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Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I am not a sleep professional. I have two children who both slept "through the night" (defined as a six hour stretch) by the time they were eight weeks old.
Motherhood is tiring, especially with a baby who won't sleep. If there's anything I've learned in my three years of parenting my two children, it's that sleep is so, so, so important; both for mom and for baby. In this post, I will give tips and tricks that worked for me and both of my children. My oldest is three years old and my youngest is three and a half months, sleeping through the night. Now, let me also say, sickness, teething, and just needing comfort WILL come about, but you just have to roll with the punches and get your child back on track once these things are over.
Let's start with my oldest son. Being a first-time mom, I honestly had no clue what to do about sleep. I thought I was doing well when he was basically putting himself to sleep around one month of age, but what I didn't realize is that he wasn't really putting himself to sleep, I was nursing him to sleep. Let me also say that as a mother, you can decide how you want to handle certain situations. For example, I know some mothers who are perfectly content nursing their children to sleep, co-sleeping, etc. However, we were not okay with co-sleeping, and by four months, my oldest would wake up 10 minutes after I laid him down. I wasn't getting any sleep. So, I decided to let him "cry it out." That's such a taboo topic, but I honestly tried everything else before I went to that level.
We started the night with our bedtime routine, which consisted of bath, lotion, book, swaddle, nursing, bed. This time, I nursed him until he was drowsy, but awake. Since I didn't start this until he was already four months old, he didn't just go to sleep right away. He cried. I would lay him down, and let him cry for five minutes at most before I went in. After a rough first night, he started to only fuss for a few minutes before he'd fall asleep. I think a lot of people who are against cry it out are because their child thinks they won't come back. I don't think that was the case for us since I never let him go more than five minutes. He knew I'd come back, but he also realized he could soothe himself to sleep.
After that night, he started going to sleep on his own and would wake up once or twice to eat. Which I was happy with because it was such a difference from me getting NO sleep and then no help during the day.
Fast forward almost three years, I had my second baby and I swore I wouldn't let it get to that point. He was three weeks early, so I knew I had to adjust the time frame of when I wanted him to sleep through the night. I also knew that every baby is different and not every baby will respond to your efforts. Here are the steps I took to at least try to get my son on a consistent routine. I've realized that a routine is the first step in getting your baby to sleep through the night.Step 1: ROUTINE Around five weeks, when I knew his weight was up, he was getting enough wet and dirty diapers, I decided it was time to get him into a fluid routine. I first sat down and figured out what time I wanted him to get up in the morning. And let me tell you, the first few weeks, he would get up earlier than what I wanted. I just tried to keep him in bed, in the dark room, until the time I specified. Then, I looked up how long a child at his age could stay awake before they needed to go to sleep. I then wrote down the times he would nap and wake up again. Here is the routine I used for my youngest son:
- 8:00 AM—Wake up
- 8:10 AM—Feed
- 8:30 AM—"Play" (at this age, basically just keep him awake)
- 9:00 AM—Nap
- 11:00 AM—Wake up
- 11:10 AM—Feed
- 11:30 AM—"Play"
- 1:00 PM—Nap (I kept him up longer this time just because I wanted him and my three year old to nap at the same time, but if he was too tired, I'd lay him down)
- 3:00 PM—Wake up
- 3:10 PM—Feed
- 3:30 PM—"Play"
- 4:00 PM—Nap
- 6:00 PM—Wake up
- 6:10 PM—Feed
- 6:30 PM—"Play"
- 7:30 PM—Bedtime routine
- 8:00 PM—Bed time
A routine is so important because your child, even babies, have a need to know what will be happening next. With a routine, this is easy for them to do.
Step 2: Swaddle. Babies like to be confined because that's how they are in the womb. My first son never fought the swaddle. He absolutely loved it. On the other hand, my second son seemed to hate it. He would grunt and roll around all night trying to get his hands free. I tried everything I could think of. I tried un-swaddling, he was up every 30 minutes. I tried the SwaddleUP swaddle, he was up every 30 minutes. I tried the Nested Bean sleep sack, he somehow got his arms out no matter what. I then tried one more that I had started out with him using, the Halo Swaddle. And it worked, but I had to make sure his arms were over his belly or chest and not straight down by his sides. If your child is over three months or starting to show signs of rolling, do not swaddle him/her as it's dangerous if they roll over and can't get their arms out.
Step 3: Lay baby down drowsy, but awake. So, the reason I schedule "play" time after I feed him is because he needs to be awake in order to actually fall asleep on his own. This is so important to a baby who doesn't need to be cuddled or to be nursing/eating to fall asleep. It's also so important to have him learn to fall asleep on his own so that when he wakes up in the middle of the night like everyone does, he can easily go back to sleep because he doesn't need the crutch of cuddling or nursing/eating to sleep. If your baby cannot fall asleep on his/her own this way, you may need to nurse (if breastfeeding) or some other soothing technique (if formula feeding) to get your child to drowsy. You want to make sure your baby is awake enough that he/she doesn't fall asleep as soon as you lay him/her down.
Step 4: Stay close by. If your baby starts crying, and you're not okay with letting him/her cry it out (I was with my first because of how old he was, but not with my second because we started this as soon as he gained enough weight), pick him/her up as soon as they start, but get them to the drowsy stage again. This MAY take a while, but eventually, your baby will be able to fall asleep without you holding them or feeding them.
PS: Always remember that sleeping through the night is considered sleeping for a six hour stretch or more. Do not expect your infant to not wake up in the middle of the night.
After doing all of this with my second, he is now 16 weeks and only wakes up once a night. I did find, though, that in order for him to fall asleep initially, he needs a bath every single night. There were a couple times I skipped the bath for him, and he was up until 10:30 when I decided to finally give him one. I guess it calmed him down and relaxed him enough to cause him to fall asleep.
My next post will be what I serve my toddler in a week to try to cut his sugars and artificial ingredients.