Once they get past oohing and ahhing over your new baby, friends and family members often ask, "Is she sleeping through the night yet?" In the unlikely event that she is, you can nod your well-rested head and smile. But it's much more likely that you're wondering, Will she ever sleep through the night? And will I?
Take it from this mother of 11, both of you will. For now, though, don't put too much emphasis on your baby sleeping through the night. Children share the same developmental milestones, but their timetables are highly individual. Even though a neighbor's baby?or an older sibling?may have slept through the night beginning at two months, yours may take most of the first year before she is able to get through the night without you.
Children born prematurely or at low birth weights, as well as those who have difficulty gaining weight, will likely need night feedings longer. These babies' needs must be met. Happily, every feeding puts them closer to their ideal weight?and the night when they'll sleep through. Other babies simply have a harder time relaxing or, once there, maintaining deep sleep. They need more comfort and reassurance. When your baby needs a little cuddle in the night, give him one. In the first year, it is almost impossible to spoil a baby.
During the day, do everything you can to help your baby sleep at night. Rather than letting her sleep a lot while you do housework, try giving her more stimulating hours during the day so she'll require additional rest at night.
Once your baby is asleep in his crib, don't jump up every time he stirs. Sleep studies show that infants have more and shorter periods of deep sleep interspersed with lighter sleep. Your baby needs to try to comfort himself back to sleep before you rush in to do it for him. But letting a baby cry for long intervals is not appropriate at this age. Be cautious about imposing all-night sleep on a baby who?for whatever reason?is just not ready.
God built dependence into babies for a purpose, and we need to be sensitive and responsive to those needs. Many experts, including William Sears, m.d., a pediatrician and father of eight, affirm that parental responsiveness in the first year lays the foundation for a trusting and secure relationship that will produce a responsive, happy child. Programs that push rigid scheduling misinterpret an infant's signals as power plays rather than expressions of legitimate needs. In reality, a baby's needs can bring out the best in us, drawing on both parents' flexibility, patience and compassion.
Try not to think of your baby waking up at night as an obstacle to your well-being, but a temporary stage that you will get through together. Take it one night at a time, asking God for the stamina and patience to make the most of these midnight moments alone with your little one.
Educator, writer and mother of 11
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1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today Magazine. For reprint information call 630-260-6200 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.