10 Principles to Help your Baby Sleep through the Night
I have to admit then when I was pregnant I received tons of warnings preparing me on how the first 6 weeks are so tough. Basically sleepless nights and days, and how the biggest thing we will struggle with will be lack of sleep. We were told to get as much as possible before baby arrives! I was anxious about this as I loved (and still love) my sleep. For me, 8 hours a day was the minimum I needed. Unfortunately, I have to admit, the advice we got was correct. But thankfully, this is where sleep training your baby comes into play. Everyone will tell you that the sooner you can get baby sleeping through the night with no need for feeds, the better! We were lucky as our little one has an easy going temperament on the whole and is never a difficult baby (well so far at least!) so he started sleeping through the night at 2 and a half months (caveat that the usual time for this to happen is the 4-6 month mark depending on which source you refer to). Also, bear in mind that every baby is unique, with different personalities and deal with change very differently, so even if you live by these principles it might not work the same way. Additionally, if your baby has colic or any other health issues, I advise you to speak to a GP before applying these principles. Lastly, babies sleep patterns can change as they go through each leap. Many new parents have asked us for tips, so I would like to share some of the principles I used to help this process along.
LEARN THE SLEEP SIGNS
This is an obvious but extremely important one. Do not put your baby to bed for the night before they are asleep. We learnt this the hard way plenty of times. What you end up with is a restless, baby who cries and is irritated, thereby delaying the entire bedtime process. Look for signs such as baby being less active and interactive with you, losing interest in toys, rubbing their eyes and yawning. Don't wait beyond the first or second yawn or eye rubbing and put baby to bed right away as he/she is telling you they want to sleep.
ESTABLISH A BEDTIME ROUTINE
Babies love structure and routine so this is key to help baby know its time to go to bed and everyone will be asleep. When my husband arrives home around 7 pm, we have a bit of playtime and then give baby a bath, change of clothes, read a book and feed. In his mind this establishes that the day has ended and its time to sleep. For us this meant, baby was asleep by 9 pm and would wake up at 7-8 am the next day.
DIM THE LIGHTS
This was a big trick I learnt. I started dimming the lights from 6 pm in the bedroom. We have 3 lights in our bedroom so I would start reducing one each hour and then when it was 9 pm and time to sleep, all lights in the room were out so baby knew it was time for bed.
STRUCTURE THE FEEDS
Newborns need to be fed every 2-3 hours. However, infants (1 month and over) don't. This implies that you can up your babies milk intake as he/she gains weight. I learnt a clever trick here that no one really told me about. I started establishing when baby was waking up during the night and how much he drank. I would then try and increase his feeds during the day by a proportion to match that. So my goal here was to get baby to drink his entire milk intake before he went to bed. Of course, this takes time. Babies have small stomachs and we were lucky that our little one slept through the night so early. Beware that you don't want to force feed your baby but want you want to achieve is starting to drop the feeds at night. It took time. Baby would not always finish the extra milk we introduced but with time his tummy grow and he would take it and realised it was sufficient for him. This also meant that I had to structure a feeding routine whereby I would feed baby every 3 hours for instance after 6 weeks. I want to say that every baby is different so if this doesn't happen so early, don't stress. I know 6 month olds that still wake up for 2 feeds at night. But it's worth a shot!
USE WHITE NOISE
This was a life saver. We used 'The Sound Sleeper' app which you can download for free. The 'sshhh' sound specifically is what my little one responded to. Again, this takes adaptation and time but the goal is that this mimics the noises baby heard when he/she was in your body. Newborns feel very uncomfortable when they are out of their mother's wombs so the trick is to mimic what they felt or in this case, heard, in there.
This lends to the same principle of mimicking being in the womb. Swaddling helps baby feel snug as a bug, warm and prevents their hands, which they are not in complete control of in earlier months, from flaring around and disturbing their sleep. We could tell the difference straight away in our hospital room soon after baby was born, when we swaddled him and when not. He slept far deeper and longer when swaddled.
USE A BABY SLEEP COCOON
Again, the same principle of mimicking the mother's womb, I can swear by the sleepyhead (there are other brands on the market too). It helps baby feel snug when sleeping and prevents baby from moving to much and disturbing their own sleep. This gadget also came in so handy for travelling. We took it wherever we went in the first 6 months.
USE A SLEEPING BAG
The risk of sudden infant death syndrome is real so be wary that baby's crib should be completely clear or anything. This implies blankets too. This is why the sleeping bag is so good, it can never ride up babies face as a SIDs risk or disturb baby's sleep. You aiming for baby to sleep longer and deeper again here.
USE A CRIB MOBILE
Our little one didn't respond to this before 6 weeks, but when he did, OMG, he was focused and obsessed! This helps for the night sleep especially where playing the mobile (we chose without sound to not disturb him) meant he had something to focus on, not be distracted and fell into a deep sleep pretty soon.
DECIDE ON DOING A CONTROLLED CRYING OR SOFTER NO-CRY/TEARS TECHNIQUE
Between 0-2.5 months, for our little man, rocking was key to helping him sleep. We had to rock him on the rocking chair for 5-10 minutes before he would fall asleep and then when we placed him in the crib, we crossed fingers that he wouldn't wake up as it meant the whole rocking routine had to be repeated! It was a nightmare on some nights if he had gone beyond tired and was just extremely restless. This is why the goal here is to prepare baby to self sooth and not rely on you to help him sleep in this way.
You have two options here:
- Controlled Crying where you let baby cry it out for more and more time, over several days, until they learn to self sooth. This approach, I was warned, can be heartbreaking for the parent as you want to reach out and pick them up when they are crying. You aren't supposed to here. You are meant to figure why baby is crying. If it isn't a need like hunger or nappy change, but purely to be held or rocked to sleep, you are meant to let them cry until they self sooth. When I was pregnant I read many books focusing on this technique and was adamant I was going to use it to help baby and us but this changed as soon as my little one was born, I have to admit.
- We used the no tears approach. There are several ways to do this such as co-sleeping, feeding, rocking and cuddling. We used the pick-up, put-down method. If baby fussed (not cried), we picked him up, rocked then placed him down. Then if he repeated, we did the same. It possibly takes more interaction as a parent than the controlled crying approach initially and you have to be really patients. I have read also takes longer, but for us it worked quite quickly in fact, in less than a week. Baby soon figured that he needed to sleep and we would help him but not let him sleep on us or rock him to sleep.
Happy sleep training and here's to more sleep for you!