Our children sleep through the night. Sure, there are occasions where they need a drink or the bathroom or have a bad dream or are unwell just as might happen to an adult but these are infrequent.
So how did we get here? I know it is what many parents are eager to experience themselves so I thought I would share how it happened for us.
Sleep is one of the first confronting aspects of parenting. Before you have a newborn, you really can’t imagine what the reality of that situation will be. It can be quite a shock. And lack of sleep is rough, so rough.
Newborns need near constant care and that includes at night. Sleep is something they do often but need a lot of support in and so sleep is something you do not do often while you are caring for them.
When Immy was born, I was pretty unaware of what to expect and in some ways that was a good thing. My focus was on keeping her happy which I think can be problematic in it’s own way especially as children age if it becomes dismissive and exclusionary of other valid emotions but as a new mother, that is where I was at in my understanding of being a parent.
When she stirred, I fed. When she cried, I fed. When she fussed, I fed. When she woke, I fed. When she was tired, I fed. I offered her the breast at any and every opportunity. We fed a lot.
Naturally, this attachment meant we kind of had to spend our time together. And this included for sleep. For the first 3 and a bit years of her life, Immy fell asleep at the breast.
I have seen people cautioned, many a time, about how this sort of dynamic is never-ending. A child who feeds to sleep will never be able to sleep through the night because they are dependent upon this association with the breast to settle and cannot do so themselves.
It really does sound plausible and it’s a self fulfilling prophecy. Many who are cautioned, believe the warnings and act based on this proposed conclusion, therefore their children are not given the opportunity to demonstrate otherwise. This then reinforces the story as it is passed along to other parents.
We don’t often hear the other way this story can play out. Parents are understandably scared and tired. So very tired. An answer is very alluring.
Luckily, I suppose, I was fairly isolated when I first became a parent. I didn’t really have people in my life to caution me, I didn’t know to be concerned. And so, we continued on as we always had.
I dealt with a lack of sleep in other ways; slowing down our life, sleeping during the day when she did, swapping sleep with her dad when possible. And reminding myself it was temporary; perhaps not brief but temporary.
For the first 3 and a bit years of her life, Immy fell asleep at the breast. But for the last ~6 months of that time, she was sleeping through the night on a consistent basis.
Aubrey has a similar story. She fed to sleep for the first 4 and a bit years of her life. But for the last ~6 months, she was sleeping through the night on a consistent basis.
Now, you might ask; if you continued to feed to sleep, how did you stop feeding back to sleep when they woke at night?
The truth is, we never really did stop.
When my children woke, I would feed them. Whether they were a newborn or a 3 year old. Whether it was 5hrs after they last woke or a string of 30minutes. And after a while, I stopped seeking the information about how long it had been, I found it easier not to know.
As they aged, their need for night feeds waxed and waned. They could go for weeks with only a couple of wakings and then they’d return to nights of being near constantly attached. They’d have times when they felt more restless and others when they felt more rested.
And then at some point, they stopped waking for breastmilk. Maybe for a few nights in a row and then a night where it was needed. Maybe for just the one night and then many where it was needed.
And then they stopped completely.
And then they came to stop feeding to sleep and altogether.
And one day, I’m sure, they’ll stop sharing a family sleep space.
Because the reality is that in the same way a child does not need you to stop carrying them for them to figure out how to transport themselves when they are ready; a child does not need you to stop supporting them during night wakings to figure out how to settle themselves when they are ready.
The secret to sleeping through the night? It’s not arbitrarily reducing your involvement so that they have no other option but to comply with your expectation; it’s time.