To the Mother Stressing Over Her Child's Sleep: I've Been There

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Before I had a baby of my own, I couldn’t understand why mom’s everywhere seemed to be stressing, unnecessarily in my opinion, about their babies’ sleep. I smiled politely when an acquaintance told me that she couldn’t attend a brunch because it was scheduled during her daughter’s naptime. I watched in bewilderment as a colleague and her husband ushered their children out of a family-friendly corporate event at 5 pm in order to get home for bedtime. I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. After all, babies will sleep anywhere, right? Heck, I’ve seen young children curled up under a table at a wedding while the dance party raged behind them.

Surely, I wouldn’t be that mom who lost her cool if her baby missed out on a few z’s. I envisioned myself out for coffee with a friend while my baby slept peacefully beside us. I thought I’d take a brisk walk each morning while my son snoozed in the jogging stroller. When we went to dinner parties, we would simply put our son to bed in a quiet room at their house, and transfer him to his carseat and then his bed when it was time to go home.

Fast forward to life with a baby. I owe a sincere apology to any parent who I ever judged quietly for stressing out about their child’s sleep. As it turns out, newborns sleep anywhere, anytime. But older babies? Not so much.

Thankfully our son has always been a decent nighttime sleeper. Sure, we have rough nights from time to time, but as long as we adhere his 7 pm bedtime, he generally gets a good night sleep. But naptime? Forget it! For the first five months of his life, he outright refused to take a nap anywhere other than on my chest. I’m happy to report that things have improved, as after completing some light sleep training, he now naps crib each day.

However, his naptime and bedtime routines very much structure our days - and I’m OK with that. Here’s why.

Happy Baby, Happy Household
In an ideal world, I’d be able to tote my baby here and there and he’d sleep as needed while we were on the go, never jeopardizing his nighttime sleep. But I’ve quickly realized that a well rested baby is a happy baby, and therefore a happy household. So, I happily plan our days around my son’s naptime and bedtime.

Sometimes you have to be the ‘Bad Cop’
Let me tell you a little story about our baby’s first Christmas. As our social calendar quickly filled up for the month of December, my stress levels were at an all time high as I tried to figure out how our son would get his much-needed sleep during the busy holiday season. Sure enough, the holidays came and whatever semblance of a schedule we’d had in place was kiboshed, as being toted from function to function left little time for napping.

By Boxing Day, I’d had enough. I was a ball of stress as I realized there was a lineup to hold my son, who was already cranky. A well-meaning relative exclaimed, “Why’s he so fussy!” I wanted to scream, “Because he’s tired!” Instead, I politely swooped in, told everyone it was time for us to take a timeout, and we went upstairs to give my son some much needed rest. I wish I hadn’t had to miss out on the party, but it was the worth it to give my son the sleep he so badly needed. When he woke up, he was a ball of fun for the rest of the evening, making it much more pleasant for our family and friends to enjoy his company.

Everything in Moderation
This bit might sound counterintuitive since I’ve just spent the last page trying to assure you that it’s OK to be that mom who is always stressing about getting her baby the sleep he or she needs. I stand behind that advice - most days. But here’s the thing. You need a break too, mama! So, if that means a missed nap because you need to get out of the house and browse Target, that’s ok. It might mean a later-than-usual bedtime because you’ve left your baby with a sitter while you and your husband enjoy some much needed alone time, and he just doesn’t settle the same way he does when you do bedtime.

These things won’t derail all the work you’ve done to get your baby on a semi-predictable sleep schedule. Of course, consistency is key most of the time, I try not to stress about schedule interruptions here and there.

This Too Shall Pass
When you’re in the thick of parenting little ones, the days are long. It may seem like naptime will dictate your life forever. Trust me, I’ve been there. But I promise you, the days of your kids needing several naps per day plus an early bedtime are numbered. So, if your little one isn’t even close to sleeping through the night or taking independent naps, do try all the tricks in the books, but cherish those baby days while they last. They won’t last forever.

Brittany Van Den Brink is a PhD Candidate and freelance writer living in small-town Ontario with her husband, baby son, and their Golden Retriever, Chevy. She founded Motherhood Her Way to collaborate with other moms as they go through the ups and downs of motherhood. Say hi on Instagram @brittanyvandenbrink.