both of us, and she is able to eat without even opening her eyes while both of us continue to rest. This position is also perfect for safe bed-sharing as the arm the mother rests on forms sort of a cradle around the baby. This makes it near impossible for the mother to roll (though I don’t think any breastfeeding mother, in the absence of some inhibiting substance or extreme exhaustion, would ever unknowingly roll onto her infant) over and causes her to become immediately aware of any movements made by her baby.
Not only is this position a lifesaver at night, but in the very early days when nighttime sleep was elusive, it allowed me to get a bit of down time during long daytime feeding as well.
A Calm Nighttime Demeanor
I don’t recall where I read this tip, but it does seem to have helped. I make a point of keeping the lights low and speaking very little, and softly as bedtime approaches. I also speak very little, if at all, when we wake up in the night. This is one of those areas where it’s hard to prove any difference, but I feel like it has helped Annabelle create a distinction between times for activity and times for rest.
Walking, Rocking, and Misc.
Before we settled into our nighttime routine, there was much wakefulness and a great deal of time out of bed. I remember reading everything I could get my hands on in a desperate attempt to end the long, frustrated crying sessions during the night. I know that one problem was the occasional upset tummy, and for that Gripe Water seemed to work wonders. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the medicine dispensing pacifier, but then Annabelle has an aversion to pacifiers of all types.
I also learned many new lullabies, as I discussed earlier this week. I don’t know that those really helped sleep, but they definitely helped calm both of us when Annabelle was tired, but unable to fall asleep.
I read Dr. Sears’ suggestions on different ways of calming a fussy baby and this prompted me to try out various positions during the night. I eventually found two that were particularly soothing for Annabelle. One was to lay her on her stomach over my forearm, with her head resting in the crook of my elbow, and pat her back with the opposite hand. The other was to put a blanket over my birthing ball (same as an exercise ball), lay her on top of that, and gently rock her back and forth. Looking back, I guess she has always loved to be on her tummy. I kept her on her back to sleep for as long as I reasonably could, but eventually I had to give in and her sleep on her tummy for her own comfort.
I would love to hear your thoughts on infant sleep, and any tips you may have for making the nighttime as peaceful as possible for the whole family.