Saturday, November 7, 2009

On Sleeping

As I've mentioned, I take parenting advice with some grains, or bags, of salt. People I talk to seem to be obsessed with sleep.

The first few weeks after Em was born, sleep was precious and infrequent. If she was sleeping, I'd wake up all the time to check that she was ok. And then she woke up needing attention/love/food often. Babies are like that! I don't know how parents who put their babies in another room to sleep manage the anxieties of those first weeks.

But then she adapted to our patterns and started mostly sleeping at night and mostly being awake during the day. I started trusting that she'd live through the night. There was that rough day at seven weeks when my Dads were here, when I'd kept her in the Infantino baby carrier all day, so she'd been asleep all day, and then only slept, and thus I only slept, four hours that night.

We're now in a nice routine where she naps once or twice a day for a few hours at a time and then sleeps from nine or ten in the evening to three or four in the morning for a brief snack, and then back to sleep again for a few more hours, often until seven in the morning. I've actually realized that it's often me (and my milk supply!) waking her up at four - she's no longer that hungry, so I usually pump a little extra for while I'm at work. And then we go back to sleep.

Before baby, I expected my sleep would be interrupted regularly with baby. First with feedings and diaper changes, then nightmares and nighttime illnesses, fevers, vomiting, then as she gets older, just worrying while she's out for an overnight with friends, and then parties and more! Parenting, as far as I'm concerned, is not about getting a good night's sleep.

I thought this was commonly known. I'm surprised by everyone's interest in how the baby is sleeping, if I'm sleeping, and the suggestions and tricks for getting her to sleep more. She's a baby with a teeny tiny tummy! I just don't expect her to sleep through the night for awhile, and even when she starts, I hear it's common to stop and start again.

I suspect that some people's inquiry as to whether or not I'm getting any sleep (and oh! I am, thank you) is more about making conversation, like commenting on the weather or making jokes about working hard vs hardly working. I know before I had a baby, I didn't know what to ask about them.

However, the parents who seem to be sleep obsessed make me wonder if I've just got a weirdly easy baby, which is entirely possible, or if my expectations are just a lot lower. I know the nights to come where she's awake once an hour again will be challenging. But knowing that they are coming makes them easier to deal with.

Do you talk a lot about sleep? What are/were your expectations about parenting and sleep?


Staci said...

You are funny...but, I look at it like this- when she's in kindergarten- I bet everyone is going to ask "how does she like school?" non-parents ask about sleeping because that's what we assume babies are or are not doing- and because you probably look so normal and "untired" that we're curious if it's because sweet em has conquered sleeping all night. also, we ask about sleeping because it's more polite than asking about her poop. That being said, I'm afraid you're goin to move to Canada before I get to ask about her sleeping :-)

Anonymous said...

I expected not to sleep when our little guy arrived, and we didn't! At least not for the first 10 weeks. Our little guy like to stay up for 3 hours in a row each night from roughly 2 to 5 am to PLAY every night! He was happy as a clam and ready for action. I dimmed all the lights and tried to ignore him as all the books suggested but to no avail. Before he arrived, I knew that we'd get up at lot in the night but I never imagined 3 straight hours like that. I never really got used to it although I started to expect it and that helped a bit. At 3 + months, he now gets up when he's hungry (usually once or twice in the night), I feed him and, miracle of miracles, he goes back to sleep! This is easy street compared with those 3 hour stints ;)

Anonymous said...

I honestly don't remember what I expected. I knew that sleep was an issue, and I was worried about it, but I'm not sure that I knew what that meant.

The first few weeks with my 1st child were rough. She was premature, and so she woke up a LOT. And I got depressed. Sleep deprivation will do that to a person. However, after she reached her due date she became pretty easy, and even slept through the night on her own at around 3 months. She started waking once a night again at 9 months, but it was pretty manageable.

My second child, on the other hand, wakes several times a night at 14 months. He's in bed with me so I barely wake up, but he's a different animal. But this time around I have fewer concerns, because I know it's a temporary thing. My preschooler sleeps through the night in her own bed, and one day my toddler will, too. It helps me to keep it in perspective.

I'm sort of rambling, but my point is that sometimes we do just have easier babies. But also, sometimes, we're battling expectations. The only one we can really control is the second, but doing that can make a world of difference all the same.

Hobo Mama said...

I've definitely noted a sleep obsession in this (Western) culture. It doesn't really matter how well babies sleep, in baby terms -- everyone's always thinking someone else's baby is sleeping more hours total or for longer at a stretch. I think there's a lot of disillusionment because people aren't well educated in what to expect of babies and their tiny stomachs, but also because our culture says Good Sleeping is (1) at night, (2) in an uninterrupted stretch, and (3) for at least X hours (7 or so, depending on the person). I think some of the disappointment with babies' sleep is that parents have internalized the Good Sleep idea so much that nothing else will suffice. I don't mean that that doesn't cause suffering in itself -- it does! I just wish more parents could learn about babies' sleep variations and, then, accept that. We did a lot of cat napping with our newborn and accepted that sufficient sleep didn't always come in a nice, adult-oriented package.

Then again, I'm speaking from a place of privilege where I don't often have to get up at a certain time. And sleep deprivation is horrible, so I really do feel bad for anyone in the midst of it!

P.S. We did/do not have an easy baby. But cosleeping and breastfeeding while lying down have helped immensely.

TheFeministBreeder said...

Oh, I expected to sleep. I started reading books about how to get that baby to sleep before he even came out. And by 6 wks old, he was sleeping through the night. BUT he was a very, very easy baby.

My second was not as easy. He was on an OK schedule, but he didn't start sleeping 12 hours a night until he was a year old. I swear it almost killed me. I am the kind of person who has a hard time sleeping to begin with, so the constant waking puts me in a really bad way. To me, getting sleep is step 1 to surviving parenthood.

But there are people who can totally function without it. I'm just not one of them.