When you’re pregnant, everyone else in your life becomes an expert. Each person you meet has some unique insight into the “best way” to do everything, from nursing to diapering to sleeping. We’re all guilty of it — now that I’m a mom I do it too — and it can be challenging to navigate in response to all the white noise. At the end of the day, following all of this advice is sort of like checking if pasta is cooked; you try everything and see what sticks. And if it sticks — even for a day — you call it a win.
When I was pregnant I wanted to do everything right. All the materials I read at the doctor’s office and online said that the safest way to for your baby to sleep was in a separate sleep space in the parents’ bedroom for the first 6 months. As a ravenous consumer of the internet, I was obviously terrified of my baby dying of SIDS, and I lost hours of my life researching the best cots, co-sleepers, and bassinets.
I finally settled on one: a bassinet with mesh sides, for optimal breathing and airflow, a firm sleeping surface, and countless of exciting (but ultimately useless) bells and whistles – a nursing timer, music, vibrations.
I was so excited to use it I could hardly stand it. When we brought the baby home we carefully swaddled her, sang her a lullaby, and put her down for the night. And she slept 10 hours!
No, that’s obviously a lie. She was 3 days old; she slept for 10 minutes. But by week 5 or so she could sleep for about 5 – 6 hours at night, which meant that after we “dream fed” her at midnight, we would climb in to bed next to her. My dreams of a safe, family bedroom were finally coming true.
This plan, however, had one significant flaw: I had given birth to a gremlin.
I love my daughter dearly. She is incredibly cute, and her daytime noises are adorable. At night, however, she sounds like a demonic creature. She grunts, groans, snorts, and – even while swaddled – is in constant motion.
Becoming a mother turned me into the lightest of sleepers. I was so tuned into the baby’s needs I would find myself waking up a fraction of a second before she did. The unfortunate side effect of this was that I woke up every time she made one of those growling noises. By 7 weeks, the baby was sleeping through the night. I was not.
My commitment to maintaining this idyllic sleep situation was starting to take a toll on my health. The sleep deprivation was steadily getting worse, and as I was going to back to work 8 weeks postpartum, I began to despair. Surely I needed to continue to put the baby’s sleep needs ahead of my own…right?
As it turns out, no. It is just as important for new mothers to get a good night’s sleep, perhaps even more so than the baby. Sleep deprivation makes all aspects of novice parenting more difficult, and increases the risk of developing Postpartum Depression.
One night in a fit of desperation we moved the bassinet into the second bedroom and closed the door. We all woke up 7 hours later, happy and hungry. Moving her into her own room (on her back, in a safe sleep space) turned out to be the best possible solution for our family: I sleep better, and so does she.
Five months later, she’s still a sleep gremlin, and I still wake up just before she does in the mornings. The difference is that now when she greets me with her morning grin, I give her a big smile in return.