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Good babies sleep

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.

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13 Responses to “Good babies sleep”

  1. Sinead says:

    Oh Lisa that first paragraph, this has been driving me demented!

    L is 12 weeks and people keep asking if she’s good or commenting how good she is, as if she chooses to be upset or “bold”.

    I thought it was just me being pedantic about language (because I am).

    • It could well be me being pedantic about language (because I also am) but I don’t think so. I think it’s a throw back to a time when good children were seen and not heard. And I guess it was the same for good babies.

  2. office mum says:

    When my first daughter was six weeks old, I was told that she should be sleeping through the night. I felt as though I was doing something wrong, and this continued for months and months. Sadly I was no wiser for my second baby and also thought there was something wrong when she continued to wake every night at seven months old. It was only with my third baby that I finally had the knowledge that babies are not supposed to sleep through the night and that it’s not a sign of failure if they don’t (though I did start to get fed up when he was 18 months!!)
    office mum recently posted..A new kind of childcare betrayalMy Profile

    • I really feel we do parents a disservice by feeding them the lie about when it’s expected for babies to sleep through. I remember when my son was 6 or 7 months old, speaking to a woman whose son was the same age and mentioning I was tired due to broken sleep. “I wouldn’t stand for it” she said. As though it were a battle of wills.

  3. Christine says:

    Oh, one other thing. The technical definition of sleeping through the night is five hours in a row, not eight. My son got to five quite early, but it was always the wrong five from my point of view, as he’d sleep solidly from about 10pm to 3am and then be wide awake for a couple of hours.
    Christine recently posted..Back to school in AmericaMy Profile

  4. Julie says:

    At the 3 month check was the PHN talking to you about weaning off breast milk?

  5. Joanna says:

    I was going to say what Christine said, at 4 months I would consider sleeping through the night to far less than 12 hours. My two were great sleepers from early on (way way past four months!) and still are but changes in their daily routine never seemed to affect that. I also find language like that hard to take and I often wondered why absolutely everyone used to ask that because none of those people were going to be affected by the baby’s behaviour or sleep routine.

  6. Caítríona says:

    I love this post so much. There is no such thing as a bad baby! Great writing L.
    Caítríona recently posted..Dear Miley CyrusMy Profile

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  1. Christmas reading: A 2013 bloggy round up - […] term “sleeping through the night” in STTN. Mama.ie talked about the concept of “good babies” and what it really …

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