No Bad Babies
“You look a bit tired”, the grocery store clerk remarked sympathetically. I was struggling to keep my droopy eyelids from closing, my under-eye circles made me look like a raccoon, and I was wearing the same milk-stained shirt I’d on all night long. “A bit tired” was a compliment. I smiled and agreed that I was a “bit” tired, and told her that I have a six month old baby girl at home, along with a highly energetic four-year-old.
The young clerk smiled. “Oh, a baby girl!” “Does she sleep well? Is she a good baby?” was her next question.
This might be the most common question known to new moms. I know that in my 5 years of being a mom, I’ve had this asked to me many more times than I can even count. And I cringe, every single time. While I know people mean well, it’s something we need to stop asking parents.
In the world of babies, there is such a strong fixation on the “good” vs “hard” babies. I often wonder who these so-called good babies really are. I’m assuming they’re the ones who sleep through the night by 12 weeks, the ones who cry minimally, the babies who seem to require little other than regular feeds and naps. The not-so-good, difficult babies must be the ones who keep their mom and dad up all night, who want to be held constantly, and who won’t nap for longer than 15 minutes at a time when placed down alone. By these standards, I’ve had some pretty terrible babies. But by my standards and everything I’ve read, I’d say I have completely wonderful, completely normal babies who are just, well, doing what babies do.
I can’t help but wonder when this obsession with babies sleeping through the night really started. When it all comes down to it, the extreme focus on babies’ nighttime sleeping often causes much more stress than necessary to well-meaning moms and dads. Here’s the thing: from a biological perspective, babies need us. They need the comfort of their mom’s chest, the familiar smell of their parents’ arms holding them tight, and our rhythmic breathing close to them. They definitely don’t want to be put down for any long stretches. This is all normal. Yet in our sleep-obsessed, fanatic internet-researching world (hey, I’m part of it, too!), it’s easy to forget this. It can be difficult to remind ourselves that every baby is different. Those parents whose babies sleep through the night by 12 weeks are lucky and more rested, but rare. Some babies don’t actually sleep through the night until at least 6 months, many more at one year, and some even longer than that. This is all normal.
It doesn’t mean you have a bad baby if yours doesn’t sleep through the night early on any less than it means you have a good baby if he or she is an easy sleeper.
I know I confused the cashier that day by telling her that my baby doesn’t sleep well at all, BUT she is definitely a “good” baby. The puzzled look on her face cued me into the fact that she already associated “good” babies to be the good sleepers.
Trust me, I know the desperation that comes with sleep deprivation all too well. My son barely slept, like at all, until he was a year old. It was extremely tough, and those days still seem like a blurry fog when I look back. And for the first six months of her life, until shortly after this encounter, my daughter/second born didn’t nap for longer than 15 minutes at a time. It was barely long enough for a bathroom break and a quick caffeine guzzle. She just turned one though and thankfully she is now an expert napper, giving me time to eat AND shower. She can put herself to sleep like a champ, but she is definitely not sleeping through the night. And that’s okay. It really is. Because while the days are long, and sometimes they are reeealllly long, the years are short. My firstborn now sleeps through the night, and soon enough I’ll be looking back on these days of limited sleep, missing those baby cuddles and middle of the night feeds.
So for now, let’s stop asking if the baby is a good baby. Let’s change it up a bit. Ask the new mom (or dad) how she’s doing. She’ll probably be tired. And if her baby doesn’t sleep, she’ll be downright exhausted. Let her know that this too shall pass. Don’t let her believe, even for one second, that her sleepless baby is not a good baby. And definitely do not let her feel as though she’s one of the unlucky ones just because her little one doesn’t sleep, or seems extra clingy, or wants to constantly fed. Remind her this is all normal and tell her that she doing an amazing job. Because there are no bad babies. Only a huge variation of little blessings.
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