“Sleep while you can.”
It seemed this was the echoing mantra of all my friends and family in the weeks leading up to the birth of my daughter. I always thought it was a bit funny, as if somehow there was this magical sleep bank in my brain where I could store all the sleep from the extra naps I was getting at the time. Then when my baby was born and waking me up four times a night, I could just deposit some extra sleep from the sleepbank and I would be well rested, right? It was more of a forbearing warning than a helpful suggestion.
Sure enough, Lily made her appearance into the world after three days of labor and my cervix being fully dilated for eleven hours. Then she clusterfed for two nights straight. I had not known sheer exhaustion before this.
In the following days, my sweet bundle of joy woke me up every couple hours to eat or merely to pacify. She wanted to be in my arms at all times, robbing me of any chance of sleep.
I was ready to accept that this was my life now.
However, despite the readiness I had acquired to accept my fate, I was still planning on sleeptraining months into the future, and began preparing our family for that time already.
And then the unimaginable happened.
My daughter began to sleep through the night at five weeks old.
Now some moms would consider “sleeping through the night” what happens when their babies stir only to nurse several times a night and then promptly fall asleep once more. No way. That may be a step in the right direction, but it’s not sleeping through the night.
No, I’m saying that my five week old went to sleep at 10:30 at night and woke up at 5 a.m. On. Her. Own.
And four months later she is still sleeping through the night, with an even more preferable ten hour schedule.
Now I’m sure you are already attributing this miracle to me just having a good baby. Maybe that’s the case, and I do think I have a good baby, but I don’t think that’s what makes her a good sleeper. If anything, I’d like to attribute it to fervent prayer every night at bedtime.
But my husband and I did do a few things that are known to create an atmosphere where it is easier for a baby to sleep through the night, so let’s talk about those. Because I want to help you, fellow mamas. I want you to get that good shuteye at night so that you can truly appreciate those little toes and the preciousness of those tiny cries. So here are five things we did to help our baby sleep through the night.
1. Make Nighttime Different than Daytime
I will always remember my mother-in-law telling me how important it was to make bedtime different than the rest of the day. She would play with her children and be very interactive during the day, but would be all business during nightfeedings and diaper changes. When my daughter was born, we quickly tried the same method. During the day we talked to her, bicycled her legs, had tummy time, and played. However, as the night progressed our activities slowed down to reading and singing and baths. Half an hour before bedtime we dimmed the lights, changed her diaper, and dressed her in footie pajamas before feeding her the last feeding of the day. I truly believe she began to associate these things with sleep. I even sang her the same hymn every evening as I rocked her to sleep. Even now she finds that same hymn soothing. Here are some ways to set bedtime apart from daytime:
– Dim the lights
-Dress your baby in footed sleepers
– Swaddle your baby or wrap her in a watm blanket while you’re holding her
– Read books and sing songs
-If you are waking up to feed or change a diaper, try to keep the lights dim.
2. Clusterfeed in the Evenings
While I typically fed my daughter every two-three hours during the daytime, I fed her every hour for the last few hours of the day. This helps to assure that baby goes to bed with a full tummy, which will help her to sleep better. A lot of babies tend to do this naturally, so feeding on demand can be particularly helpful during this time.
3. Have a Flexible Routine
Babies are creatures of habit. They are just learning how the world works and they need consistency. A relaxed routine that is semi-consistent helps babies to feel relaxed and safe. When a routine is broken, babies tend to get fussy and don’t sleep as well. I notice this particularly on long weekends when feedings are all over the place and we get home late. However, this being said, don’t have such a strict routine that you can’t go to the grocery store without your baby getting fussy. Consistent but flexible is what you are shooting for.
4. Cuddle, Caress, and Swaddle
When my daughter was a newborn I was intent on making sure she slept in her own bed. I religiously put her down to bed every night expecting her to be okay, but she would fuss and cry in the saddest way and I felt trapped between preconceived (no pun intended) principles and love for my baby. Then one day when I expressed this to my sister-in-law, she told me that it was perfectly okay for a baby to want their mama in the first couple months. They miss your closeness and warmth and they are learning that they can trust that they are safe. That notion freed me a little, and I did a lot more cuddling and swaddling and caressing my baby’s face then. The result? A baby who felt safe enough to sleep through the night in her own bed. So cuddle that baby!
5. Address Any Underlying Issues
Does your baby seem uncomfortable? Lily had the hardest time lying down for a long time. We began to suspect she was struggling with some reflux, but before we went the medicine route, we tried other methods of relieving her discomfort first. I kept her upright after feedings for twenty minutes and introduced a pacifier to help her swallowing and digestion. Within a couple weeks she was lying down without discomfort! I truly think this helped her to sleep, so make sure your baby isn’t dealing with underlying issues before tackling sleep-training.
A fan is a serious God-send. It creates the perfect amount of whitenoise that masks the sound of you turning over in bed and lulls a baby to sleep like a dream. However, in the winter this can be a chilly option, but you can find cute baby products like this monkey sound machine online that do the trick.
7. Diaper Cream
If your baby wakes up fussing in the middle of the night or you hear him poop, please change him. This will prevent infection and help your baby to sleep soundly. A wet diaper is uncomfortable! However, diaper cream will help keep your baby’s skin from getting rashy and may help buy you a few extra hours of sleep at least.
No, I am not suggesting you sleep in the same bed as your baby. I have done so and think it is a personal choice, but it is not recommended as it is supposedly a SIDS risk. However, I would like to highly suggest co-sleeping, or sleeping in the same room as your baby, for the first couple months at least. I have seen my baby wake up in the middle of the night, peer out of her bassinet to see us in our bed, and go peacefully back to sleep. She feels safe knowing we are right there, and I know if she wakes up I can quietly soothe her back to sleep before she works herself up. There are a lot of great co-sleeping options out there these days. You just have to find the one that works best for your family.
9. Do not wake a sleeping baby
The old saying is true. Once the baby is a few weeks old, if she is sleeping at night, do not wake her up. That being said, if she wakes up, feed her. If she is not eating well during the day or you are concerned about your milk-supply, you should probably wake her up to feed her. But if baby is eating well, gaining weight, and seems content, let her sleep! Once Lily slept for four hours straight a couple nights in a row, we didn’t feed her until she had slept for four hours (unless she was clearly extremely hungry). Then we stretched the time longer and longer, with Lily leading the schedule based on her sleeping stretches. Now, at four months old she sleeps from 8:30-6!
All that being said, every baby is different and these tricks may not work for you. If you have a baby who is not gaining weight or has eating problems, it may not be wise to encourage her to sleep through the night before she is ready. While these tips are not a guarantee and are entirely my opinions (not the opinions of any medical professionals), they are tricks that worked for me and I hope they help you! Good luck and happy sleeping!