Aaaahhhh the sleep post! Something I've wanted to write about, but sometimes feel anxious sharing. I've been asked to share my tips, so I think it's time. I am not an expert, and my kids are human and definitely have their off days/nights. Last night was a harder one, but 99% of the time my kids are amazing sleepers!
When I was pregnant with Penelope I had many people warn me of the never ending sleepless nights, how your life and sleep go out the window often for years. One woman told me her 6 year old still goes into her bed every night and hasn't slept through the night since pre-kids. I was shocked but also certain I didn't want that for my kids/family. Even though this was my stance, I really didn't do much homework.
My mom was the original strict sleepmama. I looked to her for a lot of advice because my sister and I had positive sleep habits our whole life, and bedtime was always really calm but really structured. She said she used Kitty Raymond in Calgary after I was born, and did sleep training with me at 3 months (I was colic for the first 3 months also). She described it as letting your kid cry it out, and said there were times she had to lock herself in the bathroom to resist picking me up (or my sister when she did it with her). She said the first three days sucked so bad, but after that, we were great sleepers.
I sort of anticipated this sleep training for me one day, but for both of my kids, I never actually had to do the '3 brutal nights' they talk about. It was something that was relatively smooth and pain-free, and successful in both kids by about 8 weeks.
For my kids I heard and read (Bringing Up Bebe) about the importance of listening to their cries. Learning to interpret their cries is the first big thing we will do as parents. And it's not concrete... Kids change and as soon as they master one thing, then there is another mountain to climb right after. For sleep (and everything), the biggest tip I can give is to listen to the cry before jumping and responding. If you never give your baby the opportunity to calm down, self soothe, or get comfortable - the skill just gets harder for them to develop. It's our job to teach our kids how to sleep, and if we always interfere, they won't learn. It's the hardest thing to let your kid cry a bit, but always look at the big picture, and know you are teaching them the following:
1. Being alone is okay. They are safe and their crib is a good place.
2. Learning no. If you always respond immediately, they will struggle with patience, hearing no from you, and not always getting their way.
3. How to self soothe. It takes time, but we all learn to sleep on our own.
Babies also wake between their sleep cycles. So do we as adults, but we have learned to connect them without waking up and freaking out. Babies have to learn to connect those sleep cycles. I think a lot of parents pick their kid up while they are actually still asleep and trying to connect the sleep cycles because they are making some noise - the baby won't learn to connect the cycles with disruption from the parent. Something to keep in mind.
*Listening to cries begins right after birth. In those first few weeks, if I fed Elliot and he cried less than 1.5 hours after, I would try to get him to sleep first. I would wear him in a wrap or put him in the rocker. I knew for me, that I needed 2-3 hours between feeds to build my supply up. If I fed him every 45-60 minutes, my milk wouldn't get as full, and we would be on that crazy cycle of eating non-stop (and neither of us sleeping enough) for too long. I avoided that by getting him used to resting between feeds.*
Here is what it looks like at night for Elliot:
1. Feed sometime between 7:30-8:30. Once he is done his feed (diaper changed, sleeper and sleep sack on), we put him in his crib awake (lights out, sound machine on - our house is really creaky and loud so it helps dampen loud cracks), sing him a little song, and shut the door. Sometimes he's asleep after a feed, but usually wakes up and then cries a little bit, then falls asleep.
2. If he is crying, we set a 10 minute timer. (Do dishes, watch TV something to take your mind off crying). If he cries beyond the 10 minutes, I go in and offer the boob. Usually if he is crying, he didn't get enough food.
3. After feeding or settling him, I put him down again. There have been only a couple of times since he was 6 weeks old that I had to go in a 2nd or 3rd time before he finally fell asleep for the night. These are really random, and still his absolutely WORST nights he was asleep in his crib by 9PM.
4. We offer another dream feed right before we go to bed (approximately 11PM), and from there, he will sleep 7-9 hours every single night.
Note: I have to highlight the importance of shutting the door and walking away. Even-though this is my second kid, and I am a firm believer in the sleep style we have, I still have a hard time laying him down when he is crying, and walking away. I compare it to watching water boil. You just can't. If you sit there and watch it even for a bit, it seems like it will never fricking boil. It's painful. Instead, turn the stove on, and walk away knowing eventually it will boil. In that 5-10 minutes of waiting, go do something else - tv, dishes, something to keep you busy and let time pass. That task is over and what do you know - the water is ready and you didn't have to sweat. For us, we had Elliot in his own crib and room at 3 weeks. This is a very personal choice, and everyone can make their own decision on it, but I think the important thing is giving your baby the space to feel safe, comfortable and ready to have nice long sleeps on their own.
Note 2: Soothers. A mom of twins told me she wished she never introduced it. She hated getting up in the night to put if back in their mouth after it fell out. To me it always seemed like another thing for a baby to cry about, another thing to carry along and clean, so we avoided it all together. There were a couple times with Penelope that I was like should we do it?? When she seemed to cry more but I am happy we went without. Babies are hard enough to read and decipher so I wanted to keep the things they needed to cry about to a minimum. They don't miss what they haven't had right? That being said, it is a personal choice that each parent gets to make! Whatever works!
**ALSO - neither of my kids were colic. This is something I don't have expertise in, but if you are in that situation - there are lots of sleep resources, and like I said, my mom said it sucked but sleep training helped me go from a colic baby to a good sleeper around the 3 month mark. ALSO why it was easier for us to say no to soothers.
1. Sleep Sack (love this brand, but Ikea sleep sacks worked fine too)
2. Sound machine (Both kids have one. It helps create a sense of home when we are away in a different room/travel bed)
3. Stuffed Animal. We gave Penelope her "Penelophant" around 6 or 7 months (when she was alert and strong enough to roll and move if she had to). It is a little stuffy that I kept in my bed when I was in the hospital with her to make it smell like me. It's her THING. But I always keep it in her crib so she has something to look forward to in there. Even if she takes it out I tell her "he is so sleepy" and we put him permanently in there hahaha.
4. Quilt. Also introduced later, but in the winter she needed more than a sleep sack. Preference, but she's used to having a blanket.
Naps are different. He is getting into the zone of needing to 'know' it is nap time. In the first weeks, they just sleep whenever, wherever. Penelope did this too. She started becoming more aware around the 3 month mark, and we were like why are you so fussy, and try to talk and stimulate her and feed her and she just got more upset (Elliot does the same). She just needed to know it was nap time. Similar to bed time, it just needs to 'feel like nap time'. If he is fed, and just starts fussing or crying, that means it's nap time (babies need to sleep pretty much after two hours (or less) of being awake for like 8 months ish). In the first 2ish months I would carry him, go for a walk, or put him in a rocker. Now he is older, he does most of his napping in his crib. It is light, and normal daytime noises are around when he naps.
- Talk to your baby and tell them what's going on and be encouraging. Tell them 'you are such a good sleeper!', 'it is night time, you are safe in your crib, mom and dad are close, it's time to have a big sleep.' 'You are going to sleep for 8 hours!' 'I believe in you!' etc.! You have to believe that they will sleep. I think they feel that in you. I even noticed when I didn't shut Elliot's door all the way, almost anticipating going in there soon, and he would fuss more. When I shut it, he seemed to go down well and get a normal solid sleep in! Weird. Maybe a coincidence?
- Be gentle on yourself and be patient with your babe! You're doing a great job. Bringing up Bebe (the book) has an amazing chapter on sleep, and it is pretty much my go to if I have doubts/questions.
- If the 10 minute timer is too much for you, start with 5 or 7. We took it to 15 minutes with Penelope, and it was the magic number. It's really light in the summer so we put extra blankets on their blinds at night too. Penelope has slept 12 hours without fail since she was 6 months old (after eating solids), and did the 8 hour chunk after 3 months. Elliot is around 7-9 hours every night and it's been nice! We have been 'observing his cries' since day 1 though, so he is used to settling himself. Every baby is unique, but I think giving my kids time to settle themselves has been really big for getting them to be good sleepers.
- After we introduced solid food to Penelope (6 months), we dropped the 11PM dream feed. Since then, she has slept 7:30PM-7:30AM in winter and 8/8:30PM-8/8:30AM in summer like clockwork. She is now 16 months and still sleeping 12 hours nightly.
I wish you luck! Give it a couple weeks before you expect to see results too, but be strong and consistent.