"You're pregnant....Congrats! Better load up on your sleep now because once that baby comes..."
"Oh, your baby is adorable! How is he sleeping for you?"
"Ugh, my newborn has her days and nights confused. I was up all night!"
So, does any of that sound familiar? If you are pregnant, have a baby, or know someone who does you have probably heard some variation of the quotes above. Sleep, or lack of it, has to be one of the hottest topics of conversation with new parents followed closely by the bowel habits of their babies! Most parents resign themselves to the fact that they have baby so that means they will not get a full, uninterrupted night of sleep for the next one, two years maybe. I say that's nonsense! It is possible for a baby to sleep through the night, even as young as three or four months. Now of course every baby is different but every baby (excluding those that have some medical condition preventing it) is capable of sleeping through the night! They just have to learn how to do it just like they learn how to roll over, sit up, and crawl. As parents we have to provide the best possible environment for them to learn. The problem is most new parents don't know how to do that- but they can learn too!
I used to think my husband and I were just lucky. Our first, Ella, was sleeping 8 hours straight by 3 months and then 12 hours straight by 4 months. And yes, she was on breast milk. Breast milk has the same caloric content as formula, so although it is digested easier, babies should not always need to eat more frequently at night just because they are breastfed. We figured we were just blessed with an "easy" baby and surely the second would be up all night for months. But to our amazement Keegan was the same, sleeping 12 hours by 4 months old. And this was despite having major surgery at 3.5 months old to correct a cleft lip. So we must have been doing something right! Well, when I started reading more on sleep training I discovered that what we had done instinctively in those early days was exactly what was necessary for our babies to learn how to sleep. My own children are proof that what is said in all those books does actually work! And the best part is, none of it is hard!
1. Routine, routine, routine
I can't say enough about the importance of a routine. When you get ready for bed, don't you do basically the same thing every night leading up to falling asleep? Your baby needs the same thing! So start a bedtime routine as early as possible, even within the first few weeks. Pick a late evening feeding as the "bedtime" feeding and then start a routine just prior. Whether it is bath time, or a nightly massage with lotion, then change into pj's, turn the lights down, turn soft music or white noise on, then have a feeding. Before long your baby will recognize the routine and begin to understand that it is bedtime!
2. Nighttime feedings are all business
This is soooo important! So, of course for the first few months your baby is going to need to wake up to eat throughout the night- there's just no way around that until they get bigger and are taking larger volumes. But that doesn't mean that you have to be up for hours because of the feeding. When your baby wakes up don't turn the lights on and don't engage with her. Now this sounds mean, right. But think about it. If you wake up at 2 am to pee do you turn all the lights on and start a conversation with your significant other? Of course not! You don't want your baby to learn to expect 2 am play time from you. You want her to learn that it is time to eat and then go back to sleep. So keep a night light on, change her diaper, re-swaddle her, feed her, and then put her back in her crib (or where ever she sleeps).
3. Sleep swaddled
I am a huge advocate of swaddling! Both of my babies slept swaddled- day and night- until they were around 5 months old. Swaddling prevents babies from startling themselves awake. Babies have very short sleep cycles so they go into REM (active) sleep every 1-2 hours whereas adults only do 1-2 times a night. When babies start getting active in their sleep they are more likely to elicit their Moro reflex, aka the startle reflex, and wake themselves up. If a baby is swaddled with their arms down, yes I said arms down!, this prevents them from startling. According to Dr. Harvey Karp, author of the Happiest Baby on the Block, swaddling alone can increase the sleep time between feedings by one hour. Swaddling also keeps a baby warm and feeling secure which reminds them of being in the womb so they stay calm and relaxed.
4. Allow swings and bouncy seats
It is okay if your newborn only sleeps well in the swing or bouncy seat! Isn't that better than you having to hold them all night? You shouldn't expect your baby to be able to sleep unassisted right out of the gate. The swing and bouncy seat help recreate the environment that your baby is used to- the womb. The swing and bouncy provide constant movement as well as an inclined position, both things newborns prefer. So, let your baby vibrate or swing all night (make sure to strap her in!). By the time she is 3-4 months old she will have learned how to sleep so you can then transition her seamlessly to her crib.
5. Use white noise
Not all babies need white noise to stay asleep but many babies love it. There are plenty of adults out there who rely on their white noise machines or apps to sleep, so why not a baby? Again, white noise helps recreate the environment in the womb. Inside the womb your baby heard a constant whooshing noise comparable to the decibel level of a vacuum cleaner yet when she is born we expect her to sleep in a quiet room! So put a white noise machine next to her crib or use a swing that has a sound feature.
So, that's it! Not rocket science right? That's just it, it isn't hard or complicated. It's just all about creating the right sleep environment so your baby can learn to sleep. As your baby outgrows the nutritional need for nighttime feedings she will naturally sleep longer because you have taught her how!
Okay, now I realize that despite their best efforts, helping their baby learn to sleep is not easy for all parents. But don't worry. There are plenty of professionals out there who can help you get on the right track and start sleeping more! And if you feel like you are getting into this whole sleep training thing too late, say you have a 9 month old who still wakes 2-3 times a night or a toddler that won't stay in his bed. Don't fret. There is help for that too! It is never too late to teach your baby or child how to sleep! Stay tuned for my next blog post which will feature Irene Gouge, owner of Loving Lessons Pediatric Sleep Consulting and Educational Growth Center. Contact Raleigh Baby Planner if you'd like more information on creating the perfect sleep environment for your little one or little one to be!