There are a ton of baby milestones to get excited about – the first smile, first “ma-ma,” first steps. But for sleep-deprived parents, there is perhaps no milestone more longed for, more hoped for, more greeted with prayers of thanksgiving and shouts of praise than the hallowed Sleeping Through the Night. When your baby is eating every three hours (meaning you’re sleeping two hours at a time, max), you long for this milestone with every fiber of your being. It’s reinforced by almost everyone around you, too – “Just wait until she starts sleeping through the night,” they say. “It’ll get so much easier.”
Well, maybe all those other people have magical milestone children, who, upon sleeping through the night, continue sleeping through the night, every night, forever. Or maybe they just don’t have the heart to deliver the knockout blow when you’re already reeling. But here’s the deal. I’m four years and two kids into this whole parenting thing, so I’m going to give it to you straight: it doesn’t matter when your child starts sleeping through the night. Your sleep is irrevocably ruined, my dear friend.
And before you stammer, “but, but SLEEP TRAINING, RIGHT?” understand that it’s all a lie to get you to buy parenting books. It matters not what method you choose. You can cry it out, ferberize, co-sleep, rock to sleep, nurse to sleep … pick your poison. The bottom line is, unless your sleep training plan is to outsource the P.M. hours and let someone else deal with the nighttime shenanigans, you are destined for nights of terrible sleep.
Not every night, mind you. There are nights when your little angel will sleep for 10, 11, 12 hours straight even. You won’t, of course. You’ll wake up every two hours to check her breathing, and you may even poke her (yes, you will actually POKE a sleeping baby) to make sure she’s still alive. Why will you do this? Because you’ve been broken. You’ll never sleep the same because you’ve been conditioned, through a series of terrible nights of sleep, to expect the worst.
Case in point, here’s how an actual recent night unfolded at our house. Let me set the scene: We had been out to dinner that night, so we were later getting the kids in bed than usual. Normally both are asleep by 8 or so, but on this night it was 9. Ellie was coming off being sick for two weeks with croup – she didn’t eat well while sick, so she’d been an insatiable hunger monster the past couple of days. I had some work to do, so it was about midnight when I crawled into bed. It’s a night during the week, which means I’m in charge of nighttime wakeups (the scourge of being the non-breadwinner), since Jon needs to be functional at work. Here’s how the rest of the night unfolded, no exaggeration:
12:02 a.m.: I crawl in bed, pull up the covers and immediately fall asleep.
12:24 a.m.: Ellie wakes up crying. I go in her room, give her a pacifier, she rolls over and goes back to sleep. I get back in bed.
12:44 a.m.: More Ellie crying. More pacifying. More sleeping.
1:02 a.m.: More Ellie crying. Pacifier isn’t cutting it; she wants to eat. Feed her the bottle I pumped at midnight. She passes out as soon as she’s done, and I am back in bed by 1:15.
2:01 a.m.: More Ellie crying. In an effort to actually get some sleep. I just put her in bed with me. Yes, I swore I would never co-sleep. Stuff happens with second kids. She grins in victory, curls up against me and we both fall asleep immediately.
2:47 a.m.: Nathan comes in and needs to go potty. Jon tries to take him, but Nathan wants mama. I can see we’re on the verge of a fit being pitched – and the baby is asleep so we avoid fit pitching at all costs – so I get up and take him, and then go back to bed.
4:33 a.m.: Ellie wakes up, hungry again. I try to nurse her, but she’s not having it. Nothing like a pre-dawn nursing strike to keep the fun rolling. I wake up Jon, give him the screaming baby and go to pump.
5:37 a.m.: Ellie is fed and back asleep in her crib and I’m back in bed.
6:32 a.m.: Nathan is up for the day, which means I’m up for the day.
Now, this is not every night. That example is actually the exception, rather than the rule. But dang it if it doesn’t happen just often enough to ensure that I cannot ever enjoy a full night’s sleep again. Sometimes it’s teething or sickness. Sometimes it’s a growth spurt or a loud thunderstorm. Or it’s the second Thursday after the first Tuesday, or you dared to utter the phrase “I’m so tired!” within earshot of your child(ren). My little blessings have conditioned me to anticipate being woken up at regular intervals throughout the night, and to actually panic a little when I realize I’ve slept for more than four consecutive hours.
Turns out, sleep training actually is quite effective … for mamas.