Normal Infant Sleep & Nighttime Parenting

Nighttime mothering. I wonder how many Mamas are truly ready for the intensity of it.

I wasn’t. I’d always been a person who needed 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night to feel refreshed and ready for the day. I knew as a new Mama that I’d be sleep deprived but I didn’t understand the extent of it until I was well into those early months.

For the first 9 months, my son cued to nurse every two hours, around the clock and naps lasted 30-45 minutes. By the time he fell into a deep enough sleep for me to sneak away at naptime, I had about 20 minutes to myself to take a shower, eat a meal with both hands free or drink an entire cup of tea while it was still warm.

Throughout those early months, my sleep deprived brain was hearing about other babies who were sleeping through the night and having 2 to 3 hour naps during the day. I heard other Mamas talk about sleep training – techniques for ‘teaching’ babies to sleep better. Know where my sleep deprived brain went with that?

Why do those babies sleep so much compared to my baby?

What am I doing wrong?

How can I do better?

The thought of letting my little one cry it out turned my stomach and sent chills up my spine. Deep down, I knew that approach wasn’t for us. Even before reading about the research, I sensed that babies aren’t hard wired to self soothe and most can’t get through more than a few hours at a time without comfort from a parent. We tried a few of the gentle techniques I’d read about. Some of them seemed to help a little, then my hopes were dashed as my little one hit a growth spurt or started teething or had his first cold.

I heard family, friends and strangers at the grocery store say:

Is he a good baby? How does he sleep? (As if his inherent goodness relied on how much he slept!)
You’ll spoil him if you pick him up every time he cries.
You’re creating a bad habit, nursing him to sleep so much.

Throughout this experience, my exhausted mind ran wild, searching for more – more information, more techniques, more of what it imagined would help us all get more sleep.

Then, in a quiet moment while rocking my little one in the peaceful darkness of his room, a small voice inside spoke out:

“This is normal. This is mothering. You are doing a wonderful job.”

It’s true.

While utterly exhausting, it is normal for mothering through the early months and years to include a significant nighttime component.

With that quiet reminder, I shifted my focus.

I learned more about what normal sleep looks like for babies, as they continue to grow and develop through their first year on Earth. I explored other ways I could nourish my health and energy, despite being without the sleep my body longed for.

It was through that time that I learned about mental leaps, separation anxiety and the early signs of having a highly sensitive child. It was through that time that I re-engaged with practices for nourishing the connection with my inner wisdom – practices that helped quiet my mind and nourish my spirit.

It was well into my son’s second year before he began sleeping through the night on a regular basis. And while in some ways, it felt like it took forever, that shift in focus made it a much more nourishing journey.

Looking back, I know that the pure exhaustion brought me to a place of vulnerability – one that demanded that I reconnect with my inner wisdom and live from a place of higher energy and deeper knowing or continue to struggle forward, my mind searching for more answers that would further drain my energy and health.

And now, I hear from so many other Mamas – during house calls and in the breastfeeding and mothering support group I facilitate – who are struggling, exhausted, desperately trying to find ways to teach their babies to sleep better and constantly questioning what they’re doing wrong.

My most common response:

“This is normal. This is mothering. You are doing a wonderful job.”

Several times a year, I offer a workshop for Mamas that dispels common myths and gives you a clearer understanding of what normal infant sleep looks like (how it develops and what influences it), when additional assessment and support is needed from a health care provider and what strategies for maintaining your health and energy will support you through your baby’s first year.

You’ll find currently available workshops over on the Events tab of my Facebook page.

Please join me for one of these sessions or to gather some Mamas you know and contact me to arrange a session in your home or at your community group.

I am also available for 1:1 consultations – via house call (Greater Moncton, Shediac & Sackville areas of New Brunswick) or online. During a Mom & Baby session, we explore baby’s health and sleep influencers as well as your overall health and energy. Together we create a plan to gently and naturally support you both.