To the exhausted mama, who is too scared to drink a cup of coffee in fears that her baby will become a caffeine hyped wakeful lunatic, but hasn’t slept more than a 2 hour spurt in weeks. I’ve been there too. You’re in the thick of it, and it seems sleep is the holy grail you’ll never reach. I’ve heard so many parents tell me their baby hates sleep, or is just a bad sleeper. I’m not an expert by any means, I’m just a veteran of three, but I think sleep is a basic human need even for the baby you think hates it. Babies need it just like we do. I’ve found some things that have worked wonders for all three of my babies. Remember every baby is different, so you just have to find what works for that baby. But there are definitely some rules of thumb that I’ve found crucial for them all.
1. Pay Attention to Wake Time
My biggest rule is follow the WAKE TIME guidelines for the baby’s age. One of the twins would just go to sleep when he was tired. The other started acting like he had been fed 3lbs of sugar when he hit his max wake time. And that’s when everyone else kicks their two cents in telling you “he’s not tired.” “Let him stay up until he’s tired.” “He would sleep more at night if you didn’t let him nap so much.” WRONG. They were all WRONG. He was my baby, and I knew that none of that was true. For babies, sleep begets sleep! When a baby sleeps poorly during the day, expect them to be more restless or sleep poorly at night. But if you pay attention to their wake time, you may find they were just fighting sleep because they were overtired.
My third has has been the most needy when it comes to going to sleep. She is by no means a bad sleeper. That baby can sleep! But it took me a while to figure her out. She was napping poorly in the beginning, but always slept alright at night once I finally got her down. Getting her down took forever. I was rocking, patting, waiting til she was in a deep sleep. I was trying everything. But I was also going with the flow, taking a more relaxed approach to it all this time. If she wanted to nap, i figured she would let me know. This was a stark contrast to how i raised the twins. Last time with the twins, i was a mad woman about naps. Those babies did not miss their nap time, EVER. It took me a few weeks to realize my lax approach with Hazel had her totally overtired. Whoops! I just wanted to be the cool mom (haha, me? Yeah right, keep dreaming. I know, I’m too type A for that now).
So what happens with an overtired baby? They fight you to go to sleep, they wake frequently after falling asleep, they have a hard time staying asleep, and they can be pretty fussy during the day. Again, I’m not an expert. I can only tell you what worked for me, but i definitely believe sleep is a basic human need that needs to be met, for both babies and adults. So how did I fix the overtiredness with mine? Once I realized the issue, I started putting her down right at her first que within the max wake time. So if she yawned and it was around the max wake time, down she went. Even if she didn’t yawn, or start to fuss, if she hit the max wake time and wasn’t already asleep, I took her to her nap spot and put her down.
for information on wake times, I just usually google it to pull up a chart. But here’s a good example. goo.gl/images/ajq6hE
2. Find a nap spot
Babies need to feel safe. If you put them down in the same place every day, they will start to feel safe there, and see this place as a place of rest. I don’t care if it’s their crib, a swing, or a dock-a-tot on the couch. Whatever works! Remember, the key is to survive the first few months. Anything beyond that can be fixed later. Plus, the first thing you want is a good sleeper.
So I found that Hazel started to like the swing. She needed her paci, the vibration on and needed it set to level 4, but whatever works, right? So i put her down at her max wake time, and she closed her eyes and slept!! What?!!! This baby had fought me tooth and nail for so long every time I wanted to put her down. Now suddenly she went straight to sleep. Why? Because she was finally not overtired!!! Now sometimes I still needed to come back and soother her a little then put her back in it. But eventually the swing became her safe place, and this happens now every time. I put her in, i walk away, she falls asleep.
I do have to recommend trying to put babies down in a crib so you have less of a crutch to break the habit from later. But if that isn’t working, it’s okay. For hazel, she likes being in the thick of it. During the day she doesn’t want to be alone upstairs in her crib. She wants the racket from the twins, her mamas voice (as I scream at them to get out of the room and let her sleep). The background noise works for her.
3. Create a nap/bedtime routine
Once you have the baby going down for naps more easily, you may find that they are going down the same time every day. That’s great! That makes it even easier on you because then they are becoming more predictable. Just remember a predictable baby is a baby who can go out of the house and behave well because you know they don’t need a nap yet.
For me, our nap routine is putting her in the swing, wrapping her in her blanket, putting her paci in and walking away. As long as you do the same thing every time, that will help cue the baby to know it’s time to sleep.
At bedtime, I put her in pjs, and her swaddle without swaddling her yet. We read some books, then she gets swaddled, takes her reflux medicine and has her bottle. After that, she knows it’s bedtime. We don’t swaddle her during the day, just because I wanted it to be part of her bedtime routine and she seems fine without it in the swing.
4. Be consistent
Enough said? Just continue trying, and make sure other family numbers are aware of her wake times. Don’t let people keep them up past it. Trust me, just don’t. It makes it harder on you, and you are their parent. You are the one who needs them to sleep, so you can sleep. Yes, you are a mom or dad of a newborn, but you still deserve your sanity!
5. Sound machines are magical!
If you don’t already have one, GET ONE!! These are one of the best and simplest cues for a baby to sleep. Now Hazel is almost 4 months old, and she doesn’t fall asleep in my arms as easily. That’s fine by me though, because now, her crib is a safe place for her, and when I bring her upstairs to her room, and turn that sound machine on, those little eyelids start to get heavy, and suddenly she’s out! She knows now that the sound machine means sleep. Plus, we don’t have to worry about the noise of the tv or creeping past her room at night because the sound machine drowns out those noises for her. If you’re looking for one, here is a link to one like ours, that I just LOVE. It has a nightlight feature which helps a LOT when checking on babes in the middle of the night. It also is rechargeable, so NO batteries, but you can also plug it in. All three of ours LOVE white noise, and know it's time for sleep when we turn it on.
6. Teach Night vs Day
So for this, we just always keep the blinds open during the day. I like it to be bright during the day. So in the beginning if it was rainy and dark out during the day, I’d leave the light on in her room. During the night, we keep things dim during feeds, lights mostly off, no stimulation so I don’t talk to her, or play with her at all. I even try not to make eye contact because they say a mother’s eye contact is extremely stimulating for a baby.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten somethings, so feel free to ask questions or tell me i need to explain something further, but I hope some of this helps! Remember, everything is a phase, but good sleep habits last a lifetime, so Sleep on, mama sleep on!
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