Sleepy Time: Getting Your Baby to Go to Sleep
What were you doing at 12 pm and 3 am last night? If you have an infant at home, chances are you weren’t sleeping. It’s more likely you were doing the zombie walk to your baby’s room, fantasizing about your warm bed, and planning your morning pot of coffee. If you’re me, you were frantically Googling “sleep training” at 3 am.
We were ninjas of sleep training with our twins. Those kiddies were sleeping through the night at six months old. We are a little more relaxed with our newest baby, but now that she’s 11 months old and still waking up once a night most nights, we have to wonder: What did we do right the first time, and where did we go astray this time? Kim West's Crib Sheet offers some great tips to help your baby develop healthy sleep habits.
Baby Sleep 101
West tells us that a brand-new baby, fresh from the uterus, needs a lot of sleep. Chances are your babe will be on a cycle of sleep-eat-sleep-eat (with a little spit-up thrown in there for good measure). The glorious thing about a new baby is how they can sleep through anything. I remember a stranger commenting on how well-behaved our twins were when they slept through an entire meeting. If only he could see those hellions at age three!
As they age, babies are able to stay awake longer during the day, allowing them to sleep longer at night. To help Baby Bridget know this isn’t just another nap, we try to provide her with some cues to let her know it’s time for the long sleep as West suggests.
On Waking in the Night
If you’re like me, you wake up a few times during the night naturally. Maybe it’s because your husband stole the blankets, but waking up is pretty normal. I wake up, steal the blankets back, establish all is well, and go back to snoozing.
The bad news? You better stock up on coffee, because your baby won’t be capable of sleeping through the night until she’s about six months old. Bridget’s night waking diminished over those first six months to twice a night without us trying. It’s those remaining two times that have been killing us! West's Crib Sheet lists out how many night wakes you can expect at various ages -- super helpful.
On Night vs. Day
After we first brought our babies home from the hospital, they were keeping the sleep schedule of a clubber from Studio 54. Making small changes helped us teach our babies that daytime is fun time and nighttime is sleep time.
We kept daytime active and nighttime boring. Sometimes it was hard to do the parent gig without falling prey to our cutie’s playful charms. Seriously, people, it takes willpower to ignore an adorable baby wanting to play! If our babies were having a marathon nap and missing a meal, we’d wake them up so their schedule didn’t get even wackier!
As West points out, there’s a lot of evidence that exposure to natural light is important to setting those natural sleep-wake rhythms. We keep the nursery dark and only light it with a dim nightlight. During the day we try to get the baby some outside time with fresh air.
On Babies Crying
There are few things as stressful as a crying baby. When my babies cry, you could probably harness the power of my blood pressure to power a small village. (You didn’t know this blog post would hold the solution to our energy crisis, did you?)
I know it’s normal for a baby to cry, but it sends me into a tailspin! Crying can become a family affair and turns into a vicious cycle. Baby cries. You cry. Baby cries. You freak out.
I know energy is contagious. Just like Bridget’s stress affecting me, my stress makes her upset. When my son was colicky and cried
non-stop, I worked really hard at being zen. I told myself his crying wasn’t malicious. I followed the steps in The Happiest Baby On the Block. When all else failed, I put him in a safe place and took a self time-out or asked my husband for help.
On Helping Your Baby
If you want your baby to become a sleep ninja, you have to teach her how to sleep. Say what? Behold, my friends, for this is where we went wrong with Bridget. I always nursed her to sleep. Nursing and rocking her gave us magical glitter-covered bonding for several months. And as West says, that is the way to do it in the beginning.
Meaning, don't get stuck treating an older baby like a newborn.
At 11 months old, Bridget couldn’t go to sleep without nursing. And as owner of the 24-Hour Milk Café, I was on the night shift all night, every night while my husband slept peacefully. Not that I’m jealous about it. Okay, maybe I’m a little jealous.
The critical piece for our sleep training has been putting our baby in her crib slightly awake so she goes to sleep on her own. This is super important. Now when she wakes up during the night, she looks around, knows all is well, and goes back to sleep. I don’t have to play waitress lady at the Milk Café and all is well.
You’re holding your baby. She finally falls asleep. You put her in her crib, and Shazam! She wakes up and starts screaming. Does this sound familiar? You might want to invest in a baby carrier like a Moby Wrap so you can carry that sleepy head and still get stuff done. Or you can be like me and use the excuse of “I have to hold this sleeping baby” so you can sit on the couch a little longer. When your baby is under 4 months, it’s okay to hold your baby to help him or her fall asleep. Just watch out for that addicting bonding glitter because it will get you!
Additional Tips for Better Sleep
Better sleep for your baby means better sleep for you! Here are a few extra tips we’ve used to help us:
- Know what it looks like when your baby’s fading. When Bridget yawns and rubs her eyes, I know it’s “Go Time!”
- Do a “Dream Feed.” This is a little nighttime snack you give your baby right before you go to bed.
- Learn, love, and live the swaddle.
- Provide white noise. They sell white noise machines and they’re great for drowning out adult noises and soothing babies.
- After your baby is about six months old, you may want to let him cry for a couple minutes to see if he’ll go back to sleep on his own.
- Don’t try to start any sleep training program while your baby is teething. Trust me on this one.
- Don’t give up the dream of a full night’s rest. You’ll soon be reunited with a solid eight hours of sleep and all this craziness will seem like a caffeine-induced hallucination.
What sleep tips would you add to this list?
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