Recent Facebook Messenger conversation:
FRIEND: I have a really good friend that I will be sending your way in the next few months. She has a unicorn baby now who is turning six-months-old, and she’s expecting again!
ME: What is a unicorn baby?!
FRIEND: Haha! A mythical, magical baby who never cries and has slept pretty much through the night since day one!
FRIEND: Yes, we have a couple of friends with unicorns that think I’m crazy for leaving gatherings by 5:30 to get my baby home in time for bed.
ME: I’m not so sure these people are really telling the truth.
FRIEND: I agree. I think that they have a different definition for sleeping through the night. When I tell them my baby will sleep anywhere between 11-12 hours straight through, they can’t believe it.
So, do unicorn babies exist? Maybe somewhere over the rainbow there are unicorn babies pooping out glitter and sleeping through the night from birth, but in real life these “unicorn babies” are few and far between. However, hearing about these “unicorn babies” can cause lots of undue stress and anxiety for those with babies who may not have mythical powers.
I’m not sure how the age at which your child is sleeping through the night has somehow become correlated to whether you’re a good parent or not.
The truth of the matter is that some babies are inherently good sleepers, no matter what schedule they are on. Studies have shown that genetics play a large role in whether our babies will be good nighttime sleepers. Does this mean that if your baby doesn’t have the magic sleep-through-the-night unicorn gene she won’t sleep?! No!
Studies have also shown that environment and parental sleep interventions (nurture) also play a key role in baby sleep. Interventions like sticking to routine and providing a consistent, age-appropriate bedtime can help these non-rainbow pooping babies sleep just as well as their colorful compadres.
These interventions may also include leaving parties at 5:30pm, like my friend, to ensure that your baby stays on schedule and gets to bed at an age-appropriate hour to enable her to get the sleep she needs. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recently released pediatric sleep recommendations for the first time ever–did you know that your infant-aged baby (between four and 12 months) needs 12-16 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, and your one to two-year-old needs 11-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period?
So, how do you cobble together your own unicorn baby if she isn’t born shooting rainbows out of her cherub cheeks while she sleeps soundly all night and giggles all day?
- Stick to routine
- Create a sleep environment conducive to sleep (dark, cool, quiet!)
- Follow a consistent, age-appropriate bedtime that allow your child to get the sleep she needs (babies and young children do best with a bedtime between 6 and 8pm–yes, that early!)
- Give her the opportunity to try to fall asleep on her own
- Sprinkle her with glitter
OK, so maybe not that last one, but you get the point. You can help your baby learn to be a better sleeper. And one thing IS certain: babies develop so quickly over the first months and years–even unicorn babies! And even unicorn babies have sleep disturbances. Remaining consistent with your routine, schedule, and approach is essential to getting through those sleep disturbances (relatively) unscathed.
So stop wishing for a unicorn baby! If you take the right steps, you too can have one of your own–just don’t forget the glitter!