7 steps to get your baby to sleep through the night
After having my daughter I remember thinking who ever came up with the phrase: “sleeping like a baby” must not have had any children… Thankfully I soon came to understand “baby” is not to be mistaken with “newborn”. Because my newborn took a little while to get the hang of it.
Following long labor and an emergency c-section and a couple of weeks of sleep deprivation, I was ready to try anything to get my babe to sleep through the night. I tried a good number of methods and tricks, and finally at week 4 my daughter slept from 11 pm to 7 am. I remember being jolted awake every few hours from phantom crying noises that only I heard (in my head)… I had to go check on my babe every hour, but after night no. 1 the same thing happened the night after it. She kept up the good work and now at 12 months she sleeps from 7.30 pm to 7.30 am if we don’t wake her.
Here’s how we got her to sleep through at week 4:
1. Let your babe sleep in his/her own room. This broke my heart, but it also helped me retain my sanity. When your baby sleeps right next to you in the same room, you subconsciously wake up from every peep that comes out of that little bundle of joy. Once we let our daughter sleep in her own room, she slept through the night easier, because it enabled us to sleep through the moment
2. Schedule. Try to get your baby on a schedule and stick to it. Most baby’s really thrive on regularity. I used Gina Ford’s strict schedule. I know it looks horrible and utterly impossible, but once you grit your teeth and stick it out, you’ll be rewarded with a full nights sleep. I tried doing a light version of the schedule (I cheated and took some short cuts here and there), but that was much less effective than when I actually followed Gina’s rules to a T.
3. Bedtime routine. To let your baby know it’s time for bed, give him or her a couple of cues. There are many different bedtime routines, so I’d say just go with whatever works for you and your baby. This is our bedtime routine: I would always give my daughter her bottle in her room with the lights dimmed. Than I would read get her the same bunny plushie and read her a book. Than I would put her bunny in the bed and sing a lullaby. Simultaneously, I would put her bunny in her bed and let her look at the bunny in the bed while I held her in my arms. Than I would put her in her crib and give her her pacifier and rub her back for a bit. Usually this helped her fall asleep without even crying, and some days she would cry for about a minute (2 minutes tops) and than she would fall asleep.
4. Bath than bed. After taking bath, a baby will probably be a bit drowsy. If you bath your baby daily, try to plan the baths just before the bedtime routine for the obvious reasons (we never give our daughter a bath before bedtime, because our daughter has very dry skin and she can’t take a bath every day).
5. Let baby cry. This is a tough one. Cuddling baby to sleep was more my strong suit… I was a real wuss when it came to letting our daughter cry, but luckily my boyfriend had more discipline when it came to this bit. There is a ton of research done on this topic, and you can roughly divide them in two groups: (i) the let-baby-cry-for-a-few-minutes-parents and (ii) run-to-the-rescue-when-baby-makes-a-peep-parents. Naturally I am a type ii parent. But I’ve come to accept that that isn’t the most effective sleep training method. So here’s the underlying pedagogical theory:
If your child gets used to having you cuddle him to sleep, or he always falls asleep while nursing, he won’t learn to fall asleep on his own. When baby wakes up during the night – all children (and even adults) do as part of our natural sleep cycle – baby will be alarmed and will cry for you instead of being able to go back to sleep on his own. If your baby learns to soothe himself to sleep at bedtime, he can use the same skill set when he wakes up in the middle of the night or halfway through a nap. Crying baby is an inevitable side effect as your baby adjusts to sleeping on his own. They say the short-term pain of a few tears is far outweighed by the long-term advantages: a child who goes to sleep easily and happily on his own, and parents who can count on a good night’s rest.
And in the long run a baby benefits more from a parent who isn’t severely sleep deprived (that’s what I would always tell myself whenever we had to wait out those 90 seconds of crying before our daughter fell asleep).
6. Swaddling. This isn’t for everyone, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the miniature straightjacket before my daughter was born, but she seemed to really enjoy being swaddled. The more fussy the baby, the more benefit they will (likely) have from being swaddled. The snug feeling of the swaddle resembles the cozy womb babe called home for nine months. Aside from that comfortable womb-like environment, babies won’t be able to wake themself by slapping themself in the face with their own hands. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has stated that swaddling can be an effective technique to promote (when done correctly of course). And if an official organization says so, it must be true, right?
7. Pacifier. I know there are pros and cons to the use of a pacifier (here’s a pretty comprehensive list), but for us the pro’s outweighed the cons. Whenever our babe would wake up in the middle of the night we would try to soothe her with a pacifier (warning: wait to do this until your baby is 6.7lbs/3 kilos) and we would try not to feed her. This was extremely hard at times and often meant that we were up a lot longer than we would have been if I would have just fed her, but it helped to let her sleep through the night and it alleviated her colic.
We would also give her a couple of sips from a bottle with a bit of breastmilk and some lukewarm water (that had been boiled) as suggested by Gina Ford in the satisfied baby bible. This worked very well in our case, but it is something you should be very careful with as water can interfere with a young baby’s ability to absorb the nutrients in breast milk or formula and, because it can make a baby feel full, and may prevent her from feeding as much as she should (in our case this was the whole idea). Giving water to an infant can also cause water intoxication, a serious condition that happens when too much water dilutes the concentration of sodium in the body, upsetting the electrolyte balance and causing tissues to swell. It’s uncommon but very serious, so if you want to give your baby water do this in moderation and check with your GP first.
Hope this helps some babies (and parents) get a good nights sleep!