I read this article yesterday, and I couldn't stop thinking about it.
Sleep was probably THE issue for us. My son was a terrible sleeper from the hospital on. He was also colicky, screaming for hours each night. When he fell asleep, we were exhausted. Rather than risk a restart of the crying (which could happen), we let him sleep with us. He didn't sleep through the night until he was close to two and a half years old, and by this I mean he woke up every hour or two.
Now that I’m a mom of two and still living in the broken sleep stage, I see something that I didn’t see the first time. It wasn’t the sleep deprivation that killed me; it was the worry.
Here's what I wish someone had told me as a new mom. This is the most freeing advice I can give you. And I do feel like it’s rather urgent: no one ultimately knows about sleep, your baby's sleep probably isn’t your fault, and things will eventually work out (or you will work them out).
I cannot understand why people act like poor sleep in a baby will become a life-long issue. It's total insanity, and there's nothing to back it up. I don't know if this view is promoted to make parents feel less guilty about sleep training or just to make them more paranoid in general, but it's simply not true.
There are a million stories. There are stories of babies who are sleep-trained and then sleep well forever. There are also stories of babies for whom sleep-training works but then they become terrible sleepers as toddlers. There are stories of babies who are impossible to sleep train. There are stories of babies who co-sleep then easily transition to their own beds. There are also stories of babies who co-sleep and their parents regret it because the transition is so hard.
Unfortunately, as you try to get sympathy for your own sleep deprivation, people mostly just want to give advice (for proof, read the comments on this article). However, sleep is not always a simple, solvable problem. People often forget that adults, too, have a myriad of sleeping styles, preferences, and problems.
As I researched my own infant's sleep, I learned that sleep can be more cultural than we realize. In many cultures, people don't expect children to sleep through the night until they are two or three years old, and even then, they sleep with a parent. Our "sleep issue" may actually be considered normal sleep by people in some cultures or in some time periods.
For so long I thought I was bringing the sleep issues on myself and thus deserved no compassion. If I could get my act together, my child would sleep well and I would sleep well and could be a better mom. I thought that any time I spent catching up on sleep was wasted time because my baby should be sleeping through the night and I should too. I felt a lot of guilt.
The sleep issue humbled me as a mom. It made me realize I didn’t--couldn't--have it all together. And then it helped me see that every parent is tired. Some amount of sleep deprivation is normal as a parent. Every parent struggles. Even a good night of sleep doesn’t guarantee patience and kindness. And I had to learn to be patient and kind in spite of broken sleep.
The problem is: we can’t control sleep. When it comes right down to it, we can't force a child to sleep. This is a terrifying discovery. And we can't know whether the good sleeper might not suddenly become a bad sleeper due to sickness or nightmares or something we never figure out.
It comes down to deciding what you can live with, letting go of guilt, realizing there are many different stories and you can’t know the ending. It comes down to realizing that if you are sensitive and engaged, you won’t ruin your child.
That's the other thing I wish I had known: If it isn't broken, you don't have to fix it. If you're fine with how sleep works in your family for now, that's great even if it seems weird to other people. When it's no longer working, you'll feel motivated to come up with a solution. This happened for us with night-weaning. The first time, it didn't work, and I think my son wasn't ready. But the second time, I was pregnant, and I could not stand to nurse at night. And that time, I was motivated to follow through and my son was a little older, and it all worked out.
Sleep is mostly about sleep. This is a brutal phase of life. Everyone has their battles, and if yours is sleep, I’m sorry. But you don't have to spend hours researching it and feeling guilty. You can just do what works, whether it's daily naps or everyone in the same bed or everyone in different rooms.
And I firmly believe that when something is no longer working, you’ll figure out a solution, even if it's clumsy. Parents--even sleep-deprived ones--are smarter than they think.
P.S. If you want to understand how infant sleep works from an anthropological perspective, this is a great book. I also love this book on parenting, which includes information on sleep. I love La Leche League for sleep and breastfeeding advice, and their books on sleep and breastfeeding are good. I also wrote a post on how those of us suffering from broken sleep are sleeping like our ancestors.