HOW I GOT MY BABIES TO SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT
The number one question I have been asked as a mom of three is: “How did you get your babies to sleep through the night?” The other questions like, “How did you get them to sleep independently, how do you get them to bed so early, how do you get them to fall asleep without the bottle or breast…” all stem from that first and most frequently asked question. AND BOY IS IT A GOLD MIND OF AN ANSWER!
We have had three babies. Our first was a huge trial and error until we got committed to the following advice. Our second was trained to sleep from 2 weeks old, and our third, welp he spent the first three months surviving in the NICU. But when he was stable at home, we started sleep training him at 4 months old. The following advice is based on the “On Becoming Babywise” book written by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam, with added detail (of course). I have never met a family who was committed to the following tips that didn’t have success in some way, shape or form to get their little one sleeping. That is saying a lot. But please know, though: you know your baby. Period.
1. Set a consistent wake time. This is HUGELY overlooked in the tips, tricks and advice I’ve read throughout the years I’ve parented 3 newborns. And it’s understandable why: if you didn’t sleep the night before and the baby is finally sleeping first thing in the morning, of course, why would you wake them? Here is why: body clock. For instance: Our wake time for the newborns was always in the 6-7am range because that is what worked for our day. It didn’t matter if the baby fell asleep a half an hour prior, I would consistently do the wake-up morning routine at that time. I would turn the lights on, say “good morning,” talk and sing, change the diaper, and get started on the first feeding of the day. It lets the newborn’s tiny, confused body clock know that it is now day, and daytime is for waking.
Set a consistent bedtime: Newborns are eating around the clock, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start from the get-go to set up their body clock to know that 7pm (or whatever you choose) is bedtime. So, for instance, if they are eating every 2hrs, and they just ate at 5pm, and now it’s the 7pm feeding, you feed him or her and put them right down after whatever routine you do (book, bath, pajamas, etc). They need to feel the difference between the daytime eating and the nighttime eating. The 7pm bedtime feeding is the beginning of the nighttime feedings, and they will be cued when you do a normal routine at that time and their body clock will start to expect that to be the time they will have extended sleep.
2. Eat-wake-sleep cycle. The purpose of this very specific order is so that the baby learns to fall asleep on their own instead of being fed to sleep. When following this cycle, it teaches the baby that feeding is for nourishment only, not a tool that is required to get to sleep. Newborns are sleepy, no doubt, and they fall asleep after the first few sucks from the feeding, but the key is to wake them up to feed. If they are sleeping, they will likely not get a full feeding or a full belly which in turn will cause them to be hungrier earlier for the next feeding and further throwing off their body clocks. So, wake them up. When they are newborns, they typically eat every 2-2.5hrs and so after 2 hours has gone by, unswaddle them so they aren’t all warm and toasty. Sit them up, tickle their toes, rub their cheeks, almost aggravate them (mean? Nah) awake. They need to be fully awake to eat. If they start falling asleep, take them off the breast or bottle. Wake them up. This might cause them to cry or get upset because, duh, it’s a lot comfier to eat and sleep than to be interrupted (but it’s for their own good, and in turn yours). After a full feeding, newborns literally will only need 5-10 minutes of wake time before another nap. DON’T KEEP THEM AWAKE LONGER THAN THEIR OPTIMAL WAKETIME. They need the sleep, and their body clocks need to be listened to. Watch and learn their sleep cues. Yawning, rubbing eyes, etc. Sometimes it’s subtle so watch them closely because honestly, this is crucial. There is a small window of opportunity to see and respond to your baby’s cues in order to teach him or her to fall asleep on their own. Even if you are staring at the baby for 10 minutes to see it, oh well it’s just 10 minutes, you will live and it’s worth it. As soon as you see the cue, cut off the snuggle (although it is real), swaddle that bundle of joy up, and put him or her in the crib. This is huge. Putting them to a nap while they are awake but sleepy is where the magic happens.
3. “Begin as you mean to go forward.” Old habits die hard as they say, and if you start something, be prepared to continue in it or have a tougher time getting out of it. For instance, if your baby has slept for 20 minutes and starts stirring, going in to shush or rock, give a binky or pick up, the baby will learn that that is what will happen every time he wakes up. So, if you want the freedom to put the baby down for a nap or at night and teach him or her to self-soothe without all the intervention, let them stir. Let them cry a bit. THIS IS THE HARDEST THING FOR PARENTS TO DO: listening to your baby cry. It is SO hard. I will never write that it is easy because it just isn’t. It is hard, and I know because we’ve done it. We tried everything else before doing this method, and it was just hell. If you are truly wanting your baby to sleep (and you yourself to sleep), just know that you are not alone. It is not something to be taken lightly and half-heartedly and as hard as it is, it is the greatest gift you can give to your baby. This is the gift of sleep. They need help from you to learn, they need their parents to teach them, they need you. They will learn that this is life. If you get committed to a cause because you see the benefit down the road, the best and most efficient way to accomplish it is to start now. Don’t keep waiting, or delaying, or pushing it off. It only creates bad habits. It is much easier to train not RETRAIN.
4. Be Confident. Baby might cry. Baby might fuss. It’s okay. Think about what is true. You just fed him, he can’t be hungry. He is in a safe place, a crib, he couldn’t have fallen or gotten stuck somewhere. You just changed his diaper. And you are confident that he needs a nap. Be confident that you are doing what is right, that this is what he needs and babies just cry. Likely if this process has been started from two weeks or so on, the crying will be a minimum. When you’re in the trenches of sleep deprivation, it can be an all-consuming trial. For me, it was all I could think about. I did not function on little sleep. I did not love well, my tank was empty, my fuse was short, and my heartfelt overwhelmed all the time. Teaching your baby to sleep through the night is one of the best things you can do not only for your baby but for your exhausted self. It is not easy, but I would argue it’s MORE than worth the temporary work.
I would never assume to know everything about you, your parenthood, your baby, your lifestyle. So, please know that this post is only meant to encourage you as the parent. You know your baby better than anyone and there is no doubt about that.
I would love to read your feedback about what you as parents have tried with your babies to get them to sleep through the night. What would you add to this list? Your comments and feedback matter to not only me but other parents out there reading along!
If you have any questions, and I do mean ANY, please comment or message me directly, because this stuff matters immensely. I feel blessed to share what we’ve found that has worked, and look forward to hearing from you all!
Below is a link to the book these tips are based out of: