When I was pregnant with my first born I would sit up at night and worry about a lot of things. Something I worried about a lot was sleep. I LOVE my sleep and I was so nervous about having to be up all the time. I don’t do well on little sleep. I love my little babies, and I cherish those sweet night time feedings, but let’s be honest… don’t we all do a little bit better when we’re working on a full night’s sleep? Isn’t the day just a little easier when you get a small break during nap time? And let’s not forget the benefits of sleep for a baby. Sleep is recharging the brain’s batteries. It’s the time that the brain grows. If a baby is rested and alert, they can learn better than a baby that is consistently tired.
When my first child was born, I never really considered myself a sleep trainer. I had some methods that I tried and they worked great for us!! So, not an expert, but here are some things that I have learned.
1. Focus on Full Feedings –
Focus on getting your baby to be an eater and not a snacker. Help your baby to get a full meal so that they aren’t falling asleep while eating and then waking up 10 minutes later hungry and ready to go again. I don’t know about you but I need a bigger break in between feedings… even if it’s just to go to the bathroom or brush my teeth. So this means you have to work hard at keeping your sleepy, sleepy baby awake. Some things we do…tickle their feet (although I don’t do this too much because I hate being tickled and, of course, I project my feelings on my child), undress them, change their diaper, change their scenery, talk to them. Get them to take their full bottle or nurse at least 20 minutes in the beginning. This will help them sleep longer in between feedings as well, since they won’t be hungry.
2. Learn your baby’s sleep cues –
When you give birth, you’re basically holding a little stranger in your arms. You have no idea what their little personalities will be like and you have a lot to learn about them. Part of learning about your baby is watching them for their sleep cues. Babies are much happier when you know what they need before they are desperate for it. Part of that is knowing when to put your baby down for a nap. So from the very beginning, watch your baby, when they start acting like they are getting tired, get them to bed. There’s nothing harder than trying to get an overtired baby to sleep. Some sleep cues to look for are: yawning, turning their head and looking away, rubbing their eyes, and sometimes even the rooting reflex that most of us associate with hunger can also be a sleep cue.
3. Put baby in bed drowsy, but not asleep –
One of the best things I did for my babies was to put them in bed awake. They would then fall asleep on their own. I LOVE rocking my babies and I love holding them while they sleep in my arms…but I’m a work from home mom of two children aged two and under. I simply can not sit and hold babies all day. Don’t get me wrong, there are days when they are simply held all day and I don’t shower or work and I’m completely okay with that. But I love that I can sing them a song, lay them down, hear them talk to themselves for a few minutes and then they are out! Is there anything sweeter than little baby babbles when they are in their crib and there is no one around? So, hold your babies until they’re drowsy and you see their eyes start to close. Then kiss them, lay them down, tell them you love them and walk away.
4. Know the difference between crying and talking –
I don’t let my babies lay in bed and cry. I just really really can’t do it. However, after having two babies, I have learned that there is a difference between crying and fussing or crying and talking. I can admit that I probably went in to my first child’s room way too much and way too soon and she probably would have gone back to sleep. I would go in and “help” her anytime she made any kind of noise. My second one isn’t so lucky… I can tell the difference and I know that sometimes babies wake up, fuss a little and go back to sleep. They are so new and are just learning how to navigate through their sleep transitions. So I wait it out until he’s crying or if it’s been about 10 minutes of him “talking”.
5. Be protective of nap time –
I am super protective of my kids’ nap time. We simply do not go anywhere or do anything during nap time. It is a sacred time in our house. The times that I have allowed my kids to skip naps, they have become cranky, and almost a different child. I felt like I was depriving them of a need that they had. When they look up at me with their tired little eyes, I can hardly stand it. (Let me also say that I don’t have kids that will nap in public… it’s unfortunate, but they are too excited about everything going on around them to settle down). So we stay home for nap time, we make sure we are home a few minutes before so they can unwind and get settled down. This means that for the first few months of their lives, I am at home A LOT! I do my grocery shopping in the evening after my husband comes home and I run errands in the small window I have between feedings and naps. If I have to get out and let them skip a nap, I never have them skip their morning nap. I don’t know why, but the morning nap just seems to set the stage for the rest of the day, so I’m SUPER protective of that one. This doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, but as much as you can, protect nap time.
6. Set the stage –
No one wants to sleep in a loud, bright environment. Think about how you would like to sleep and help set that up for your baby. A couple of things that I couldn’t do without…a swaddle and sound machine. I like to make my baby’s room dark, with a white noise machine going and I swaddle them up so their arms don’t flail about and wake them up.
7. Get a routine –
From day one, start a bedtime/naptime routine. We do our bedtime routine at 7:30, even though our newborn is going to be awake at 10:00pm for another feeding, I still want them to know that 7:30 is bedtime. I also do a different routine for bedtime than I do for naptime. Hopefully this sends the message that bedtime is different and we’ll all be sleeping longer!
8. Don’t let them sleep all day –
Even if your baby wants to nap for six hours (and wouldn’t that be glorious) don’t let them. If they sleep that long, they will inevitably make up for that awake time in the middle of the night. Babies will a lot of times confuse their days and nights when they are first born. If you help them by waking them up from their naps and getting them in the light during the day, they will be more likely to know the difference between that and a nighttime feeding where you keep the lights off and feed them and put them back to bed.
9. Eat first, then play –
Our schedule always looks like this; baby wakes up and immediately eats, then we play for a while until baby starts to show sleep cues, then we do naptime routine and put baby down in bed to sleep. Eating first helps in a couple ways… if they eat first and then play, they are more likely to have a dirty diaper while playing than they are while sleeping, they also will have a much happier play time if they are well rested and well fed. Also, once they start eating solids you can let them play for awhile and watch them for a reaction to any foods they have tried. Most importantly, if you feed after they wake up instead of feeding right before they go to sleep, the baby won’t associate eating as necessary item for sleep.
10. Relax –
So here’s the deal… the minute that your baby is doing awesome and rocking through their naps and night time sleep they’ll hit a developmental milestone or worse…they’ll start teething! So don’t give up, babies need their sleep and they will return to normal in a week or so. Just keep on keepin’ on and your little one will get back to being the little angel they were just a few days ago.
My last piece of advice is this… you only have a newborn baby for a short period of time so don’t be afraid to hold your baby all day long if you want to. It won’t ruin them, they won’t be the worst sleeper ever because of it. But also don’t be afraid to put your baby in their bed and let them have some alone time. It won’t ruin them, they won’t become cold and unloving. This goes back to learning your baby and doing what is best for them. After all, you’re spending all day every day with them… no one will know them better than you will.