Infant Sleep Obsession
|From a reader.|
It's official; we care more about how long a baby sleeps than any other aspect of their growth or development. Sleep length is the ultimate measure of baby goodness and parent competence.
This makes me feel kind of sad, I have to admit. Because really, babies are so much more than just sleep. My feelings on infant sleep have run the gamut over the years as I have made my way through four different babies with four very different sleep habits.
In fact, as I type my kids are one by one (or two by two) making their slap-footed way out of their room to disturb my nighttime typing. Yeah- slightly irritating.
Baby one- I was a Dr Sears devotee and baby had a normal infant wake cycle where he woke about every two hours to eat.
Baby two- I was kind of burnt out from all that attachment parenting stuff and was blessed with a baby that slept 8-10 hours straight each night. I was convinced it was because of my new found Harvey Karp devotion and was sure to let everybody know how they too could be as awesome as me.
Baby three- As it turns out, even though I had procreated twice before and even though I did everything right, I actually knew ZERO about kids/infants/parenting/and sleep. She started sleeping around the age of two. BOOO!!!
Baby four- And I got lucky again. She slept with us like a husband. She would wake up sometimes to eat but not every hour. She was so sweet and wonderful...still is. By this time I had given myself the gift of not worrying so much. Try it some time. It is awesome.
Sleep obsession- I understand it. I have been there. Sleep deprived. Freaking out. Acting funny. Hallucinating. Not trusting myself on balconies. I remember when I was kind of strung out and angry about all this sleep or lack thereof that a friend of mine just said, "It doesn't last that long. Enjoy them."
Bah humbug! I rolled my eyes. She doesn't understand. Her kids are older. She doesn't remember the feelings of my heart!
But now...now, I am starting to think she was right.
Now my youngest is two. Most nights I sleep pretty good. Most nights the kids go to bed and stay in bed and they sleep all night. Sure, I often awake with a few little people wedged in our bed around us, but I don't notice it and it doesn't ruin my night.
Now, when I hear new parents comparing sleep lengths and times between feedings (admit it- almost everybody does it), well, I just feel a little sad.
I feel a little sad for all the parents who spend their days counting, scheduling, and overall obsessing about infant sleep patterns and length and how far they can go between feedings because frankly, there isn't a whole lot of joy in that. I feel sad because I think they are missing out a bit on the beauty of the baby.
Babies are so much more than their sleep. They are human beings. They need love. They need food. They need comfort. Those things are needs to them. NEEDS.
Do adults need sleep? Of course they do. If your child's lack of sleep is harming your sanity, ruining your marriage, and giving you serious anxiety, then by all means find something that works for you. A book, a method, a trick, a song, a swaddle, a carrier, WHATEVER. I have been there and done that and I know how it feels to live in CRAZY TOWN. (I have the big house on the left, on the corner of Nuts Circle and Zoloft Drive.)
Yes. Parents need sleep. They need time for themselves and they need mental stability and sleep is part of that. Yes- it is HARD to raise a baby gently and intuitively in a fractured and anti-family society like our own. And yes, we will have to make use of some modern conveniences and even techniques to preserve our own peace of mind.
But you know what else- Parents DO NOT need eight solid (or 10 or 12) hours of sleep each night. They don't need to force, push, cajole, trick, or starve a new baby into a fairly unnatural 10 hour solid sleep block for their own sanity.
In addition, parents certainly don't need to push their very young baby (less than six months) to sleep these very long stretches. I will always remember, years ago, talking to a mom whose four week old had been put on a strict 10 hour sleep schedule at night. (They had worked "really hard" letting him cry to get him to do this.) She was very confused about her lack of milk supply. I was very confused about how she felt that was an OK way to treat a newborn and a fellow human.
Think about this for a moment. Let's say that your baby is fairly normal and the first few weeks they wake up every two hours. Then around three or four months they start having some longer stretches- say three or four hours at a time. Then around a year they are only up once or twice to eat. (PS- at 18 months all hell breaks loose- you deserve to know that. There is nothing you can do about it. This does definitely suck and you may suddenly be up every hour. Freak out time! This tends to happen no matter how well or badly they slept earlier. It is called MOLARS.)
Looking back, aren't you going to feel kind of silly for spending so many hours obsessing and letting a baby cry or go hungry so that you could have more sleep? Will you feel a little bad when you realize that this was just a blip in your parenting journey and one that would have righted itself within a year or so on its own? I know this- because it righted itself in my kids.
Think of all the time you wasted when you could have been hugging, holding, rocking, kissing, loving, smelling, nursing, and feeding that sweet little one.
The truth is, the time does go fast and we should cherish it a little.
(Oh crap. I just realized my last post was called, "True Confessions: I Don't Enjoy Every Moment". I may actually be schizophrenic...)
Babies are special. They are programmed to need love and food almost constantly. They have small stomachs. They also have personalities all their own from birth. Some will take easily to a schedule, some will make their own, some will sleep and some not so much.
Take a moment and step back and just hold your baby and enjoy them for what they are right then- in that moment. Yes- it might be hard sometimes. In fact, I can guarantee it will be. But it will pass. I know I want to look back and feel like I held them as much as I could and that I gave them the love they needed. The sad truth is that babies are much easier in many ways than older kids. They just need YOU. No help with homework or moral guidance. Babies are fairly simple creatures with fairly simple needs; love, food, mom, love, and tender arms. Give them that- a little piece of yourself. Give them the sacrifice they need from you.
Give your baby what they need and stop comparing sleep times with everybody else. That other stuff doesn't really matter.