I’ve written quite a bit about Stella and her sleep (or lack thereof at times) over the past few years, and I figured it was time to document what we did with Harvey that was the same or different and why. Then when I started to write out this post, it took an entirely different turn, so I’m going to post this first and then write up a detailed post of what we’ve actually DONE with Harvey.
As a caveat – I know that sleep advice can be VERY controversial. Obviously every kid is different in temperament & ability to self soothe without being shown the way, but there are a few basic concepts that I think were really important for us to know & follow, and I hope that sharing some of what we’ve learned about kids & sleep over the past 2.5 years will be of help to some of you!
Lesson #1 – Every kid is different. Don’t feel like a failure if your infant cries a lot and wakes every 2 hours to eat but your best friend’s kid never cries & sleeps through the night. Related, don’t be uppity & think you’ve done everything perfectly as a parent if your kid is an angel who never cries & slept through the night on her first night at home. You might have just lucked out with a chill baby!
For what it’s worth, Stella was a typically fussy baby. By that I mean she (like many babies) had her “witching hours” from around 4-8pm almost every single night for a few weeks (months?) around 1-3 months of age when we loosely followed the “five S’s” made popular by Dr. Harvey Karp in The Happiest Baby on the Block. You can read more about the Five S’s here. I know that some “gentle parenting” advocates get ragey about that book, but I consider myself a gentle & loving parent, and part of that is being a smart parent who picks and chooses which advice to follow for my baby. I use what I need to and disregard what I don’t. We spent many evening hours with Stella swaddled up tightly in our arms laying on her side/stomach, bouncing on the exercise ball, and whispering “shhh” (albeit not as harshly/loudly as Dr. Karp demonstrates) to her in order to get her to stop wailing. With Harvey, we never had to do this once.
Seriously, please remember that every baby is different – and that’s a big reason to not feel pressured to follow ANYBODY’s advice when it comes to sleep. It could be amazing advice… but it might not work for your kid. Also, it could be really shitty advice, and that’s no fun either. Do your research, and then follow your gut.
Lesson #2 – The first few months of a child’s life are generally the most flexible ones when it comes to sleep. Take advantage of it!
I know, if you’re in the bleary eyed newborn phase you might not believe me right now, but truly, your baby is pretty flexible right now, and you need to take advantage of it! Here is the “routine” we followed with both of our kids for the first few months:
Eat – play – eat – sleep <– repeat … and roughly every 2 hrs as an infant and every 3-4 hours as an older baby, we threw a diaper change in the mix.
That’s it. No crazy regimented sleep & feed schedule. If you are a parent of multiples or someone who needs a schedule to feel sane, go for it… but if you don’t have an intense, burning need to have your children eat and sleep at scheduled times, don’t stress out that you’re somehow ruining your baby by not having them on a routine as an infant. Feed on demand and take advantage of those first few months when the baby can sleep anywhere. You DO NOT need to make your 1 week old take naps in the crib in fear of ruining his/her sleep habits for life. You honestly don’t. Snuggle on the couch, wear the baby in a sling, take a walk with the baby in the stroller to get some fresh air, go out for lunch with your friends and let the baby sleep in the car seat. In short, take advantage of this little window of time where the baby can sleep anywhere and you don’t need to schedule errands around nap time.
Lesson #3 – An overtired baby is a cranky baby. No baby doesn’t need to nap. If your baby doesn’t nap well, you are most likely keeping the baby awake too long.
I can’t tell you how many of my friends have said “my baby just doesn’t need to sleep much” or “my baby only naps once for 45 minutes a day” – but then follows up with how the night time sleep sucks or the kid is fussy all the time. ACK! This is an overtired baby. Usually by the time your baby is rubbing his/her eyes and showing visible signs of fatigue, it’s too late. Think of when YOU are overtired and toss and turn in bed – that’s what has just happened to your baby! We have had really good success with following the guidelines laid out in “Baby Sleep: What is Normal?” That means we currently do our best to not let Harvey stay awake more than 3 hours at a time EVER (at nearly 6 months old).
For anyone with sleep questions, I highly recommend you check out Troublesome Tots. It is hands down my favorite sleep resource out there, and I honestly still refer to it all.the.time.
Lesson #4 – Do not miss the window of opportunity for change! Separation anxiety tends to hit around 8 months, but it can really happen at anytime between 6 months – 2 years for most kids. Don’t be stuck like we were and be trying to fix sleep issues at the height of separation anxiety time!
First off, don’t be afraid of using elements like the swaddle, swing, and white noise to help your baby sleep in the beginning. Don’t even be afraid of nursing & rocking to sleep in the beginning. Enjoy those snuggles while they last. Then you’ll reach a point around 4 months when you realize SHIT, my baby is not an infant anymore… and that is when you should start to think more about these things.
I think the biggest issue we had with Stella was never letting her / teaching her how to fall asleep on her own between 4-6 months. I loved the cuddles so much and nursing her to sleep was so easy that I never bothered trying anything different until shit hit the fan around 8 months and she woke up every 45 minutes all night long. Don’t get me wrong – those first few months I think it is TOTALLY AWESOME & WONDERFUL to nurse/rock your baby to sleep. However, the time will come that it’s a huge benefit if you can lay your baby down, walk out of the room, and feel confident that s/he will fall asleep without issue. The key to this is putting baby down drowsy but awake whenever possible so they get used to settling in for sleep without you rocking/patting/singing/nursing/etc all the way into dreamland. This is MUCH easier to do if the baby is not over tired (see point 3 above). Also, remember that there is a massive difference between letting them fuss for a few minutes and CIO, so if you’re not wanting to try CIO, don’t automatically discredit the idea of letting your baby fuss for a few minutes. You’ll probably be surprised at how often s/he falls asleep without you if you just give them the chance. My personal rule is 6 minutes – if the baby is just fussing and not hysterical, I give him 6 minutes to try to settle on his own. If he’s getting more worked up after 6 minutes, I go in. You’ll find what number works for you!
Lesson #5 – The importance of learning to fall asleep without a nipple in your mouth cannot be understated.
Remember, the easy option isn’t always the best option when it comes to babies and sleep. Yes, it is EASY to nurse a baby to sleep. Believe me, I have done it many, many, MANY times, and it’s hard to change your process if it’s working. However, there will come a time that you aren’t there at bedtime…or more likely, you won’t want to nurse the baby to sleep for the 18 millionth time that night. This doesn’t make you a horrible mother – it’s just reality. It’s helpful to everyone involved if you can nurse (or bottle feed – whatever floats your boat!) and enjoy that snuggle time… and then while the baby is still awake, lay him/her down in bed. That way if the baby wakes up later (like we all do throughout the night), your baby can wiggle around, readjust, and hopefully fall back asleep all on her own because she doesn’t think she needs a nipple in her mouth to do this. Win/win!
Lesson #6 – Give your baby time to adjust to the new routine / way of sleeping that you’re attempting to implement. Be patient – it’s a learning process for everyone!
My final tip in regards to babies/kids and sleep is to remember the fact that sleep is an ever changing beast. This works both ways. If your kid is in a great sleep rhythm, enjoy it while you can, because eventually a nap will be dropped or daylight savings time will hit and you’ll probably have to change things up again. On the flip side, if you’re currently a sleep deprived zombie, remember that things WILL get better. Give yourself and your baby the tools to sleep better and it WILL change. Just give it time. Just because you tried it one night and it didn’t work doesn’t mean it won’t work. Habits have to be created, and time is required to make that happen. If you’re trying to change the routine, give it a couple of weeks of trying to see if it will work for you and your baby. It will be worth it in the long run!
So there ya go…there are a million other tips out there, but off the top of my head those are the top 6 things I’d tell a new parent who is struggling with sleep issues. How about you – what are your favorite tips to live by when it comes to kids and sleep?