In today’s overcomplicated and extra-judgey society, the holy grail of new mummyhood is having a baby who sleeps (and not on you).
If you have managed to convince your little one to sleep through the night, then you are winning at life and get a gold star in parenting 101. And, if your infant still wakes up once, twice, or more a night, then you might as well give up on mothering right now. No stickers for you.
Really? Of course not. But this is how mums who don’t have self settlers (or mums who choose to co-sleep) are often made to feel – like we have failed because our kids still need us at night.
This sense of failure and guilt isn’t fair. We are good mums, dammit, even if our kids suck at sleeping alone. So the next time you’re battling with the guilt fairy over tending to your wakeful warrior, keep these important things in mind:
No one sleeps perfectly every night
Babies aren’t the only ones who suck at sleeping. Most toddlers aren’t so great either. Teenagers are pretty good sleepers, but they are a rare breed. And adults? Many don’t sleep straight through every night, unless we’ve taken a hefty dose of sleeping pills (or wine).
No one likes to sleep alone either
Most of the time, we don’t sleep alone. Well, when our partners are taking up the ENTIRE bed with their big man legs, then yes, we do. But, mostly, we co-sleep. We enjoy human contact when we fall asleep, body warmth from another human throughout the night and cuddles early in the morning.
So why would babies require anything less?
Babies love (and need) contact
Babies require even more warmth, connection and cuddles than adults, especially during those first few weeks when they are getting used to their womb-free world. If you woke up in a strange contraption, cold, alone and probably hungry, wouldn’t you cry out for someone to come and save you? I certainly would.
Babies love (and need) you
Sure, it can be frustrating having a baby that calls out to you every 30 minutes. But it’s not because they are trying to annoy you or ensure you have bags under your eyes for the rest of your life – it’s simply because they love you. They need you. And they don’t want to be away from you. One day they will (I’m looking at you, sleepy teenagers), but not today. And probably not tonight, either.
Babies are still developing
Babies don’t have the mental capacity, the established sleep patterns or the stomach size to sleep through the night without waking up. They are just not developmentally ready yet. So, if you need something to blame, blame evolution. Not yourself.
Babies are too busy growing their big baby brains to sleep
Peter Fleming, professor of infant health and developmental psychology at the University of Bristol, explains that there is a link between high levels of intelligence and not sleeping through the night. So, perhaps your baby isn’t sleeping through because they are going to grow up to be a genius? Best not to thwart all that intellectual development.
Finally, because babies are babies
And this is what babies do.
Babies are not born knowing the importance of sleep. Or understanding how the sleep situation works in your household. And, even if you try to teach them, it doesn’t always go to plan. It can take months, or years, for them to understand this.
In the meantime, remember it’s perfectly acceptable to go to your baby with every cry, to give up on wearing a shirt at night and to admit that your breastmilk is now on tap. So, let’s stop putting pressure on our nighttime ninjas (and ourselves) to master this whole sleep thing.
Let sleeping dogs lie. Let restless babies wake up for a feed. And let anxious toddlers crawl into your bed when they need a bit of a cuddle. Eventually they will figure it out. And eventually you will get your bag-free eyes, your pre-milk-on-demand breasts and your entire side of the bed back.