‘Has she slept through the night yet?’
Oh, but we do love to talk about infant sleep. Where they sleep, with who and with what — be it with mom (judgement kindly offered either way) or a twin, with deadly stuffed animals and crib bumpers or beside a white noise maker that will dictate a lifetime of NEVER being able to sleep well in a quiet room.
We love to ask if Baby is sleeping through the night yet. We ask it a week after birth. We ask it absentmindedly and — dare I say — quite rudely.
I don’t know, Grandma. Are YOU sleeping through the night or do you still have an overactive bladder?
When it comes to infant sleep, there are only three truths to hold on to as you try to keep your sanity:
- Babies sleep a lot.
- Babies wake a lot.
- All babies are different — especially when it comes to sleep.
Because we will, without even thinking, talk endlessly about newborn sleep, I want to talk about you, the parent, specifically about how this new little life affects your sleep.
I promise this isn’t a “sleep when baby sleeps” pep talk, but rather an anthropological exploration — and celebration — of how you’re biologically wired.
Hint — you have changed!
The average amount of sleep a newborn gets per day is about 16 hours.
Average implies that some babies sleep only 12 hours per day, while others sleep 20. We know that this sounds restful on paper; we also know it is exhausting in practice.
Throughout those many hours of sleep, your baby has needs! He will wake and call for you if scared, lonely, cold, hot, wet or hungry. Between his cries, you might wake — adrenaline pumping — wondering if Baby is scared, lonely, cold, hot, wet or hungry.
Welcome to symbiosis. Though you don’t need your baby for basic life skills, your body will most certainly feel the need to care for him.
Even if you’re able to stay in jammies all day, dutifully — sorry, I have to say it — sleeping when Baby sleeps, you’re not going to get a solid eight. Sleeping in spurts with one eye open, tuned in to the anticipated needs of your baby, is more exhausting than staying up all night.
And then, the first time Baby sleeps through the night — which probably means about six hours — you will run to her frantically, wondering what went wrong.
The six hours will slowly become eight hours and your “new normal” will just become normal. However, you will never sleep again as you did before parenthood. You will often wake at 4 in the morning, without reason, because that was your baby’s favorite time to feed.
You will jolt from the deepest sleep when your baby, now 7 years old, throws up in the middle of the night. When they’re teenagers — out, driving, possibly getting pregnant and taking drugs and vandalizing the entire neighborhood all at once — you may fear you’ll never sleep again. When your baby becomes a mom and calls you, fried with exhaustion and worried sick about everything and nothing, you will pick up the phone at 4.
You will be there. You will remember.
You’ve changed. You’re biologically wired to parent 24/7, whether you sleep when Baby sleeps or decide instead to binge watch GLOW.
For the rest of your life, you will — underneath it all — be exhausted.
But when you do occasionally get a good, solid night of sleep, it will be delicious.
Jen Wittes is a marketing director, writer, certified postpartum doula and mom of two living in St. Paul.