The big sleep issue... tips and tricks for the sleep-deprived mama

Yes, every mama out there has heard the dreaded question: “is he/she a nice baby, does he/she sleep through the night?”, starting as early as a few days after she gave birth to her little bundle of joy.

When you become a parent, sleep can quickly become an obsession: is the baby sleeping enough or too much? Where and how should the baby sleep? Are we getting enough sleep as parents? What is the minimal number of hours of sleep you need to properly function during the day? And so on and so on. The first weeks, you get into a routine of waking up a night several times to feed your little one. After a few months, it’s a whole other story, the expectations of the outside world grow and it can become very challenging for young parents to deal with the mounting concern from family, friends and well-meaning relatives who all have something to say about their baby’s sleep. 

It is time for parents to stop making excuses for the way their baby sleeps. Yes, it may be teething, or the fact that the baby is learning a lot of things and sometimes needs to “rehearse” his newly acquired skills at night, or it may be constipation, or gassiness or whatever else. It really doesn’t matter. Your baby is a unique little person and perhaps, well, he or she may not sleep soundly for 12 hours. There is no need to feel like a failure, like some parents have come to feel. Most babies eventually will sleep through the night.
Before you go running off to some “sleep expert”, here are some tips we’ve learned from having a baby with very funky sleep patterns and from sometimes being on the brink of exhaustion and feeling like we were total failures:

  • Stop comparing your baby to others, it is very likely some parents actually lie about their kid’s sleep. It’s only natural to want your baby to “look good” and to sometimes exaggerate their abilities...Chances are, that mom who looks really great and keeps telling everyone her baby sleeps soooo well (you know the one!), well, chances are she is probably wearing as much concealer as you are to hide those dark circles, and chances are, her baby probably wakes up as much as yours for the all-night milky bar! I remember being on the brink of explosion after our family had once more compared our 6 months-old son who woke up routinely once or twice at night to feed to his cousin, three weeks older, who slept 12 hours straight... Well it's OK to tell people to let it go! Trust me, I wished I had done it sooner!
  • Don’t have too many expectations about sleep. Some babies sleep really well the first few months before hitting some hurdles due to teething, new acquisitions or something else. Some babies have a rocky sleep routine from the start, some will have crazy nursing sessions 5 times a night and some won’t. Everyone is different! Just like adults have very different sleep patterns and habits, babies are individuals with their own rhythms. What works for one baby does not necessarily work for another. Even siblings can be very different sleep-wise!
  • Remember that babies actually “sleep through the night” if they’ve had stretches of 5 or 6 hours of sleep. If you go to bed a lot later than he/she does, than yes, his/her “night” may be over when yours is just starting...
  • Try turning off the TV. Sometimes too much stimulations prevents baby from going to sleep.
  • Try moving your baby’s sleep routine to an earlier time. We used to put our son to sleep at 8PM, since we moved his bedtime to 6:30-7:00, he sleeps a lot better.
  • Watch for cues: babies will rub their eyes or sometime go through a period of crazy-hyperactive state, that’s usually a sign that they’re exhausted, it’s time for some down-time like reading stories and getting ready for the night.
  • Keep the same routine (yeah, I know, that’s a hard one), all the books say the same thing and actually it really helps to have some sort of routine even if from time to time you don’t respect it.
  • Wear baby in the day. I cannot stress how much babywearing is part of our everyday life. There are so many advantages to wearing your tiny one! And Dr Sears is actually right about that one. Our son goes to sleep a lot easier if he’s been worn during the day. Sometimes if he has a hard time going to sleep, his daddy will wear him for a bit and that usually does the trick! I wear him a lot during the day, it allows me to get things done around the house and it’s a great way to get around without lugging a huge stroller around (especially on the bus, where strollers take up a lot of space...)
  • From time to time, instead of nursing baby to sleep, try having him spend some time tummy to tummy with Daddy. Our son loves going to sleep on his Dad, it must date back to his first few days when he would sleep most of his night on Dad’s chest between nursing sessions.
  • Organize sleep shifts if sleeping really becomes an issue. We have a bed in the office and one of us sometimes goes there to sleep part of the night before taking over early in the morning so the other adult can get some rest. It works out ok and there are plenty of other times to be intimate without baby there...
  • If crazy nursing sessions are the problem, consider co-sleeping. It may help you get some rest while feeding baby. (And no, feeding him/her more food, solid or not, before going to sleep does not make any difference, it may just make the baby more uncomfortable because of digestion issues!) Try taking naps during the day or learn how to train your body to recuperate with micro-naps like sailors do.
  • Remember: this is a little mammal, and not sleeping through the night at an early age is actually a survival skill, our society’s expectations aren’t...

And yes, we all have dark circles at some point! Try some frozen green-tea bags to get rid of the puffiness! And yes, from time to time it’s perfectly ok to wander around the house in your PJs at 4 in the afternoon... Just put a sign on the door to ask visitors to please come back another day! Have a good laugh about it and remember your little one will outgrow this stage at some point and before long you will be worrying because the baby is now a teenager and is sleeping until noon because of too much party last night... Become a professional procrastinator, some things can just wait for another day and the fate of humanity will not be worse! (except if you are a biologist working on some crazy cancer cure or something of the sort...)

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