How is she sleeping? Is she a good sleeper? Are you guys getting any sleep?
Ok, if you don’t have anything else to say, you can just admire my darling baby, you don’t have to ask me how she is sleeping. Did I miss something? Babies wake up at night! They need to eat, for starters (especially the wee ones), they stir and startle and… they have to pee! They need to make sure somebody is there! Heck, I get up at least once or twice to relieve myself, don’t you? I like to roll over and know that someone is next to me, and it’s my husband, and not the Boogie Man. So, what’s the deal with everyone fussing about a baby not sleeping through the night? Once, when Margo was about 5 months old, she was going through a period of waking nearly ever hour! In desperation, I did some research and I read that humans are really supposed to be ‘opportunistic sleepers’ and that got me thinking that maybe I should investigate my expectations of a baby sleeping at night.
What did the ancient people do?
I always go back to ‘what did the cave people do?’. How did they sleep? Did they have to get that solid ‘eight hours of sleep’? I majorly doubt it. Well to start, they didn’t have clocks, or electricity. When the sun went down, it got dark… ok, you can light a fire, but really, what else do you want to do? So, they would go to bed! There is something really cool called Segmented Sleep. The theory is that your sleep is broken up into different parts of the day. The first sleep, the deep, heavy sleep, is right after dark. Then, you wake up in the middle of the night for an hour or two, then go back to bed and sleep a ‘lighter sleep’ until the sun comes up. An afternoon siesta snooze is usually included in this type of segmented sleep.
Also, ancient people didn’t have this rubbish idea of the ‘eight hour work day’. They didn’t have to get 100% of their sleep at night because they could rest for at least a little during the day. If the cave woman’s baby woke up in the middle of the night, she wasn’t thinking, ‘Crap, go back to bed, please! I have to work tomorrow!!!’. She could lay down, feed and cuddle with the baby until it went back to bed, knowing that she could snooze later on the next day!
How can a baby truly sleep though the night?
Are you still breathing!?
I was probably worse with child #1 than with child #2, but I still frequently check on that little baby’s chest, just to make sure it’s moving up and down, breathing… you’re still alive!. Since we co-sleep, luckily, I only have to crack an eye open during the night to make sure she’s still alive. Come on, you know what I’m taking about!!!! Paranoid parents! (Then, you poke him or her and they start to stir and you think, ‘Oh no!!! Go back to sleep!). Ok, but really, infants are just learning how to breathe and live. They don’t sleep so deep and heavy for a reason. In fact, one of the main reasons why the studies now say to have a baby sleep on their back rather than their tummy is because a baby on its back sleeps less deep! (I’m not saying you can’t put a baby on it’s tummy, lots of babies prefer this position, and to hell with all the ‘studies’). Maybe next time your baby wakes up in the middle of night, you can think, ‘Oh, hello, you’re awake and breathing, that’s super fantastic!’.
On the breast or bottle, all young babies need to feed at night. They get thirsty, they get hungry. I always get a sip of water in the middle of the night… do you?
When my first daughter, Margo was about 5 months old, my grandmother started telling me that she should be sleeping 12 hours through the night!!! WHAT?! 12 hours! No way man! I mean, how can a baby last that long with out even some liquid? And, my very next thought: What about having to pee! How many hours would a baby be sitting in their own urine if they were to sleep 12 hours through the night (using cloth diapers, a baby would feel it much more).
Sleep experts, sleep training, baby sleep whisperers,,, they all know that babies have small tummies and get hungry… but do they also consider that babies have small bladders too! I practice elimination communication (EC) with my kids. In other words, when they have to eliminate, rather than always letting them go in a diaper, I take them to the potty. I even take little 6 week Goldie to the ‘bucket’ and she stays dry through the night, as long as I take her once or twice. Goldie’s elimination cycle, very closely matches the ‘segmented sleep’, schedule, mentioned earlier. Her first sleep is very deep, she usually lasts until 2am or so. Then, she starts squirming and wiggling, so eventually, I peel my eyes open, take her to the bucket, we have a feed and a cuddle, and she’s back to bed. The rest of the morning she does a lighter sleep and will wake every 2 hours or so until about 6 or 7am. As long as I ‘wee’ her and feed her, she usually falls asleep straight away. A very similar pattern was observed with my first daughter, Margo, until she was about 19 months, (unless she was going through a phase of waking on the hour) and then she started sleeping through the night.
Broken Sleep During Pregnancy
During pregnancy, mainly during the third trimester, it gets very uncomfortable to sleep for long periods of time. It’s your body’s way of getting itself ready to be waking up with a baby all night, for sure! It’s not insomnia, ladies! It’s mother nature getting you ready! Broken sleep is on the way!
Take a Nap!
Part of waking up with a baby at night, is being able to rest with them during the day. With only one small child, this routine is pretty easy to work out. My routine with a toddler and a newborn is only 6 weeks old, but so far, I have done my best to put them to sleep at the same time and either take a nap with them, or do my meditation and breathing, if I haven’t already. Today we had a three hour nap together! That’s the only reason I have enough brain power to write this blog now.
Obviously, the way our society works, a daytime nap is not always an option! For one, if you’re at work, your employer wouldn’t be too happy, if you said, ‘Hey man, my baby was up all night, mind if I hit the hay for a while?’. What did the cave people do? Imagine if we lived in a village with aunties and cousin, etc. Even if you had other children, you could say, hey, my baby needs to take a nap, can you watch the other kids so I can snooze for a bit? Or, maybe everyone would still take a nap together? I bet so. In our house, naps happen because a big contagious sleep bomb goes off! But, we live in a rather isolated society, meaning, we can’t call on grandparents, aunties and cousins on a daily basis. So, you may not always be able to catch some z’s, but do your best to take a little snooze rather than reach for the coffee (ok, do both), it’s natural to have a rest with your baby! I sometimes just tell Margo go stay in the bedroom while I quickly snooze with Goldie and I let her tear apart some drawers and boxes, but at least I can usually snooze for 15 minutes or so, if I’m desperate.
Leonardo Da Vinci was said to practice a type of segmented sleep, where he slept for four hours and woke for four hours through out the day and night. In many cultures, it is more common to have this broken up sleep. Eight hours of sleep is often hard for an adult to accomplish, let alone a baby! I don’t know, Da Vinci was on to some things… pretty enlightened dude, if you ask me, maybe he knew something about sleep patterns too?
I’m Going to Bed Now
Babies wake up at night… it’s just the way it is. Some babies wake more than others. Sometimes, when a baby wakes constantly in this manner, they may need to relieve some stress and have a good cry. There’s a post I wrote on that, Cry Only in My Arms. But, really, it’s our society and the expectations of work and living in relative isolation (without family and friends to help), that makes us stress when our baby wakes at night. They don’t wake up forever in the middle of the night, that is for sure. One day, when they’re teenagers, you’ll be banging on their door and ripping the covers off them to to get them up in time for school. But, while they’re little, just remember that sleep is ‘opportunistic’. Catch it while you can!