By the time my baby was 48 hours old, I was being told to “keep her awake” during the day, so that she would be tired enough to Sleep Through The Night.
By the time my daughter was 3 weeks old, I was being told to reduce the number of times I breastfed her and instead, to “top her up” with formula, so that she was more likely to Sleep Through The Night.
By the time my daughter was 4 months old, I was being told to “give her a bottle of baby cereal” to fill up her tiny tummy…you know, so that she might Sleep Through The Night.
By the time my daughter was 9 months old, I was being told to “let her cry it out” – you guessed it, so that she might just Sleep Through The Night.
At this point, I withdrew from the game. I figured people could Shut The Fuck Up about Sleeping Through The Night.
I didn’t actually follow any of this dangerous advice, so you’d think that it had no effect on me, right? Yet as I type these words, I can feel a hot wave of anger pulsing through me.
How is it possible - in 2016 - that such damaging and incorrect ‘advice’ is being reeled off to vulnerable new mothers without even a second thought?
I wish I could say that I felt empowered enough in those early days to have openly laughed in the face of such nonsense. I wish I could say that my innate mommy confidence stopped such conversations in their tracks.
But I can’t.
Because I was anything but empowered. I was scared – absolutely terrified – that I was somehow fucking up this mothering gig. I listened to these snippets of never-ending ‘advice’ and as I disregarded each one, I felt more and more alone…was I really the only mother in the world who wasn’t following this particular book? Was I actually the only mom whose child didn’t Sleep Through The Night and was it somehow my fault for not following these unnatural, albeit widespread, ‘rules’?
I felt isolated and riddled with self-doubt. Oh, and I was bone-crushingly exhausted.
“Tiredness” doesn’t cover it. Tiredness was something other people dealt with…other people without children, I might add. Tiredness was manageable and regular. I saw tiredness and I raised in tenfold.
But then one sleepless night, as I sat nursing my baby girl, I skimmed through some comments in a mommy group on Facebook.
It was Too-Fucking-Late o’clock and people other than me were still awake. Not only that, but this other-worldly concept of Sleeping Through The Night was also plaguing them.
Because we seem to be collectively obsessed with the idea of Sleeping Through The Night. It’s presented as nothing short of the Holy Grail of motherhood…something upon which to precariously balance our ever-diminishing fragile self-worth as mothers.
But not everyone was playing the game.
One comment stood out to me, and I can still picture the words clearly, all these years later:
“I’m 26 and I don’t Sleep Through The Night. Why should I expect my baby to?”
Actual fairy dust magic.
As I read these simple words, I felt a slight lift in my exhaustion. So I read them again. And again.
There were other moms out there who followed their instincts, and who simultaneously felt confident in doing so.
From that point on, I found the courage to use my voice. I learnt to stop the bullshit advice in its tracks and found a tribe of like-minded moms with whom to share our sleepless adventures.
The thing is, the concept of Sleeping Through The Night is actually a brand worth millions. And the companies selling sleep products and sleep advice need us to keep obsessing over this elusive milestone, so that they can keep on profiting from our exhaustion.
Fuck them and their expensive sleepy stardust, right?
Because we aren’t just ignoring the lady at the pharmacy or an ill-advised relative when we withdraw from the sleep game, we’re inadvertently ignoring an entire industry. Let’s be clear – that takes remarkable strength.
When every dialogue we have about sleep is centred on this one ideal of Sleeping Through The Night, it’s hard to see through the bull and follow our mommy instincts.
So since I happen to have this platform, and since you happen to be reading…I’d like to take a moment to clarify a few of the basics:
Keeping a baby awake during the day will not make her Sleep Through The Night. Sleep begets sleep, remember.
Swapping breastfeeds for formula feeds will not make a baby Sleep Through The Night – in fact, this could severely hamper the breastfeeding relationship overall.
Filling a baby’s tiny tummy with cereal will not make her Sleep Through The Night. The World Health Organization advises parents to “start at 6 months with small amounts of food and increase gradually as the child gets older.” So there’s no mention of liquid-rice at 4 months there then…
Making (not “letting”, let’s be very clear with that distinction) a child ‘cry it out’ will not make her Sleep Through The Night. Instead, the consequences you can expect include, but are not limited to:
- Elevated blood pressure
- Elevated cerebral pressure
- Erratic fluctuations of heart rate, breathing, temperature
- Suppressed immune and digestive systems
- Suppressed growth hormone
- Extreme pressure on the heart, resulting in tachycardia
Moms, do yourselves a favour and trust your instincts. Trust your babies. Most of them will take an eternity to Sleep Through The Night, unless you have a unicorn baby of course…and let’s face it, there are literally two of those born each year…
Let’s collectively embrace this concept of normal infant sleep and find ways to accept, cope with and thrive on what little sleep we are granted.
Isn’t it about time we STFU about STTN?
Mama Bean’s Sleep Relief email series shifts our focus away from the idea of changing baby and towards the rare concept of supporting mom…The 7 day series offers a short daily message of solidarity and practical tips for coping with exhaustion. Fill your mommy cup and join the sisterhood today! (It's totally free - no hidden agendas or expensive sleepy stardust involved, I promise!)
Thank you to mama Gemma for allowing me to feature her picture in this piece. For more glimpses into real life motherhood, join the Mama Bean village on Facebook!
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