My baby doesn't sleep through the night, and I know I am not alone there! So should I sleep when my baby sleeps?
When I tell people I am tired and that she doesn’t “sleep through the night”, they give me advice. They either tell me how to “fix” her (she isn’t broken, she’s normal) or they tell me to sleep when she sleeps. I know everyone means well and actually, “sleep when my baby sleeps” is much better than some other advice. For example, enforcing routines, sleep training techniques, or early weaning (but I am not getting into that now). However, there are a few problems with trying to sleep whenever my baby sleeps:
1. I can't sleep when my baby sleeps in the sling or the car
I’m a mum to four babies and they have all slept differently. My first daughter slept mostly in the day but only on my chest, whilst my son had nice regular naps you could count on. However, my other two babies were massive sleep fighters. Even from birth, they just hated sleeping during the day (not that they are much better at night either). That isn’t to say they were happy being awake all day. Oh no. They were grumpy and tired and desperately needing to sleep. But they would not, unless in specific circumstances. In my second daughter’s case, she had to be in the car. Whilst my youngest had to be snuggled against my chest, beautifully and lovingly wrapped in a sling
I am so grateful for slings because I seriously couldn’t have done it without them. She loves being wrapped and feels calm and contented there. This is where, for at least the first 6 months, she always wanted to sleep during the day.
We can all agree that it isn’t safe to sleep while driving, or while carrying a baby in a sling. This means that sleeping whilst my baby sleeps at those times, is impossible.
2. I have other shit I have to do!
I know, I know. Everyone has told me that I need to let my standards of hygiene, house pride and parenting slide. Well I hate to admit it but with 3 other kids, they aren’t that high anyway; there comes a point where the house work actually does have to be done, and my other children actually need me. When my children don’t have pants and school clothes to wear because I haven’t done the washing. If I am eating cereal out of tupperware, because I have neither washed the dishes nor bought groceries. On the days where I realise I haven’t washed myself or my other children properly for nearly a week, this becomes unworkable.
Now those (and a few others) are just the basic things that I have to manage to survive and keep my family healthy. I have a legal, moral and humanitarian responsibility to do those things.
3. Sleeping on someone else's schedule is crappy
I am sure it isn’t just me, but having 30-90 minutes sleep when another person deems they are tired during the middle of the day doesn’t work well for me. It’s ridiculous really because I love sleep and am precisely the kind of person who likes naps during the day. The problem is that I have this strange thing where I want to sleep when I am the one who is tired and sleepy.
Yes, I am tired all the time, but I am certainly not always ready to just sleep, especially now we are out of those early days. It takes me a while to calm my mind and body enough to sleep once she is down. Therefore once I have nodded off, there just isn’t always enough time to get through a whole sleep cycle. I am woken halfway through one.
On the days where it is just too much, and I either choose to snooze next to my beautiful daughter, or I’m simply so tired I just fall asleep with her, I feel awful after. It only makes me feel groggy and desperate for more.
4. I want to spend time with my partner
In the first few months, your baby will likely stay with you until you go to bed. Later on you may get the great joy of putting your baby to bed anytime between 6 and 9pm, depending on your lifestyle and your baby’s individual personality. This means you get time. Time to shower, time to read blogs, write blogs, chat to people online, exercise, breathe or probably most importantly – spend time with your partner.
Relationships can get pretty tough in the first year. Having even small amounts of time alone with your partner can be the difference between a family unit staying together and not. It doesn’t even have to be that special; me and mine collapse on the sofa and watch something together. The together is the important bit and you can’t do any of that if you always go to bed with your baby.
5. I don't want to!
What about the millions of other things I want to do.
I used to have a life. I think.
For the first few months, I put all on hold to sleep when I could, and rest, and just be with my baby. That’s why I wanted a baby. So I could enjoy having a baby. I stopped yoga, meditation, Taekwondo, the work that I love (supporting parents), reading…. and that’s fine. I wanted to put all on hold. I wanted to give my all to my baby. But, after a while, something has to give. I needed to meet my own needs in order to continue being able to meet my baby’s needs (and the rest of my family too). If I don’t move my body, steady my mind, blow off steam, stretch my intellectual muscles and support others – I feel like I’m drowning.
In the first year, the chances are that your only opportunity to do any of these things is when your baby is napping. If baby is up they need you and your focus, and while you might get small moments while they are awake, they are short and rare.
Yes I am very tired, and yes I need to find a way to get more sleep, but sleeping when my baby sleeps, isn’t really a viable option long term.
Do what works for you!
I am not saying you shouldn’t sleep when your baby sleeps. Do whatever works for you. I am simply responding to something that I have been advised for years and struggle with. I suspect many others struggle in the same way.
If you are struggling with sleep, and you have a baby or toddler, we offer workshops and private consultations. These provide you with evidence-based information, and frameworks to empower you to create your own solutions for your family. Our consultants have in-depth child development knowledge and are trained to support you.