As I type this, Baby Bear is sleeping soundly in her crib, cuddled up in a sleep sack with her lovey and her paci. She went down easily. The house is quiet. She’ll sleep for 90 minutes or more. Last night, she slept about 11 hours and we didn’t hear a single peep out of her.
Yes, this is totally normal.
I never thought I would get to this point, but here we are.
I’m sure that much of my success comes from the fact that Baby Bear naturally needs or likes a lot of sleep. But I’m sharing my techniques with you because I’ve been approached by a lot of moms at playgroups and meetups asking what I did so they can do it too.
Maybe you’re reading this because your due date is inching closer and you know you’re about to lose out on some precious sleep. Maybe you brought Little One home from the hospital and you’re already losing out on your precious sleep. Either way, I highly encourage you to try this out and see if it works for you.* You deserve more sleep, Mama.
*I can’t guarantee that it will work for you, just that you should give it a shot.
From the Beginning
First things first…and that’s where I started. For this reason, I don’t know if you’re going to find any great advice here if you have an older baby or toddler that you are trying to get to sleep well. (Again, you might…I just can’t guarantee anything.)
From the day we brought Baby Bear home from the hospital, she slept in a bassinet in the corner of our room. I swaddled her, nursed her to sleep, turned on a sound machine (this one was all we had at the time) and put her down when we went to sleep, around 10 pm.
From that point until we were ready to wake up, whenever she cried, I went straight to her, nursed her in the rocking chair in our room until she was asleep, burped her gently (back when she could still be burped while asleep!), and put her right back down.
I did not unswaddle her. I did not change her diaper. I didn’t do anything to wake her up. This taught her that “playtime is for daytime” (yes, I still tell her this) and nighttime is for sleep.
Now (is this a safe space?) I should mention that this did NOT go well for the first 5 weeks or so. She would SCREAM the second we put her down. Even if she had been sleeping like the dead before. Me or my husband would have to walk her up and down the hall for hours sometimes before we could put her down and actually go to sleep ourselves. Some nights, we caved and slept downstairs so we could put her in the swing. Typical evening fussiness at that age. But she eventually grew out of it and started consistently sleeping for 8 hours a night at around 8 weeks old and 12 hours a night at around 13 weeks old.
Once she was no longer waking me up at night, I moved her to her crib (she was around 11 weeks). I remember being all hyped up for a night of crying and fitful sleep, but it was so easy. I just put her down in the crib instead of the bassinet and she slept all night.
Because she was so young, I don’t think she even noticed.
This was all for nighttime sleep. For day, she would nap in her baby swing in the living room. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have relied on the swing so much, but I was a SAHM recovering from a c-section, so I needed my baby to sleep so that I could sleep. I would swaddle her and turn the swing on and she would sleep for 3 hours sometimes. It was great.
But then she started only sleeping for 45 minutes or so, and that’s when I should have started sleep training. Instead, I started it around 4 months old, and I weaned her off the swaddle at the same time.
Yup. I’m crazy.
First, introduced a lovey to play with (this one and she is still in love with it) since her arms would be free to roam. I gave it to her at every nursing session so it would smell like me and so she would associate it with something positive.
Next, I unswaddled one arm and gave her the lovey to hold. I kept the swing turned on and didn’t change anything else. Once it had been 3 days, I moved her up to the crib and used good, old-fashioned CIO (cry it out) to get her to sleep.
The key to this was putting her in the other room. It was way too tempting (and too stressful!) to rush to her side when she was right there. So I would do the dishes for a few minutes and 9 times out of 10, she would be asleep by the time I finished.
Ten minutes sounds like a short time, but it’s long if you’re listening to your crying child. I highly recommend drowning the sound out and keeping yourself occupied. I eventually moved to unswaddling both arms (but leaving her swaddled around the middle), then started using just a wearable blanket to keep her cozy.
It’s important at this stage to tell yourself that your baby is crying because she is tired. Not because she misses you.
Then, right before Christmas (she was about 8-9 months old), everything changed. My awesome sleeper started waking up at 5:30am every. Single. Morning. For two months. #%&$@!$???????
She finally stopped after she got sick, and that’s when I figured out what had been going on. She was overtired. And from my mistakes, you can glean a lovely lesson.
Use a video monitor and check on your quietly “napping” baby to make sure they are asleep.
When I finally started doing this, I realized that it would take her 45 minutes before she would start crying. That’s 45 minutes of not even sleeping. Just crawling around her crib and playing. So, by the time 45 minutes went by and I heard crying, I would get her up, thinking she’d had a nap. Nope. So she was EXHAUSTED by bedtime.
Once I started checking on her, I was then able to make the decision of whether to let her skip the nap and go to bed earlier (something I wasn’t doing before), help her go back to sleep, or try to put her down for a nap later. This made all the difference.
The other thing I changed was I stopped putting her down asleep. I would make sure she was tired and drowsy, but when I put her down, she was awake. She learned how to fall asleep on her own.
This was her nap routine today (13 months old): she drank a bit of her bottle on the couch while I watched a nature documentary. She drank the other half (I kid you not) while I carried her upstairs, changed her diaper, and got her into her sleep sack. Since she had finished her bottle, I rocked her for about 30 seconds before putting her down (awake) and—10 minutes and zero tears later—she was asleep. (Most days, I take her lovey, bottle, and paci into our room and feed her in the rocking chair while she plays with her lovey. Then I replace the bottle with the paci and put her down.) She’ll sleep for about an hour and a half and wake up without a peep.
Bedtime is very similar. My husband gives her half of her bottle on the couch around 6:45. Around 7, we carry her up to change her diaper and get her into pajamas. I turn on the sound machine, turn on the ceiling fan, pick out a sleep sack, grab her lovey, paci, and bottle and bring them into our room. Once my husband has her zipped up, he passes her to me and I give her the rest of her bottle until she finishes it or doesn’t want anymore. Then I give her the paci and rock her for one more verse of “Silent Night” before putting her in her crib. We don’t hear a peep out of her until 7 the next morning.
Now, this doesn’t mean that we never have issues getting her to sleep. Sometimes I try to put her down too early or too late and she lets me know that she’s upset before she falls asleep. There was even one night last week where she cried off and on for two hours before she finally cried herself to sleep. (Dude, we tried everything….) But the vast majority of the time, sleep isn’t an issue for us and everybody wakes up pretty well rested.
As you’ve probably noticed, there was a lot of difficulty towards the beginning of this article, but not a lot as she progressed. This was intentional. Four months may sound early to do sleep training, but I can’t tell you how many moms on my Baby Center board were tearing their hair out trying to sleep train their babies at 9 or 10 months while I was relaxing on the couch eating Thin Mints.
This is the thing about kids: it’s either hard now or it’s hard later. And “hard now” is a LOT easier than “hard later.” So take your pick. Then get some sleep.
What did you do to turn your babies into great (or not-so-great) sleepers? What would you do differently if you had the chance?