I like to frequent several parenting groups throughout the interwebs, and I’ll bet you’re not surprised that infant sleep is one of the most common threads I see on these pages.
“My baby wakes every two hours!”
“My baby was sleeping through the night but stopped at four months!”
“My baby only sleeps in my arms!”
I’d like to say I’ve never said these things or felt this way, but I’ve been there too. And when you don’t really understand what’s happening, it can be the most exhausting and frustrating period of your entire life. Why won’t the kid just SLEEP?!
I’m not going to tell you how much of a better mom I am or how I “cured” my children of sleeplessness or neediness and how they’re “such great sleepers!” now. That would be a huge pile of poo and not helpful in the least. I’m going to keep it real and share a few realizations I’ve come to over the years. These realizations didn’t make my kids sleep any better (and I didn’t get much more sleep either), but knowing and understanding what’s really happening can tremendously ease a tired mom’s mind. A peaceful, tired mind is better than a frazzled, tired mind.
First thing first. Babies are babies. They are not animals to be trained. They are not adults and shouldn’t be expected to keep an adult routine. They do not suddenly become self-sufficient after lying alone for two hours. However, they are a lot more simple than we give them credit for. Babies need food, fresh bottoms, and lots and lots of comfort. They don’t need to learn how to do anything. They just need to experience life in a safe, loving way. That’s it.
Secondly, babies wake up for a reason. And guess what! It’s not because they’re little jerks. Babies wake up because they’re hungry, confused, scared, lonely, etc. All of these reasons are equally legitimate and normal. Meeting your baby’s emotional and mental needs is just as important as meeting their physical needs. If your baby could say, “I’m so hungry,” you’d feed them, right? If your baby could say, “I’m so scared,” you’d reassure them, right? Babies cry to communicate. If your fed and freshly changed baby is still lying in bed crying, it’s safe to assume they have another very real need that only the arms of a parent can meet.
And you can’t spoil a baby. I know you’ve heard some say you can and some say you can’t. But let’s think about this logically. By definition, spoiling means to diminish or destroy the value or quality of and to harm the character of (a child) by being too lenient or indulgent. Do we really believe comforting our children is damaging to their quality? Do we really believe showing our child dependable love will harm their character? Is holding our child really seen as an indulgence to offer when we feel lenient? We need to drop that whole idea right this minute.
And the biggest mind blower for me… We’re trying to meet the expectations of people that don’t even matter. Who’s bright idea was it to insist (sometimes force) all babies to sleep great lengths of time in a room all by themselves? This is not normal behavior for any living being on the planet. Yet we have medical doctors (who aren’t qualified to assess behavioral, mental, or emotional needs), for-profit sources (buy this book, get more sleep!), or society as a whole (is she a good baby? sleeping through the night for you?) telling us that we NEED to have our infants sleeping long stretches, independently, at all costs, and by any means necessary…even if it rips at our hearts and damages our baby’s trust.
The bottom line here is I will meet my baby’s expectations and no one else’s. I will not veer from the perfectly natural habit of responding to my crying child. I will not deviate from the perfect design of baby and mother interaction that’s worked so well for centuries.