When my daughter was five months old, she started waking almost every hour looking for boob to put her back to sleep and I was beside myself. She had been sleeping so well up until then, but now her sleeping was fitful and feverish. I knew that all babies woke a little at night, but were they supposed to wake every hour for days and weeks and months in a row?! It wasn’t just developmental stuff or teething, it had to be something else…
Category Archives: Co-Sleeping
When my older daughter was about three months old, my grandmother told me over the phone that all of her babies, at that age, were sleeping 12 hours through the night… TWELVE HOURS?! OMG! Margo was barely sleeping longer than three hour blocks, how the hell was she supposed to sleep for twelve hours straight?! And, if she did sleep through the night at that age, I think my boobs would have exploded!
Warmth, Security and Co-Sleeping
We co-sleep in our house. My 4 year old has a toddler bed right next to ours and our nearly 2 year old sleeps right in the middle of us. They never have to wake up and climb into our beds, because they’re already IN our bed. When my girls were babies, they had this sort of warmth/body radar. If they stirred and there wasn’t a warm body that they could roll around and smoosh up to, they would almost always wake up in distress. And, it’s for good reason! Babies have only been sleeping away from their parents, in separate rooms for the past hundred or so years. Before that, babies would only have slept right in their mother’s armpit, lest the wolves got to them or something. Night time is dark and scary. Having a trusted carer there, (at least in the same room), gives a strong sense of security and trust. Like, “Yes, I’m here. If you need anything, I’ll help you.” Trust that inevitably carries on for the rest of a child’s life!
Easy Access to Nutrition
Young babies need to feed several times throughout the night. Whether you’re breastfeeding or not, having your baby right next to you allows you to respond to their needs very quickly, before they become distraught. I mean, even if they don’t have a huge feed, they might be thirsty and need a little sip. Um, hello, I get up in the middle of the night for sip of water! I wouldn’t expect a baby, whose digestive tract is way shorter than an adults, to make it through the night without a little something to eat or drink!
Babies need to pee and poo!
Before I had my first, I remember watching a video that distinctly told you NOT to change a baby’s nappy if they were asleep! Even if they had done a poo, that you should leave it for the morning, unless they had a really bad rash.
Call me crazy, and I know it’s not for everyone, but I’ve been taking my babies to the toilet at night since they were born. They’ve never sat in their own waste at night. Taking a baby to the loo is called ‘elimination communication’. I also used cloth nappies, so if I did miss something… wet meant wet! Even disposables never worked to mask the dampness because my girls were so used to being dry. So… when I hear that a baby has been sleeping 10 or 12 hours through the night, my first though is, “OMG! Yeah, they were sleeping through the night in their own pee and poo!”
Babies Breath and Heart Rate
It’s been proven that babies who co-sleep have less overall apnea (periods when they stop breathing) and also their heart rate does not drop as low . Since a baby’s lungs and circulatory system are still developing, it’s actually not good if they go into such a deep sleep for a long time!
My Own Peace of Mind
Despite everything I’ve just said, it all comes down to how I would feel if I didn’t see or hear from my baby for 10 or 12 hours. It just wouldn’t seem right. It’s so unfortunate that these tiny little people, who are still adjusting to their world and are very dependent for every need, are expected to be out of sight and out of mind for so many hours in a row. Babies are not ‘some thing‘ that should be put off in another part of the house. They are members of the family and their needs should be responded to promptly. Sure, some babies sleep ‘well‘ at night. Mine certainly did for the most part. But, they really didn’t ‘sleep through‘ the night until they were about 20-22 months. And, for some kids sleeping through the night comes earlier or later or really never at all! It’s actually a myth that people should sleep 8 hours through the night in the first place! The eight hour ‘sleep‘ only came around during the industrial revolution with the 8 hour work day.
So, when people tell me that their young babies sleep through the night. I raise my eyebrows and say, “Really?! That’s strange!”
If your baby is waking up excessively, like more than 3 or 4 times a night, you might want to read this one I wrote 🙂
*Note- In the title, I’m mostly referring to babies sleeping through the night alone in another room*
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 McKenna, Thomas. ‘Why Babies Should Never Sleep Alone: A Review of the Co-Sleeping Controversy in Relation to SIDS, Bedsharing and Breastfeeding’. Pediatric Respiratory Reviews (2005) 6 134-152
Something beautiful and cozy and snuggly happens at least once, and usually twice a day in our house. A giant warm fluffy sleep bomb goes off at bedtime and for naps. It’s glorious and enticing. My kids get excited for sleep. We jump under the covers and giggle and cuddle (and hope that nobody farts). We talk about our day and say silly things. Maybe read a book or two. We talk and giggle some more. Then, usually, right when I start to get comfy, someone will shout out that they have to go to the toilet… sigh… up we all go. To the toilet, and then jump right back in bed, where we can cuddle again.
(Original post was written in July, 2013, but I heavily revised it since)
How much night waking is ‘normal’
Many women, especially the cosleeping/breastfeeding kind, at some point, become exhausted by constant night waking and get burned out (especially by the time your baby turns into a 2 or 3 year old and is still waking up all night long for boob). I’m all about on demand feeding, don’t get me wrong. And, I’m a strong advocate for cosleeping (actually, my kids don’t even have their own room, we all share one). My babies were chubby and fed as much as they pleased… BUT.. when my older daughter was about five months old, she was waking up almost every hour or more. I knew that something wasn’t right. It wasn’t just a few nights, it was way too frequent and way too many nights/weeks in a row. She seemed very restless and irritated. So, I started looking for gentle answers, not for my sake, but for hers, to see if constant night waking was really considered natural… I’m not talking the usual once or twice a night. I’m talking about excessive waking. Did cave babies used to wake up every hour? I had to find out.
BABIES WAKE TO PEE!
A little known secret in first world countries, where nearly all babies wear nappies (even mine), is that they can actually be taken to the toilet, day and night. Yes, it’s true! The ‘sleep experts‘ don’t mention this one much.
In the first world, we refer to responding to a baby’s toileting needs as elimination communication (EC).
Babies will not eliminate in a deep sleep.
First, they stir. So baby wakes, then, mom or dad have some routine of getting baby back to sleep. If you’re cosleeping and your baby is in your bed, often your first reaction is usually to stick the boob into the mouth or use whatever settling technique you use. Plug up the noise hole and pray that they go back to sleep. Sometimes they go back to sleep and you can ‘milk it‘ (haha, get it) for another hour or two, but then the stirring happens again… then the pee… then they’re wet.
No animal in the wild lets its baby poop and pee where it sleeps without cleaning it up. Human babies are not designed to sleep through the night anyway, especially because they to need eliminate several times a night or feed if they’re little (the frequency depends on the age of the baby). Even though it seems like practicing EC (elimination communication) with a baby at night is a huge pain in the arse, I often feel like it’s a matter of short term effort, long term benefit (ehm, longer stretches of sleep). Now, I know that not everyone is going to be jumping up and down with their hand up to take their baby to pee in the middle of the night. BUT, if you at least know that elimination is a reason for night waking, then you’re a step closer to understanding what’s going on. If you want to know more about EC, you can read a post I wrote here. Which brings us to the next secret…
Is Your Baby an All Night Boober? The Cycle of B00b –> Pee
It was a natural instinct for me to correlate frequent night feeds with frequent trips to the potty. So, I started lessening the amount of time I allowed on the boob per night feed. I would allow a nibble, not a huge meal, and then pull away. Or, sometimes not offer at all. Unless… my baby was going through a day time feeding strike, in which case, I allow for a little extra boob at night. But, constant night feeding, to me, just means that I have to wake up and take them to the potty more (yawn.. who wants to do that five times a night?). ‘What goes in, some must come out.‘ When I thought of it this way, it felt natural for me to shorten the night feeds. (This refers to older babies. I would never shorten the night feeds of a young baby) I didn’t read it from a book or anything. I think even the cave woman might have thought like that. They wouldn’t have wanted to get out from under their wooly mammoth skin rug at night, if their baby had to pee… I’m sure they would have encouraged smaller feeds at night for that reason!
Babies need to release stress during the day through crying (in arms only)!
In my research, I stumbled across Aletha Solter’s parenting movement called ‘Aware Parenting‘. She mentioned something called ‘cry in arms‘ and that really struck a chord in me. You see, I had been practicing and teaching yoga and meditation for years before I had kids. Some of the processes and techniques that I had practiced myself, meant that we sometimes released stress, from built up anger and frustration, in the form tears. We all know how emotionally beneficial and healing it is to have a ‘good cry‘. But, up until my daughter was five months old, I had done everything in my power to keep her from crying. I gave her boob even if she had already been fed. I rocked her. Distracted her. Bounced from side to side. I never tried a dummy (pacifier) but, I did almost EVERYTHING to stop the crying.
But, Aletha is saying to allow the crying (in arms and of course, after all needs have been met). Toss away the dummy, don’t jiggle, don’t rock, or anything that is a control pattern for them. Just hold your baby lovingly and let their emotions pour out. Most of the time, I was doing exactly the opposite!
Some parents go to the other extreme and put their baby in the other room to cry alone. But, Aware Parenting is saying to do something different. It’s not easy being born, and it’s not easy adjusting to life outside the womb. Babies get stressed just like adults, it’s just that they have little other ways to express their stress than through crying. Imagine if you were having a huge sob… would you want someone to make you stop crying by distracting you or by shoving something in your mouth? Or, would you rather just have a soft shoulder to cry on until you ‘got it all out‘? It’s the same for babies.
Again, going back to my meditation background. I know that if I don’t meditate sometime before going to bed, I have crazy dreams and have disturbed sleep. I need that stress release before bed. Similarly, babies and young children need some sort of stress release too. That release comes out in the form of a cry.
Once I started allowing my baby to cry, lovingly in my arms, when she needed it, she started sleeping so much better at night. We found a really good rhythm at night and her waking every hour for boob at night dropped almost immediately back to waking maybe two or three times a night (which is pretty reasonable, in my mind, for a baby of that age). I’ve done cry in arms with both of my girls. Keep in mind, the aim of doing cry in arms is actually not to get a baby to sleep better at night, it just happens to be one of the positive by-products!
To learn more about Aware Parenting and ‘cry in arms‘, I highly recommend reading Aletha Solter’s book, “Tears and Tantrums“. She explains in detail and with studies based research everything that I mentioned.
Re-Thinking Night Waking
Night waking in babies and ALL people, is totally normal (how do you think I write all my blogs at 1 in the morning.. I wake up and do them!) But, how frequent is another story. Obviously, if a child is sick, teething or going through developmental phases, they will certainly be more restless at night. There also other things to make the night waking less taxing on your system. Like, you going to bed earlier, cosleeping, diet, etc. But, if you look at the overall trend in you baby’s night waking, and it seems excessive, it might pay to consider a few things that many people overlook. Liquid in=liquid out. Boob addiction. And, allowing a baby to release stress and tension that accumulates during the day.
When people asked me if my babies were ‘easy‘, or if they were ‘good‘, my first reaction was to wince and then remind myself to smile and say ‘yes‘. I know they were only asking out of habit or lack of something better to say. I still give the same reaction when I hear someone saying, ‘Oh, we’re so lucky, we have suuuuuch a good baby‘. Wince. Smile. Read the rest of this entry →
I was fuming. Yes, me. Yogi, surfy, zen-mama Kate, was exhausted. I had a throbbing headache, my house was a mess and my 14 month old was up for two hours in the middle of the night. Read the rest of this entry →
I was being a smart alec tonight, and just for fun, I started googling the following ‘mean parenting‘ phrases to see what would turn up. Here are just a few that I looked for:
- how to get your kids to obey by smacking them
- ways to punish a child so they will turn out to be happy and loving adults
- cave babies didn’t know how to fall asleep, but were left to cry it out
- constantly yelling at kids turns them into loving adults Read the rest of this entry →
I sometimes call myself the ‘Nap Nazi’. Getting my kids down for a mid-day sleep at the same time is sort of my priority and I confess, I don’t like it when it doesn’t happen. My girls are 3 1/2 and 12 months, and since the little one was born, I’ve been pretty diligent at getting them to nap at the same time. Now, I am fully into gentle parenting, I would never do ‘Cry It Out‘ (or chuck ’em in the crib as some would say). We cosleep, babywear, do EC (elimination communication), tandem breastfeed (you see where I’m going with this). But I have to say, I am pretty stubborn when it comes to making sure that everyone gets some rest or ‘time out‘ and at the same time. Since it’s just me at home with them all day (everyday) without the help of a village or extended family (curse you industrial revolution), I feel like it’s all the more reason that I consciously make an effort to get my kids to sleep at the same time so that I can rest too! I think most mothers would agree that it’s really nice to have that time of peace… although, I know that many times the ‘peacefulness’ doesn’t always happen for various reasons… Read the rest of this entry →
Just a few minutes ago, I was doing the dishes and I heard little babe squawk for about the third time since I put her to bed a couple hours ago. My husband is in there with her, so the first two times, she easily settled back down and fell back asleep cuddled against him. But, when I heard her wake up for the third time, I thought, ‘Oh, she’s gotta pee‘. So, I took my dishwashing gloves off, went into the bedroom, where she was tossing and turning on the bed next to Art. She’s almost 11 months old. I pulled off her pants and cloth diaper, then held her over a little potty I have by the side of the bed. She complained a little, semi-cry, like, ‘man, this really stinks, I’m so tired and I want to be sleeping, but damn it, I have to pee!’. (come on, you know the feeling, haven’t you ever been so comfy in bed that you wish someone could get up and pee for you?). I wiped her off, plopped her back on the bed, put her dry diaper back on, laid down, gave her a few minutes of boobies, then pulled away. She complained a little (really wanted that boob still in her mouth), but then flopped over and squashed herself up against Art. I got up and went back to doing the dishes. Read the rest of this entry →