When it was mentioned that we were doing a sleep series and asked if we had any tips & tricks that worked for us, I posted a response that was something like, “Bwahahaha! Not unless you want me to write about how my kids DON’T sleep and how nothing that those books say ever applied to them!”
But you know what? Maybe another mom out there does need me to write about how my kids (now 2.5 and almost 4) never slept through the night as babies. Because not all babies need the same amount of sleep to be The Happiest Baby on the Block, and not all of them need Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child to be a Happy Child. And maybe we should all just stop listening to what someone else tells us how our children should act.
Let me back-track.
For my first child, the ability to sleep for long periods of time probably wore off by about 3 months. He was fully alert and aware of his surroundings by then, and he wanted to par-tay. Not just at night, but during the day too.
Instead of multiple naps throughout the day, he would often stay awake ALL DAY LONG, no matter how much he was fed, rocked, put into a swing, despite babywearing and infant massage and an established routine. Some days, he just wasn’t having any of it when it came to sleep. I once saw him stay up for 10 hours straight at around 6 months old. But he also didn’t make up for his lack of sleep at night. Regardless of how many naps he had skipped during the day, he was up every 3-4 hours all night long.
This went well into his 10th month of life. By then, he was down to waking once a night at 3am, but since I worked until 10pm and he woke up for the day at 5am, this was hardly great. By then, I was also 4 months pregnant with my daughter and starting to have trouble sleeping due to pregnancy discomfort.
Before you start offering advice, let me assure you: I have read that book. Yes, that book, whichever one you are recommending right now that worked great for you. I did a blog post about all the things that I tried and there was not one suggestion I received that I hadn’t already tried or didn’t try after that.
My favorite approach, for the record, was The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems book. I love the way she approaches understanding your child, rather than forcing them to live a certain way.
But here’s the thing that made none of those books work: my son was not crying when he woke up at night.
He would just wake up and start talking, laughing, singing, and calling for us to join in. At 3am. VERY LOUDLY. As in, so loudly that you can’t ignore it because there is a very loud party going on. Therefore, it was difficult to apply “cry it out” theory when no one was crying. It was difficult to soothe when he wasn’t really upset. But it was also impossible to ignore the party. If we tried, he started jumping on the bed, a skill that he acquired by 8.5 months of age. As he got stronger and heavier, that was kind of a safety issue. As the song goes, we couldn’t stop the party.
When my next baby came along, she seemed so easygoing. She would nap anywhere during the day and she took regular naps. She didn’t skip naps at all! And for the first few months she even slept well, for a newborn. Not “through the night”, but only waking briefly before I went to sleep and at 3am or 4am. The problem was, she just kept on doing that…and doing that…and just would not stop that 3am waking. No matter what we tried. And she was an angry one!
Now there was an issue with the crying, because my son had just started sleeping through the night in the past few months and I did not want to start him back with the waking up. At this point, I really didn’t even try the books. I’d read them all. I’d tried all the things. The strategy was: keep her as close to me as possible so that when she does wake up, I can get to her before she wakes her brother. Again, like my son, she was an extremely happy child during the day. Possibly even more than he was, even though she didn’t sleep like the books said she should.
And that is the point, really. There was nothing wrong with either of my children, and there still isn’t. They meet and exceed all their milestones. People stop me at church and in stores and tell me that they are such happy kids, and they are!
They are now officially preschoolers and they do sleep all the way through the night. They still don’t sleep the number of hours that other peoples’ children do or that the books say that they should. They go to sleep very late at night and they wake up early, requiring us to buy special clocks to force them to stay in bed. But you know what? That’s OK.
I learned two things from my children’s lack of sleep training:
1) Those sleep experts don’t actually know how many hours of sleep my particular child needs. The recommended total hours of sleep that a baby needs doesn’t always fall within the range listed in a book. Sure, 13-15 hours per 24 hour period sounds great! If you’re keeping your baby up longer than he or she can handle and dropping them below 13 hours because you have things to do and you’re ignoring their cues, that’s definitely a problem. But I’d venture to say that most of us don’t do that.
Most of us want our children to sleep as much as possible so that they can grow in a healthy way. We put them to bed at a fairly consistent hour and we provide the things they need to sleep safely and soundly. It’s just that some of them don’t need the maximum amount of hours, and some of them barely even reach the minimum. My babies were both super happy and healthy and meeting all their developmental milestones. That number in the book was just a number, and I shouldn’t have let it stress me out so much.
2) My attitude about my own sleep was the problem, not the amount of sleep my children were getting. By the time my daughter was a few months old, I had a running tally in my head of each increment of sleep that I’d had in the past 24 hours. 10:30-midnight, 1am-3am, 3:30am-5:30am…hm, that’s 5 hours of sleep. Oh wow, I’ve only had 5 hours of sleep! Mentally knowing the number of hours of sleep I got became an obsession, if I’m honest. Then I heard a mom at my church talk about what kinds of things we let our minds dwell on and I realized I’d been dwelling on something that I couldn’t even control.
As soon as I let go of my internal tracking and just slept when I could and allowed myself to accept whatever I received with a grateful heart, my whole outlook changed! I wasn’t storming around the house angry every morning because of how many times my daughter woke up. I could be a much better mom when I stopped defining my day by what happened last night.
A note on sleep deprivation: I attended a conference a few weeks ago where postpartum mood disorders were discussed, including postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. I realized that sleep deprivation at the level I experienced for 3 years with my children is a huge risk factor for PMAD. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms as a result of your children not sleeping, please seek help immediately. You are not crazy!
Postpartum Support International has a warm line with a real person that you can talk to 24/7,
please visit their web site or call 1-800-944-4PPD.
Now that my children are both well past the baby stage, I frequently look back on those years and think about what I would tell a first time mom so that she can avoid my mistakes. Here is what I would say about sleep: it’s not everything. Yes, it’s good for you to have sleep and your baby needs sleep.
But no one is allowed to judge you based on when your baby sleeps through the night. You are a good mom. Keep trying.
You are a good mom.