• The Mum Tribe

#realtalk: There Is No Perfect Baby Sleep Formula

Updated: May 14

I'm part of a few different baby sleep support groups on Facebook, and have also fallen victim to frantic 3am Googling more than once when my baby just would NOT sleep. Something I have observed through all this, is that there are a lot of different people trying to flog their wares for the "perfect baby sleep schedule" or "ways to get your baby to sleep through the night".

The truth is, and sit down if you're standing up, there is no perfect formula. Our children are not robots, you can't expect them to be the same as your best friend's baby, or the same as their cousin. Or even the same as their sibling. Just like you have your own unique sleep personality, your baby has theirs.

Now I'm going to admit right up front here that I am NOT an expert on baby sleep. We've been stumbling around in the dark (sometimes quite literally) for the past 5 months with our daughter. But one thing I have noticed is that SO MUCH of the advice we get is either complete rubbish or just contradicts itself.

You can't schedule a baby

Most baby sleep programs (that cost quite a lot of money) centre around this concept of sleep schedules. Now, if you want to buy a sleep program, that is totally your decision. It may help you. But it's not a silver bullet. Sleep schedules are exactly that, a schedule, and they need to be adhered to far too strictly to be able to have any kind of normal life.

The thing is, life happens. Doctor's appointments happen. Coffee with friends happens. Teething happens. Sometimes the dog barks and wakes baby up. Or baby sleeps later than usual. Call me crazy but if my baby decides she wants a sleep-in, I'm not going to wake her up to make sure she sticks to her daily schedule of naps.

Routines are a whole other kettle of fish. Routines work really well for babies. I've found that finding a routine that works for you and your baby is key. Observe their sleepy cues and find a nap rhythm that works for them, and try to keep them in that rhythm. Often 'recommended' awake times are too long or too short, which can make it hard to stick to a schedule set by someone else.

Sleep aids

There are any number of baby sleep aids, some with eye-watering price tags. All sorts of swaddles, white noise machines, shushers, there are even cribs with a built in swaddle that rock baby to sleep. All claiming to be the magical solution that will get your baby to sleep through the night, or sleep at all. And when you're sleep deprived and desperate, you're much more likely to click 'Add to cart' at 3am.

The thing with sleep aids is that you can't really know if it'll work for your baby unless you try. I see so many people who say "I've tried swaddling, white noise, shushing, patting, singing, EVERYTHING and nothing works". What sort of response do they get on a forum where they're asking for help? Nothing. Because some babies just struggle with sleeping. No matter how many expensive things you buy for them.

I'm extremely blessed in that my daughter does quite like white noise. When we turn on her sleep aid and pop her into her sleeping bag she knows it's time to sleep. But the key is my daughter LIKES to sleep. She's like her mother in that way. Sleep is something that feels good for her. If babies don't want to sleep, no amount of sleep aids are going to help. Sorry.

The pressure on parents

This is the saddest part of all the kerfuffle around baby sleep. In my opinion, this is why we obsess about getting baby to sleep through the night, and why we desperately seek help when our baby isn't sleeping. Because we have to. We have to get up in the morning and go to work, or take care of our other kids. There isn't time to "sleep when baby sleeps" during the day when there are mountains of chores to do or a job waiting for you.

Recently I was reflecting on what parents would have done "in the old days". I'm talking colonial times. How did these people deal with the sleep deprivation? I'll never know, but what I do know is that parental pressure is at unprecedented levels.

We get asked "is baby sleeping through the night yet?" and we want to throttle the person who asks us because no they are not sleeping through the night, thanks for asking. We get judged for co-sleeping because it's dangerous, but sometimes it's literally the only way anybody will actually get some sleep. And yes, then we get marketed to by the sleep consultants, the sleep programs, the sleep aid product companies. And we feel this pressure even more to spend, spend, spend on the thing that may just be the perfect formula for getting our babies to sleep.

Your baby is a unique human being, with their own personality. They have their own needs, their own wants. Did you know that human babies feel emotion from birth? They're primitive emotions, sure, but they are emotions. We're complex social creatures, and we can't be unlocked by some formula or schedule.

I know it can be incredibly hard when you're sleep deprived, but I want you to know you're not alone. When it's 2am and you're awake it can feel like the loneliest thing in the world. But there are loads of other mamas (and papas) awake with you. All wanting to do the best by their child.

I want you to know that this too shall pass. And before you know it your tiny babe who can't sleep will be a teenager that you can't drag out of bed on the weekends. Don't wish away their littleness, mama. They're only little for such a short time, and they need all the love you can give them.

You're doing amazingly, and you're not alone.



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Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand