As I’ve joined the ranks of moms, I’ve found that there are several issues at the forefront of many moms’ minds. The issue of babies sleeping. Or rather, the lack of babies sleeping.
A good night’s sleep is essential. We all know what happens to us when we don’t get good sleep. At least for me, I know that my temper becomes razor thin, my relationship with my husband gets strained, and my perspective on the world becomes blurry. If you are suffering from lack of sleep because a little one is keeping you up at night, you know all too well what I’m talking about.
Thankfully, there is hope. Mommyhood doesn’t require you to be sleep deprived. A healthy baby can learn to sleep through the night by 8 weeks old. I have a 2 year old and a 6 month old and 6 nights out of 7, I enjoy refreshing sleep. They go down at 7:30 and they don’t get up till 7 the next morning. It’s not because my boys are magically angelic in this area, it’s because I worked really hard to help them learn good sleeping habits from the very beginning, and everyday I work to maintain those good habits. But the work it takes is worth every hour of sweet sleep I enjoy at night.
Everything I’ve learned about sleep training comes from a book that I wholeheartedly recommend called Good Night Sleep Tight by Kim West. If you have been friends with me for very long, I’ve probably recommended it to you (and perhaps you are rolling your eyes thinking “there she goes again!”). But I have learned so much from this book that I can’t stop recommending it. If I were to make a list of top books a mom should own, this book would probably be number one.
Like I said, I’m not expert, but I do have two babies worth of practice. Since baby sleep is such a prevalent issue, I just wanted to take some time to share a few of the things I’ve learned.
1. Sleep is a learned skill. Just as we all once learned how to walk or learned how to ride a bike, so we once had to learn how to sleep properly. While sleep comes naturally, sleeping well, sleeping without sleep crutches (see below), and sleeping for extended periods of time does not come naturally and most babies need at least some sleep coaching.
2. Baby must be able to self-soothe. Many babies acquire sleep crutches. These are things that baby needs in order to fall asleep. Sleep crutches can be swings, being rocked or bounced, being nursed to sleep, a pacifier, or the vibration of a car. Sleep crutches are so easy to adopt, especially when baby won’t sleep and you are desperate for sleep. But helping baby learn to sleep without these things will pay off in dividends later on. If baby can self-soothe, then he can put himself to sleep and stay asleep on his own. How do you do this? The answer isn’t simple, but typically it takes a combination of a feeding schedule, consistency, ensuring baby isn’t too tired to sleep, and allowing baby to put his self to sleep. See the next point.
3. Allow baby to learn to self-soothe. Typically this requires allowing baby to cry for a little bit when going down for nap or bed time. Allowing baby to cry can be very difficult on mom, especially when she has dire warnings from “experts” whispering in her ear. However, I wonder if these “experts” have kids and if they do, if they get any sleep at night.
I have personally adopted the 15 minute rule as my happy medium between allowing my baby to cry and my own guilt for allowing baby to cry. (Note: I only use this 15 minute rule when sleep training. If it is normal wake time for baby, I definitely attend to my baby. I am not advocating ignoring a baby.) Let’s say for example it is nap time, I put baby down at the proper time for nap. I know that he has a full tummy, his diaper has just been changed, and that I’ve given him plenty of cuddles and kisses during his awake time. So when I lay baby down for a nap, and he vocalizes that he isn’t interested in nap time, I can rest at ease knowing that my baby is not in need of anything, he is just letting me know that he doesn’t want a nap. I will allow my baby is vocalize for up to 15 minutes. However, if after 15 minutes he is still crying, then I’ve found with my two babies, he is probably not going to settle himself down and it’s time to go in and check on things. 90% of the time, when I’ve been consistent about sleep training, my baby has settled himself down within the first 10 minutes. For many babies, they need to cry for a little bit before falling asleep, it’s their own way of settling themselves.
This is also one cause for allowing baby to adopt a sleep crutch; mom is so worried about allowing baby to cry that she instead allows baby to use the swing, the car, nursing, etc, to get baby to sleep so there isn’t any crying. Remember that crying isn’t automatically a bad thing, babies use it to let their needs and their wants be known. A cry doesn’t necessarily mean that baby is in need of something.
4. A feeding schedule is essential to sleep training. A feeding schedule is not a difficult plan to adopt, but it can be a bit tricky to explain, so this point will probably have to be its own post somewhere down the line if people are interested (if you’d like more info on a feeding schedule, leave a comment to let me know!). Essentially a proper feeding schedule helps a newborn baby learn to sort their days from nights and also helps mom better determine why baby is crying. Just because baby cries doesn’t necessarily mean he is hungry. If baby is on a feeding schedule, mom can stop and say “ok, he just took in a full meal 45 minutes ago, so he must need something else (such as a cuddle, a diaper change, a change of scenery etc)”.
5. Skip co-sleeping. I know this is a touchy issue, and I don’t want to step on any toes. However, if you want baby to learn to sleep well during the day and at night, you will have to give up co-sleeping. When you co-sleep, you become a sleep crutch for baby, and if you aren’t there, baby can’t sleep. Additionally, if baby does sleep, but wakes up in the night, then you wake up too and probably your first impulse is to do whatever it takes to get baby back to sleep, and fast, so you too can get back to sleep. This also doesn’t allow for baby to learn healthy sleep habits.
6. Finally sleep training requires consistency! Sleep training takes a lot of work. It requires clearing schedules, scheduling around naps and bed time, and carefully watching the clock. It’s not always fun to have to turn down an engagement or hurry home from the store because you know it’s baby’s nap time. But without a consistent schedule, baby will not learn to sleep well. Consistency is also critical when you are trying to teach baby to self soothe. You can’t allow baby to cry themselves to sleep one night, and then nurse baby to sleep the next night. You aren’t teaching baby anything if you intermittently allow sleep crutches.
These 6 points are just a brief overview on some of the biggest roadblocks for baby to learn how to sleep well. Sleep training is a little tricky though, and you could be doing all six of these points and baby is still having issues with learning healthy sleep. However, in that case, probably the problem is something that requires some minute tweaking. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave your question in the comments section, and I’ll do my best to answer the question! Or, get a copy of Good Night Sleep Tight and follow it very carefully. If you do that, I can almost guarantee that a good night’s sleep is in your very near future.