The Worst Question You Can Ask a New Mum? “Is your Baby Sleeping Through the Night Yet?”

Remember how hard it was to be a parent the first time around? New motherhood is one of the best forms of contraception, that’s for sure.

Not only are you trying to work out how to get a onesie done up without the baby rolling off the change table, but also how to block out annoying relatives who say things like, ‘Oh, you’re going back to work? I thought you loved your baby.’

*Insert major eye role here.*

Making matters worse, new mums (and some new dads) know they will be quizzed three hours after giving birth about whether their baby is ‘sleeping through the night’.

No, Susan, she’s not.

It’s always offered as an innocent question, but don’t be fooled. It’s the ultimate measure of the ability of new parents and the number one topic parents lie to each other about. (Other top-five parenting whoppers are nits, sickness, yelling and kids’ milestones.)

It’s important to remember one important fact: people’s definition of what it means to ‘sleep through’ varies by as much as five hours a night. Some parents expect nothing less than ten hours of uninterrupted sleep a night.

Others say a baby ‘sleeps through’ when he or she sleeps from midnight to 5 am, according to a New Zealand study of 412 mothers with children under two.

This is why we desperately need a definition of sleeping through that’s consistent – we are constantly comparing each other and ourselves by different standards. It’s no wonder we feel like we’re not measuring up so often.

leap weeks

FACT: Sleeping through the night has NOTHING to do with good parenting. 

As I write in my new book, The Secret of Half-arsed Parenting, half-arsed parents are realistic in what they expect babies to do. They don’t feel like failures if their baby is not ‘sleeping through the night’ at four weeks.

I have three kids, so I know first-hand how sleep deprivation gnaws at the core of your soul and reduces the smartest, brightest person to a blithering mess. Throw in a bright-eyed friend whose six-week-old is already ‘sleeping through’, and you’ve got a crisis on your hands.

Half-arsed parents muddle through by accepting that broken sleep is part of the deal. For me, this worked much better than trying to teach my first baby to sleep through when he clearly wasn’t ready to do so. I am happy to claim success with my first son in this area. He’s now a teenager and I have trouble waking him up.

When you’re feeling worried, remember that Australian babies are among the world’s best sleepers. One study of 2154 infants from birth to age three found our babies and toddlers are generally in bed by 7.35 pm and wake once a night for 23 minutes. Only seven percent share a bed with mum or dad. Experts say these results are commendable, with Australian babies getting up to an hour more sleep a night than babies from Asia and Europe.

What’s even more interesting is that one study suggests that babies that don’t sleep through the night may turn out to be smarter later down the track. Their big baby brains are busy working all night instead of sleeping.

And yet one-third of parents are worried their baby has a sleep problem. It’s clear the problem is our own expectations and guilt, not us or our babies.

Share the sleep deprivation

Sharing the housework is another important part of the half-arsed parenting manifesto.  One Victorian study found depression and anxiety among new mums were reduced by a third when they were given help to soothe their crying babies and retrain housework-shy husbands.

The Monash University ‘What Were We Thinking?’ trial involved women, partners and babies attending a one-day seminar on topics such as soothing the baby, negotiating household chores and encouraging each other rather than criticising.

Sounds great to me and I wish I’d gone to something like that when I was a new mum.

mum central

A half-arsed mum is also smart enough to watch Married at First Sight or Melrose Place reruns at 3 am rather than check her social media feed. She’s leaking from both nipples, can’t get the baby to attach and hasn’t had a shower in three days. The last thing she needs are friends on Insta boasting about how their baby is sleeping through the night #perfectioninbabyform. #blessed. 

Ultimately, the half-arsed mother doesn’t try to be a hero. After the birth, she knows she needs someone to pop over, put on a load of washing, unpack the dishwasher and tell her it’s going to be okay. Oh, and to mind the baby while she has a nap. Forget flowers – this is the best gift a new mum can get.

Discover the joy of half-arse parenting

mum central
Source: Herald Sun/Nicole Cleary

Dr. Susie O’Brien’s book The Secret of Half-Arsed Parenting is out now. You can get it at Booktopia, Dymocks, Good Reads or Big W.

Check it out on Insta and stay tuned because we’ve got more arse-halfed parenting pearls of wisdom to share every week!

Avatar of Susie O'Brien

Dr Susie O'Brien is a journalist at the Herald Sun, author of The Secret of Half-arsed Parenting and mother of three. She is a regular media commentator and appears weekly on Sunrise where her biggest audience is women on treadmills watching with the sound turned down.

Write A Comment