When I was a new mom, I got this question all the time. It seemed like everyone needed to know if my baby was sleeping through the night. Infact, it was like after birth, the next biggest event in her life was expected to be sleeping through the night. And if she wasn’t doing that, then on came the pouring of (well meaning) advice on how to get her to do this.
Most of what was advised was sleep training that involved actively working with her, perhaps maybe a night or two of crying and/or fussing, various techniques that came from popular books, and a dose of mama guilt that was often accepted as part of the training because, after all, it was all for the best of the baby. Baby has to sleep.
As a new mother, I knew my baby needed to sleep. But, just like I had met her emotional and physical needs during the day, I felt that I needed to do the same at night. And though sleep is important, I didn’t believe that it had to involve me training her to do something like sleep. My new baby already knew how to sleep. She was sleeping just fine from the day she was born. What she was not doing however was sleeping how society expected her to sleep. She woke up during the night to eat, she woke up because she was cold or hot, she woke because she needed my comfort or she woke up because she wasn’t aware that when it’s dark it’s night and day time is when we play. But, she did sleep. It just didn’t meet the expectations of society and it definitely was not the same way I was sleeping…or how I did before she was born.
As a family, we believed that her crying was her way of communicating with us, so at night we still listened to her cries like we did during the day. She was fed, touched and carried at night. Since we shared our bed with her, it was really easy to care for her, since I was right next to her. And she barely ever cried, because we were so in sync with our sleeping that even before she had a chance to fully wake up, I was already answering to her needs so most of the time, it took just a few minutes to get her right back to sleep and me too. So, while we did wake up more often than others who had trained, we were getting equal amount of quality sleep. And if there were nights that for whatever reason, she was awake more than other nights (usually these were just a phase), I made up sleep by napping during the day with her or going to bed earlier that night.
To us this was important and it was much more important than training her to sleep through the night. Also, as I read more and more about infant sleep, I realized that the way she slept was the normal way for a baby to sleep. And it was our own society that had it all wrong. Knowing this really helped to me to have realistic expectations of infant sleep and to adjust our sleep accordingly.
Eventually, when asked the question “is she sleeping through the night?”, I learned that the best answer to give was and still is — “She sleeps great, thanks. :)” Because she did sleep well and so did I! We just slept differently. She didn’t sleep like everyone expected her to, but she slept the hours her body needed her to sleep and she did it while knowing that if she needed us, we were going to be right there.