The Myth of Sleeping Through the Night

breastfeeding, Donna Bruschi, emotions, keeping calm, mothering, new baby, parenting, sleep, teething, toddler -

The Myth of Sleeping Through the Night

Waking every hour or two to nurse ALL NIGHT LONG.

Ugh.

Whether you do it for a few days because your baby is teething or have been doing it for months or years, it takes a toll on you and you may wonder if you are doing the right thing.

There are some common misconceptions about breastfeeding and sleeping.

1. Formula fed babies sleep through the night.

Some do, some don't. Formula is harder to digest so babies do stay fuller longer. Formula fed babies have completely different sleep cycles from their parents. That's why experts recommend that parents who formula feed do not share a bed with their baby. 

The Survey of Mothers’ Sleep and Fatigue surveyed 6400 families and found that breastfeeding mothers actually slept more than formula feeding mothers.

2. Sleeping through the night is a desired outcome.

You really don't want your baby sleeping all night until they are 9 months or older because their brains are not fully developed and if they sleep too deeply, they may not wake if they stop breathing. While we don't know what causes SIDS, we do know that sleeping too deeply is one risk factor.

Placing baby on their back keeps babies in lighter sleep as does frequent breastfeeding and access to a responsive parent. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep in the same room as their parents for this reason. Dr. James McKenna, Sleep Researcher at Notre Dame University recommends that babies sleep next to their mother for easy access to breastfeeding and synchronized sleep-wake cycles.

3. "Everyone else is sleeping through the night."

In 20 years of counseling mothers, I haven't found this to be true. I have known a number of babies who slept well from birth until they started rolling and crawling, the "four month sleep regression." 

I have known a few babies who were good sleepers and continued sleeping through that period.

And I have known many babies who were unpredictable sleepers until around 8 months when they settled into predictable naps with 4-5 hour stretches of sleep at night with occasional interruptions for growth spurts, teething, or overstimulation.

Some babies are not good sleepers.

What I have found these babies have in common is one or more of the following:

  • Parents who are not good sleepers
  • Disharmony in family relationships resulting in underlying tension
  • Stress from moving, unemployment, siblings, etc.
  • Mom working outside of the home
  • Lack of nursing limits 

Sleep is a learned skill.

If parents don't sleep well, their baby might not either. Simplified, going to sleep is a step by step process of letting go of consciousness trusting that you are safe while you sleep. If you don't feel safe, then you will sleep lightly. 

Family tensions can create a feeling of fear.

One dad described that as a child, he would go to sleep each night, only to be wakened a few hours later by his parents yelling at each other. They would fight, then his dad would hit his mom, who would start sobbing, and beg forgiveness. They would eventually go to sleep, but the son would lay awake in fear that they would begin again. This pattern of sleep was still in place decades later as he and his wife were dealing with a toddler who would not stay asleep. 

You are never too young to worry.

Stresses of life can cause babies and children to lie in anxious wakefulness or to wake from a deep sleep in panic. Babies are sensitive to parent's stresses even when parents try to mask their feelings.

One family traced their child's insomnia to the time that both parents were laid off of work within weeks of each other. They talked about their financial situation while their child was sleeping, but the strain and worry was ever-present in their interactions with each other and with their child.

Being connected is essential for babies to thrive.

Listing 'mothers working' may seem unfair, but when the fact is, when mom is working, many babies catch up on their "mom time" at night.  Mama is not just something nice to have, she's essential for a relaxing life.

Sleep problems don't have to be hard to figure out.

Start to make getting more sleep your number one priority. That babies have different needs for sleep can be hard to accept, but it is the first thing to change. Parents can go without sleep for a time, but then something has to give. 

If there is discord, counseling can help, but so can sleep. Find ways for everyone to have uninterrupted sleep, no matter how unconventional it might look to others.

Sometimes, sleep training can help. But the real training is in the parents. Babies sleep when they are full, dry, calm and feel safe. Many times, babies feel safest when their parents are right next to them, soothing them, not watching a clock and hoping they will stop crying.

The common sense strategies of going to bed earlier, taking naps when the baby does, simplifying housework, and working fewer hours until their baby outgrows this phase are all time tested. They really do work.