Everything You Know About Sleeping Through the Night Is Wrong

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One of the most common questions asked to a mom of an infant is, "Is she a good sleeper?" Often what they actually are asking is, "Does she sleep long periods of time?" as if a baby who wakes up more frequently has a problem.

Our culture is very egocentric, and it shows in our parenting, as a lot of guides and cultural conditioning suggest that success as a parent is the ability to have an uninterrupted night. However, not only does this set parents up for unnecessary stress, but it's not even biologically sound thinking.

If we only expected from our babies what they were naturally designed to do, we'd have a lot less sleep struggles.

For example, "sleeping through the night" is a phrase thrown around often, but do you know what it actually refers to? Five hours. That's it. Sleeping through the night means a five-hour stretch. Once. What is being determined isn't if you laid down after brushing your teeth and woke up to your alarm clock, but that your baby's body recognizes the difference between daytime sleep and nighttime sleep, and sleeps longer periods at night than they do in the day.

That's it.

While some babies will naturally begin sleeping longer periods of time at young ages, and will push off the need for food, that is the exception, not the rule.

Babies will sleep longer when they are biologically ready to do so. It is a developmental step like walking and talking, not something you can (or should) force, much like you can show your child the potty but expecting them to use it before their bladder is developed enough to hold urine is only setting up a battle that is impossible for either of you to win. In fact, when observed, it's discovered that even moms who swear their babies sleep through the night (by adult standards) are mistaken -- their baby still wakes up, they just don't know about it, and they didn't wake up any more or any less than babies whose mothers were aware of the nighttime awakenings.

One of my absolute favorite quotes about sleeping through the night:

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 -- 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.

If a well-meaning family member or doctor tells you that your rocking or nursing to sleep needs to stop, consider that they don't live in your household. It is totally normal and acceptable for even a 1-year-old to wake up and need their parent to help them ease back to sleep. Normal! Our culture isn't supportive of that, though, but the reality is, our culture pretends that babies need to be sleeping, without intervention, for incredibly long periods of time, before they're actually ready to. And almost no one actually does it, especially without fights and crying, but they don't talk about it because they don't want to be seen as a lax parent.

Well people, take heart. As long as you promote healthy sleep patterns, everyone is well-rested, and you are respecting your baby's emotions and developmental abilities, how you put your baby to sleep and when they wake up really isn't an issue. It is absolutely okay to be nursing a 15-month-old during the night. It is okay to need to sing a little to a 9-month-old. Stop looking at books and people who tell you your baby must sleep, and look at your baby who tells you they're trying, but just need a little help from the person they love most, who comforts them best -- you.

Are you at all concerned about how long baby sleeps?


baby first year, baby health, baby sleep