by Jennifer Sikes
“Does she sleep through the night?” Nope, and that’s okay.
Last night, I went back to co-sleeping with my daughter, and it was the best decision I’ve made in a long time. Here are three things you need to know: I’m not about to tell you how to get your baby to sleep through the night, and I’m not going to advocate for only sleep training or only co-sleeping. I am, however, going to tell you how to get the best kind of sleep for everyone in your family.
When my baby turned eight months old, I brought her back into bed with me after having her stay in her nursery for the entire night since she was four months old. We began this journey with co-sleeping and gently transitioned her into her nursery. She was never one to be a good sleeper, but she didn’t get any worse when we transitioned her into her nursery, so we kept her there. It was more for my own sake of sleeping rather than hers that we transitioned her into the nursery. Her room is adjacent to ours, so I also felt comfortable with her being so near.
We did sleep training (sometimes called the “cry it out” method). I read article after article about sleep training, from those who compare it to child abuse to others who say it’s the best thing they ever did. (If you want to read some of the more helpful articles I read, I’ll list them below.) In the end, I realized that I was not going to do damage to my child’s brain by helping her sleep. She and I would have a wonderful mama-daughter bond whether I did it or not because relationships are built over time with love, not because you chose to sleep train or not. And, hey, many of the parents of my peers sleep trained us, and many of us turned out just fine. It was hard. I did not enjoy any of it, but it did help her learn how to fall asleep soon after we put her to bed, and ultimately that helped her a great deal.
But here’s the thing. She would go down easily, but then wake up in the middle of the night six to eight times regularly. She never has outgrown this even though “they” say a baby should be able to sleep through the night at six months of age. It is normal for newborns to wake a lot throughout the night, but they ought to be able to put themselves back to sleep by around six to seven months of age… or so I’ve been told, many times. I found myself feeling angry and frustrated that my baby didn’t sleep through the night by a long shot. She is such a happy baby during the day, but nighttime is just so hard for us. And I had the thought, Wait, why am I feeling angry about my baby’s sleep habits based on what other people tell me she should be doing?
You know what I’ve come to realize? It doesn’t take a magical article to tell you the trick that will make your baby sleep. It doesn’t take months of sleep training. (Months? Yeah, it really didn’t work for us.) It takes three simple things.
- Understand that all babies are different.
- Eventually, your baby will sleep through the night.
- Do what’s best for your family.
1. Understand that all babies are different.
If there is one thing I learned in all my extensive reading about baby sleep, it’s this: What worked for one baby may or may not work for my baby. Why? Because every baby is different. A dear friend once told me that I could read all the articles I want and talk to all the moms about what they did, but no one knows my baby. This is my first point because it’s the most important.
Be patient with your baby, and be patient with yourself.
It’s so easy to react out of sleep deprivation. It’s so easy for those precious beautiful moments in the middle of the night to quickly turn into moments of resentment. But when I get still, I know those moments are beautiful because it’s me and my little babe rocking in the still of night together, comforting one another. Remember, this sweet time won’t last forever.
I read one article that described babies as hares or tortoises (read about that here), which was incredibly helpful. Of course, my baby is a tortoise. Change is hard for her just like it is for her mama. In time, she’ll learn that not all change is bad. She’ll learn how to be flexible and adjust to varied circumstances, but right now, for my baby, she needs her mama, not yet another sleep technique.
One of my favorite articles that I read was this one. It affirmed to me that I need to do for my baby what my baby needs, not what everyone is telling me my baby ought to do. It also taught me that my baby will sleep on her own through the night when she is ready, not when I force her to.
And the other thing is that my daughter will likely have her full set of teeth by her first birthday. She is continually teething. Teething hurts, guys. Breastfeeding makes it feel better. If you’re like me, you really don’t like to use medications or things with synthetic ingredients. I try to go as natural as possible. I used Copaiba oil and Thieves oil, which did help her a great deal (you can order them here), cold toys, and breastfeeding. On one particularly rough weekend I did use infant Motrin, which helped some, but didn’t really make any difference in her sleep. But if she just needs to nurse all night, and that helps her—naturally and organically—I will do it. This was another reason why, in my mind, my baby needed to sleep with me. I know some babies who sleep through the night, and those babies also don’t have even one tooth by seven months, let alone six teeth with a molar on the way by eight months.
Again, all babies are different.
2. Eventually your baby will sleep through the night.
Whether it’s from day one, at six months, at 12 months, or even at 18 months, one day this will be behind you, and sleep will return. I’m not there yet, but one thing I’ve always sought to do as a mother is to be present with my daughter. I try to ask myself every day: What is beautiful, wonderful, and unique to this stage alone in my baby’s development? How can I treasure that?
3. Do what’s best for your family.
I first transitioned my daughter into her nursery because I needed it for a time. I wasn’t sleeping at all, and I was getting mean with my husband because I felt he would wake the baby while getting ready for work in the morning. So, for our sake, I moved her into her room. I still don’t regret this decision. But now, it’s time to bring her back to me.
With a baby who went from waking three to four times a night to waking up six to eight times a night, getting myself out of bed to go into another room was hardly sustainable. The poor dear’s whimpers quickly escalated to cries of uncertainty and fear. I don’t want to come in and see her like that anymore. I know her brain is not being damaged, and I know it isn’t affecting our bonding. That is evident (and is proved by scientific research). But I know she doesn’t need that anymore, and my heart doesn’t either.
I’ve read about and tried sending my husband in because “if the baby isn’t due for a feeding then you shouldn’t feed her,” or “if it’s not time for the baby to eat, let her cry until it’s time to feed her,” or “send Dad in to comfort baby because the baby will get more upset if they smell Mom, but can’t get milk.” Can you just picture how exhausting this is? Maybe you don’t have to picture it because you’ve experienced it. If you haven’t, let me paint the picture for you.
Baby cries. I just fed baby an hour ago. Dad goes in to comfort baby. Baby cries even more because all she wants to do is nurse. Mom lies there in the other room, very awake, because she hears baby screaming.
Baby isn’t sleeping. Dad isn’t sleeping. Mom isn’t sleeping.
I know that if I were to go in there and nurse her, she would go to sleep instantly. You can tell me all you want about object permanence and how I’ve brought this on myself because I nurse her right before bed and so the only way she can go to sleep is by nursing. (Read more about Object Permanence here.) But let me tell you about the biological beauty of breastfeeding. Ever notice how by the end of a breastfeeding session you feel nice and drowsy, and your baby has dozed off, too? That’s the lovely oxytocin hormone that’s released during breastfeeding. It causes you and baby to relax and sleep. (More about the wonderful benefits of oxytocin here). I think to myself, Why not utilize this natural process of the body? I will nurse her to sleep, because at this point she goes to sleep peacefully without a tear.
So here’s what we do:
I have found what works best for our family, and I’m going to stick with it. We put her down for the night in her nursery around 7:45. We go to bed in our room with her in her nursery, and when she wakes for her next feeding I bring her in with us for the rest of the night. And I also realized that even though I could hear my husband getting up and ready for work in the morning, she couldn’t. She was next to her mama and slept through it all without stirring. I felt more rested because I wasn’t getting out of bed through the night but was able to just bring her close to me. I dozed in and out as she nursed herself back to sleep. It was beautiful. There were multiple moments I would shine a light on her in the night just to look at that peaceful face in the crook of my arm pressed against my breast with her little hand splayed out like a starfish on my chest. I missed this. I love this. And she will let me know when she is ready to move on from this.
Helpful articles on baby sleep:
Jen is a Balanced Breastfeeding mama and a nurse at The Birth Center. A version of this post originally appeared on Jen’s blog, Common Life.