Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Should My Baby be Sleeping Through the Night?

I get asked pretty often about where Justus (21 months... I think) sleeps and how often he wakes up. I'd say 90% of the time it's asked by people who *know* I'm the co-sleeping kind and pretty much just want to show me their shocked reaction to my answers. I love sleeping with my babies, I cherish the time they spend in our 'family bed' and miss it when they transition to their own space. There seems to be such a tremendous amount of pressure in our culture for babies to be sleeping on their own and straight through the night as soon as possible. I believe this stems from the selfish nature of the parents to get their routine back and not be "manipulated" by their child who was obviously born programmed to sabotage their sleep LOL Sounds awful silly but this is so true it's painful. How were we convinced that our children are an enemy we need to control or be controlled by? Anyway, I'm trailing off with a million thoughts based on the irrational mainstream parental mumbo-jumbo I'm exposed to on a regular basis when I'm preggers.

On to the reason for this post. There are a few very well meaning people who ask me because they are truly curious about how long it should take before baby is sleeping through the night and whether or not night waking is a sign of the baby needing heavier food before bedtime or stricter crib rules or whatever. Here is an article discussing these very issues.

Should My Baby be Sleeping Through the Night?
by Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC

It's so common for mothers to worry when their babies don't sleep through the night. After all, everyone knows they're "supposed to." Some doctors recommend nighttime weaning and "cry it out" methods if your baby is not sleeping through the night by 6 months or even earlier. Even when the mom herself has no problems with baby nursing at night, she still worries that this is a problem, since American society seem to consider it one. There are books all over the bookstores with advice on solving so-called "sleep problems."

First, please ignore what everyone else says about your baby's sleep habits and what is "normal." These people are not living with you or your baby. Unless your doctor sleeps in the next room and your baby is keeping him awake every night, he has no reason to question a healthy baby's sleep habits. If you and your baby enjoy nighttime feedings, then why not continue? It's a great way to have time with her, particularly if you are apart during the day.

Every baby is different, and some sleep through the night earlier than others (schedules or food usually have nothing to do with this). Your baby may be hungry (keep in mind that breastmilk digests in less than 2 hours) or she may just want time with you. Babies whose mothers work during the week often nurse more at night and on weekends, perhaps to reconnect with Mom.

Doctors tend to look at night nursing only from a nutritional standpoint, but this is only part of the story. After the first few months, your baby will begin to associate the breast with far more than just a way to satisfy hunger and thirst. It becomes a place of comfort, security, warmth, closeness, and familiarity. The act of nursing is not just nourishing; it is nurturing. Keep in mind that these needs are every bit as real as baby's physical ones, and having them met is every bit as needful to baby's overall development.

If the amount that your child sleeps and nurses at night isn't a major problem for you, then there's no reason to try to change anything. You are not doing a bad thing by nursing on demand; you are doing a wonderful thing for your baby. When you comfort baby at night, you are not teaching her a bad habit: you are teaching her that you are there for her when she needs you. Is security a bad habit?

What is normal when it comes to baby's sleep?

It is common for breastfed babies to not sleep through the night for a long period of time. On the other hand, some breastfed babies start sleeping through the night when a few months old.

Both of my children nursed once (occasionally more) at night through their second year. Since this doesn't bother me, I did doing nothing to change it. We co-sleep, and neither my baby nor I generally wake up completely when she nurses. Both started sleeping through the night on their own, when they were ready.

Your baby will begin to comfort herself and to sleep for longer stretches at her own developmental pace. If your baby wants to nurse at night, it is because she does need this, whether it's because she is hungry or because she wants to be close to Mom. Sleeping through the night is a developmental milestone - like walking or toilet training - that your baby will reach when she is ready to. Trying to force or coax baby to reach this before her time may result in other problems later on.

If you can try to take a more relaxed approach and trust that it will come in time, you'll see your baby eventually become a good sleeper. You'll be able to rest peacefully in your heart and mind knowing that she reached this in her own time when she felt secure enough to do so, not because she had no other choice but to quiet herself because no one would come.

Probably one of the main reasons that night-waking babies are such a big issue is that parents don't have realistic expectations of the sleep patterns of babies. We are bombarded with magazine articles and books that perpetuate the myth that babies should not have nighttime needs. Babies were designed to wake up often at night to feed and cuddle, and keep in mind that many adults wake during the night, too. If our expectations for babies were not so different from our babies' expectations for themselves, much of this "problem" might disappear.


Tereza said...

My babies are terrible sleepers!!

Anyhow I thought you might enjoy

the platts said...

My lovely babe of 2 yrs is wonderful to sleep with...and she only wakes up 5 or 6 times a night to nurse...i love knowing she still wants me that much!

CunninghamRules!! said...

Thanks for this post, I love it. My son Jafeth is 2 and 8 months and still nurses once or twice a night and doesn't sleep through the night. Sometimes I have to remind myself that it is "okay", especially since nobody else is doing it:-) hehe

Christine said...

So true! as a LLL leader, I find myself regularly having to reassure moms that it's totally biologically appropriate for their x-month old to be waking up at night.

I wish it weren't THE question to ask new moms. UGH. Way to undermine her confidence in her ability to know and meet her baby's needs.

(Making up for lost time here, eh? ;) )

Michelle said...

Just thought I would comment on. There seems to be so much judging of moms and how they raise their kids. In the end as long as each family is happy and their style is working for them to produce well rounded individuals - I think that is all that matters.
I loved sleeping with Colton. He was so cozy and cuddly. Saying that I hated getting up to bottle feed in the middle of the night. It just isn't quite as easy as breastfeeding. First you have to get the bottle, heat it up, and then feed. It just takes way too long, and you have to wake-up fully to complete the process properly. So, I would probably love the ease of breastfeeding.

I actually quoted some of your thoughts to a girlfriend of mine who was having doubts about her little one, based on critical comments from other moms.

Angel said...

Michelle you're absolutely right! Having to bottle feed can be very stressful and challenging, especially in the night hours, because while a bottle is being prepared/heated the baby is crying not understanding why the need isn't being responded to a.s.a.p.

When breastfeeding, my babies never even fully wake up, they just sort of root around for the nipple, half in and half out of consciousness. I never fully wake to nurse them either, I just move myself into an easier position for baby to latch on and once that latch is established I'm off into dreamland again. It allows the opportunity for MUCH needed restful and peaceful sleep that bottle feeding can't.

All that said, it's still so wonderful that you had that experience with Colton :-) What a special bonding time that must have been for you both!