Before you find out some specifics on how to help your baby get some ZZZs, here is a checkpoint for you, an assessment, a place to start. You need to prepare yourself for this, just like you do with any other baby process... potty training, immunizations, finding childcare, walking, feeding solids, etc. You can do this! Just check where you're at first.
1. Acknowledge that "sleeping through the night" won't be 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. for awhile... typically that type of sleeping happens later in the first year to second year. Sleeping through the night for us at first was 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Love that. You'll hear moms calling it a "longer sleep stretch."
2. Figure out why she's not sleeping in the first place. Take an inventory before you start any type of plan of helping your child sleep longer. Is she hungry? Is she wet? Are her diapers too small so she's soaking through them onto her clothes? Is the room too cold? Are there weird signs or shadows on the wall? Is it too dark, too light? Is she too swaddled, not swaddled enough? Is she hearing you make noises in the night?
Of course figuring out the real answers with a baby who cannot speak is difficult... but try some things out, attempt to brainstorm what may be causing her to wake.
3. Acknowledge sometimes it's you....This is a tough one... sometimes the reason a baby stays awake in the night is partly due to mom's needs or mom's choices. This is not to place blame, not at all. But when you really want to get your child to sleep through the night, you must assess all aspects of why he's not doing it in the first place.
I don't believe *most* babies just sleep through the night at some point. I think they have learned behaviors, habits that parents influence, and needs based on those patterns not necessarily developmental or physical needs. I believe it takes leading them in a direction, teaching them, guiding them toward sleeping on their own. It takes effort.
I've talked with many moms who are so frustrated by lack of sleep, super exhausted they'd do anything to make their child sleep... yet when we talk about it, there are things they could be doing or trying but they are not invested in doing so. That doesn't make them bad moms. It just means they have limits and boundaries around what they are willing or able to do at that point to help their child sleep. There is NOTHING wrong with that. It just means they are making a choice to be up at night.
Which means you can make the choice to have more sleep.
Again, this applies to healthy babies, not those in the deep throes of sickness, teething, growth spurts, or coughing spells.
So assess if there is some reason you are not working on the sleep thing. If you recognize one of these things on the list below that applies to you, just stop, breathe, accept it to be true, and realize it's nothing more than a fact. It means nothing about what type of mother you are or that you are doing something wrong. It means you are making choices for good reasons, and that because it's a choice you could choose something else if it's important to you. And it does not have to be important, you could choose that you are OK with waking in the night.
Reasons could be...
- Your need for closeness - this could be because you actually enjoy your 2 a.m. snuggle, it's nice, comforting, reassuring you the baby is healthy and happy. You may want this closeness because it's your last baby.
- Your mama guilt/pressure kicking in, making you feel like you're bad if you don't do this or that with sleep. I hear this so much in the echoes of what people are really saying... They can't imagine saying no to nursing or bottles in the night because if they do it means they are starving their kid. If they don't offer the breast at 3 a.m. every night until the child is over a year old it means the child won't successfully latch on for that entire year or that their child won't be bonded to them.
- Your full breasts, needing to empty in the night. It's easier to just nurse than to get up and pump. But this sometimes means you feed your baby when she doesn't need to be fed, when you could try other methods to get her to sleep a little longer instead of just feeding her.
- It's too hard. Yes, it IS harder to work at this sleep teaching in the night. It's more effort, patience than most of us can stomach in the middle of the night. I totally get that. I'm not suggesting this is easy. But nothing in parenting is easy...
- You are uncomfortable with crying. You imagine if you refused to feed your child would scream so loudly you'd start crying. You hate even a little bit of wincing, whining either.
- You worry a lot. You wonder "If I don't do this, then what will happen?" or "Will I scar her for life if I don't rush to her every need?" You pay attention to all the details and worry that you are messing up.
- Habit. You are just used to feeding her, it's all you know, because in those first 3 months that IS what you're supposed to do... feed when they wake, or even wake them to feed them. So you're just in pattern now that you aren't sure how to break or if you're supposed to.
- You have strong beliefs. You believe in co-sleeping and being there every step of the way for your child until they are big enough to help themselves. Putting them outside your reach is against what you believe at such a young age.
- It's only a short time that they are little and needing me. You could believe that you know, a year of sleepless nights is nothing, I can survive this no problem.
- You may be so sleepy in the night you aren't awake enough to tackle this, you are going through the motions. Almost like sleep walking... you just routinely get up. You don't even remember doing it really.
- You are on autopilot, in tune with every move or noise, and moving too quickly. You wake instantly when you hear him stir. You go right to him and offer to feed.
- You didn't know it could be any different. You were told that babies don't sleep through the night, so just deal with it. You had no idea it could be better.
- You can't think straight enough to figure this out. You're exhausted from lack of sleep, two kids with you all day, you don't have time to figure this out.
4. Check if you are ready and willing to put the energy into this process right now. Just like with potty training, it won't work if the parents are not interested, not able, or not patient enough at the time the process is happening, same with sleep teaching. I believe parents need to be fully on board and focused, determined, and extremely patient for a few nights to a week to get things moving in a sleepy positive direction... or it just won't work well for any of you.
Maybe you aren't ready emotionally. That's OK! You are hanging on to these last baby moments in the night because this is your last baby... that's OK and so normal! Just recognize your reasons for whatever they are, and wait until you feel ready.
So if you are sick, baby is sick so you've been up a lot extra in the night, you had a rough day or family change recently, etc. then no, today is not the day to start the sleep teaching. Wait until you are physically better and more able to focus on this process. It will go smoother for you in the end if you wait until the time is right.
5. Form a sleep team. You will definitely want your partner's help with this process. It's easier when it's both of you doing the sleep teaching than just one of you. It's easier to go back to old habits or fall asleep mid-diaper change when it's just you at 2 a.m. If there is another person there, even quietly cheerleading you on toward full night's sleep, you're more likely to get the job done.
So talk to your partner about your ideas, thoughts, plan for the night. Tell them specifically what help you want from them. Talk to your pediatrician for reassurance. Most moms who talks to her baby's doctor about sleeping through the night will hear yes, he's ready, he's physically growing and does not need to eat in the night any longer, go forth!
6. Figure out your non-negotiables. There are SO many sleep methods out there. Some you will agree with, others will appall you. Do whatever you're comfortable with. Read up, talk to friends, ask your own mother. Then figure out what you will and won't be willing to do. Thinking about this and having an idea before you go into this process will aid you in sticking to what will work for you.
7. Keep on movin'. It's not going to happen overnight. But I swear to you it can happen in 3-7 days, where you are all sleeping significantly more, if you are determined, putting in effort, working at this. So, stay focused, keep moving toward your goal of sleeping more. Yes, you'll be tired during this week. Yes, it's easier to just give in to nursing quickly, 5 minutes later baby's asleep. BUT that's short-term success. You are working toward long-term success with sleep teaching. You want to sleep 5 hours a night before they turn a year old. That IS possible.
Check in with yourself through this process.
Do only what feels comfortable, what will work.
Ask for help.
SO many moms have been where you are. You aren't alone.
More SPECIFICS in the next part of this series, real HOW-TOs on helping your baby learn to sleep.