My daughter has just turned two. We are boldly going into the “and beyond” part of the WHO infant feeding recommendations. (They only mention “up to two years of age” because there’s strong scientific evidence for feeding up to the age of two. Do you know why there isn’t strong scientific evidence after the age of two? Because the scientists haven’t looked for any.) Anyway, I mention this in passing, because I was idly flipping through her little red book at her two year health review, and I saw this:
We have ten infant milestones here, significant markers of infant development. I haven’t actually filled any of them out, because I was busy raising a small child, but I believe them to be important indicators of healthy, ‘normal’ progress from infancy to childhood. And then there’s the last one, “Usually sleeps through the night”.
This isn’t a milestone – it’s a parenting style. You might as well write “Is usually strapped into a car seat” or “Wears gingham bonnets”. The age at which a babies first sleep through the night is a factor of the incredible amount of time and energy that their parents devote to settling them into isolated sleeping environments. I never bothered. It didn’t turn out to be necessary for their development. They still grew up. They stayed in my bed and fed lots. I stayed asleep.
I find the little ‘age appropriate’ picture that accompanies this particularly galling:
For all the other milestones, they look about right – yep, she can turn the pages of the book at about nine months I guess, or join two words at, somewhere around twoish. Our “Usually sleeps through the night” baby looks about four weeks old! Look at her tiny mitts in her turned-up babygro sleeves.
Assuming this is a breastfed baby (and I really hope that is the assumption in NHS child development information) then she needs to feed more often than every eight hours. For the first eight weeks, the mother is still establishing her milk supply – prolactin, the hormone that regulates breastfeeding, peaks in the hours of darkness. We evolved to feed babies at night, which explains why they’re so good at waking up then.
My daughter has hit every one of the genuine milestones on this page, yet she’s still too young to happily sleep alone. My son does now fit the “Usually sleeps through the night” category, but he’s nine. And, although I have asked him not to get up in the middle of the night and get into our bed, because it’s kinda crowded, I did find him tucked into an L-shape around the foot end last week.
I wonder when they will both usually sleep through the night in their own beds. Maybe when they’re teenagers? But then, teenagers aren’t known for wanting to go to sleep in their own beds. They’ll probably be off trying to get into somebody else’s. That’s when I’ll be getting sleepless nights.