When will my baby sleep through the night? That’s the question that all mums, dads and anyone else in the household that is affected by baby sleep (caregivers, guardians etc.) will ask!
I remember googling it myself so many times. I remember wondering, what am I doing wrong?
Why is my baby the one that’s not sleeping?
What can I do differently?
How can I help her to sleep?
How will this affect her development if she’s not sleeping properly or not sleeping long enough?
What can I do to make her sleep?
Well, I’m going to just get this out of the way and say that for me, for us, nothing really ‘worked’ in the sense that nothing we did / bought / tried would make her sleep.
Sorry, I know that’s probably not what you wanted to hear. But that’s the truth.
But there were two really crucial factors that helped us as a family deal with this new level of sleep deprivation…
Two Things That Helped Our Baby to Sleep Through the Night
Number one: acceptance, complete surrender to the situation. A new baby in the world, struggling to sleep. And the biological normality of that (once any medical issues have been ruled out of course, which in our case they had).
Number two: forgetting all the usual and expectations for baby sleep (in the Western world anyway).
So they’re kind of both linked. And believe me, I tried everything.
In fact, I wrote a whole blog post about the many things that I tried to get my baby to sleep.
But really, and you probably don’t want to hear this, but you need to hear this – it’s that really the first part of just accepting that this was normal, was a huge, huge shift for me.
When, when my baby girl was about seven months old I discovered the book by Sarah Ockwell-Smith, The Gentle Sleep Book, and it literally changed my life. I don’t say that lightly. But it did. And the reason that it changed my life is because I was reading it as if it was written for me, just for me, about me, about my baby. And I remember my shoulders just dropping in relief when I read her words because everything she was saying hit the spot for me.
It’s normal for me and my baby to want to breastfeed at night.
It’s normal for me to want to cuddle and snuggle my gorgeous new baby at night and for naps.
It’s normal for babies to want to sleep on your chest or in a carrier next to you and hear your heartbeat and smell your skin.
All the things that felt so natural to me, but that society had said “oh no, you’re making a rod for your own back” or “oh it’s a sleep hook” or however else they would use to describe those really normal maternal feelings.
And I just remember thinking, when I read The Gentle Sleep Book (with bleary, tired eyes!) oh, somebody finally gets what I feel! Somebody gave me – (not that I needed it, but I kind of did) – the green light to just be the mum that I wanted to be. And that I knew I could be.
Did That Help Her Sleep Better?
No, but it definitely shifted my mindset to one of instead of waiting for her to sleep through the night, it just meant that I accepted the season of life that I was in. I accepted that this will pass. She will sleep one day. I don’t know when, but she will sleep one day. And it’s all normal, I’m not doing anything wrong. Just the acceptance of that was so powerful.
Instead of me putting my energy into trying to figure out other ways to manage the situation better, I accepted the reality I was in.
And sure there were practical things that I started to do, like take magnesium tablets at night, so that the little sleep I was getting really felt good quality. Magnesium baths and lotion also helped me relax.
And I switched up my life a little bit so that I was sometimes going to bed at 7pm with with my baby, because those first three or four hours where she did sleep pretty well meant I could also sleep well too.
Of course some people might say this was crazy because I was missing out on time with my husband or doing other things in the evenings that were just for me. But even just doing those early nights, two or three nights a week really helped set the pace for the rest of the week and it just helped me to reset a little bit.
I also accepted that I had chosen to be this kind of mum that wanted to breastfeed, that wanted to co-sleep that wanted to have this experience with with my baby (and I never for once took it for granted how fortunate I was, and still am).
Previously every time someone else or some book or whatever suggested that I shouldn’t do something that felt right to me I would question everything I was doing; whereas this accepting phase gave me so much confidence as a mum. It helped me to stand in my power and that was really mind blowing to me.
Still Asking Yourself When Will My Baby Sleep Through the Night?
Another ‘game changer’ that helped with sleep was where our baby slept. To begin with, we did the thing that almost everyone in the Western world does when they have a baby – we had a bassinet and then a cot/crib.
We were actually given a really fancy cot that would have cost hundreds of dollars. It was beautiful, a really nice piece of furniture in the baby’s room. But she never slept longer than 30 minutes in it (no joking). She moved around, she kicked the bars and woke herself up, she’d hit her head against the bars (even though we had an air wrap around it), she’d thrash and scream out all night. And again, I was thinking, ‘what am I doing wrong? This is what I’m meant to do! This is what all the books say. It’s what all the health visitors say. Have a cot, baby sleeps in the cot. My friends’ babies did it. Why didn’t mine?’
Well-meaning family and friends asking ‘have you tried this? Have you tried that?‘ also didn’t help.
I hired a gentle sleep consultant and lactation expert. When she saw the notes (yes I kept it, see below…) of my baby’s waking patterns, she was also at a bit of a loss. We’d ruled out any medical issues for me or the baby, so she said unless you want to go down the sleep training route (we did not), this was it for a while, until my baby learnt to sleep for longer stretches.
So, I started to look at different things that maybe other cultures did that we in the Western world had forgotten about or not tried or mocked because we are supposedly more developed or intelligent or whatever.
And I found consistently, the suggestion of having a floor mattress. So, shunning the tradition of having a cot in a separate room, instead we opted for a mattress safely on the floor. The idea being that you’re not putting the baby down, you’re not having to actually lift the baby down (which often wakes them up or upsets them – it’s a survival thing in our primitive brain that makes babies think you’re leaving them in danger, because at that age, they don’t know the difference).
So, with a floor mattress you’re able to lay next to the baby, calmly and help them sleep, stay with them, and they naturally then fall asleep. So, of course I was initially a little hesitant because this was so different to what everyone else around me was doing. But I’m used to that. My husband and I bought a mattress. We put it on the floor, we made it safe with cushions around the outside and soft mats and everything and by this point my daughter was about 17 months (so yes I’ve now gone pretty much a year, with very little sleep!) and we lay down with her that first night, read stories with her and she went to sleep.
I stayed in there and slept on the mattress with her, and for the first time in over 18 months at this point, I woke up naturally at 5am, having slept from about 8pm. I obviously felt amazing, a little dazed and surprised, and I checked to see if she was ok – she was still asleep! And that was it. That was a game changer. An absolute game changer for us. It just worked for us. It doesn’t obviously work for everyone but that is what worked for us, and I am now a complete advocate for safe floor sleeping (always check safety guidelines for safe sleeping according to your child’s age and family situation).
When our second baby came along we didn’t even bother with a cot (we’d sold the first one). And yes our second baby may have slept in it, and she may have been fine, because all babies are different, but we just didn’t want to go through that whole pain again. Instead we got a newborn snuggle bed that went on a single floor mattress next to the double so there was plenty of room. And we all slept together, me and the two girls. And once she was out of the snuggle bed at about five months, she then joined us on the floor mattress. And to this day they still share a mattress on the floor; but as they’ve got older, it’s become more like a regular bed.
And yes, they sleep! And yes they still wake up sometimes and wander down to our room. They wake each other up sometimes too, but on the whole they S L E E P!!!!
So when I hear new mums ask the question ‘when will my baby sleep through the night?’ I really feel for them, I truly feel their desperation. I remember that desperation, even now, five years on, since the arrival of our first daughter. I still don’t sleep every night. Even if they do I still wake up, wondering if they’re ok.
This pain that new mums feel isn’t necessarily pain that the baby’s not sleeping (although that really truly does suck), I found it was more the pain caused me having thoughts that I was doing something wrong, or that there’s something wrong with the baby, or they’re not doing what they should be doing.
And so I really challenge any new mum to really question the norm, question what society, and everyone else is pushing onto you. For some babies it works. But if it doesn’t work for you and your baby, don’t despair. Instead, have a look around and see what other cultures do, what other alternatives there are, and most importantly, don’t assume that you are doing anything wrong!