The myth of sleeping through the night


Sleeping Clara

When my twins had been home for a few weeks I asked my mom, “When did I start sleeping throught the night?” Three and a half months. Oh good. That seemed reasonable. Ferber thinks it is.

Fast forward. Here we are at 7.5 months and my babies both wake to nurse 3 times a night (on a good night). Cormac sometimes sleeps through the first feeding, so he only wakes up twice. We do not cry it out. I assume that they will night wean at some point and have done a little bit of research into gentle night weaning methods. My husband works an extra job in the fall, so I will essentially be on my own for three months then. I hope that they wean themselves before then, but if not, he will help me and we will try to gently push them in that direction.

Here’s what my point is though.

We think that it’s completely reasonable for babies to sleep all night long at 3 or 4 or 6 months old. Everyone tells us that. Oh, breastfed babies don’t? Then give them formula. Oh, they still don’t? Then give them rice cereal before bedtime. They still don’t sleep? Then they must be spoiled.

If that’s the case, then my infants are spoiled rotten, because I feed them when they are hungry. I’m not convinced that these nighttime feedings are “comfort nursing.” Some nights, sure. I can tell, because my back hurts, my head hurts, and my nipples want to fall off after nursing for essentially 12 hours straight.

Some pediatricians say that babies can sleep through a 12-hour period without eating by 6 months old. My son was a mere 12.25 lbs at 7 months old and I will not do anything to jeopardize his weight gain until I feel that he is ready. I have no doubt that a lot or even most babies can sleep most of the night at 6 months old, but I don’t raise most babies. I raise mine. And mine are still hungry. There has been a lot of debate recently among our mommy tribe on Instagram about sleep training. I think that like most things, when taken to an extreme, can have negative, unintended consequences. I don’t know of any mother who wants “detachment, behavioral disorders, dehydration, failure to thrive, irritability, infant anorexia, and even infant death,” but those are potential consequences of using the “Baby Wise” method of scheduling and sleep training (source).

If we view parenting styles as a continuum with Baby Wise on one end and Attachment Parenting on the other, we can see that most of us fall somewhere in between. I think that a lot of the Attachment Parenting ideals are great, and a lot of them work for me, but not all of them. I would love for my darling babies to sleep in their own cribs all night long, but I know we will get there and that it will be a mixed blessing when we do. I don’t plan on “extended breastfeeding” and would like to wean my babies sometime around 14 months. The reason why I’m not wholly on board with AP, besides the physical constraints of only having two arms and a set of twins, is because I am still selfish to some extent. I do want some independence from these beautiful people that I baked for 7.5 months and have now fed for another 7.5.

I think that we should all set “Mommy Goals” for ourselves. Basically, we need a list of things that we are aiming for that will help us get our priorities straight. My goals are:
Have healthy babies.
Have well-behaved children.
Have children who feel my love for them. Daily.

This list is why the argument of “crying doesn’t kill them” doesn’t work for me. My goals are a little broader than not killing them. I do want them to be happy, but I realize that they won’t always be happy. No child is always happy. I’m not, you aren’t, so throw that idea out right now. Instead, I’d like to focus on the love part. As a baby, this means that I answer when they call. When they need me, I’m there. My children know what no means. Cormac learned when he tried to chomp my nipple off and Clara learned when she started shrieking at the table. Well-behaved children don’t chomp nipples and they don’t shriek at the table in my house, so I used my scary mom voice and started that looming thing called discipline.

I digress.

The point is, I don’t expect them to be happy all the time. However, I do want them to feel loved, so I feed them when they are hungry – according to their schedules. Yes, I feed on demand. It doesn’t kill me, and since I am a stay at home mom, I don’t have to adhere to a schedule. If you do, then you do, but I’m lucky enough that I don’t. So I feed them when they are hungry.

In my opinion, parenting is not parent-centered. Baby Wise teaches you to mold your child’s needs around when it’s convenient for you as a parent, sometimes to the detriment of the child. My life revolves around my family, including my children. They are the center of my universe. I do not neglect my husband (although he might disagree from time to time), but I recognize that my life will never be the same now that I am a mother.

I have been called supermom, called insensitive, told that I’m torturing myself, and a variety of other things. All I really do is listen to my mommy voice. My mommy voice tells me to breastfeed to keep my babies healthy, to answer their cries, to soothe them back to sleep when they wake up, and to not throw them out the window if they chomp down on my nipple. I used to feel like their cries would kill me if I couldn’t stop them, but we are moving toward a more independent place. I no longer jump out of my chair when Clara whines on the floor. I’ll answer her, but it’s like something inside me knows that she doesn’t need me quite as badly as she used to. I don’t think that I’m becoming desensitized to their cries, I think that we are progressing to a new place in our relationship. I still don’t plan on crying it out, but this feels like a natural progression as we march on toward toddlerhood at an ever more rapid pace.

An interesting story – I did (inadvertently) let Cormac cry himself to sleep once. He was nursing, and chomped, and I shrieked and didn’t throw him out the window. However, I did say no in my scary mom voice and put him in his crib, where he cried for 5 minutes and I examined my poor breast and calmed the angry red haze that had enveloped me. He went to sleep. I got over my anger. I think that letting him “cry it out” in the crib was the best thing for us in that situation. My blood was boiling, and the worst place for him at the time would have been in my arms. I put him in a safe place and cooled down. Meanwhile, he was exhausted and cried himself to sleep. And honestly, I don’t feel bad. He stopped biting once he realized that it meant the end of the nursing session (combined with scary demon mama) and I started to trust him again when we nursed.

So, in my opinion, letting a hungry baby cry because it’s inconvenient to feed them is pretty damn heartless. Letting a baby cry because the alternative is throwing him out the window is not ideal, but is better. (I’d never actually toss my handsome son out of a window. It’s a figure of speech – plus, there are screens on our windows.) We all do what we have to do to survive, but just step back and look at the big picture. They really aren’t babies for long. It’s flying by.

No Comments

  1. Geneva -  June 7, 2012 - 11:36 am

    Screens on your windows, you say? Hmmm. I’ll have to look into that . . .

    But all humor aside, I love this post. Love, love, love it. With about as much passion as I hate baby wise. Because seriously. That book is evil.

  2. Amanda perry -  June 7, 2012 - 12:09 pm

    My almost 1 year old decided it was time to sleep through the night pretty right before 11 months. My almost 4 year old did at a month and a half. Honestly im fine with either. I dont mind still occasionally night nursing if lia wakes up crying at 2 am. Doesnt happen often but it still happens.

  3. Lizarita -  June 7, 2012 - 12:35 pm

    Great post! I have an 8 week old and I’m asked almost daily “Does she sleep through the night yet?” Hell no she doesn’t! She’s an 8 week old not an 8 month or 8 year old. She’s not supposed to. And if she still doesn’t at 8 months, so be it. My job as her mother is exactly what you said-to love her and be there for her no matter what. Thanks again for a great post!

  4. Heather P. -  June 7, 2012 - 1:23 pm

    My son was born on a schedule. (I never heard of the book “Baby Wise” till he was almost 4 months.) Every three hours he woke to eat then back to sleep. He started sleeping through the night right at 1 month. I never had to nor would I have him “cry it out”. He weaned himself off bottle and formula (I wasn’t able to breast feed.) at 11.5 months. I was going to stop both at 12 months anyways so it worked out well. I know that he is on the early side of doing things, always has been. That’s just him, no intervention from me or Daddy. I have been told my second one, whenever he/she decides to come will be the opposite. We shall see! Thank you for sharing what you have done and gone through! I know everyone is different and we all do what works for us.

    • Jessica -  June 11, 2012 - 4:20 pm

      The second child will be whoever they are meant to be. 🙂 And I think it’s awesome that your son was born on a schedule. My son can certainly go longer between feeds than my daughter… They are all just different people.

  5. Brittany Roth -  June 7, 2012 - 2:21 pm

    I have never let Rylei cry it out. She rarely cries to begin with. Rylei started sleeping through the night at 2 and 1/2 weeks. She just likes to sleep. Every baby is different, if she decided to not sttn I would have been fine that was our own late night bonding time with no distractions. Oh and I did nothing but breastfeeding, so whoever said that isn’t filling is a big lair. They sleep through the night when they are ready.

  6. Chasity Boatman -  June 7, 2012 - 2:32 pm

    This was a great post. One of my favorites in a long time. I had many moments where I ‘lol’ed. You would be a great columnist for a newspaper.
    I greatly respect all of the mothers who write for this blog. You guys are truly an inspiration to me. Thank you for sharing your feeding story. Every baby is different and will sleep at different times.

  7. Cari -  June 7, 2012 - 4:36 pm

    My daughter is 11 months old (almost) and she sometimes sleeps from 8p – 7a but it’s usually more like 8p – 3a then 4a-7a but it’s not bad. As far as CIO, I did for about 5-10 min a couple of times, only after I had tried everything I could think of. I gave her a night light, gave her her favorite teddy, kissed her and then left the room. Me leaving was all that was neccessary, then she passed out. Since, when I lay her down, she’s out like a light. If we hold her she wants to play. No more CIO is neccessary, we still night feed and change, and though it sucks…we know it won’t last forever.
    Glad to know I’m not the only one who has seen red from baby before. I felt like the worst mother when I did. No harm came to baby though 🙂

    • Jessica -  June 11, 2012 - 4:21 pm

      When a mom is so frustrated that nothing else is working – putting a baby down and walking away is totally okay. You need to be able to hear them or see them in case anything goes wrong, but I totally know how you feel. Thanks for the comment!

  8. Melody -  June 8, 2012 - 9:23 pm

    Love the post. Thanks for writing it. I have 9 month old twins (girls) and they do not sleep through the night. Like you said–sometimes they nurse every 3 hours, some nights it’s more, some nights it’s less. They were both very small, and still are quite small. I feed them when they are hungry–be that day or night. We have a schedule during the day consisting of the idea they need to eat at least every 3-3.5 hours. If they want to eat before then, I feed them. I am often asks if they sleep through the night, and when I say no, I often hear what I should be doing. Feed them formula–which we don’t do. Give cereal–do it every night, doesn’t change anything. Move them to cribs–then is neve sleep. And I most often hear how spoiled they must be. Guess so.

    Thanks for sharing. It helps to know there are others out there. 🙂

    • Jessica -  June 11, 2012 - 4:24 pm

      You are definitely not alone. Cereal in the evenings made ZERO difference for us (I tried oatmeal) so we went back to regular dinner stuff like veggies and fruits. We will sleep someday. If I got 6 hours straight it would blow my mind.

  9. BC_M -  October 19, 2012 - 11:43 pm

    Hah! Really enjoyed reading this. I like you.

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