Ensuring Peaceful Nights with Your Baby

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.authenticparent.com


Naomi Aldort
Naomi Aldort

We cosleep with our baby, but she keeps waking up every hour or two to breastfeed. I put her to sleep at 7  p.m., and she wakes up two hours later. I join her at around 10 p.m. and then she keeps waking up and nursing. Should I move her away from our family bed to help my baby sleep better?

A: I am delighted that your baby sleeps with you. If she woke up in another bed or another room, she would have had to go through anxiety and crying every time she needed to breastfeed or to feel reassured that you still exist. She would have given up half the times, and she would have learned a painful lesson, “When I need care, I have to cry loudly.” This is the early training for tantrums and anger.

When babies are carried on our bodies and sleep with us, they hardly have to make a sound to get the care they need. As they grow older, they will keep asking for what they want in gentle ways.

Waking at night is nature’s clever design. Babies grow in their sleep and can become easily hungry. Sensing the presence of the mother’s body reminds them to wake up and nurse. In addition, since their breathing is still immature, nature makes sure that they wake up often enough to avoid very deep sleep and apnea. Nature makes no mistakes.

Your expectation that she should wake up less frequently causes you undue stress. The good news is, she is thriving and you are meeting her needs wonderfully. Without your misled expectation, you can respond to the way she is with joy. I recall waiting impatiently for the sweet moments of my babies waking up at night so I can kiss, smell, breastfeed, and feel the baby. These times are heavenly, but resisting and worry steal our joy away. The more you follow your baby’s needs, the easier it becomes. Of course, make sure to eat well yourself, avoid stimulating foods, and provide a dark, quiet bedroom for your family.

The baby is always right. The baby never asks for something wrong. The basic needs she signals for are what she absolutely needs. Your job is not to alter your baby but to respond to the way she is. You only doubt yourself when under the influence of other people. Listen to your little baby and to your own heart. She is needing to sleep with you and to wake to breastfeed as often as she does. There are ways for you to get enough sleep without going against your baby’s needs.

Couple Time and Bedtime

Many couples with a first or even a second baby are still “hoping” to resume life the way it was. They want to put the baby to sleep and have time for themselves. However, more often than not, sleep proves itself far from a good babysitter. Bedtime becomes a struggle because of an unspoken goal of getting rid of the baby or child. The baby senses this intent and may become resistant to sleep or simply not wanting to be excluded. Because it seems to work for some when the baby is still young, we are fooled to believe it would keep working.

In reality, your baby needs your uninterrupted presence when sleeping. The baby has no idea of future and no sense of existing without her body being touched. She can therefore experience terror when alone. This is the reason that nature gave babies a built-in reaction of crying when away from our bodies. Nature never meant for babies to sleep away from their mothers. And, mothers naturally want to hold their babies. There is no reason to train mothers and babies out of their healthy attachment.

When you put your baby to sleep at 7 p.m., she is not cosleeping for a good part of her night. She is alone. Waking up to find herself without you is scary for her. She can develop into a light sleeper who wakes up frequently to guard that you are close by. Your daughter’s emotional well being, confidence, intelligence, and health depend on taking for granted that mom is always present. This may require a lot more than you thought you were ready to give, but at the end, it is the easier way and it results in a well-behaved, content child. Be gentle with yourself by avoiding guilt, and instead, learn and grow daily by listening to your baby and exploring inside of you the thoughts that drag you away from enjoying her fully.

In natural societies, parents never put their babies or children to bed. A baby sleeps when she sleeps. She is in arms at all times and regulates her own sleep. In this way, the baby learns self-awareness and self-regulation without becoming dependent on adult control. Let your baby fall asleep on the breast anywhere you are, at her own time, so she can become self-aware and develop healthy sleep.

Full-Time Cosleeping

I often say that I was a lazy mother. I wanted to do everything the easiest way. Amazingly, I found that this was also the kindest way to babies and children. I always went to sleep with my children in the same bed and the same time. They had no stress about bedtime and are terrific sleepers. I never put them to bed. Every night was a slumber party, and we always had enough sleep and sometimes I even read in bed in the morning while the children were still asleep.

We must move on and depart from old expectations. Sex and couple time don’t have to be always in the evening and in the bedroom. Trying to impose couple time in the evening, when the baby needs you the most, is a struggle against nature. Find new times and settings for your relationship and realize that being together as a family is romantic, too. It is not about sex but about love and sharing the child you are nurturing together.

Your baby needs to be in body contact with you at all times, including the first hours of her night’s sleep.

Use these principles in your own creative ways. Respond to the flow, nurture your daughter’s natural ability to recognize her own tiredness even if she fights it — it is her self-discovery — and provide constant, stress-free physical closeness. Your baby wake-ups are wonderful and healthy; without struggling against it, you can cherish each moment of cuddling with your nursing little angel.

8 thoughts on “Ensuring Peaceful Nights with Your Baby”

  1. I have been co-sleeping with my son since birth. He is now 2 1/2 and has never slept as long as children his age are “supposed” to. He rarely wants to take a nap or go to bed. He still wants to nurse all night. When he was a baby I could go back to sleep while he was nursing. I can’t anymore and it takes me a long time to go back to sleep once I can slither away. I am exhausted!
    I have been working on “Mama’s milk needs to sleep and you can have mama’s milk when the sun comes up”. I also offer him water or milk in a cup. But he cries and cries and thinks of anything he can to “wake up” mama’s milk (these days asking to use the potty a few times a night).
    I need help on what I can do, if anything. He needs more sleep. I need more sleep. I know we would be a lot happier and healthier if we got it.
    BTW – I am a single mother.

  2. I know cosleeping is great but it doesn’t work for all. Although my baby is in a crib besides my bed, I was never able to sleep with him in the same bed, I usually never feel comfortable enough to get into deep sleep. You have to be a happy mama and enjoying it in order to work. I will recruit someone to help you for a week, perhaps a friend or someone from the family that is close to your child and work on trying to help him to wean for the night. I like the book of DR. Sears about sleeping or Elizabeth Pantley book also. They have them in many libraries. Good Luck!

  3. My 3 yr old daughter’s bed is in my room (co sleep) and my 8 month old son sleeps with me in my bed (bed sharing). Our bedroom is exactly that. We all sleep in there. My husband and I just have to be creating when it comes to sex, the stairs are fun, lol. I receive a lot of criticism for this choice and even my husband is not convinced as he believes in the cry it out crap… but when my 3 yr old has a bad dream, I am right there to comfort her, it’s easy and natural. When she was first born I tried to follow the “Baby wise” approach with scheduled feedings and sleep training, cry it out etc. She is a firey personality and this only fueled tantrums at a very very early age. It broke my heart once I realized. We are slowly undoing that damage and though I am not one to live with regrets, this is something I wish I didnt do because it was at the expense of my child’s emotional welfare. With my son we are trying everything attachment and the difference is night and day. I believe the trick is to do what is natural for you and your family. Now we parent this way for both and I find parenting so satifying and I dont have guilt now. Do what your instincts tell you, this is attachment parenting. Good Luck!

  4. Thank you for this article, it is very encouraging to me.

    My son is 2 months and people often ask when I put him to sleep and I never know what to say because I never put him to sleep, he just goes to sleep when he feels like it while being held or carried and then we go to bed together.

    Recently I started thinking about putting him to bed earlier so that he can sleep better without interruptions (he usually wakes up when I lay him down at night) and my husband and I can have some time for ourselves.

    I don’t feel really comfortable with these thoughts however as they are probably related to the pressure from the society and not to my instincts. Now I think I’ll just keep doing what I have been doing!

  5. I am a mother of a 7 month old baby and a 4,5 year old girl. Thank you so much for this wonderful text, ful of warm and wise tips. I completely agree with you and with this you reassured me that I am a good mother. I will keep listening to my baby and my own hart! 🙂

  6. I just want to offer a suggestion: I have slept with my baby boy since he was a newborn (he had natural birth at a birth center). We sleep on a futon mattress on the floor. This is the safest way to do it because it is very firm so there are no soft mattress folds to worry about suffocation and you also don’t have to worry about them falling off the bed. I don’t like beds anyways, I have always liked sleeping on the floor.

    Anyways, I get GREAT sleep and I have since he was one week old and I learned how to breastfeed him laying down. He is now 6 months old and he wakes me briefly about 3-4 times throughout the night and I immediately roll to one side and breastfeed him and he goes right back to sleep. Change sides each time by leaving my shirt strap down, I can remember which side. It’s perfect and so easy!

    I have no idea what “putting to sleep” is either. He sleeps when he’s tired, whenever that may be. LOL. These have been my instincts. It never made sense to me why a frightened helpless baby new to this world should be apart from his/her mom by being put in a crib, much less a whole other room! What the heck is that all about? Who’s dumb idea was that?

    Oh and my instincts have led me to other important life decisions as well. As the person designated to protect him I have decided:

    No circumcision
    No vaccines
    Breastfeeding for at least 2 years
    Raw vegan diet
    Extended family

  7. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to get sleep though, when my daughter and I go to sleep at 10:30, and she gets up as much as every hour. I NEVER sleep away from her, and she never sleeps alone. Not during naps, never. Yet she still nurses up to 12 times a night! She cannot need reassurance that I’m still there, since she has never had to cry for a meal, ever. We nurse side-lying, but I cannot sleep through it as I have very large breasts and have to hold them out of her face.

  8. Sara- Your experience sounds a lot like mine. You didn’t mention how old your baby is. My son just turned 1 year and has only in the past few weeks decreased his night nursings from 10-12 times down to 4-5 times a night. I am alos unable to sleep through nursing. All I can say is it does eventually get better. It has seemed to me that sleep wise my baby was just very immature and needed time, and my patience, to develop the ability to stay asleep longer. Still not sleeping through the night but one day we’ll get there! it’s exhausting, but have hope and know you are not alone!

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