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Don’t Worry, Mama: Most Babies Don’t Sleep Through the Night

Photograph by Twenty20

Sleep deprivation is pure hell and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. And yet, between my two kids, I have spent years of my life extremely sleep-deprived.

I’m not going to say it didn’t suck (it most certainly did!), but looking back, what sucked more than the sleep deprivation itself was the guilt, shame and lack of guidance I received about the whole thing.

I remember when my first child was about 4 months old and I was scouring the internet for information about baby sleep. I was tired AF at that point, and my mom had told me that most babies start sleeping better at 3 months or so. That was definitely not the case here, and so I was hoping Dr. Google would give me some answers.

Instead of reassuring me, internet baby sites only made me freak out more. Apparently, babies are supposed to only be waking up zero to two times at 4 months, and were supposed to start sleeping through at 6 months.

And oh, holy hell, if your baby wasn’t sleeping through by 12 months, you were a royal screw-up.

I can laugh about the whole thing now, because both of my kids ended up being so far from those estimates, it’s ridiculous. But at the time, as a brand-new mommy, I was really worried. Was there something wrong with me or my kid? Was I seriously messing him up somehow?

The worst part is that I felt totally alone. I don’t know if it was just dumb luck, but I seemed to be surrounded by parents of unicorn sleepers. Moms at the park would tell tales of babies who could be put down at 7:30 p.m. and didn’t call for them again until the bright hour of 7:30 a.m.

It’s about time we dropped the myth that babies sleep through at one magic age, or that it has any thing to do with something we parents did or didn’t do.

I learned soon after this, much to my relief, that I really was far from alone. I finally found my mom tribe a few months later, and pretty much all of us had crap sleepers. Being honest about that fact was what drew us together.

But it’s not just me and my cool friends who had “bad” sleepers. It turns out most kids sleep through the night a whole lot later than we’ve been led to believe.

In a study published in the December 2018 issue of Pediatrics, researchers found that the majority of babies are NOT sleeping through the night at 6 months, and many still aren’t sleeping through at 1 year. At 6 months, more than half of all babies the researchers studied weren’t sleeping eight full hours, and by 12 months, 43 percent weren’t sleeping eight hours.

“Sleeping through the night at age 6 to 12 months is generally considered the gold standard in Western industrialized nations,” the researchers wrote.

But the researchers want us to know that this is, well, bullshit.

The other gold nugget out of this report? The researchers found no health problems among babies who didn’t sleep through, nor did they find any long-term developmental issues.

Interestingly, moms who had “bad sleepers” were not more prone to depression or mood disorders. The researchers found that parents got more stressed about the judgment surrounding baby sleep than the actual sleep deprivation itself.

"If there was only one thing I could tell parents, it would be do not worry if your infant does not sleep through the night at six months of age," Marie-Hélène Pennestri, leader of the study team, told "NBC News."

Oh, my goodness, thank you. And where was this study all those years ago when I was frantically Googling my face off about my baby’s “bad sleep habits” and telling myself that I must be the world’s worst mother because my 4-month-old didn’t sleep?

It’s about time we dropped the myth that babies sleep through at one magic age, or that it has any thing to do with something we parents did or didn’t do. Being the parent of a little one is exhausting as it is. The last thing new parents need is judgment.

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