Expectations of sleep

I help out at a breastfeeding clinic. Most weeks I have at least one mum asking how she can get her baby to sleep more than 3 or 4 hours at a time. Most often said baby is 3 or 4 weeks old. I never know what to say. I can’t very well say, oh don’t worry, my baby still doesn’t sleep more than 3 or 4 hours at a time because then I feel like I’m committing them to 8 months of hell and I’m probably meant to be giving these new mums confidence, not hanging a black cloud over their heads. I don’t want to say that 3 straight hours is bliss and count yourself lucky, because I know they are feeling awful anyway and overwhelmed by the whole responsibility and interrupted sleep thing.

So what do I say? I mostly say I know it’s hell, but it’s normal and it will pass. Do what you can to survive it.


It’s the same advice I give myself on a daily basis.


5 Responses to Expectations of sleep

  1. Oh it’s such a hard question… you want to be realistic but not scare them. My mum told me the important thing is to just get through each night as it happens… It’s a vunerable time too, because you get told from all sides that a magic bottle before bedtime will get them to sleep through the night, then it can be a slippery slope…

    I found Katherine Dettwyler’s article reassuring when I read it, maybe you could do up a few nice printouts and give it to any mum who seems receptive to her ideas, sometimes knowing you’re not alone really helps! Or maybe this is all the lack of sleep talking, babypixie is 10 months in 2 days time and we don’t get much sleep 😉

  2. amberjee says:

    That’s a really lovely article, it is totally reassuring. It makes me feel okay for feeding the Imp twice a night as we are doing at the moment, and I don’t feel the need to work towards sleeping through the night right now. It feels nice to have a status quo, knowing in all likelihood that there will be 2 wakings.
    However, I think if the Imp was still waking up every hour or two all night, I would feel the need to work towards change. It would probably okay if I lived as part of a huge family or community that could help me during the day, but our culture means that we’re isolated and bare a lot of the child rearing burdern ourselves as mothers, often almost exclusively. I think that is why the nighttimes can take such a toll.
    It’s why I’m not totally against sleep training cry it out methods because I know there are people that need to do that for survival. I know a mum whose daughter could not sleep more than 20 minutes and at 9 months she had to do cry it out because 20 minute segments of sleep is not sustainable for anyone. It’s all so dependant on individual circumstances.
    The magic bottle thing is really hard because you’ll get one mum coming into the clinic and saying that she gives a bottle of formula at bedtime and her baby sleeps for 9 hours. You see the other mothers perking up and getting ideas that maybe that’s what they should do. You can try to explain that breastfed babies wake up for a reason, that it’s actually healthier that way, but I totally understand that they can only see the fact that they might get a few more hours sleep.
    It’s tough tough tough this motherhood thing. I think I just want to help people to have confidence in what they are doing, whatever that is.

  3. anonymom says:

    Being a parent means never getting to go to sleep when you want to anymore. I think everyone realizes that upon giving birth, but you don’t really understand it before you have children. Before your kids are born you hear the parents talking incessantly about sleep deprivation, but you never imagine that it can happen to you.

    I feel badly when I attend La Leche meetings and the same sleep question arises from the new mothers…and I honestly answer that my first daughter didn’t sleep through the night until 27 months. In a way it scares them, but in another way, it lets them imagine that there is no possible way their child will be the same. They feel pity for me rather than hopelessness for themselves.

  4. I would have no idea what to say, although i sometimes find parents to be so niave and feel they honestly beleive that there 4 week old should be sleeping some 12 odd hours already. The strangest one i ever seen was a baby about 6 months old and the mother doing full on cio for the babys own good because the baby needed more sleep so she would be less moody , she put the baby to bed and no matter how upset she got would’t go get her for 12 hours – the woman is now pregnant with triplets and i feel so sorry for them.

  5. amberjee says:

    I’m not sure if letting a baby scream all night would make them less moody, but there you go.
    But then again, I do have a dear friend who did controlled crying at 9 months with her first (they’re now up to number 4 dear god), and she said that she (the mum)cried all night because she was convinced that she was damaging her little girl, but then when her little girl slept, she was a completely different person in the day, calm and lovely and not cranky anymore. She actually said she wished she did it earlier.
    I’m not saying that I would like to do it. But then I don’t think less of anyone for doing it, and I hope that by doing it their quality of life does improve. I think the worst would be to go through the sleep training and it doesn’t fix anything.

    27 months anonymom! phew. did you even remember what a full nights sleep actually was after that long of broken sleep? so, i guess i’ll start counting down then. 8 months down, 19 to go! 😉

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