I suppose it is true that one loses a lot of sleep during the first year of a child’s life (and for a few years to come in some cases). What people don’t tell you is that you might lose some hair, some sanity, and some patience in the process. But along the way, and after having read multiple books and websites on infant sleep, we have actually learned a thing or three. Here are the absolutely most helpful things that we’ve learned:
1. The most important thing — and I think I’ve mentioned this before — is to set an early bedtime. “Early” for some means 10PM, but what I mean is between 6PM and 8PM (at the very latest). We started this bedtime timing around when Sam started sleeping four to five hours at a time (around four months). Before then, Sam would just go to bed with us at 10PM or later. I noticed that he had started to take long late naps or have long periods of fussiness in the evening — and I had read in The No Cry Sleep Solution, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and on the Baby Sleep Website that a bedtime between 6PM and 7PM was the thing to shoot for. Any later gets into over-tired territory, and an over-tired baby is likely to sleep less soundly and for less time than one who is appropriately tired. (This is TRUE.) Setting an earlier bedtime did lead to a more rested child — and it also helped us tremendously in transferring Sam from the co-sleeper in our room to the crib in his room. Added bonus — we get to have a few hours to ourselves before going to bed.
2. For naps, remember the 2-3-4 rule. If you have a bad napper, this MAY CHANGE YOUR LIFE. Around four to six months of age, your bambino may start transitioning to two naps. (Before that they take three naps, which for us was mayhem and a guessing game.) Once this transition starts to happen, the 2-3-4 rule is key to remember. When we started instituting this rule, it took some persistence, but now it works without fail. Every. Time. Here it is: baby wakes up, is awake for 2 hours, naps, is awake for 3 hours, naps, is awake for 4 hours, and then goes to bed for the night. You can start instituting this schedule when your kiddo is still at three naps a day — just budget for a brief evening nap before bedtime. I’ve learned that this rule WORKS, that consistency is key, and man, infants love a schedule. And this one is simple, flexible, and easy to remember. (I don’t know where I first read about this rule, but I do know the Baby Sleep Website is a big fan of this, and the author really knows her stuff.)
3. Crying it out is not evil — nor should it be used in every case. I’ve heard tales of mothers and fathers letting newborn infants cry it out until passing out. I would absolutely never agree that this is a good idea. Newborns need warmth, security, and feedings on demand. They need their parents to always hold them when they are crying. Why? They don’t know anything. They don’t know you’re just in the next room. They don’t know that you’ll come back. (This isn’t just my view.) Crying it out, if used, should be started after four months. We did not do much of this until after five or six months, and for us — we always set a time limit. I did let Sam just cry for an hour one time, and he was really screaming (yeah I know, I am mother of the year for that one). He finally fell asleep, but when he woke up, he was scared and needed to be held for the rest of the afternoon. I’ve never let him cry past twenty minutes, and if I hear that scared cry — not just a tired cry — I figure it’s not time for him to sleep. For us, Sam rarely cries at bedtime, but at naps, he can fuss and groan for up to twenty minutes. I now know his pattern — first he talks, then cries a little (a tired cry) and then he talks to himself quietly or groans a little (not a bad groan, but I don’t know how else to describe it other than a groan — a sleepy quiet groan), and then he’s asleep. This took practice for us — and it had to be in combination with the 2-3-4 nap schedule to really work. This really only started to work for us around eight months (I’ll explain more about that later). What I’d recommend with crying it out is taking a middle-of-the-road stance. Read a lot about it, use it if it works, and keep an open mind about it. It can be totally effective, but it’s not going to work at every age for every baby.
4. Your baby may well go through a whole lot of phases of napping or nighttime sleep. For nighttime sleep, Sam went through a I-have-to-be-glued-to-mama’s-boob phase from one to three months, he went through a had-to-be-swaddled phase for the first month, and a wake-up-at-4AM phase FOR THE DAY for the whole of month eight and some of month nine, and he went through several phases of waking up every hour or two to eat. (And now he sleeps 11-12 hours a night and wakes up around 5:30AM.) For naps, he went through a sleep-all-the-time phase until about two months of age, an only-sleep-in-the-swing-for-naps phase from two to four months, and an I-WON’T-NAP-AT-ALL, MAMA phase from around four to six months, and a delightful I-will-only-nap-ON-you phase from six to eight months. Phase after phase after phase. Always evolving.
5. On that note — be consistent as much as possible, and make sleep time and sleep place as secure and happy as possible. It took us eight months to get Sam to nap with regularity (on the 2-3-4 routine). What did I do? Besides going nuts? I started consistently putting him in his bedroom for naps from around five months on — in the swing or in the crib. Sometimes I’d just sit in there with him napping on me, or I’d sit in our glider while he whined in his crib, just so he’d know I was there. I read to him and played with him in the nursery, and after that one awful day I let him cry for an hour, I didn’t let him get scared in the nursery. Finally, it paid off. The man naps now, and it’s beautiful. (FYI, I don’t want to ship my baby off to sleep land all the time — but he was just a holy terror with the crying and the fussing constantly when he didn’t nap properly. Napping is key to a happy baby, and happy parents.)
6. Your baby will eventually sleep through the night! He or she will also go through sleep regressions (typically around four months and again around nine months) where he or she wakes up multiple times a night. It may be at two months that he or she sleeps through the night, or it might be at seventeen months. Either way, don’t lord it over other parents whose babies don’t sleep through the night yet! (That’s rule #1!) Your baby sleeping through the night doesn’t have that much to do with your parenting — it has about 90% of everything to do with the personality of your baby.
7. You may get more sleep in the newborn phase than you will when your kid is ten months old. For us, this has been largely true. Sounds weird right? Well, since we fully believe in putting Sam to bed around 7PM, his wake up time tends to come really early. And we still like to go to bed around 10PM. I know, it’s silly, but it’s how we’re rolling. In the newborn phase, I slept whenever Sam slept, and he often would sleep in with me until 11AM or noon if I felt like it! Nowadays, that doesn’t happen. I try to nap sometimes when he naps, but that doesn’t always happen. So be grateful for your little sleeping tiny angel — he or she will turn into a crawling, bouncing, babbling, stair-climbing, person climbing, refrigerator opening Energizer Bunny. Sleep goes out the window.
8. The first sign that your kid is SICK (or teething) is poor sleep. Since Sam started having a more predictable nighttime sleep pattern (sleeping more than five hours at a stretch), it has become easy to tell when something is “up.” If he’s awake when he’s not supposed to be, or if his naps suddenly become shorter, it’s a sure sign that he is getting a new tooth, is constipated, has gas, or has an illness. This was one of the first signs of his epic month long ear infection, and it was certainly the sign that his fifth and sixth tooth were coming in. This is an important sign to read! It means — be vigilant and keep a wary eye — make sure your kid is okay over the next hours and days. Something might be up!
9. Speaking of signs, know your child’s tired signs. For Sam, he rubs his eyes, tugs on his ear, or sort of collapses in an extremely dramatic, ridiculous way on the floor (one second sitting up, the next second, collapsed over his crossed legs, face plant on carpet, mewling surely involved). He has always rubbed his eyes and gotten fussy — and at the first view of any of these signs, we’re usually headed towards putting him down to sleep. It’s a good thing to remember, especially when you are trying to adapt to a particular routine. (Often, if you wait until a child is fifteen or thirty minutes past these first signs, he or she might hit a second wind and/or become overtired. Overtired is BAD — it means either more of a fight when going to sleep, or no sleep at all!)
10. Be patient. And be thankful. A lot of parents have babies with colic or reflux, which is a huge hindrance in getting sleep schedules figured out. Even with these issues, babies will eventually sort themselves out. With more minor issues — like Sam’s refusal to nap for a few months — keep in mind that someday, all of that will change and get better. Be consistent, patient, loving, and persistent. Babies need security, and they need sleep. Make sure they have as much of those things as possible — and then release it. Be patient with the baby, the routine, your partner. Be flexible. Above all, be patient with yourself. If you’re trying — you’re there. You’re the best parent, and you’re who your baby needs.
Tags: 2 3 4 nap rule, baby naps, baby nighttime sleep, baby sleep routine, baby sleep site, baby won't sleep, crying it out, early bedtime for babies, early bedtime for infants, healthy sleep habits happy child, infant napping, infant sleep, no cry sleep solution, sleep routine, sleep schedule, sleep training, sleeping through the night
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