I’ll admit it: The thing that scared me the most about becoming a parent was how little sleep I was about to get. My daughter was born a ball of absolute, sheer perfection — who terrified me. We were lucky to get her back up to birth weight within about a week and a half, and then we could set an action plan for sleep in motion. Under our pediatrician’s watchful eye, and with the guidance of friends who’d had success in the past, we made the slow transition from feedings every few hours to a proper — albeit short — night’s sleep for our newborn. But by the time our two-month checkup had arrived, I could proudly say Willow was making it from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. The doctor laughed and warned me, “Don’t tell any other new mom that.”
When my daughter was about 2-months-old, I was standing in the checkout line at the supermarket when a woman in front of me with a baby about her age gave me the look. You know the one — that mom-to-mom look that seems to say, “Help!,” “We’re in this together,” “I love my baby so much but…,” and “I’m exhausted” all at the same time. I doled out my own withered smile in return and scooted out of there as fast as I could. Truth be told, I was afraid of what would come next: the obligatory back-and-forth on who’s sleeping and how much or how little. I always had to lie my way through, and that day I just wasn’t in the mood. My daughter was already sleeping through the night, and had been for weeks. I knew the last thing this sleep-deprived fellow new mom needed to hear was that I’d lucked out — or at least, that I’d figured out how to get my baby to sleep through the night.
Now that I have the safety net of camaraderie (we battled sleep regressive periods when she was 4- and 6-months-old that were a living hell), I’m ready to dish. There is no hard-and-fast set of rules about this; I can only share what I learned as we went under the care and advice of a team of professionals. Before establishing any sleep or feeding pattern with your own newborn, and throughout the process, it’s important that you speak to your doctor to guide you along. But here are some hints you might find helpful, from a mom who had a solid six hours under her belt every morning from six weeks on.
1. We did not co-sleep. Among myriad other reasons, my husband and I felt that our snoring and the scent of my milk would keep her awake. We wanted the baby to associate her room, especially her crib, with sleep. That meant creating a womblike environment in there in every way, from the perfect temperature to total darkness. We eased our tense, new-parent minds by watching her sleep on a video monitor from our room. Many moms have asked me if this meant I wasn’t able to “get to” my daughter. Unless you’re living in castle, it should be fairly easy to get to your child in the night when they need you. I attended to every cry just as I would had she been in our room, but I did it all in her room. At times it was hard to resist the temptation of pulling her back to my bed so we could both fall asleep after an early-morning feeding, but I never faltered, and now I’m so glad I didn’t.
2. Swaddling was a must. Many babies (ours included, luckily!) love to feel wrapped up and cocooned in this way as it feels safe and familiar. We tried a few different options, but our favorite for the first several months was the Miracle Blanket. As soon as she was swaddled up, our little one would instantly start to drift. (Now that she’s too big for a swaddle, we use a wearable blanket at night, which helps her feel snug and warm safely).
3. Making sure that she was full is important. Think about it: Can you sleep well when you’re hungry? Certainly not. We set the tone for each evening by making sure our daughter ate plenty during the day. I nursed on demand throughout the daylight and early evening hours, even when that meant doing so much more often than every two hours. I used my boob in lieu of a pacifier, really, so she was good and full throughout the day and prepped for a good night’s sleep. Though I am not familiar with the ounce requirements and frequency for bottle-fed babies, I would suggest chatting with your doctor about how to make this method work if you are using formula, too.
4. White noise was a clutch. I’d switch it on to the “womb,” “waterfall,” or “beach” setting before doing her late feeding to set the tone. We made sure to try a few different sounds to get to the one that seemed to sustain her longest. Our white noise maker of choice doubles as a humidifier; this brand has many great options.
5. I took a soldier mom stance. I hated it, but forced myself to resist engagement during any middle-of-the-night feedings, even when she was newborn. My sweet little peanut was just so cute, when she cried out in the night for a feeding I wanted to play with her and dance around the room or at least whisper to her how much I loved her. But from the very first days home when I was still waking her up to feed her every few hours at night, I made sure that between the hours of midnight and morning, when I went in to tend to her I was quiet and all about basic needs. I would pick her up, gently check her diaper, nurse her, burp her, and put her back down.
6. We came up with a schedule that worked for us. We decided to work around (GASP!) our adult schedule for success for everyone. Some called us crazy, but once we knew our daughter was capable of sleeping in six-hour stretches, my husband and I worked back from when we wanted to wake up. With the end point of 6 a.m., we started doing the final feeding at 11:30 p.m., so she’d finish up by midnight and be ready for bed. Within a couple of weeks, she started going past 6 to 7. We moved the bedtime up in 15-minute increments very slowly over the course of a couple of months. By the time she was 6-months-old, she was sleeping from 8 p.m. until 6 or 7 in the morning.
7. I introduced age-appropriate comfort objects. When Willow was old enough to have a pacifier through the night (check with your doc; ours advised at four months it was fine), we let her. Even though she rarely kept it in her mouth, it was there as a transition object from the boob to the bed, and it would be there for her in the night if she woke and wanted it. Several months later, my daughter (finally) loves her pacifier and it soothes her whenever she’s cranky before bed. I’m not yet ready to let her sleep with a plush animal or blanky or night, but I do let her have one of these during day-naps when I’m watching her the entire time on the monitor. When she’s a bit older, I’ll leave it in her crib at night, too.
As Willow has grown and gone through the normal developmental changes of babyhood, she’s had a few sleep regressions. At 4-months-old and then again at 6, she was up every few hours in the middle of the night to feed. My pediatrician did suggest we let her “cry her out,” which I’ve never been quite comfortable doing. Instead, I reverted to my newborn-days tactics of entering her room silently, addressing the necessities (usually she’s just hungry and I’ll nurse her back to sleep), and not engaging. Then I would pop in the pacifier and put her back down. Yes, it was exhausting, but we’ve survived each regression and found our way to an even more solid pattern of sleep.
My daughter is now almost nine months old and has given us a full night’s sleep every night since six weeks with the couple of exceptions listed above. I will say one result of our great success at night is that Willow is not a fantastic napper. I never really tried to limit or shorten her day-naps, as many sleep experts suggest. She did that on her own! Even at four months old, days would go by when I’d be lucky to get a half-hour nap out of her. I also had to lull her to sleep in the car at times, when we were both desperate.
But all along, the night-sleep has worked pretty well. And nowadays, she’s even napping for two solid hours every morning and an hour in the afternoon on most days. Any mom or caregiver looks forward to the nap; it’s a break, or at least a chance to sneak in some laundry and dishes. But I wouldn’t trade my night-sleeper for a great napper any day. There have been hard nights, of course. Growth spurts, teething, and other factors (including my own senseless insomnia!) have left us all exhausted on more than one occasion. But I know we’ve given our daughter a great start in life by establishing a daytime and bedtime routine that would enforce night-sleep. Even if I had to lie about it for a little while.
More for Moms with Babies:
- Everything You Need to Know About Teething, from Symptoms to Treatments
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