Tune in, because I'm about to give you all the secrets on infant sleep. All of them. Are you ready?
Here it is: There is no magic sleep solution. Sorry! One of the constant refrains in mommy-hood is that every child is different. What works for one, may not work for another. And each child hits developmental milestones in their own time.
So my thoughts? Embrace that. In the figurative sense, of course. Because there are times that you want to pull your hair out. Times when you're exhausted. Times where you swear if that child cries one more time you'll sell him to the next highest bidder. It happens to the best of us.
What gets you through those times? For me, it's reminding myself that he's a baby. And despite what you may have heard, babies don't sleep through the night. There's no question that you know someone whose baby slept through the night from the first minute they were born, but that's not the norm And I've learned a couple of things about the elusive "sleeping through the night" -
1) Just because your baby sleeps through the night early on, doesn't mean they will consistently sleep through the night.
2) Everyone has a different definition of sleeping through the night. Technically it means 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. But I never considered that really sleeping through the night because 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep still has a baby up in the middle of the night. Some people consider a baby "sleeping through the night" if they only wake up once or twice to eat. Which I also don't consider sleeping through the night. And of course, there are some people who will brag about their baby sleeping through the night, and the baby is sleeping from 11:30pm to 6am. Dude - 11pm is past my bedtime!
So if your baby doesn't sleep from 7pm to 7am, just know - there is nothing wrong with you, and there is nothing wrong with your baby.
Here are some things that we found helpful on the sleep front.
In the Beginning:
Something to remember about those early days - it's all about survival. Mostly yours. If that means the baby only sleeps in the swing, then the swing is your new best friend. I don't have any recommendations short of - sleep in whichever way works best for you. For us, that meant Thatbaby slept in his crib in his own room from the very first night home.
And for us? Those early days meant sleep, glorious sleep! There was none of that "new parent exhaustion" for the first 5 months. During pregnancy I had the worst insomnia. During the entire pregnancy. Once Thatbaby was born, it went away and I was able to get good, restful, sleep everytime my head hit the pillow. And we got 8 hours of sleep a night. Not uninterrupted sleep, but because we had nothing to do but take care of the baby and house, we could devote 12 hours to our bed and even with frequent wakings we were still getting lots of sleep.
During the first 3 months Thatbaby went from waking up every 3 hours to waking up once around 4am, eating, and going right back to sleep. I was getting 6-7 hours of uninterrupted sleep. For naps though, Thatbaby needed to be held. No falling asleep in the swing or carseat for my child! Being held meant that I spent a lot of time those first few months wearing him, so I wasn't stuck on the couch and could still do things that needed to be done.
Things that helped with sleep the first three months:
After the first month we introduced a bedtime routine. Thatboy gives Thatbaby a bath, diapers and dresses him, reads him a story, and gives him a bottle. Then he'd cuddle and rock with Thatbaby until the baby fell asleep.
The only "parenting" book I purchased was Dr. Karp's Happiest Baby on the Block, which utilizes the 5 S's. The concept was introduced in our baby care class taught by the hospital and was really effective for us. One of the S's is "swaddle." Swaddling worked really well for us. Partly because Thatbaby had a really strong startle reflex and would wake himself up if he wasn't swaddled. We quickly found out that the Halo Sleep Sacks were the best for the job. We tried receiving blankets and many of the other swaddle-type sacks (Swaddleme, Miracle Blanket), but the Halo were the best for mid-night diaper changes. The zipping up from the bottom meant you could do a quick diaper change without having to reswaddle, and sometimes without even having to wake the baby.
Another one of Dr. Karp's S's is "shhhhhh." That shushing sound that sounds like the womb. We replicated the white noise with the Sleep Sheep. Thatboy liked the ocean sound, so that's what we use. The white noise helps the baby sink into a deeper stage of sleep, and helps with the transition between sleep stages.
As I said, I wore LBB a lot around the house during those early days, so I love my Moby. As soon as he'd start fussing from fatigued, I'd strap him on and he'd be out like a light. While I could still fold laundry, put things away, or even go to the bathroom.
At 3 months I began transitioning Thatbaby from napping on me to napping in his crib. It was a 5 week process. First I transitioned him to sleeping on his boppy beside me, then into the crib. And it was just in time for the 4 month wakeful to start. I had 2 glorious weeks of perfect napping free time before his naps shortened from 1-2 hours to 20-30 minutes. Don't worry. They got longer again.
At 5 months, my great night sleeper decided he was having none of that, so he started waking more frequently. Sometimes twice a night, sometimes every 2 hours. But like everything else, I viewed this as just another developmental stage. And this got better too.
Things that helped in the second 3 months:
In transitioning Thatbaby to napping in his crib we introduced the swaddle for naptime. (All because of that crazy startle reflex.) Our naptime routine became me swaddling him, putting him in crib with the Fisher Price Soothe and Glow Seahorse and turning on the Sleep Sheep. That Seahorse is magical. For a while I carried it with us whereever we went. All I had to do was turn it on and he would calm down instantly. It plays for 7 minutes. At naptime, by the time the seahorse turned off, my kid was asleep.
At 6 months, we ditched the swaddle. At night, it didn't seem to make any difference. He fell asleep and stayed asleep without it. But naps were not as easy. If I put him in his crib for a nap, he thinks it's crazy playtime free-for-all! There is no sleeping going on. But the second I pick him up, he tucks his head into my chest and knocks out. So we're back to rocking to sleep for naps. Which takes 3-5 minutes and then he sleeps for at least an hour.
His nighttime sleep has gone back to the once a night wakeup, eat, and go back to sleep. Unless of course there's something going on, like he's sick, or about to start crawling.
I think this is the age that everyone starts sleep training. We didn't. As I said, I view night wakings as something developmental. Something's going on causing him to wake up, and he doesn't have any way of telling me what it is. All he can do is cry. And I want him to know that when he cries, someone will be there. And I know that 10 years from now, when he's making me drop him off a block away from school so no one sees him with me, I won't mind having gotten some extra snuggles with him early on.
He's taught himself to self-soothe and go back to sleep without any help from me. We watch him on the monitor wake up, and put himself back to sleep. I've watched his sleep patterns change from good to bad, from bad to good, and everything in between. And although there's no magic trick for getting a baby to sleep, I'm pretty confident that we will all make it through this stage.