When Your Friend’s Baby Sleeps Through the Night and Yours Doesn’t (Here’s Why You’re Right Not to Sleep Train)

Night Sleep

Your friend tells you that her six-month-old baby has been sleeping through the night for months.

She describes her routine.

5:30pm bath.

6pm play.

6:30pm feed.

7pm lights out. Drowsy but awake. Door closed. Monitor on. Self-soothing. Baby asleep. Adult time.

Your ten-month-old baby doesn’t sleep through the night.

You don’t follow a schedule. But you have a rhythm. A flow. A choose-your-own-adventure series of choices…depending on how your day has gone.

It may be…a bath with Dad.

Play time.

Silly time.

Story time.

Massage time.

Yet, no matter how your rhythm begins, the ending is always the same. You turn out the lights. You lay down with your baby and you nurse him to sleep.

You lay in the darkness beside him and watch the rise and fall of his chest.

You breathe a sigh of relief.

This is one of your favourite parts of the day, but it feels bittersweet. As your baby rests, you miss him…even though he’s right there.

You try to stay awake in your oxytocin-filled slumber.

You reach for your phone. 8:13pm. Not bad, you think to yourself. Although you realise that your friend’s baby has been asleep for over an hour by now.

You wait twenty minutes before moving as your baby drifts from lighter to deeper sleep. You extract your now numb arm from under your baby’s neck.

He rouses. You freeze. Phew…it was a false alarm. He rolls over. He’s still asleep.

You ninja-roll out of bed and quietly tiptoe out of the room. You prop the door open with a pillow. You readjust your nursing top.

Your husband has just finished cleaning the kitchen. You appreciate him; now more than ever. He is literally your entire village. Your anchor. Your safe space.

You collapse into his arms, which feel so big now compared to the tiny arms that fill your days. He holds you tight and you relax. But you know your baby may rouse at the end of this sleep cycle…he won’t wake up, he won’t nurse, but he’ll reach for you in his dreams. To him, you and he are one, not two. His sixth sense will notice if you’re missing.

This is your new normal and although you’ve made new mum friends, you feel alone on this journey.

The sleep talk at meet-ups makes you feel uneasy. Cry it out. Controlled crying. Spaced soothing. Something about a chair method?

These sleep training strategies seem completely foreign to you. Your perspective has shifted so much that even the thought of your baby sleeping in another room makes you feel anxious.

But all the other babies are sleeping through the night. All the other mothers had the “guts to do it”.

You ask yourself, are you failing as a mother? Will your baby ever be able to sleep alone? Will he ever fall asleep without nursing? Are you creating bad habits? Are your choices going to destroy your marriage? Will your family think you’re strange when they realise that you bedshare?

You feel the tug-of-war between your old life and this new life that nobody came close to explaining what it would really be like; how intense a baby’s need for his mother truly is, how boundless motherhood would feel.

Good Science Guides - The Sleep Series covers
THE GOOD SCIENCE GUIDES: SLEEP SERIES
“This series of six digital guides will inform, inspire and empower you with bite-sized, evidence-based, up-to-date scientific research on how babies are designed to be parented through the night.”

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Your twenty minutes are up. You sneak back into your family bed and nuzzle into your baby boy. Your husband joins you. And all your doubts melt away. The most important people in your world are beside you. You’re content. You’re happy. You’re exhausted, but you’re exactly where you need to be.

And in that moment, you realise that this, this is the most important work of your life.

You thought you cared about a career and you still do, but it doesn’t come close to this. Because nobody, not a single soul on the planet, can be who YOU are to YOUR baby. He needs you. And you need him. You’re in this together; fumbling and stumbling, laughing and crying in your perfect imperfection.

Others may question your style of parenting, but to you, this isn’t a style. You’re not attempting to fit a stereotype. You’re not an attachment parenting poster child. You’re simply honouring your baby’s needs, and you’re striving to meet yours at the same time. You’re integrating with a new being. You’re learning how to let your guard down and allow this little creature to be wholly dependent on you; an unfamiliar feeling after being so fiercely independent yourself for so long.

And so, you consciously choose to breastsleep. Why? Because this is how babies and mothers evolved to BE at nighttime; the idea of being with you child aligns with your values so much more than the notion of doing to your child.

You learn about biologically normal infant sleep. You reject the mainstream myth that babies need sleep training. 3am doesn’t scare you anymore.

Regardless of what adults may think they WANT that doesn’t change what babies NEED.

Because no matter how a sleep training method is marketed – whether it claims to be “gentle” or not – it’s just a variation on refusing to be responsive to a baby’s communication. The simple fact is that intentionally ignoring a baby isn’t a good idea.

And so, you choose to accept that raising a tiny human is anything but convenient. You choose to believe that your baby’s need for emotional connection is just as valid as any physical need. In the messiness of nighttime parenting your baby is teaching you the meaning of presence. He’s softening your heart and quietening your mind. He’s slowing you down. He’s training you for the toddler years ahead. He knows the skills you’ll need and they don’t include conditional love and unreliable responsiveness.

You appreciate that shared sleep isn’t for everyone. You would never judge another mother for her choices – she is doing the best she can with the information, support and resources she has – but you are disillusioned by a society that normalises harmful parenting practices. So, you stop comparing yourself to others.

You stop measuring your baby against a system you know is flawed.

You wish you could speak your mind when friends and family tell you they believe it’s time for you to sleep train. You wish you could shout from the rooftops that our culture is completely off-track. You wish you could tell them that you get more sleep together, than you ever would apart. But, in this moment your priority is your child. And you’re safeguarding your choices. You’re protecting your mental and emotional health. And so, you and your baby continue to light the path for one another.

But, maybe, one day, when you blink and your son is six-years-old you’ll write a blog post about your experience. When he’s sleeping through the night. When he falls asleep talking about dinosaurs. When you have your nights again, but still choose to sleep by his side. When he wraps his arms around you and tells you he’ll hug you until you fall asleep when you’re not well.

Maybe then, when you’re strong and sleep training is no longer a threat to your world, you’ll help new mothers to feel confident in their choices. Maybe then, you’ll look back with pride and won’t regret a single moment you spent rocking or singing or nursing or hugging your child to sleep. Maybe then, when you’re a little more rested and a little less weary, you’ll wish you could go back and have just one more night where you didn’t sleep all that much, but you’re heart swelled a little bigger, your intuition roared a little louder, and your soul found her home.

Good Science Guides - The Sleep Series covers
THE GOOD SCIENCE GUIDES: SLEEP SERIES
“This series of six digital guides will inform, inspire and empower you with bite-sized, evidence-based, up-to-date scientific research on how babies are designed to be parented through the night.”

SHOP NOW

COMMENTS
  • Avatar
    June 05, 2019
    Amy

    Thank you so much. Reading this of course as my 16 month old is sleeping beside me and I’m waiting for her dad to come to bed. I know I’m doing what is right for her, but it is so hard when it feels like it’s not the norm. As you said though, our culture is off-track, so not the norm is good. Thank you for the empowerment and reminder to cherish this time.

  • Avatar
    June 07, 2019
    Becca

    So much this!

  • Avatar
    June 11, 2019
    Tanith

    This is so beautifully written, thank you for putting into words what many of us are feeling. And celebrating it. 18 months in and loving it!

  • Avatar
    June 12, 2019
    Valentina

    Thank you so much – 6 months sleeping with my baby and I wish it could last forever!

  • Avatar
    June 13, 2019

    “You choose to accept that raising a tiny human is anything but convenient.” My thoughts exactly. I keep saying this to my mother and others over and over, and to be honest, is still something I still say to myself. I’m committed to giving my daughter whatever she needs, but it’s easy to second-guess myself when I hear well-meaning criticism from my family, like, “You still have a life to live and things to do.” And yes, I do have a life to live, but it currently is the life of a mother of a baby, which is radically different from anything else and demands a radically different way of viewing what’s actually important. My daughter is 9 months and sleeps in my arms at night and breastfeeds whenever she wants. I hold and cuddle her often. I treat her in the same way I feel about her: as the most special and important being in the world. The interesting thing I’m noticing is that all of this is producing a confident and incredibly curious baby, quite the opposite from the warnings I’ve been given about creating a spoiled one.

    Thanks again for your words, Tracy 🙂

  • Avatar
    June 13, 2019
    Barbara

    Thank you for this article! It has been 11 months of interrupted nights for my baby and I. He lays asleep in my arms right now. My husband has been sleeping in the baby room alone, he sleeps 8 hours straight every night and doesn’t understand my struggle. I also wonder how is it possible that other babies sleep all night? I think each baby is different, and your parenting style changes depending on the character of your baby. And my company during the night is what my son needs right now…

  • Avatar
    June 17, 2019
    Catherine

    I so needed to read this today. Knowing you’re doing right by your child is all the encouragement that moms need. It will all pay off in the long run. I just keep singing to myself, “You’re gonna miss this. You’re gonna want this back. You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast. These are some good times, so take a good look around. You may not know it now, but you’re gonna miss this.” 🙂

  • Avatar
    June 17, 2019
    Meredith

    Your posts are always so well timed — I’m going on 22 months of co-sleeping with my son and I’m still up in the night with him a few times a night. Right when I feel my nighttime parenting choices being questioned (i.e. when are you going to night wean him? When will you start taking care of yourself and getting more sleep), your words appear and help make me confident again (and, okay, I admit, a little teary after those last few paragraphs, which were beautifully sweet and remind me of why I’m doing this). Thank you, thank you.

  • Avatar
    June 17, 2019
    Alyse Newman

    This is my life!! Thank you for putting it into words so I can share my feeling and journey with my family and friends!

  • Avatar
    June 17, 2019
    Kristen Curley

    You have eloquently expressed EXACTLY how I feel right now. Thank you for this.

    • Avatar
      June 18, 2019
      Kristen Curley

      And just so you know, I shared this article in the Facebook group ‘Biologically Normal Infant Sleep.’ So far, over 380 likes and 80 comments, mostly people crying because they feel heard and understood. You nailed it once again with another great article!

  • Avatar
    June 17, 2019
    Shelby Benson

    So grateful for this beautifully written post as I snuggle beside my 5 month older, second child. I love this time with him but feel internal pressure to hurry up and get to other things… including his older sister! This post spoke to everything I feel. Thanks again.

  • Avatar
    June 17, 2019
    Kadisha

    I co-slept with my older daughter, feeding her on demand till she was 10months old. I was exhausted & then decided to sleep train her. She cried & vomitted & finally learnt to sleep on her own through the night. I got my night sleep & interestingly, my periods came back to the next month.
    But then, this confident, curious, smiley baby started throwing tantrums at one year (I thought that was supposed to start at two) and developed terrible eczema a few months later(in winter). I learnt that the stress & anxiety made it flare up, among other things. We started co-sleeping again, while i was pregnant with my next child, just so that we could keep an eye on her through the night.
    I was worried that co-sleeping would become a habit, so we wanted to put her back in her own room before her sister was born.
    Well, that didnt happen. Her sister is 7 months old now & we’re still co-sleeping (we have a big bed haha) and everyone seems happy.
    I have been reading your articles and feeling reassured that I shouldnt need to push my kids away, but embrace them. And Im finding a big difference in behaviour with the older one. Less tantrums for sure!
    Also, fun fact, as long as Im breastfeeding on demand, my fertility hasnt returned 🙂 So great natural contraceptive!

  • Avatar
    June 17, 2019
    Mari Gonzalez

    Well, this came at the perfect time! I’m a single mother of a ten month old. We bed share (she’s beside me right now). Everything except the part of me falling into my husband’s arms, was spot on 🙂 We are going camping in a month with friends whose 8 month old was sleep trained and now can fall asleep in a pack and play in full daylight….I’ve been stressed about it. My girl stirs when I stir and at times I even have to take her with me if I need to get up in the night. But I see her independence in the world. The way she connects with people confidently. The way I’m her home base but she knows I’m with her. And I really do think, our bedsharing & deep love, is one reason why.

    • Avatar
      November 12, 2019
      Marta

      I am also a single mom of a 10 month old baby girl, and this article is just what I needed. Thank you to the author, and also to the other single mom of a 10 month old who left a wonderful comment. It helps so much to know that there is someone else out there experiencing the same things (tough and precious) as I am. And reading this helped me once again to know for sure that my little restless “cuckoo” (because she stirs and needs soothing from mama just about every hour at night like a cuckoo clock) is simply doing what she needs to be doing, there is nothing that needs to be changed. And thank you for juxtaposing the bedtime “routine” and bedtime “flow”. My life does not support the routine, and your piece helped me to feel good about that. My flow works for my family. And on the nights when my 11 year old son decides to climb into bed and cuddle with his mom and baby sis, and I go to sleep with both of my babes cuddled up next to me, I feel a bliss like no other.

  • Avatar
    June 18, 2019
    Abby McSherry

    beautifully written
    co-slept (although it wasn’t called that in the day!) my now 15 year old boy. the other night, stressed in the run up to exams, he asked if I would lie next to him and rub his back till he went to sleep. I did and I am proud that I raised a young man so in touch with his feelings and needs that he was able to ask me to do this.

  • Avatar
    June 18, 2019
    Eric Feigl

    Thank you so much for this. My wife and I read it separately but we’re touched just the same.

    I can’t wait to get home to hug both of my girls.

  • Avatar
    June 18, 2019
    Phyllis Brasenell

    Thank you! Beautifully said – your words are so true and that last paragraph has me ugly crying <3

  • Avatar
    July 03, 2019
    Natalia

    Thank you so so so much for this

  • Avatar
    October 08, 2019
    Courtney

    The most unexpected (I knew nothing before my baby was born, she taught me very quickly what being a mama was about!) and best part of mothering has been lying next to my babe every night with her curled into me while she sleeps. Tough some nights, but by far the most tender motherhood experience. So glad I went with my intuition. Thank you for your words!

  • Avatar
    October 11, 2019
    Chelsea

    Gosh this has me in tears. Thank you for putting into words just beautifully what all of us weary-eyed Mother’s can’t. Resonated with me 100%. X

  • Avatar
    November 13, 2019
    Taryn

    I related to everything you wrote here! It’s like you saw right into my mind and heart. Thank you for such a beautiful post.

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