How’s she sleeping?” they ask. “She” being my infant daughter and “they” being literally everyone who has ever talked to me about my daughter. I pause and carefully form my response in my head. “Um, she sleeps ok,” I stammer. “She’s just not really a fan of sleeping, but she’s getting better!” I add.
How does she sleep, you ask?
Here’s what I really want to say: How does she sleep, you ask? Well, she sleeps like any baby does, I suppose. Laying down, but sometimes while held, and with her eyes closed. Well, except for when she does that weird thing where her eyelids kind of open and her eyes roll back into her head like my grandmother’s used to do when she fell asleep sitting up. Most nights she can get a good 2-3 hour stretch before waking to nurse. But does she sleep for 12 hours straight in her crib while I get a glorious full night of sleep like I did pre-baby? NO. No, my baby does not sleep through the night and never has and that is OK.
She doesn’t sleep and that’s okay.
I want to tell them how even though I haven’t felt well rested since before I went into labor with her, it’s OK. Believe it or not, I signed up for this gig. I very much wanted to be a mom and I accept what comes with it. I believe that babies are born doing what they are naturally meant to do and for good reason. So, if my little girl doesn‘t sleep for 12, or even 6 hours without waking, that doesn‘t mean something is wrong with her. I want to explain to them that if my baby wakes at night and needs to be comforted or reassured or nursed to feel safe and secure and go back to sleep, then that’s OK. It’s what babies do. (This Kelly Mom article can tell you all about normal sleep patterns in babies!)
The fear of judgment.
But I don’t say this. For fear of being judged. For fear of being pitied. For fear of someone suggesting I try “such and such” method. These days it’s as if the amount of hours your baby sleeps consecutively at night might as well be equal to how successful you are at mothering, and that would mean I’m not a successful mother.
I am a good mother.
But here’s the thing. That’s not true. I am a good mother. For me and my family, co-sleeping and night nursing are OK. That’s not to say I think it’s the right way or only way for all babies and families. You need to do what works for you. However, I really wish it were more common knowledge just how normal and natural it is for babies to not sleep through the night.
How we can help.
Instead of suggesting to exhausted new moms that they do the opposite of what their mothering instincts are telling them to do (i.e. nurse or comfort their babies at night when they need it) we need to be supporting them. We should be sympathizing with their exhaustion by offering real help like bringing over meals, offering to do some housework, etc. Not making them feel inadequate. Instead of suggesting all the things they could try to get their little one to make it through the night, simply tell them what an amazing mama they are for giving their baby what they need. Tell them this is a phase in their baby‘s life and it won’t last forever. Tell them you support them. Tell them if their baby doesn‘t sleep through the night, it’s OK.