A funny thing happens when you have a baby. People ask you “Is she good for you?” They don’t mean good in the sense of well-behaved. Or maybe they do, but only where well-behaved equals sleeping. What is this country’s obsession with sleeping through the night?
Honestly I think we have forgotten what normal infant behaviour is. We live in a formula-feeding culture, where the majority of infants are bottle-fed. And the consensus seems to be that formula milk, which is heavier and more difficult to digest than breastmilk, leads to deeper sleep for babies. And we have decided as a nation, that that deeper sleep is better, never questioning what the impact of it is on the infant to change their natural behaviour.
Added to that, the media bombards us with sleep trainers and parenting “experts”, all of whom make their money by claiming to help parents achieve this elusive full nights’ sleep. Together they perpetuate the notion that if you do things right, if you follow the rules, you’ll have a sleeping baby on your hands. Success.
But of course the opposite side of that coin is failure. And if you buy into the societal myth that it is developmentally normal and desirable for a baby to be sleeping through for 12 hours from a very early age (some believe as early as six weeks), then that is setting your average parent and baby up for a lot of “failure” in the first year.
At this stage (4.5 months) on my son, I was starting to get a bit frazzled. He had been sleeping well and then suddenly he wasn’t. I thought it was something I was doing. So I tried imposing a routine during the day, and I tried to change the feeds at night.
It goes to show how little I understood breastfeeding at the time. I switched out some of the night feeds for formula feeds not realising that doing so would impact my overall supply. Night feeds are the most important feeds for building and maintaining supply. By interfering with them, I was unwittingly bringing our breastfeeding relationship one step closer to the end.
And now here I am with my daughter and despite doing everything differently (feeding on demand, and following her cues rather than trying to impose a strict routine), her sleep pattern seems to be exactly the same as her brothers was at the same age.
But it’s easier on me this time around. Because you see this time I know that it won’t last. I will eventually sleep again. We’ll likely have a few bad weeks and then she’ll settle again. So I leave her be. I follow her cues. And I go to bed early and grab sleep where I can.
I find it hard to believe that my nights are no more broken now that they were with her brother because my ability to deal with the poor sleep is so far removed from what it was before. I feel relaxed about it. I don’t worry I’m doing anything wrong or that the broken nights are my fault in some way. While I would of course like more sleep, I don’t find I’m frustrated by her waking. She needs me and that’s okay.
I wish that as well as telling people about weaning and preparing for solid foods at the three month checkup, the public health nurses spent a little time preparing people for the four month developmental leap and growth spurt and reassured them that it is normal. Because it really is much easier to deal with when you know what to expect.