Millions of dollars are spent by parents every year on books and programs to help them get their babies to sleep. The problem is they are missing one fundamental truth:
Babies Don’t Sleep
or more specifically
Babies Don’t Sleep Through the Night
There. I just saved your $14 on your next Amazon purchase for one of the 51,165 books available on baby sleep.
All babies, yes ALL BABIES wake up in the night. Some unicorn babies can resettle themselves from a very, very young age but these babies really are magical.
The rest of the babies in the world need help resettling themselves.
Help is defined as “making it easier for someone to do something by offering one’s services or resources” or as “the action of helping someone to do something; assistance.”
The amount and type of help varies from baby to baby but the one thing it all has in common is ACTION.
Leaving a child to cry themselves to sleep in the name of teaching self-soothing is not offering services or resources to help them. It’s really the exact opposite of help but it does teach one thing: learned helplessness.
Those babies still wake in the night, they don’t cry out because they know no one is coming. Their brains are washed in stress hormones and they are never soothed, they are never helped, they have learned they cannot trust their caregivers to keep them safe in certain circumstances. This is not how nature intended it.
Let’s just put leaving them to cry out of the equation all together. The research on why you shouldn’t do it is easy to come by and worth reading. Start with this article if you need somewhere to begin, it’s an excellent read. So is this.
So then, what you should you do when you have a baby who wakes every 30, 45, 60 minutes all night long. When you are so tired that you can barely cry. When it’s only some kind of ridiculous combination of yoga ball bouncing and chanting that will help get them back to sleep. When you cannot begin to hear the words ‘it won’t be like this forever’.
There is only one thing you can do. You have made your choice. You have chosen to be present for your babies, to show them that you are their parent at every hour of the day, not just in the daylight. What you must do is
Know that you have made the choice that is right for your child: the only choice. Know that as you nurse and rock and bounce and pace and sing and cuddle that you are giving them the greatest gift, you are keeping them safe. You are loving them unconditionally no matter what the clock says. You are washing their brains in comfort instead of stress. Their neurons say thank you.
For me, the decision was very easy. I could not stand to hear my baby cry. I could not imagine closing her into a room on her own and listening to her wail for me. It would crush my soul. It was not even a question. I had to answer those cries, always and quickly.
Parents are not built to let their children cry. There is a reason the sound pushes us to
This does not mean nighttime parenting was easy. It was not. It was hard. And it was all me, every night. My babies only want me in the night. (This isn’t the case with all babies. You don’t have to do it alone. Nighttime parenting doesn’t necessarily mean mom has to work the entire night shift with no breaks.)
With my first it was every 45 minutes or less for years. It was nursing and rocking and singing and crying (me crying, not just her). But it was also surrender. It was knowing that I had made the best choice for her. That I was giving her something so many babies are denied. My job as her mama did not end when she went to bed for the night, it just didn’t and I didn’t fight it. Being (mostly) ok with that made it ok.
Surrender: “to give up completely or agree to forgo especially in favor of another.”
I gave in. To her needs. To the season of life. To the moments alone in the darkness being her everything.
And then something happened…
She slept. She got BIG and she slept. It didn’t happen overnight (she was 3 when she really started resettling herself and sleeping through the night) but looking back now and knowing just how fleeting babyhood is, it feels like such a short amount of time she really needed me through the night. I am still with her as she falls asleep but now at 5 she just sleeps. My job still doesn’t end when she goes to sleep for the night but it’s more of an on-call position in the night now.
And my second is very different. Yes he wakes (remember, all babies wake) but he resettles himself often. He is not a magic unicorn as he still needs me from time to time but he is an ‘easy baby’ when it comes to sleep.
So even though you might not be able to hear my words when I say:
it won’t be like this forever
I say them anyways.
In the meantime just be present. Be what your babies need in the moment you are in with them now.
What they will need tomorrow may be different and before you can truly believe it, they will be BIG. And you will be missing their tiny baby head snuggled up next to yours as you nurse and bounce and rock and sing, and you may even wish for just one more of those nights where you are so deeply and truly needed.