A common theme when I read the first e-mail in a one-on-one consultation or when I first talk on the phone with a new client is that the parent feels somehow responsible for the fact their baby won’t sleep and the sleep trouble they’re in. Either they were first time parents and didn’t know what they were or weren’t “supposed” to do or they knew they weren’t supposed to do it, but didn’t know what else to do. The bottom line is their baby won’t sleep and they feel it’s their fault.
This is also a common theme in many of the sleep books out there, too. Many of them make you feel guilty for nursing your baby all the way to sleep or using a pacifier or co-sleeping or not co-sleeping. If you don’t do it their way, you are not a good parent or you have failed your baby.
I’m here to say that it IS your fault your baby won’t sleep. Here’s why:
When your baby was 3 days old, your baby won’t sleep any way but breastfeeding or with the bottle. You fed him to sleep every nap and night after that until you thought he’d outgrow it.
When your baby was a few weeks old, you decided to try a pacifier and that worked quite well, too, only now your baby won’t sleep without it and you might be running in every two hours to replace it. You started to wonder whether you should be feeding baby on a schedule or feeding her on demand.
When your baby was a couple of months old, sleep was fine, so you felt like super mom (or dad). Or, sleep wasn’t great, but you made do. Some of your friends might have started claiming their babies were sleeping through the night and you wondered when yours would too. You wonder why your baby won’t sleep through the night, too.
When your baby turned 4 months old, for many, sleep started to go downhill and you didn’t have the foggiest reason why. If you were lucky, you were starting to wonder what it would be like to sleep for more than 6 or 8 hours in a row again. If you were unlucky, 3 hours straight sounded pretty good. If your baby won’t sleep longer than one or two hours, you might have trouble functioning in the daytime.
When your baby was 6 months old, you might have started dreaming about what it would be like to be able to plan activities in the day. You might have dreamed about a baby’s schedule that was almost the same every day or you enjoyed going with the flow, throwing a strict schedule to the wind. You might have started to wonder if your baby’s naps would start to lengthen like other babies you heard about. Some days it feels like your baby won’t nap and won’t sleep through the night.
When your baby was 9 months old, you wondered if your baby still needed night feedings or not because your baby won’t sleep all night like your friend’s babies.
When your baby is now a toddler and hasn’t outgrown the sleep challenges you thought she would, you start to wonder if it is your fault. You realize you’ve helped some habits to remain habits, but haven’t been able to break them, no matter how many things you’ve tried and now that it’s been so long, is it really fair to just let her cry it out?
You see, all of these things are your fault. You became a loving mom who decided to breastfeed to sleep when your baby wouldn’t sleep any other way. You were a loving dad when you rocked your baby to sleep every night when she cried bloody murder any time you stopped. You replaced that pacifier ten times per night, so your baby could get the 12 hours of sleep you heard he needed every night. You sacrificed your sleep to help your baby get hers. That doesn’t make you a bad parent, that makes you a loving parent!
My advice today is to embrace the fact that it IS your fault! You are a loving parent. You did what you had to do to transition to parenthood or to tend to your older children when your baby won’t sleep no matter what you do. This is NOT a bad thing. We all do what it takes when we can barely see straight, trying to figure out how to even be a new mom or dad. We don’t want our babies to cry (or scream as some of us would have it) and we do what we can to make sure we have babies who will become well-adjusted young adults one day. We are afraid we will make a million mistakes (and we will), but there is no way to predict whether you will have a baby who will miraculously sleep all night at 8 weeks or will be rocked to sleep for 5 minutes every single night and sleep 12 hours straight. Did I know I’d end up rocking my son for 2-3 hours every night at bedtime and repeat it every 2 hours later (or nurse him to sleep)? Nope. I did what I felt was right and I don’t regret it for a second.
Nothing is a problem until it is a problem and only THEN do you need to decide to make a change. Only YOU know when that time is and when you have a problem. No one else in your life knows what you are going through every day, but you and your baby. You will know when it’s time.
So, from now on, when you start an e-mail to me or start a phone conversation, instead of saying something like you’ve failed as a mom or that you made a lot of mistakes, say something like this:
“Damn right I rocked and held my baby to sleep every night and I enjoyed the cuddle time! But, now it’s time to make a change.”