“Sleep now… after the baby is born, you’ll never sleep again.” This so-called advice was the most common insight I heard from other new parents while pregnant. Because I thrive on more than eight hours of sleep per night, sleep deprivation was my main concern. And as a single mom by choice (SMC), survival wasn’t my only goal as a new mom; I had wanted a baby for so long that I dared to dream that maybe I would really enjoy the newborn stage. Although I knew it would be challenging being a single parent, I was determined to love it too. For me, that meant sleeping had to be a priority.
With just one month of maternity leave before returning to work full-time, I had a bold goal to get back to eight hours of sleep a night within four weeks of giving birth. Since I didn’t have a partner to share the “night shift,” I looked to other resources to help. Since formal sleep training methods (like extinction or Ferber) aren’t recommended for babies until they’re 4 or 5 months old, I focused on sleep resources for newborns first. What I’ve learned is that there isn’t one magic formula that works for all babies or for all parents. The advantage of being a single mother is that I was able to choose the strategies that were right for me, for my daughter, and for my life.
The premise behind my favorite newborn sleep book, Dr. Harvey Karp The happiest baby on the block, is that you can help your newborn sleep by mimicking the environment of the womb through the five “S”s. While helping my baby sleep was the priority, I knew if I had to rock my baby all night for the “swinging” motion, I wouldn’t get any sleep myself. So I invested in a six month rental of a Snoo (a cheaper alternative to buying one). The smart crib was like having a night nurse who rocked my daughter to sleep every night. Sometimes I felt like a robot was helping raise my baby. But during those first weeks recovering from a C-section, that extra rest was essential to help me heal.
After returning to work, I took video classes to learn how to help my daughter develop good sleeping habits. Although the language in the course I took felt like “Will I ever sleep again?” by Taking Cara Babies, is not inclusive for non-traditional families like mine, the principles of the lessons still applied to me as a single mother. With the understanding of wake-up windows, bedtime routines, and subsequent sleep cycles, building good newborn sleeping habits meant my baby slept more than 10 hours a night since she was 10 weeks old. That’s not to say I’ve never felt tired or overwhelmed. But sleep has been key for me to feel successful as a single mom.
While the resources I found were essential during my journey, they don’t apply to all babies or all families. Hindi Zeidman is an SMC for her 3-year-old daughter, Olive. As the founder of The Ollie World and armed with training in infant mental health, Zeidman was convinced that her daughter would be sleeping through the night within six weeks. But even with her extensive knowledge, sleeping was still a struggle. She says: “Olive was born with an immature digestive system and we were having trouble breastfeeding. She wasn’t sleeping through the night at six weeks like I’d hoped. When I came home from the hospital with Olive, it didn’t look like anything at all. I had expected.”
Zeidman felt she didn’t see herself reflected in many of the sources she came across. “I think almost everything is geared towards a stereotypical two-parent family. I do not feel that the information is deliberately aimed at single parents.”
Abby Wolfson had two babies as SMC and found that sleep training helped her kids become happier and also get the sleep she needed. She now helps families with sleep training as a children’s sleep consultant with Peaceful Parent Sleep Coaching and estimates that 20% of her clients are single parents.
“Single parents have more responsibility; if you don’t sleep, you can’t be the parent you want to be,” says Wolfson. “At first I was afraid that sleep training would emotionally damage my eldest daughter. I actually hired a postpartum doula to keep me company while I sleep-trained.
Now Wolfson believes sleep training is safe and effective and tailors her coaching to the family situation. She explains: “In two-parent homes, if a baby is breastfed, I will recommend that the non-breastfeeding parent sleep in a different room during sleep training because the smell of breast milk can make it harder for a baby to sleep through the night. sleeping through. That option is more difficult for single mothers.” She continues, “Single parents often need emotional support during sleep training. Hearing your baby cry can be both emotionally and physiologically difficult – your body reacts as if there was an emergency.”
I can relate to this. When my baby cries, it feels like a physical trauma, my cells quiver with pain and heartache. I know it is normal and natural for babies to cry; That’s how babies communicate. But listening to my baby cries is really, really hard. So, eight months into motherhood, I hope we’ve established enough good sleep habits to begin with that I don’t have to do any kind of “crying-out” workout. If I do, I don’t know how to handle it, and I don’t know how I’ll make it. But now that I’ve found a community of other SMCs, I feel like even though I’m raising alone, I’m never really alone.