Baby sleep. It seems like the biggest make or break situation in the beginning. “Is my baby normal? What’s normal? Is anything normal? I’m so tired I’m not sure I’m living…” etc.

When James was about five months old, he went through a terrible, horrible, possibly torturous bad-sleep phase. Comparatively speaking (and in hind-sight), he went through a completely normal and relatively mild poor-sleep phase. ?

At the time, I stressed for a bit then I realized that I should just wait it out. And I did. And it stopped. And all was fine (aside from my complexion).

But I wonder…why did I stress at all in the first place? Why aren’t women more educated on what is normal? Why is baby sleep a predetermined struggle for moms? We wonder whether we’ll have a “good” baby or whether we’ll be one of the lucky ones whose baby sleeps through the night early. We’re poorly educated on the truth of baby sleep patterns aside from the obligatory jokes on impending sleeplessness during pregnancy. We’re inundated with books and products swearing to help your baby sleep better…because that’s what they’re supposed to be doing…right? Sleeping well?

Worst of all, why are babies that sleep “well” called “good babies,” when it’s actually perfectly normal for babies to wake up consistently in the newborn days AND beyond?

If we more readily understood the natural patterns of baby sleep, not only would we be more prepared and therefore less stressed by the ups and downs, but we would not feel so isolated. Mothers may not feel alone when waking for the third time by 3am. We may not waste time wondering what we are supposed to do to “fix” our baby, when they are actually just a healthy newborn with normal sleep inconsistencies.

I think part of the problem is that we don’t have our village anymore. Mothers, sisters, friends, don’t share their lives and stories the way they used to (well I wasn’t there…but you know what I mean).

The other issue is that society is obsessed perfection, but the ideal is based on nothing but desire. Why does even a single new mama stress over a sleepless baby? Because society pressures babies to sleep, and tells new mothers that night-waking is something to fix. (Of course this is assuming that your baby is getting the sleeping hours total that they need for healthy development-see resources below).

Now my almost two year old is going through another sleep phase, and he’s landed himself squarely in the middle of our king bed.

It could easily be a scenario where I’m just doing whatever I can to get by and get sleep, but it’s actually not (although there are plenty of those scenarios). After a brief adjustment period, it’s something all three of us are enjoying, because we know it is a phase, and it will help him have a strong base of safety and confidence for when it IS time for him to be independent as he grows. Really, I just think it’s perfectly natural at his age, and many cultures would agree.

Only in America, where we’ve cultivated this idea of unnecessary independence as an achievement, would it be seen as strange for an infant or toddler to have a sleep dependency.

I certainly also see the other side. There are plenty of reasons for believing that children should sleep in their own beds, but at the end of the day all that needs to be said is that co-sleeping doesn’t feel like the right fit for your family. A stressed mama is not the goal. Period.

Good guidelines for co-sleeping or bed-sharing:

  • both parents agree that it’s a good fit for the family
  • follow safe sleeping criteria
  • set aside time otherwise for alone time so you don’t end up as two ships passing in the night
  • stick to a schedule regardless of sleeping place

Must Read Resources:

Anthropological evidence of cosleeping societies
New Guidelines Acknowledge The Reality: Babies Do Sleep In Mom’s Bed
A Conversation With Co-Sleeping Expert James McKenna
The Latest Research on Safe Co-Sleeping
Bed-Sharing, Infant Sleep, and SIDS
Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives: Why Human Babies Do Not and Should Not Sleep Alone

Bottom line. You can never start good habits too early. You also can’t love yourself too much in the first year of motherhood. So while it would be great to feel super accomplished because you have a “good” sleeper, let’s change the rules so you can feel super accomplished when you are your child are happy, regardless of others’ standards.