There is nothing more beautiful than a sleeping baby. We have the routine of going into each of our children’s rooms at night to kiss them and watch them sleep for a minute. It is in those times my heart feels most full. Their beautiful, peaceful, sleeping faces are enough to make me want another 3 babies. I am proud to have 3 great sleepers. We put a lot of work into establishing their great sleep habits early on and our effort has been rewarded by all of their abilities to go to bed easily and sleep the entire night. In fact, they all slept through the night by 8 weeks. Am I a miracle worker? No, I just followed the same principles when working with them early on. Am I bragging on my kids? Well, kinda, because they are awesome kids ,) But more I wanted to share with you some of the things that have worked for us in hopes that they may work for you. Different kids and families require different things…hopefully you will be able to take a couple tips from this if you are someone in need of help establishing good sleep habits for your baby.
1. Importance of sleep – You will find countless articles and studies out there illustrating the importance of sleep for kids mental and physical health. I argue the same for parents!! Especially with everything else we lose sleep over, I am happy that our babies are not keeping us up!
2. Routine – We keep our kids’ evening routines the same pretty much every night. We started this routine with each of them around 6-8 weeks. We spend a little time doing ‘changing table time’ while we undress the baby. This is one of my favorites and usually one of their happiest times for some reason. We talk to her and play in her mirror. Then bath, lotion and pajamas. This is followed by light on and cuddles in the rocking chair for bedtime feeding. I do turn off the ceiling light and turn on the lamp and sound machine at this time. Establishing this routine from the beginning is one of the reasons I think our kids continue to go to bed so well.
Now that the older two are a little more flexible, we can deviate from this from time to time, but for the most part, stick with the same order. We go upstairs -and that to this day, for the older two, signals that it is no longer play time, it is time to get ready for bed and calm down. After going upstairs, we do not go back down to play or watch TV. Once upstairs, clothes go in hamper and kids go straight into bath or shower. Then books and prayers. We then each go individually into each child’s room to have a couple minutes of one on one time and cuddles. I am obviously not saying this exact routine is what you need to follow -simply highlighting our routine and encouraging you to develop one that works for you!
2. White Noise – We use white noise in all three children’s rooms. I remember reading when pregnant with my first that white noise helps calm babies because it mimics the noise they heard in the womb. It certainly blocks out a lot of noise in the house and I continue to use them for that reason. That and it is part of their routine 🙂 I use during naps and bedtime. I have found the Marpac White Noise Machine to be the best you can find. It has the ability to adjust the intensity of the sound and a large range of volume. Our oldest one is going on 6 years of daily use and still holding up!! We did try a couple other less expensive models to send to daycare, however, they do not have as good of quality of sound.
3. Baby Sleep Theory – We did not come up with our sleep training on our own. We read several books out there on getting your baby to fall asleep (below) and stay asleep -and re-read them with each kid. One of the books I read was Babywise. People seem to either love this book or hate it. We were more in the like group. We like the theory it presented, but didn’t love all of the ways it wanted to enforce. Specifically, we loved the principle of encouraging nighttime sleep by working on daytime schedule, but did not love the section on forcing your baby to cry it out. So we took bits and pieces from it and adapted it to what would work for us. I do encourage you to read it as a good resource on infant sleep. Figure out what things they offer will work for you and your parenting.
4. Fall asleep – As infants, I rocked and nursed/fed all of my babies to sleep. Sometimes they do not want to fall asleep and we would have to follow the 5 S of Sleep (Swaddle, Sound, Suck/paci, Shake/rock, Side) as outline in Happiest Baby on the Block -another book I would recommend reading. We would rock them to sleep for those first 6-8 weeks. After that, we would begin putting them down awake. Sometimes there is no waking them after that evening nursing, but for the most part we were putting them down awake starting at 8 weeks. This took work. They did not fall asleep by themselves right away. There were many, many times one of us would sit on the floor reading our phone in the dark waiting to reach up into the crib to replace the paci. Or stood over the crib gently rocking them side to side in their crib. All along, we tried to encourage them to fall asleep on their own…to know that when they were in their crib, they will lay there awake for a little bit and then drift off to sleep. Like I said, this took work. Put them down drowsy, but awake for both naps and bedtime. You will likely have to go back in several times to replace paci or soothe. Sometimes even pick them up and rock them a little. I never let them go longer than 5min of crying. And there were times, even with number 3, that we got real frustrated with it and felt like it was never going to work. Especially with naps, I remember thinking that I was spending too much time going back in her room when it would be so much easier just to give her another bottle or just hold her to sleep. Stick with it!!! I think it took our youngest the longest of all three to get the hang of this, but our efforts paid off and she goes to bed like a dream now. We place her in her crib for bed and naps wide awake, smiling and laughing and she is able to fall asleep on her own. This started around 12 weeks for her. My biggest piece of advice on this one is to not give up. My kids never had a time where they threw fits about going to bed or wouldn’t stay in their room or got up multiple times. They know that once in there bed, they are there for the night and will fall asleep. I often hear them laying in their beds singing or counting at night -makes my heart swell 🙂 I have no doubt this is because we worked on going to bed starting as early as 8 weeks.
3. Daytime feedings and routine – Here are the basic principles that we followed to help establish routine and promote night time sleep for our kids as infants. These principles that we followed came straight from Babywise. During the first 2 weeks, we didn’t really pay much attention to any sort of schedule. We mostly focused on ensuring that the babies were eating well and overall healthy. We did feed every 2-3 hours during the day and never let them go longer than 3 hours without eating during the day. This is one of the big principles -not letting the babies go longer than 3 hours without eating during the day. This will promote longer periods of nighttime sleep. Once they were about 2-3 weeks and out of that sleepy newborn period, we would begin our routine. We follow the daytime pattern of awake, eat, awake/play, sleep -again, straight from Babywise. I would start this pattern once they awoke (I never used a set start time like the book recommends -I wanted to sleep in as late as I could!). Once they awoke, I would feed them. Then play/awake time and then go down for nap. Once up from nap, feed and repeat with play/awake time. Continue this pattern throughout the day. You will notice, that with the exception of bedtime feeding, you do not feed before putting them down to sleep. You do not want your baby to ‘need’ to eat to fall asleep…then they will not be able to fall asleep on their own. Now, this does happen every once in a while where your baby falls asleep right after eating, yes! And that is okay on occassion. Majority of the time, though, you should be following the eat, play, sleep pattern to establish good habit. Again, being mindful not to let them go longer than 3 hours (during the first 16 weeks at least) during the day without eating. You are going to have to, at some point, wake them from a nap to eat. And that is SO HARD after you just spent all this time getting them to sleep. But, you do not want them to have their 4 hour sleep period during the day -you want that at night! So, wake them during the day to feed them. This promotes the longer sleep periods at night.
4. Dream Feed – Again, Babywise. The theory behind the dream feed is to ‘wake’ your baby for a feed right before you go to bed. We would usually put the babies down around 730 or 8pm. We would then stay up (fools) until 1030 or 11ish. If our 6 week old is able to sleep 5-6 hours, we have already lost 3 of those hours staying up. So, the idea is to feed them right before you go to bed, that way they will continue to sleep and give you a longer period of sleep. If you are one of those smart people who go to bed early, you may not choose to do this one. But if you have older kids or Netflix to catch up on, you will likely want to do this one. When waking them, you don’t truly wake them up. You just go in and wake them enough to eat a bottle. I would usually need to change their diaper at this time to get them a little more awake. There are times when this bottle will not go down they are so sleepy. And it is a pain because, at this point, all you want to do is go to bed. But, again like everything else associated with sleep, your efforts will pay off. After giving them this bottle, we were most often graced with a decent period of sleep that increased weekly as they got older and bigger. We were always so nervous to stop the dream feed. This for us was trial and error. If we stopped the dream feed and they woke up at 6am the next morning, then we knew we should continue the dream feed. For all 3 we stopped the dream feed around 5 months (even though we probably could have stopped it sooner!). So when I say sleep through the night at 8 weeks, this is including the dream feed. I put them down at 730pm, ‘wake’ at 1030pm for dream feed, and then they sleep until 7am. This was happening almost every night by 10 weeks.
4. Keep at it and give it time – You will get frustrated with this. It is hard work. And there were times when the babies were napping and all I wanted to do was take a nap too, but I would wake them and feed them if they were due to eat. Looking back, that seems like such a short time period. Same thing with promoting good bedtime routines. With baby 3 being fresh in my mind, I remember us both thinking she would never get the habit of going to sleep on her own. And there were so many nights we just wanted to go in and rock or feed her back to sleep. But I am so glad we kept at it…she goes to bed amazingly now with no intervention. Very, very rarely do we ever have to go back up to their rooms after putting them to bed. And this is also helpful when you have babysitters!! The kids being good sleepers and good at going to bed makes it so much easier for the babysitter and for us (less parent guilt)!
5. Sleep Stuff – There were a couple things we used at night with our kids, so I wanted to pass these along as well in case you would find them useful.
Swaddles – when they were infants we swaddled in blankets. The Aden + Anais blankets are the BEST and something you can still use after you no longer swaddle in a blanket. After they outgrew the blanket swaddles, we switched to these Summer Swaddles. There are many different brands out there. The key with these swaddles is ensuring you can get them tight enough so the baby cannot move as much.
Sleep suit – ok, these Merlin Sleep Suits are hilarious. With baby 3, she rolled over very early. Once she could roll over, I no longer felt safe keeping her in the swaddle. Unswaddled, she was a flailing mess and would get her hands up in her face and not settle down well. These suits restrict their movement and keep them on their back until they are ready to be unswaddled. She looked like Ralphie on Christmas Story in this suit ,) But it worked!
6. Is it too late? Never! If you have a difficult sleeper now, regardless of the age, it is not to late to start. The key is habit and not giving in. Initiate a bedtime routine. If they are old enough, discuss how this will be a change and the new way you do things at night. If you have a baby that is waking every 3 hours at night to eat, be sure they are not going longer than 3-4 hours during the day without eating. Depending on how old they are or their weight, it may be habit. In those situations, you may need to let them cry for brief periods. Again, remember that they are not going to fix their bad sleep habits on their own.
7. Establish habits now you want to keep for future – Reinforcing above. Start the habits now that you want your child to have later on. May seem silly to start a bedtime routine with a 4 week old. But you will be surprised how fast that 4 week old turns into a 4 month old and then a 4 year old. There is rarely chaos at our house at bedtime. Bedtime is a happy, stress free time -as it should be! Put the work in now and reap the benefits as they get older. You can do this!! Email me if you need a cheerleader or supporter 🙂
I hope you found some of these tips helpful! Again, they worked so well for us and I hope they do for you too. It is tough to cover it all without writing a book, so if you would like specific examples or have other questions, feel free to contact me!!
- kdrichardsAugust 6, 2015 at 10:53 AM
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