Buckle up, it’s long one!
Ah, baby sleep. Is there anything more elusive in those first few months or more desired? I think not! However, it’s also one of the most controversial parenting topics. If you don’t have kids you are probably wondering why because I never would have thought much about it before either. I mean, however you can get your child to sleep is awesome right?
I still subscribe to that philosophy because sleeps ranks above wine on my personal needs list, so I think that says it all. This lengthy intro is meant to act as a disclaimer. I’m not telling you that this method is the right way and I’m really not looking for a heated debate. I’m just saying for us it worked.
And now, after two babies, I wanted to share some tips!
Tips to Getting a Baby to Sleep Through the Night
To begin, from birth with both girls, I stick to two basic principles.
First, the swaddle.
If you aren’t a mom yet, learn to do it and do it well. I drank the swaddle kool-aid like no other. And yes the swaddling blankets may help some with an older baby, but I swear by the original, using two blankets if you need to, and making it snug. Have dad learn to do it too.
Second, night time sleep is done on a flat surface, not a swing, not on me.
Nighttime sleep is always in the dark with white noise. When Kaitlyn woke to eat during the night: no lights, no talking. A simple scoop up, a meal and right back down. If it was past 10pm, I meant business.
So just going on those principles, Kaitlyn’s sleep was pretty decent. I followed a loose Babywise (eat, play sleep) schedule throughout the day which left us with a schedule that included:
- about 4 day time naps (45 minutes each)
- bed time between 7:00-8:00
- a once a night wake up
- then up anytime between 6:00-7:30
By most standards people told me to consider myself lucky, but it wasn’t cutting it for me.
Usually Kaitlyn would barely eat when she woke up. She would lazily suck until she soothed herself back to sleep then I’d be awake wondering if I needed to pump or checking the weather on my phone for the next hour, leaving me exhausted in the morning.
Something had to change.
In one of my late night insomnia sessions, I searched desperately for any advice. I kept hearing about Moms on Call, a company founded by two pediatric nurse moms, that people in online forums swore by. Through tired eyes and a cup of coffee I threw $30 at their site to access the online seminar. Wanting sleep so badly I would have gladly paid more. I took notes and decided to use most of their suggestions immediately.
So what did I start doing differently?
1: I implemented a bedtime routine.
Bath time at 6:40, then nursing, then down at 7:15. Since babies learn through association (as we all do), the bath signals that it’s approaching night time sleep.
2: I moved her to her crib for sleep.
All sleep at home was now done in her crib so she would associate the crib with sleep. No toys, mobiles or anything to engage her. Just sleep.
3: I didn’t let her nap past 5:00 pm.
This way I knew she’d be ready for bed when the time came.
4: I followed the MOC advice of starting naps at the same time everyday, since babies operate on a 24 hour schedule.
Have parents ever noticed that putting your child down at a later bedtime does not mean they will sleep in (cruel, isn’t it?). It’s because they operate on a 24 hour day.
5: Following the above logic, I also started waking her up at the same time everyday.
6: I put her in the crib while she was drowsy, but not asleep.
7: And the most controversial, I let her fuss (to a point).
Many critics say that a baby of three months is not ready to cry it out. I fall somewhere in between. No, I don’t think a baby should be left there screaming for someone for an extended period of time BUT I also believe it’s important to not run and scoop them up with every grunting noise they make.
Since Moms On Call’s schedule (the 4-6 month version of the plan that I was following) is pretty adamant about putting the baby to bed and not going back in the room until morning felt a little hardcore for my personal taste, I improvised.
I followed Kaitlyn’s lead. If I knew she could stretch from bedtime to 3:00 am without eating, I held her to it. If she woke up before then, I wouldn’t feed her or lift her out of the crib. I’d either let her fuss for a few minutes until she went back to sleep or I’d go pat her belly until she calmed back down.
Sure enough, she started stretching out that night time stretch. Soon she was going from bed time to 5:45 am before waking/needing to eat and once she consistently was going completely overnight until 7:30 am, I held her to that.
Once her night time sleep was consistent, I was happier, she was happier and her naps started stretching out too. After these changes, she consistently started having great long morning nap and two shorter ones in the afternoon.
I think Moms on Call helped me the most by explaining the science behind babies’ sleep cycles and giving me permission to not jump into her room at the first peep I heard. I will say, having a video monitor to watch her with was very helpful with easing my mommy nerves!
At 16 weeks old, here’s what Kaitlyn’s schedule looked like:
- 7:30 am: wake her up. All smiles.
- 7:35 am: nurse. (The first feeding of the day is a good, long one)
- 9:15-11:00 am: nap
- 11:00 am: nurse.
- 1:15-2:00 pm: nap
- 2:00 pm: nurse
- 4:15-5:00 pm: nap
- 5:00 pm: nurse
- 6:40 pm: bath
- 7:00 pm: nurse
- 7:15 pm: asleep
Of course, we followed this as much as reality allowed. Sometimes she would take car naps on the go, or her schedule was off, but hey, that happens.
If you are interested in more specifics, I recommend checking out Moms On Call. I am so grateful for the nighttime sleep we are all getting now! And if co-sleeping and nursing on demand through the night until they are two works for you, I think that’s awesome!
You do you.