Do mothers ever really sleep? I think not. Once you have a child, parents are basically in a constant state of worry. You’re always on alert, even when you’re not awake. You sleep with one ear and eye open.
Children go through different sleeping patterns. First comes the infancy stage, where you’re lucky if you sleep a solid three hours straight. This is followed by the toddler years, where your child is now mobile and can freely travel down the hallway to wake you at will. I’m sure we’ve all had those moments where you’re nudged awake in a state of pure terror before you realize it’s your child standing above you and not Michael Myers with a butcher knife.
But don’t lose hope. There is another stage that follows where your child is slightly more independent. They still need bedtime stories and goodnight kisses, three glasses of water and a monster check before finally closing their eyes, but they eventually sleep soundly and through the night (for the most part).
Baby’s Sleep Patterns During Infancy
The frequency of nighttime feedings is usually based on whether or not you’re breastfeeding, and the decision to breastfeed is a deeply personal one for any mother. Breastfeeding offers unmatched nutritional benefits for your infant. A mother’s breast milk provides antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses. It’s also a highly intimate experience between a mother and her child.
But breastfeeding isn’t for everyone. Sometimes a mother can’t produce enough milk for her child, while others just opt for formula. Whatever decision you make, it’s completely up to you!
An awesome benefit for moms who breastfeed is increased calorie burn, if you want to quickly shed some of that baby weight. But it also means your baby might not sleep as long between feedings as a bottle-fed baby might.
I fed my son with formula and he slept an average of three hours a night. I feel that each mother finds their nighttime feeding rhythm. This is what mine looked like:
- Son fell asleep with a bottle around 6 p.m.
- Son wakes for another bottle at 9 p.m. This isn’t bad because I’m not sleeping yet.
- I feed him, make sure he has a dry diaper and place him in his crib.
- Son wakes at midnight.
- I stumble to the kitchen and heat the bottle before scooping him up from his crib.
- I hold him and say, “You slept for three whole hours, I’m so proud of you.” He looks at me, crying, most likely thinking, “Shut up and feed me.”
- I check his diaper. If he’s dry I stumble back into the kitchen with him and grab his bottle, shake and test.
- Sit at the dining room table and turn on the TV… which I now know is kind of a “no-no” as the light can stimulate your baby and cause them to become even more alert, which at midnight is the LAST thing you want to do.
- I watch George Lopez and feed my son, burping him periodically.
- By the time the bottle is done, he’s back asleep. I place him in his crib and stumble back to bed. The clock reads 12:45 a.m.
- I fall back asleep and wake to his cries again at 3:30 and 6 a.m.
- My best sleep was always from about 6:30 to 9 a.m.
- I wake feeling mildly rested.
This was my son’s feeding routine for about the first three months. The first night he slept six hours straight was one of the best days of my life.
Toddler Sleep Patterns
The day your infant grows out of their crib is filled with mixed emotions—there’s excitement that they’re growing up, sadness that they’re growing up and the realization they’re now mobile.
Once those crib bars come down, your child can roam freely during the night. Some kids are too afraid to venture from their beds. They’re so accustomed to crying or calling out for you they don’t even think about letting their toes touch the floor without you being near.
Both situations have their perks—an immobile child means no surprise visitors at inconvenient times. But if your child won’t get out of bed without out, you’ll be woken by their calls over the monitor and need to get up. I’m not sure which is worse.
The day my son graduated from his crib to a bed was one I won’t soon forget. My son had just turned two years old. And by “just turned,” I mean his birthday was about four days prior. I was at work and came home to find that my husband and taken down the crib and transformed my son’s bed into a full-size bed. In his defense, the crib didn’t offer an intermediate stage—it went directly from infant to high schooler in size.
I was shocked, annoyed, sad and felt a wide-range of other feelings when I discovered the makeover. My main concern was that my husband was about to start a month of night shifts. So who was left to deal with this huge transition at bedtime for our son? Yep. Me! I wasn’t thrilled.
This is also the moment I created a monster. Out of fear my son wouldn’t fall asleep on his own as he once had in his crib, I stayed with him until he fell asleep. I just sat beside him on the bed and waited until he drifted off before doing the infamous tip-toe out of the bedroom.
That was almost five years ago. I still do this tip-toe dance each night because my son insists I lay beside him until he falls asleep. It’s a bad sleep habit that I know I should break, but snuggling with him for those brief few moments is one of the favorite parts of my day. And I know that in another five years, he won’t want to snuggle with mommy at bedtime. So for now, if he asks me to lay with him, I’m not going to say no.
The Kindergarten Years
At this point, your child is pretty comfortable with this whole sleeping routine thing. They are familiar with their bed, their room and they know when it’s bedtime.
Once they reach school age and begin attending kindergarten, bedtimes become even more important. They have a bus to catch and a long day of learning ahead. They need to be well-rested and focused.
My son is seven and in first grade. We have our routine pretty much down to a science. I stir him at 6:45 a.m. before I get in the shower. He’s out of bed by 7:10 a.m.: we use the bathroom, brush his teeth and get him dressed. Then he has until 8 a.m. for breakfast and some TV time. We leave for the bus at 8:10 a.m. and he’s on his way.
Some mornings run smoother than others. Mommy needs her coffee before my son wakes up. I need a few minutes to myself to mentally prepare and tackle the day.
That’s why I love my sunrise alarm clock: it wakes me up with just enough time to enjoy a hot cup of coffee and some light reading. An alarm clock is a great resource for your children also. It places some of the responsibility on them. I really like the ones that were featured in Red Tricycle’s great roundup of cool alarm clocks for kids.
If you’re a new parent struggling through sleepless nights or the parent of a toddler that just won’t stay in their bed, don’t worry! There is light—and yes, even sleep—at the end of the tunnel!