No, My Baby Doesn’t Sleep Through The Night

Photography: Mel Muller

By Kimberly Poovey

It’s the first question we ask far too many new parents: “Is he a good sleeper?” “Getting any rest?” “Sleeping through the night yet?”

And when the answer is a huge resounding NO, (as it most certainly is about 90 percent of the time in the early days/weeks/months), the asker will often give a deeply pitying look and respond with the fact that their child slept 15 consecutive hours a night from day three of life because they did Baby Wise/CIO/Ferberizing/witchcraft/etc.

How is the shell-shocked new parent supposed to respond to this exactly? Because there is literally nothing less helpful in the universe than subtly shaming a brand-new mom or dad for being exhausted. Comments like these leave the parent feeling like a failure, like their child is somehow deficient, and reminds them yet again that they are just. so. sleepy.

Here’s the thing: Lots of babies take a really freaking long time to start sleeping through the night. Lots of babies will never respond to the popular make-a-baby-sleep tricks. And plenty of parents just aren’t comfortable with anything resembling sleep training. And that’s more than OK.

My child is one the happiest and healthiest toddlers I’ve ever encountered. He’s bright, curious, adventurous, active, nurturing, and a really healthy eater. He’s 19 months old. And plenty of nights, he still wakes up for some snuggles. And while he finally (finally) will actually sleep through the night on a semi-regular basis, this is a new development.

In the early days, he wanted to sleep all the time. In the hospital, the nurses even had to put cold water on his feet to wake him from his deepest slumber. But due to some major breastfeeding problems, he lost tons of weight in his first two weeks of life, and we had to start setting alarms to wake him up every two hours to eat. (If there’s anything more depressing than waking up a peacefully sleeping newborn when you’re more tired than you’ve ever been in your life, I can’t think of it.)

Did we destroy his natural bent toward sleeping long stretches with this routine? Maybe so. We’ll never know. But he needed to eat, so we did what we had to do.

Only within the last month or so has my son learned to put himself to sleep on his own with minimal fuss. Cry-it-out methods always tore our hearts out, and honestly, even when we got really desperate and gave modified CIO a try, he didn’t respond well. Swaddling didn’t help. Sound machines and pitch-black rooms made no difference. We tried it all. But still he woke up for hugs.

Sometimes in the desert of new-parent exhaustion, you will be seduced by the shimmering oasis of The Sleep Magic Bullet: that one time your baby wore the astronaut footie pajamas and drank exactly 7 ounces of milk before bed and had the swaddle blanket with the monkeys on it and Jupiter was in retrograde and he slept through the night!

In your sleep-deprived state, you will start to see patterns that might relieve you of your exhaustion everywhere, but often, you’re just looking for things that aren’t there.

So don’t get discouraged if exactly recreating that magical night yields less-than-satisfactory results. There are so many factors at play, sometimes it’s impossible to find the elusive Sleep Magic Bullet. And that’s OK.

Because here’s the thing: We survived. It’s been 19 months, and we are all reasonably well rested. Even though he still wakes up sometimes, he gets 10-11 hours of sleep a night. Our sanity, marriage, and sex life have emerged intact.

Healthy, happy babies with completely wonderful parents can be totally terrible sleepers. You’re not a failure. Your baby is not deficient. You’re doing a great job and your baby is doing just fine. It will get better, but sometimes it just takes a while. No two babies are created equal, and there’s no one-size-fits-all way to be a parent.

And one day, your baby will be a teenager who sleeps 15 hours a night. It will happen. So at least there’s that.

(Note: The writing of this article was interrupted by my child waking up for a hug.)


Kimberly Poovey is a writer, speaker, wife, and over-caffeinated new(ish) mom. She runs a teen pregnancy prevention program for a nonprofit and is a founder of Pearls, an organization that serves women in the sex industry and fights human trafficking. You can find her over on Scary Mommy, The Mighty, her blog, and on Facebook. This piece was originally published here

3 Comments

  • Love this. My first child did not sleep. I thought I had some control or responsibility over his sleep. I believed the fact that he didn’t doze off while drowzy was my fault. When people asked if I jad a “good baby” and if he was “sleeping through” when he wasn’t, I felt like I was doing a bad job as Mum.
    The sleep only got worse as Johnny developed eczema and we began seeing signs of food allergies. His eczema got to the point where he was oozing head to toe and was very nearly hospitalized. The traditional methods did not cure him rather steroids acted like a mask over the problem and antibiotics only worsened everything. His sleep (and mine) became non existant during this period. He could only sleep for one 45 minute cycle at a time before the itching and scratching would wake him up. It must have been torture. He would scratch so bad I was washing blood out of his clothes and wishing I was a regular Mum who only had pumpkin stains to worry about.
    To get Johnny to sleep, we would have to bath him, wet wrap him, pop his eczema gloves over his hands and then cosleep with him while holding down all of his limbs. We did this 5x a day, 2am being one of those times. We had him in this hold for the entire duration of his sleep before he would wake up crying and we would have to hold him down to sleep again. I will never forget those little eyes looking up at me in these moments in bed, as if begging me to make the itching stop.
    I was so disorientated from chronic sleep deprivation that I didn’t know if it was day time or night time, what day it was or what time it was. I dreaded nighttime and would often mutter to myself “I hate this” and wishing the sun would rise so I could stop fighting the sleep.
    I remember one mental turning point where I looked at my husband and said, “We just have to accept it. Stop fighting it. It is what it is”. It really helped us mentally, acceptance is key.
    Things did get better when we went full hippie on the eczema and consulted with a naturopath regarding gut healing for eczema and by 18 months old, we got our boy sleeping through a few times. He will be 3 on Monday and he still wakes to come into our bed at night or when he has had a bad dream. We don’t mind one little bit and we don’t fight it.
    We have never faught or forced sleep with our second child, opting to cosleep and babywear for sleep and she has been such a breeze, she still wakes for a feed at 15 months and we view it as normal. Perception is key.
    Life really is so much easier for having chosen to go with the flow in terms of sleep. I wish I had known that at the start!

  • Thanks for your comment Dearlovehealth. What an incredibly hard journey for you. Such great strength to get through this hard time with you little one, he must have felt secure in your arms though, and it would have been harder without your love and dedication.

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