You have a new baby. Things are all new and at times challenging. And then someone asks the dreaded question ‘how are they sleeping?’.
You want to curl up into a ball and cry.
Your baby, like most babies, doesn’t sleep through the night.
A spiral of thinking that you’re not parenting well enough, that you’re not good enough starts to grow momentum. Before you know it, you wholeheartedly believe that because your baby doesn’t sleep through the night, you’re a failure.
Before I show why your self worth isn’t at all related to how well your baby sleeps, I want you to know that a baby that doesn’t sleep through the night is completely normal. Even a toddler that doesn’t sleep through the night is completely normal. And when you think about it, most adults don’t even sleep through the night.
If your baby isn’t sleeping through the night at any point, you are not doing anything wrong. I know hard it can be but just know that you’re doing an amazing job.
Let’s dive into why babies don’t sleep through the night
Brain development is happening rapidly
Human babies are the most immature infants in the mammal world. That means that they have a lot of growing and developing to do. During those first few months, their brains are growing and developing at such a rapid rate that they are needing food frequently. The human milk is perfect for this early brain development but is quickly burned through and the baby will need more, hence the frequent night waking for feeds.
They need to establish a good milk supply
The baby knows that they’re relying on the mother’s milk. That’s their sole form of nutrition and they will work hard to help establish the supply. This means that they will want to feed frequently. The more feeding that happens, the more milk that’s produced. To establish a good supply, they will feed both day and night often. In fact, one of the best ways to establish a reliable milk supply is to feed on demand.
Babies are born with instincts to help them survive
Babies are born with instincts, just like a baby turtle knows to go to the water, that tells them they need to be near their parent. If you think about when we lived in the wild, if you weren’t near your baby, chances would be that the baby wouldn’t be alive very long. Even though we have evolved to live in secure houses, without predators, babies haven’t evolved to know that! They still have instincts like all animals and behave accordingly. They know that if they aren’t near a parent, they aren’t safe. Meaning that if they stir during the night and you’re not there, they will wake.
Babies think they are one with you
Before they are born, they are tightly held in a warm, safe and secure spot in your uterus. Arriving into the world is a huge shock and one that will take longer than you think to adapt to. There are even people that suggest that the baby doesn’t know that it’s separate from the mom. It thinks they are one and the same, just like they were before they were born. Again, if they go into a lighter phase of sleep and you’re not there, they will wake and need you for comfort and reassurance. It’s also worth commenting here that waking for comfort is a need, not a want for a young baby. They’re needing that comfort to feel safe and secure in this new crazy world that they’ve been born into. They’re not manipulating you. They need you.
Babies have shorter sleep cycles than us
A baby’s sleep cycle happens every 40 minutes or so. It is thought that when they transition from one cycle to the next, they are more arousable and potentially wake. This is completely normal. During this transition, they might need to be fed. They might just need to know that you’re nearby or they might need physical contact that helps them to feel safe and secure. Whatever the reason, they are more likely to wake during that transition.
Frequent waking potentially protects baby from SIDS
There have been studies that suggest that babies stay in a lighter sleep cycle to prevent them from getting into a deep sleep. It’s thought that prolonged deep sleep might be linked to SIDS. Frequent waking helps keep them in the lighter, more arousable, phase of sleep. This study suggests that this might be the case.
As you can see, so many important things are happening with young infants and none of them have anything to do with your parenting style. Your worth as a parent is not linked to how well your baby sleeps. Babies need sleep. Babies need milk. Babies need comfort, touch and security.
Please, if you learn nothing else from me, know that you are doing an amazing job and whilst sleep deprivation is tough if you understand these principles and reasons why babies don’t sleep through the night, you might find it a little easier to deal with.
Related post: Kinesthetic, Visual and Auditory Learning For Children
References McKenna, J. J. and Mosk, S. S. 1994. Sleep and arousal, synchrony and independence, among mothers and infants sleeping apart and together (same bed): An experiment in evolutionary medicine. Acta Paediatr Suppl 397:94-102.