Infant sleep is often considered a four-letter word. No parent going through it really wants to talk about how much their baby is sleeping, because the answer is usually, “NOT ENOUGH!” Short naps, not falling asleep when they’re tired, waking constantly at night – there just aren’t enough hours in the day for parents to get sleep when there’s a little one around. And, though there are numerous books, articles, and blog posts regarding infant sleep, there isn’t only one right answer in the bunch.
Because babies, like adults, are individuals, their needs are, as well. There can’t be one right answer for infant sleep because every baby is different, meaning one method will work while another won’t. Or, you could have one of those babies that require you to piece together parts of several different sleep training methods.
My only advice for you is to go with what you feel is best. You know your child. You have spent time getting to know what they like, what soothes them, what excites them. I bet you have also discovered some things that work and some that don’t when you’re trying to get your little one to sleep.
I’ve seen all kinds of suggestions about what you can do to help soothe you baby, and simple routines you can implement that could signal your babe it is time to sleep. Honestly, those choices are limitless – again, every baby is different. But, when I first started looking into sleep training, and when it was suggested to start, the most common answer was around 3 months. This is the time most experts and parents, alike, suggest introducing a sleep routine.
I agree that waiting until around 3 months makes sense – you’ve (sort of) figured out your baby’s natural rhythm and internal time-clock so you can create a simple routine based on that. However, I would argue that you can begin helping your little one sleep from day 1.
In the first days and weeks of your baby’s life they will have their days and nights mixed up. This is because, during the pregnancy, your little one was lulled to sleep by your near constant movement throughout the day. And at night while you’re resting, baby is spent some more time awake. I, personally, did not experience this, but I have read and heard many mothers talk about being woken in the early hours of the morning because their little one decided it was time to practice their kickboxing.
With both of our girls we started to help them get past their day-night confusion on day one. We didn’t implement any over-the-top sleep training methods, just simply followed their cues. During the day, when they woke up we would make sure the room was well-lit and noisy (with number 2 it was easy with big sister around to make lots of noise). At night, the room was kept dark and very quiet. Honestly, within just a few days there was no issue with long night wakings.
Now, going with the sleep flow is all fine and good in theory, but what about when they just won’t sleep? Seems silly that they wouldn’t just fall asleep when they’re tired, but for some reason that’s completely normal. And absolutely frustrating. What I’ve found works best is to pick one sleep you feel is the most important – for us it was bedtime. For each of our girls, bedtime transitioned easily to between 6:00-6:30 every night by around three or four weeks. And it was simply because that last sleep of the day – which started out around 8 pm – slowly migrated toward 6 without much effort on our part. Simply encouraging a calm sleep environment and a short, and easy to follow, bedtime routine made the transition that much easier for everyone.
Bedtime was the most important for us, because we greatly value our evenings together, even if we’re just sitting in the same room together doing our own things. And, at least in our house, more overnight sleep for the girls means a happier house all around. However, a friend of my husband typically lets her child (I think around 3 now) stay up until sometimes 9:30 pm. The reason being, she and her husband both work long days and don’t get home until around 6, so they take that evening time to be together as a family.
So, do what works for you. Pick one sleep you are hoping to be the longest – morning nap, afternoon nap, early evening bedtime, or a later bedtime. Make your choice and create that sleep routine. Over time, as you consistently do the routine before laying your child down for sleep, they will create an associate with that routine. They will recognize that one thing will follow the other in a natural pattern, eventually leading to sleep. Over time, you can include that same routine (or a modified version) for the other sleeps during the day. Transitioning their bodies from awake to asleep is a difficult one, so they need your help.
You can find all kinds of sleep routine suggestions, but here is the one that we use every night before laying Dimples down for bed (and it’s the same one we used every night for Sweet Girl until the four-month sleep regression hit).
Using a warm wet washcloth, wiping down face, neck (helps keep the nastiness to a minimum), hands, diaper area, and feet (or bath, if she really needs one)
Gentle massage from feet to head (I use a homemade lotion of coconut oil and lavender and tea tree essential oils)
Dress in diaper and PJs
Feed little one
Snuggle in blanket and bounce, sway, and sing two or three songs
Lay down almost asleep, but not quite (yes, it really does work… sometimes)
Infant sleep is a tricky thing. Every day can be completely different, making you feel like you’re going to go crazy. And you just might – I know I do sometimes – but you will get through. The first few months are hard, but by starting your sleep encouragement (sounds so much nicer than sleep training, doesn’t it?) from day 1 your life will be that much easier down the road when sleep regressions hit. I know it did for us.
How about you? Any tips and tricks you might have for encouraging your little one to sleep?