In our society, so much emphasis is placed on how babies sleep.
One of the first questions you are asked of your baby is generally, “How is he/she sleeping?” or, “Is he/she sleeping through the night yet?”
There are countless books on sleep training and getting your baby to sleep through the night and parents frantically search Google for answers on the subject (in fact, Googling “getting my baby to sleep through the night” wielded 6,890,000 search results).
For my husband and I, we don’t place emphasis on how long Willow does or does not sleep. It’s not to say that we didn’t… when she was first born, a lot of our updates on Willow were based on how much (or how little) she slept the night before. It was like we were equating her sleeping patterns to her worth and presenting her with little awards for every hour she tacked on through the night.
Until we realized how wrong we were.
Babies aren’t designed to sleep through the night. In many other cultures babies and their parents bed-share or co-sleep so that the baby can do what babies do: get up through the night, have access to food when they want it and feel the comfort of knowing their parents are right beside them. Babies, when they are physically and emotionally ready to sleep independently, will adopt their independent sleep patterns and will sleep for longer periods but until then, babies will do what babies will do. And we encourage that.
Willow is not placed on a rigid sleep schedule. Generally speaking, she is up somewhere around 8-8:30am, naps somewhere around 10-11am, naps again around 1-2pm, naps again around 5-6pm and is in bed between 8-10pm. We don’t push her into a schedule, she just adopts whatever naturally feels right. We watch her cues (thumb sucking, rubbing her eyes, getting a bit whiny, etc.) and we help her to sleep — generally by nursing her.
Allowing Willow to cue us as to how she feels means that we are listening to her and setting a foundation for good communication early on. If she decides to wake in the night to nurse and be close to us, we let her. She’s telling us, in that moment, that she needs us and as her primary caregivers, we respect that need and honour it. If we did not honour her needs and instead let her cry-it-out, we’d be sending her the message that we want our life to remain unchanged from pre-baby state and we expect her to conform to that old life.
Willow was an amazing sleeper. We did the same routine night after night… changed her diaper, swaddled her, turned the lights out, turned on her noise machine and I nursed her until she was fast asleep. We would transfer her to her bassinet and she’d sleep 8-10 hours at a time. She started doing that at 8 weeks. Then we moved in with my parents and she got a cold. Between the new atmosphere and feeling sick, she needed us. A lot. So, she started getting up between 2-4am to nurse (I just pull her in bed with me and side-lie nurse her) and then she’d remain in our bed until morning.
The truth is… I love feeling needed by her. I love the fact that I can make her feel a sense of security in an ever-changing world. I love that while someday she will have to learn that the world can be a harsh place, right now it is sweet and tender and loving. I love that she is so content when she is lying beside us and when I wake up, it is her face and tiny hands I wake up to. I love that I have been blessed with the honour of raising her.
In short, I don’t mind that she doesn’t sleep through the night and I won’t hold her to that expectation. I love that she is learning that she can communicate a need and it is responded to — respectfully and lovingly. She is only this tiny once in her entire life and soon I won’t be able to nurse her back to sleep in the middle of the night. This too shall pass and when it does, I’ll mourn this moment a little bit.
I love her. Night wakings and all.