Today on the blog – in conjunction with Touro Infirmary – we are absolutely thrilled to be opening a dialog about sleep through our “Rest Assured: You Are Not Alone” series. As moms we are all often sleep deprived, and we struggle with making decisions around our children’s sleep habits as well. Should we use a crib or a bassinet? Is co-sleeping safe or not? Should we sleep train? And who IS the expert on sleep training anyway? Will the baby ever sleep more than 2 hours at a time? Why does my toddler have night terrors? When do I move the toddler to a “big kid” bed and oh my word why won’t they stay in the darn thing? Our goal through this series is to create a safe place for all of us to open up about the sleep issues that trouble us and to acknowledge that no matter our struggles or choices, we are never ever alone.
Our Keys to Infant Sleep: Routine and Consistency
Recently, a childhood friend emailed me inquiring whether I put my boys on a schedule. I have other friends who have asked similar questions seeking advice. This childhood friend told me that I “make it look so easy.” I am fairly certain (read: sincerely hopeful) that she was only paying me a compliment and that I do not give off the illusion that “it” – a.k.a. motherhood/parenting/sleep training whathaveyou – is easy in any way, shape or form. It is anything but. If I am giving off that glaringly false impression, let me admit from the depths of my soul that this is the hardest thing I have EVER done. I am not exaggerating … it is down in the trenches, cry your heart out, shake your fists at the heavens, H.A.R.D. Of course, the rewards reaped are immeasurable. With that said, I apologize in advance if I have ever made it appear to another mother that I come by it easily. Most days I question whether I am failing miserably at least once; on some days, I know I am. But I digress. This post is intended to be a glimpse into how we got both of our exclusively-breastfed boys to sleep through the night before they were 3 months old. I mention the breastfeeding only because there are people who will tell you that breastfed babies can’t sleep through the night. That is not true as an absolute. There are definitely things to be mindful of in comparison to their formula-fed counterparts, but a breastfed baby can sleep through the night, and they can do it young.
I read three books before I had my first son: Happiest Baby on the Block, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and On Becoming Babywise. I used principles from all three in getting my children to sleep through the night. I personally subscribe to the Babywise principle that a well-rested baby is a happy baby and the gift of sleep is one of the best gifts you can give your child. And if we’re being honest, it’s pretty much the best gift you can give to yourself. My parents did not schedule my sister or myself. I was offered the breast at every whimper. My mom’s words, not mine. I would like to believe I turned out ok. But my mom and I are two different people. Plus, she didn’t have to return to a career at a litigation defense law firm when I was 12 weeks old. I hold my rest in high regard and missed it dearly those first 11 weeks. Even though my parents never shoved their advice on parenting down my throat (for which I thank them dearly), they did offer one word intended to guide me through my parental trials and tribulations: consistency. In all things. I absolutely, wholeheartedly agree with that. I thrive on routine and order, and I believe children do as well. I’m not talking militant structure, but structure nonetheless. This philosophy works exceptionally well in setting sleep habits. You have to create a schedule that works for your family. The bedtime isn’t as important in the early weeks as is consistency and getting enough sleep.
Again, I don’t want the reader to believe that application of this principle is simple. It was actually so difficult for my first that I questioned it for 11 weeks. He was so difficult to rouse after every feeding, he did not nap well at all (certainly not for the lengths of time the book suggested), and he wanted to nurse far more frequently than the cycles suggested for his age. But alas, he slept through the night at 11 weeks old. I will take a baby who doesn’t nap well but sleeps for 12 hours at night over one who naps like a champ but keeps me burning the midnight oil. Just sayin’. His naps improved and his time between feedings became more spaced out and predictable. Slowly but surely, and with some dedication and perseverance on my part, he developed a sleep pattern that looked something like this:
- 7:00 am: wake, nurse immediately
- 9:00-11:00 am: nap
- 11:00 am: wake, nurse immediately
- 1:00-3:00 pm: nap
- 3:00 pm: wake, nurse immediately
- 5:00-5:45 pm: nap
- 6:00 pm: wake, nurse immediately
- 7:00 pm: bath, quiet time, reading
- 7:30 pm: Bedtime
- 10:00 pm: I wake him for a dream-feeding, nursing him in a dark room and put him back to bed immediately thereafter
- 10:00 pm – 7:00 am: GLORIOUS Sleep
The naps were not always consistent and they changed the older he got, yet the nursing times never did. I exclusively breastfed Mark until he was 13.5 months old with the exception of solid foods (no formula has ever been given). I also did a dream-feed until he was 11 months old. I still am doing that for Jack, my 10 month old. My rationale is two-fold: I like that they sleep until 7:00 am or later and I want to maintain a milk supply. I used to say that I would not be a believer in the Babywise method unless I had another child and it worked just as well. Because all kids are different right?? Well my boys are definitely different … not many similarities. Yet Jack, who is now 10 months old, began sleeping through the night at 5.5 weeks old. I am a believer. Jack’s schedule is almost identical to his brother’s except that he goes longer between nursing. Also, he has been a champion napper since birth. He was essentially a model child for Babywise. I must point out the obvious: although I credit these aforementioned books with getting both of my children to sleep through the night at a young age, the application of the principles did not work the same for each child. They are different and our lives were different in those points in time. I was always more flexible with Jack than Mark, and more particularly, with his schedule. I did, however, adhere to the basic principles I outline below.
8 tips for getting your child to sleep through the night:
If you are still with me, and think you may want to implement a schedule for child’s sleep patterns, here are the tricks that worked for us. Yes, we used them all; that is crucial!
1. Do not nurse baby to sleep. I know, I know, I will catch a lot of flack for this one. My own mother (who nursed me until I was 2) gets this look in her eyes when I suggest such a concept. I am 100% pro-breastfeeding, but I am also 100% in support of a baby who can fall asleep on his own. In the early weeks, this was especially difficult because after a baby is milk-drunk, all he wants to do is snooze. No dice. I used the bath (Mark would sometimes get 4 soaks per day), a cold wash rag, removing all his clothes, etc. You get the idea. Don’t let them sleep after they eat. This is part of the Babywise “eat, play, sleep” cycle that is critical to longer infant sleep.
2. Always aim for a full-feeding. No snacking at the breast. This is especially difficult in the early weeks and is direct contradiction to on-demand feeding. Of course, you have to use your judgment and your babies’ cues. If they are hungry, you nurse them. If they are going through a growth-spurt, nurse them. But when they get on the breast, keep them awake and make sure they take a full-feeding. Use the tips above to wake them. Sometimes this will be impossible but try at every feeding for a full feeding. Refer to the guidelines for each age for how many nursing sessions baby should have within a 24 hour period and use baby’s output to measure whether baby is getting enough.
3. Swaddle. No further commentary necessary.
5. Do not rock/hold baby to sleep. Put them down when they are in a sleepy state but still awake. This was exceptionally hard for me to do with Mark because he was my first and I wanted to hold him. all. the. time. With Jack, I didn’t have enough hands. Regardless, I have always put my babies to bed at night while they are awake. They talk to themselves for a bit and then doze off.
6. Don’t create bad habits. A wise mother, whom I respect tremendously, once told me never to create a habit that I did not want to continue every day thereafter. Sage advice.
7. Seldom interrupt your routine. Of course, I will admit there were instances wherein I brought Mark into my bed so that we could all get some sleep. However, I never made a habit of it and we quickly returned him to his predictable routine of sleeping in his own bed. Deviations should be the exception.
8. Respond to a crying baby. Over time you will learn to identify your baby’s needs by the sound of the cry. If the cry is urgent, respond immediately. However, if it is a tired cry (trust me, you will learn to recognize the difference), give your baby a few minutes to see if he settles. Then go in and pat your baby but do not pick him up. You want to create as little disturbance as possible. If he continues to cry, repeat, going in 10 minutes later, and then 15 minutes later if necessary.
Feel free to ask me any questions as I could not possibly cover all of what we did to get our babies to sleep through the night. My second baby sleeps so much better than his older brother. For Mark, it felt like I was practicing an art form. This post is intended to be a starting point. Enjoy!