Lowering Expectations about Babies and Sleep


As parents, should we rethink the assumption that babies should sleep through the night?

Thereís been some talk recently about CIO or cry-it-out on some blogs that I read; Phd in Parenting and Metropolitan Mama are just two of many.  Iíve been sitting here biting my tongue.  I never meant for this blog to be provocative or controversial.  Iím not writing to start some great debate.  But there is something nagging me about this issue.

As much as I love comments on my blog, I donít really want to read comment about why people choose CIO.  Seriously.  I donít.  I donít use CIO and I never will.  No amount of ďwell, I wasnít crazy about it at first, but it worked!Ē comments are going to change the way I feel about it.  Of course it worked.  Beating my kids to make them sleep through the night would probably work too but that doesnít mean itís a good idea.  Now people, donít get your knickers in a knot, Iím NOT saying that CIO is the same as beating your kids.  Iím not.  Iím simply making the point that there are probably tonnes of ways to get someone to do something they donít want to do; but just because it works doesnít mean that we should do it and it certainly doesnít make it right.

Iíve been tired.  I am tired.  I have four kids that are pretty close in age; when the youngest was born my oldest wasnít quite 6 yet.  Iíve dealt with sick kids, sleepless nights and marathon nursers.  There have been many, many times when I was home alone putting four young kids to bed.  I get it.  I know people are tired.  I know what sleep deprivation is.  Iíve been frustrated about sleep.  Iíd still never use CIO.

But the thing nagging me the most is this: why do we (as in, our society) think that babies should sleep through the night?  That sleeping through the night is the norm?  Itís really, really great if you have a baby that sleeps through the night on their own without CIO but babies like this are the exception, not the rule.  Our standards are way too high.

With four young kids people ask me all the time, ďHow do you do it?Ē  I often answer, ďIíve lowered my standards.Ē  People usually laugh but itís true!  My expectations are much lower than they used to be.  I know that my kids are going to do things even after Iíve told them a hundred times not to.  I know that my kids havenít quite mastered impulse control.  I know that my kids Ė all of them, even my seven year old Ė are still going to need me at night sometimes.  As they get older, they need less and less attention at night but they all need it sometimes.  I know this and I expect it.  Somehow knowing that it is normal makes it easier to manage, even from the groggy depths of sleep deprivation.

There are lots of resources out there that explain why babies donít sleep through the night and why they need us at night.  Dr. James McKenna, Dr Sears and Kelly Mom http://www.naturalchild.org/james_mckenna are just a few.  These links will lead you to more.

Instead of fretting, arguing and debating night waking Ė something that is normal and should be expected Ė I choose to focus on coping.  All parents probably need more sleep and at some point or another will have to cope with sleep deprivation.  Iíll leave you with some of the things that have helped me get through:

  • Eat right and take vitamins (if you think you need them). When Iím giving my body what it needs it just makes it easier to cope with anything!
  • Fresh air and sunshine. We all need this, but itís often overlooked.  Even on the coldest of days, bundle up and get out, even if itís just for 10 minutes.
  • Caffeine. I know, I know, probably not the best way to deal with it but it helps me.  Even a nice hot cup of herbal tea can do the trick.
  • Talk to like-minded parents. Commiserating and knowing that itís normal for babies to wake in the night can be comforting.
  • Exercise. For you and for the kids!  It helps all of us sleep better and gives us more energy.
  • A catnap or quiet time. On days when Iím feeling totally desperate, when the babies are sleeping Iíll put on a movie for the older kids and cuddle up with them on the couch.  Even if I donít actually get to sleep, putting my feet up and relaxing for even ten minutes has saved the day for me many times.
  • Ask for help. Something most of us donít do often enough.  Ask family or friends to help.  Swap kids with another mum: they take your kids one afternoon and you take theirs another.  Ask Grandpa to come over and take the kids to the park.  Hire a motherís helper or babysitter to come over for a couple of hours in the afternoon.  Tap into your resources Ė whatever they are.
  • Go to bed early. Go to bed with the kids.

This article, adapted from Lowering Expectations about Babies and Sleep, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.


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