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Does she sleep through the night?

Since so many people ask this question, I figured I might as well answer it on my blog.

The answer: I don't know.

Before you jump to the conclusion that I am one of those baby trainers and I have simply turned off the baby monitor so that I don't have to listen to my baby's cries, that is not the case. I sleep right next to my daughter in the same bed.

So why don't I know if my daughter is sleeping through the night or not? We are generally harmonious sleepers. She might rouse slightly, but I can usually semi-conciously snuggle up closer, put a hand on her back, or whip out a breast to put her back to sleep and then we both drift right back to sleep without having ever woken up completely and I have no recollection of it in the morning. To be sure there are nights that are exceptions, where she is sick or teething and wakes frequently and noticeably, but those are few and far between. Generally my cat and my husband wake me much more often than my baby girl does.

Now that you have the answer, let me tell you why I hate this question. I don't mind when people ask me, because I'm knowledgeable about normal infant sleep, I am confident in my decisions, and I don't feel sleep deprived. However, more often than not, the mothers that are on the receiving end of this question feel pressure to get their baby to sleep through the night. And more often than not, if the mother says that her baby is not sleeping through the night, her answer is followed by a barrage of bad advice about "tough love" or other variations of the ill advised "cry it out" method. They are made to feel like they are doing something wrong by loving and tending to their children at night.

Also, I think it is ridiculous that we act as though sleeping through the night is a milestone to be reached like rolling over, sitting up, walking or talking. Some people sleep through the night and some people don't. Most people get roused by things that go bump in the night, they wake because they have something on their mind, or they need to use the bathroom. If it is okay for us to wake up at night, why isn't it okay for our kids? Sleeping independently is the same thing. People seem to think it is important for a child to be able to sleep alone in his or her own room. But then once we are adults, we start bed sharing with our partners. Why should we expect little babies to be able to sleep on their own when we as adults feel the need to have someone in bed with us?

If you usually ask people this question, please don't. If you often get asked this question, try answering "I don't know, do you?" .
« Faulty logic from the Ontario coroner regarding bed sharing | Main | It's all fun and games until.... »

Reader Comments (45)

[...] This will hopefully be able to compete with the hopeless drivel that some authors put out about sleeping through the night, crying it out, and other garbage (see discussion in the excellent article Mistaken Approaches to [...]

Thank you for an empowering and informative entry! It's a particular bugbear of mine, that the small folk in our lives, are constantly the victims of the sleep debate.
The media are constantly publishing new methods that glorify the old CIO approach, so it's really refreshing to see someone turn around and honestly say how they assist their infant to be comfortable, and well rested!

[...] If another parent complains about how tired she is, tell her how well rested you are as a result of co-sleeping. Let her know that your baby wakes up less often as a result of being next to you and that you hardly wake up at all when you do need to tend to her needs.   [...]

September 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFlaunt Your Crunch! « Ph

I loved this article! We are new to co-sleeping but I find myself trying to explain to people or feeling bad when I say "oh,he sleeps with us"...I'm not going to do that anymore!

October 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCierra

[...] fashionable question at the time was “Is she toilet trained yet?” instead of the “Is she sleeping through the night?” question that we hear so often these days). Elizabeth Pantley has a great quiz to help you [...]

[...] your baby sleeping through the night [...]

December 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPatient parenting « PhD

[...] I sleep quite comfortably and harmoniously with my daughter and often don’t know whether she slept through the night or [...]

[...] your baby sleeping through the night [...]

[...] I sleep quite comfortably and harmoniously with my daughter and often don’t know whether she slept through the night or [...]

[...] like “does she sleep through the night?” and “is she a good baby?“, this is one of the most inevitable and annoying [...]

[...] fashionable question at the time was “Is she toilet trained yet?” instead of the “Is she sleeping through the night?” question that we hear so often these days). Elizabeth Pantley has a great quiz to help you [...]

[...] hate all of the chatter about sleeping through the night. Our society puts way too much pressure on parents in this regard and completely discounts [...]

thanks for the info. i just assumed something was wrong because my almost 6 mo isn't "sleeping through the night" yet. i have read everything and done everything anyone has told me from giving more food to crying out!!! i feel better and now more relaxed that she will when she is ready!!!!

April 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdiane yows

I have read a great article in the dream parenting website which was great and mentioned this website as being a great website to look at, about sleeping through.

I feel so reassured about the fact my little boy will sleep through when he is ready. Also its so true sleeping through is such a weight on a parents shoulders esp. if your baby is waking a lot

May 14, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdebbie

Actually, re. the "sleeping alone" thing - I think it is important for a child to be able to sleep alone. If I, as an adult, would be unable to sleep without someone next to me, this would be a problem. I think this is one of the things leading people to stay in relationships when they're better off alone.
Sleeping with someone is fun, but should not be necessary - for babies or adults.

June 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterpersephone

@persephone: People learn to be able to sleep alone with time. They don't need to be able to do it immediately after leaving the mother's womb.

June 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

[...] It could have been avoided if they didn’t have ridiculous pressure put on them by society to have their baby sleep through the night. [...]

[...] is an effective discipline tool or if there is a better way, or challenging the notion that babies should sleep through the night and that if they don’t, you need to let them cry it [...]

[...] escape them. The well-meaning (mostly), but perhaps not so well thought out questions: •    Is he sleeping through the night? •    How much does she weigh? •    Has he started solids yet? •    Is she toilet [...]

Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post... nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

September 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersandrar

I know this is an older post, but I wanted to comment anyway! You are one fortunate mama! What you describe is certainly what I'd read about when pregnant, but not the experience of all co-sleeping mama/baby duos. I know for a fact that my babe wakes up many times a night!

September 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

[...] If another parent complains about how tired she is, tell her how well rested you are as a result of co-sleeping. Let her know that your baby wakes up less often as a result of being next to you and that you hardly wake up at all when you do need to tend to her needs. [...]

That was the case with my first one as well. While it was frustrating at times, I still resisted seeing him sleeping through the night as a key milestone to meet or as a trophy of good parenting or a good baby, which is how it is seen so often.

February 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Thanks for this post. Of all my parenting decisions, I feel like co-sleeping is the one I've had to defend the most. Leaving a baby alone in a dark room for any reason just doesn't make sense to me - plus this has been a wonderful part of bonding, breastfeeding, and being a mom.

I can't believe how having a child who (supposedly) sleeps through the night is considered a parenting credential. I used to work in the field of circadian clocks and any activity time course recorded for a new baby will show no consolidation of sleep/wakefulness into a day/night pattern before 3 months. This means that new babies who are said to sleep through the night are usually really ignored through the night. Older babies and toddlers continue to need snuggles, warmth, and breast milk at night. A baby who's cries are consistently ignored isn't sleep-trained, he's shut-down.


February 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeather King

Ah I know for a fact my baby wakes up too! We've gone through many phases of sleep patterns over the last year. We had a few months in the beginning of 6 hour stretches, then 3 or 4, and now as she approaches the one year mark (though she was a preemie so she's really only supposed to almost be 10 months) we've had some pretty horrid sleep regression and wakefulness. It's frustrating, but there's not really much I can do. I am so NOT comfortable with any form of sleep training. My baby needs me...it won't be forever...but it is for now.

February 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

If we'd only treat our children the way we like to be treated, how much better would the world be?

I never understand why parenting advice dicates to hold a tiny baby's needs lower than our own?

As an adult, I can get up & out of bed if I'm cold, had a bad dream, am thirsty, or need to use the bathroom. Babies? Can't. Yet, current parenting "wisdom" says to respond to these needs in an infant is to spoil them, to doom them to "never sleep", and thus, as good parents, we should ignore their cries (the only way they can communicate that they are cold, had a bad dream, are thirsty, or need to use the bathroom). We are expected to attend to our children during the day, but why is okay to ignore them at night?

I will tell you, both of my children happily and willingly go to sleep, and peacefully stay asleep at 3 & 5yrs, now in their own bed (they bedshare), after years of sharing a bed with their attentive parents who didn't allow their needs to go unmet at nighttime. Cosleeping is a beautiful way to stay connected with your babies & children at night. It allows them the comfort and time to mature into sleeping at their own pace.

This is a really great post and it sounds like you have a great system going! :) I am on the other end of this. Both of my babies now almost 5 and 2 are still not "sleeping through the night" - and my current definition of this is that every night, one or both of them still wakes up - sometimes more than once. Sometimes I sleep with my 2 yo and when she wakes up she is comforted by a little snuggle, but more often then not when she wakes up - she screams, she cries, sometimes thrashes around when we try to comfort her.

So what's my problem really? Well, my issue with all of this - and I've tried everything - well most everything to try to get them to sleep - and now I've just given up and take it one day at a time, but my major issue is that I'm exhausted. I haven't sleep consistently through the night for 5 years. And no matter how much snuggle time we have at night - which is so sweet - bottom line for me is I NEED them to sleep, because I don't know how much more of it I can take.

So maybe when people ask if your baby is sleeping through the night, sometimes it might be that they need help with their own sleep situation - and since you seem to have it pretty good - maybe they just want your advice! "Sleeping through the night" means something different to everyone - It could mean 4 - 6 hour stretches or 10-12 hours straight. Each family is different. Thanks :) I love your blog BTW!

June 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSandy

This is an awesome post! I really also like what KellyNaturally wrote about treating our kids like we want to be treated.

When people ask if our kids sleep through the night I say they sleep with us, so we don't really get bothered if they wake. I also hate when people ask 'is she a good baby?' really? a GOOD baby, what does that even mean?

June 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

I must have "missed" this post when it originally debuted in June 2008. It's such an important message that I decided to include it in my Tuesday Tours column today.

Thanks for being an important voice in the blogosphere. I appreciate your gentle, intentional, and intelligent approach to parenting.

July 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

Thanks Stephanie! If you've been reading my blog since June 2008, I would be really impressed! I only had a handful of readers then.

July 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Oh, that's a good point about it being a milestone or trophy. I didn't worry about that so much. I was EXPECTING to sleep well because I had read, during my pregnancy, that co-sleeping mamas sleep better. I guess I'm just thankful it wasn't worse!!! Thanks for the great articles!

July 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKimberly

[...] hate all of the chatter about sleeping through the night. Our society puts way too much pressure on parents in this regard and completely discounts [...]

[...] all heard people say that babies need to be taught to sleep through the night and that it is necessary to let them cry it out to achieve this. However, the Western child rearing [...]

That's exactly what I say when people ask! I tell them "Hell if I know! We cosleep and breastfeed and *I* sleep through the night!"

My daughter is now 31 mos old and for oh, forever, we've know that if she wakes up for longer than it takes to find a boob, we might as well start cancelling our plans for the next day, because she's probably sick.

June 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWhozat

Great article. My almost 2 1/2 year old nursing, co sleeping kiddo still doesn't sleep more then 3 or 4 hours at a time. It doesn't bother me since I'm right there.

June 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristy

Thanks for this post. I have really struggled with the sleep issue, and it's still a sensitive one for me. I've felt confident on many of my decisions as a parent so far, but sleep is funny. No one pats you on the back for nursing your child, or reading to them, or devoting your time to them, but if they sleep through the night? You're the freaking mother of the year! That being said, my 22 month old has slept through the night on occasion, but generally wakes once or twice a night, and wants to nurse. I've been told to CIO, night wean, etc. Having tried both of those, and then not being able to follow through because the tears and screaming were far worse than doing what felt instinctively right (nursing, comforting, etc.), I've just thought of myself as a sleep training failure, and someone who inhabits a different planet than most parents. It's nice to see I'm not alone on this one.

June 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShoshana

This is exactly my experience also. My daughter has never woken me up at night. Horray for sleeping topless! :)

June 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTikva

My daughters are now 20 and almost 18. When my eldest was born my in-laws kept asking if she slept though the night until she was over a year old. I always answered with a simple no and they eventually just stopped asking. When my second child was born, they never asked about her sleeping through the night. I still had to go through a year of the question, but at least they learned it wasn't an issue for me.

My girls slept with us when they were small babies, then moved to a mattress on the floor at around a year old. For years I lay down with them when they went to bed then left when they were asleep (or when I woke up!). If they woke in the night, I would usually go in with them again, or they would come and crawl in bed with us. My two girls shared a bed for years, although they each had their own bed if they wanted to sleep there.

They eventually learned to sleep on their own, and now my eldest doesn't even like sharing a bed in motels when we are travelling!

June 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie

[...] your in Remember that it ends And a new one will begin. Gotta go wipe someone’s butt…. (Sigh)So I am in the shower the other day, and here comes my soon to be five year old son who recently pai...realized that it would be a while before I got to him.  Either way, I’ll take it!  Victory! [...]

[...] Does She Sleep Through the Night? [PhD in Parenting]  •  “…the mothers that are on the receiving end of this question feel pressure to get their baby to sleep through the night.” [...]

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June 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMajor Gerace

[...] The parents and infants who participated in the trial were recruited from well-child centres in Australia when the child was 7 months old. If the parent reported sleep problems, they were eligible for the study (if there were no sleep problems, they were not eligible, which could bring up a whole other set of questions around how our society influences what we consider to be a s...). [...]

Love this post. I sometimes feel like saying - "no, and I don't expect her to either". I usually end up saying that she wakes up a few times, but goes straight back to sleep as I just pop the boob in, so honestly it doesn't bother me. People seem to think it's this horrible thing when your baby wakes up at night - it really isn't the big deal they make it out to be.

September 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarisa

This article may be a fossil but here I am in 2016 seeing it after googling "Why does everyone ask if my baby sleeps through the night?" My baby is 10 months old and it feels like I've been asked that question for about 12 years straight. It is driving me insane. You are so right; it is being treated like a milestone, but worse, some kind of measure of determining my baby's quality. It is the first question every single stranger asks us after they get their "aw how cute" out of the way. We are full fledged weirdos that cloth diaper, co-sleep, and had an all natural midwife unmedicated birth! We are proud of it too! I was thrilled to read this and chuckle that another woman out there whipped the boob out at the rousing baby LOL ah how nice all this rest and love really is. Everywhere we go people compliment us on our "smiley baby". Wonder what she's so happy about??? Boggles the mind really lol #futureawesomeadultsclub but I digress. I guess I just wanted to jump on and second the notion....STOP ASKING THAT STUPID QUESTION, people.

March 30, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAnnie in San Francisco

I think people who ask this must have some lingering trauma about letting someone convince them to make their babies scream alone in a dark room. They want to know if you've done it, too. No. Never.

June 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAnonnamomma

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