OK, I’ll go first. My 3 ½-year-old just started sleeping through the night. Yep, you read that right, 3 ½ years, not months.
Some of you might think that’s crazy. But I know that there are just as many of you nodding and saying, “Me too!” and maybe, “Thank you.”
When I was pregnant with my first child, if anyone told me it would take several years for my baby to sleep all night, I simply would not have believed it. Like many new parents, I bought into the idea that there would be a period of time that I wouldn’t sleep. I mean, that’s the cliché; it’s to be expected.
But I thought the sleepless period would be over in a matter of months, and then I would regain the blissful nights of sleep I’d always had before my body was overtaken by pregnancy.
Wrong, wrong—all wrong.
When my little bundle of joy arrived, I was sleepless of course. And although I expected it, I was still unprepared for what sleep deprivation would feel like. I felt like a creature out of The Walking Dead but with milk spraying out of my boobs. It was freakish and downright frightening to me to be that tired all the time.
As we neared the 3-month mark, I remember asking my mother when sleep would get better. “Oh, I remember you sleeping through the night at 3 months or so,” she said.
Well, the 3-month mark arrived, and while I started noticing my baby doing more of his sleeping at night rather than scattered in small chunks throughout the day, he certainly didn’t sleep all night. He was up every few hours to nurse. And then, the 4-month sleep regression happened, and whoa nelly, he was up hourly literally kicking me in the face.
Somehow I got through the first year. There were times my son would do three- to four-hour chunks of sleep, which I could totally deal with, but there were other times that he’d be up hourly again, and I thought I was going to die of sleep deprivation.
I was never up for sleep training, but every time I tried gentle nudges toward independent sleep, things only got worse. Neither of my babies went for the whole “fuss for a bit, then fall asleep thing”; for them, it would have been “scream at the top of your lungs for 10 hours straight and don’t give up,” which was not an option for me.
When my first child hit a year, I was thinking that that would be the magic age for sleep to get better, and it did to some extent. There were more and more of those longer stretches, but “through the night” just wasn’t happening.
I revisited the question with my own mother: “Are you sure I started sleeping through the night at 3 months old?”
“Oh, no, that’s just when your colic ended. You didn’t sleep all night until you were 2 or 3, or maybe ever. I have no idea.”
I’m pretty sure all parents of kids who don’t sleep block it out to some extent, so I understand what happened there with my mom. And she probably wanted to protect me when she saw me suffering as a brand new mom. But honestly, when she told me the truth, I was mostly just relieved. I wished she had told me sooner. It would have saved me a lot of stress and heartache.
I know that some parents are blessed with what I call “rainbow unicorn sleepers.” You know the ones. You can put them in their cribs “drowsy but awake,” and they will magically float off into starry dreamland on clouds of glittery happiness. But for the rest of us with mediocre to god-awful sleepers, it might be nice if the truth about baby sleep were out there.
It would go something like this: Most babies don’t sleep all the way through the night (as in 10 to 12 hours without waking) for many, many months. Some don’t do so for years. There is no normal because there is really so much variation. It’s like walking, talking, or learning to read or ride a bike. All kids do it eventually, but it really varies as to when. Some babies take to “sleep training” (however you might define it) easily; others simply won’t sleep no matter whatever the hell you do.
Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t feel guilty. There is nothing you are doing wrong. Some kids are just late bloomers when it comes to sleep. And most of all, don’t worry. All kids sleep through the night eventually.
When my second child was born, I knew the truth about baby sleep, so everything about it—including the sleep deprivation—was much easier. I knew that it was OK to walk around like a zombie sometimes. I knew that mac and cheese for dinner every night for a month was OK. And I knew for damn sure that I deserved the right to sleep in every weekend and sneak in a nap whenever there was an available opportunity.
Most of all, I knew that it would end. My second child—the 3 ½-year-old who just started sleeping through—is still up sometimes to ask for water or to ask me some asinine question like whether or not we have any more corn muffins (yes, we do. You can have one in the morning, now please go back to sleep!). But he mostly sleeps, and it truly is amazing to have kids who sleep all night.
But that doesn’t stop me from lying awake at night worrying about my kids sometimes. And check back with me in a few years, when they are teens, and I’m waiting up all night for them to come home. And then a few years later, when I’m worried if they’ll get good jobs and find true happiness.
Sigh. The real truth about kids and sleep is that once you become a parent, you pretty much will never sleep again. But you get used to it. And your kids are lovable and cute enough to make it (almost) worth it.