Babies don’t sleep when you want them to. Some babies don’t even sleep when they want to. Like teenagers, they want to stay up all night hanging out and socializing. Even when they feel so tired they could cry. Well, they do cry. And they can’t get to sleep.
Our job as parents is to nudge our babies into routines and habits that will service not just their immediate needs but their long term needs and the immediate and long term needs of their family.
Babies, as they grow, are also given boundaries around nighttime behaviour to encourage more sleep and less socializing at night. But some babies do not easily sleep through the night around 3 months like other babies. And, when “sleep through the night” is clinically defined as 5 hours of consecutive sleep, many parents are left chronically sleep deprived. This sleep deprivation is a dangerous thing. It results in poor mental and physical functioning. People are physically clumsier with prolonged exhaustion. Their resilience is depleted and they begin to develop the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Their health is worn down and they become more and more vulnerable to both viral and bacterial infection. Their executive functioning is hampered and the ability to organize thoughts, make decisions, make mental adjustments to changing circumstances tanks.
In short, people who are not sleeping well for long periods are sicker, more miserable, less motivated and not much fun to be around. Sound like a great way to spend your time as a new parent?
Many parents faced with this situation are choosing “sleep training” to help their young babies sleep longer at night. There are many different approaches to sleep training. Some parents choose to read a book or 5 that come highly recommended by friends and family or Amazon review. Other parents hire professional sleep consultants to assess their circumstances and provide step-by-step instructions on how to achieve better night sleeping for their baby.
But woe betide any parent who posts on Facebook or casually mentions their plans in group of mothers.
Acquaintances, professionals, total strangers from across the globe will all gasp and clutch their peals as they admonish these parents. The likelihood of someone telling a mom “you’re a bad parent” increases the more anonymous the relationship is between the two people. Friends and professionals will usually say more sly things. “If only parents understood what normal baby sleep was.” “But, babies need human touch and contact!” “You should sleep with them in your bed; then your whole family will sleep better.” That all sounds fairly innocuous from the outset. What’s really going on when people make these comments is an undermining of another parent’s confidence and an attempt to control them. The real messages: “You don’t know your baby, you want to deny your baby human kindness and you should be sacrificing your own needs and the needs of the rest of your family.” It’s a recipe for postpartum depression and anxiety!
And it’s all a lie.
Who knows what is normal? Does that mean what is normal for one baby or the majority of babies is normal for your baby? Normal is a made-up concept that doesn’t apply to individuals who have different needs and abilities from each other, and different needs and abilities from day to day. Normal is a lie. As a postpartum doula I have seen babies who gently drift off to sleep with little fuss and babies who cry for 20 minutes whether they are cuddled or left alone while showing clear signs of sleep readiness. I’ve seen babies who go with the flow and babies who thrive on routine.
There is no normal when it comes to small babies.
Don’t believe the person who assumes that because you want to get more sleep at night – so you and baby can function better during the day – that you love your baby any less. Yes, babies are social creatures who crave a lot of verbal interaction, physical touch and eye contact. They don’t need to get all of that between midnight and 7am, though. They can definitely get plenty of it throughout the daylight hours and thrive as growing people. Politely ignore all attempts to tell you how you should take care of your baby. You are the baby’s parent. You get to decide if they sleep in a crib in their own room, in a bassinet in yours or snuggled up next to you in bed. You get to decide if you need to take a break from physical interaction from your baby for a few hours every night as a good mental health care practice. If we are being straight up honest here, even if you want to parent your child in a way that is universally considered sub-optimal, you are allowed to do that because you are that child’s parent! You get to decide! And toss all the naysayers! Choosing to sleep shape, sleep train or establish what you feel are healthy sleep routines for your baby is your choice.
Your postpartum doula will support your plan.
She may even be able to help you improve your routines and techniques to help you and baby get more rest. Every postpartum consult starts with an in-depth talk about what your needs are. The postpartum doula will help you put together a postpartum plan that reflects what you want to do as a parent. They’ll help you discover your personal and unique parenting philosophy. If that philosophy includes helping your baby to sleep for longer stretches at night, we promise we won’t talk you out of it but provide you with resources and real world perspective on how to achieve your best sleep. Your postpartum doula will even come to your home to help with overnight baby care, even if you are breastfeeding, so you can get sleep.
You will get more sleep and you will wake up in the morning feeling stronger, happier and more competent.