Part 4 in the Sleepy Heads series! More specific tips on helping your baby sleep better.
So your baby won't sleep through the night. He's healthy, gaining weight steadily, older than 3 months old, and overall a great kid. You just can't do it. You're exhausted. You want sleep.
You deserve sleep. So does he. You should know that.
I believe you CAN sleep through the night.
I don't know how people do it waking all hours of the night for more than a year. To me, it's not the norm. It happens, and for those it happens to, they are not abnormal. It's just that I believe you can choose to have it differently IF your child is healthy and happy in general. Teething, growth spurts, etc throw this out the window!
When you aren't sleeping, you are typically easily frustrated, impatient, not focused at work or even when talking to your partner. To me, you can change these things and be happier while enjoying that little adorable baby!
I don't see a need for crying it out (CIO). I know many people have found success in this, and that's great for them. I just don't see a need for it when you can try these things that work well. To me, CIO is a last ditch effort, after many other things were tried. No judgment of those doing CIO. Just not for me.
In saying that, these tricks below are things to attempt that do NOT include strong fears, emotions or screaming babies. These are not meant to be fast either. I do believe within 3 days to a week your baby will be sleeping better if you try these things consistently and don't give up. But it takes time and effort. It's not overnight. It's not simple or easy, in fact it's much easier to
Here are a few things to try to teach your baby to sleep :
*Start early. Don't wait until there is a problem to fix before you get some ZZZs. Every baby is different, for some it'll be 6 months old, others 4 or 2 months old. It depends on your child and your family situation. But don't wait 9 months before you realize you should have tried to help your child to sleep. If you waited that long, it's not too late, but it's easier if you start it before they are old enough to know and do what they want.
Starting early for us was at least by 8 weeks old being conscious of not jumping to feed them. Just be conscious of it. It doesn't mean you won't feed your 8 week old. That's crazy! It just means you're focusing, watching for cues, observing and trying things, not operating like a robot.
*Don't automatically offer feeding. Instead, try shushing, rocking, changing diaper, burping, snuggling up in blanket or swaddle, etc. There will be times when you just know she's hungry, so by all means feed her. But there will be other times where she's awaking an hour after you already fed her... and you know she's just awaken because there was a noise or she got out of her swaddle... so don't automatically offer your breast or bottle at this point, try something else first.
*When you do feed, you can shorten the feeding times. So if you typically give 4 ounces in a bottle, give 3 ounces tonight and 2 tomorrow night. Or if you nurse 15 minutes typically then decrease to 10 minutes one night, or if you offer both breasts only offer one.
*Try a bottle. Nursing babies don't often take in as much a bottle-fed babies due to easily falling asleep while nursing. So try a pumped bottle of milk or formula at least during those middle of the night feedings from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. After that nursing is fine if easier for you, but at least try a bottle in between.
*Wait a minute. If you usually hear the baby sniffle from three rooms away, you are probably getting up at night when you don't need to. It's VERY common for babies to wake in the night. It's natural for all of us in fact. It doesn't always mean they are troubled or need you to go to them. So, instead of jumping out of bed each time you hear them move, wait a minute. One minute. Just attempt it. And many times you'll see they roll over or find their thumb and are fine. They don't need you to go in. Wait one minute... then the next time wait 2 and so on.
*Get a video monitor. This will help you to accomplish the waiting it out a minute longer piece of advice, if you can SEE that they are fine on the monitor, you'll know that it's OK to wait. Being assured your child is fine will help you to relax. I don't know how many times I think they are awake only to see on the monitor that they are fine, or vice versa... I think they are sound asleep and really they are throwing everything out of their crib... Video monitors are life savers!
*Get partner involved. Don't put this all on you. You are probably the one who's been doing it for a while... you are exhausted. You can't stay focused on your own. You need dad involved. So get him in there! Have him do the bottle feeding. Have him stand over your shoulder telling you it's fine, you can do this.
*Check her diaper. Sometimes that's all it is. Again, don't rush to feeding her. Try a few other things first. Checking the diaper for a dream feed before you head to bed also works. Sometimes just changing helps.
*Dream Feed. I kinda hate that term, but it's one I've heard so I'll use it. Our son would fall asleep around 7 or so at night, so we'd wake him at 9/10/11 at night sometimes midnight before we went to bed to offer food. We'd change his diaper to wake him (and because it needed to be done) and offer food. If he didn't wake enough to eat, that was fine, but most times he did. This gave us a solid chunk of time sleeping.
*Get day time on a routine. Keep day regular with feeding every 2 hours or so and napping within a timeframe after eating. Babies can sleep when they want during the day. I never ever woke my infants during the day to make them sleep at night. In fact, I think it does the opposite effect... Let them sleep in the day time (first 3-6 months). Just keep their feeding on routine as best you can, every 2 hours or so. This will mean they are well-fed and not starving at night when they should have eaten during the day. Make sure the day routine includes putting him to sleep groggy, not asleep, slightly awake so he learns to soothe himself in the night.
*Use pacifiers. Sucking is a very real and normal thing to help babies soothe themselves. Either a thumb or pacifier helps them in the night when they wake randomly. Try one of these instead of offering your breast or bottle when you know he's not hungry.
*Keep the sleep atmosphere in tact. Don't turn lights on. Use night light only. Don't talk to your baby in the middle of the night. I know that's challenging... you love this little creature even at 3 a.m. but try to avoid talking, that only stimulates her to wake more. Whisper or don't talk at all. Don't leave the baby's room. Stay in there. Bringing her into bed with you only signals another sign to her that she cannot sleep on her own.
OK so those things didn't work. Now it's time to make this sleep thing HAPPEN. Here are a few gentle things to try to really teach your baby to sleep longer.
A few notes about this gentle sleep teaching method:
*Be consistent. You have to follow through. It won't work if you do it twice in the night and give up the third and fourth times.
*Stick with it! It won't happen the first time... you may need a few days to a week of really focusing on this. Think long-term of the goal of better sleep.. it may be tough for a week to do this but then it'll be wonderful when you're sleeping next week!
*Gradual, slow, patient changes. If you want to do it overnight, you should try the CIO method. I've heard that works quickly. However that only works if you can tolerate hearing your child screaming unhappily. Going cold turkey may work for you, you could try that. I find it would not work for me nor is it necessary. Teaching our kids to walk and eat did not happen overnight, so why should sleeping? I think it's best with a little effort and planned support. This method I suggest is easier on everyone involved, but it takes time to get there. Be patient.
*It's OK to halt the process and pick up your baby when you know she's in distress. If you see real tears or major fussing, go ahead and pick her up. You won't ruin anything. Listen to your gut, your heart, your partner. Don't listen to me and my ideas if they are not working in the moment. Of course... within reason. You may be sensitive to your child's cries... some people are more so than others. If that's the case, you'll need a partner to help you on this to keep you going through the fusses. Again, fussing and whining are VERY different from screaming and real tears.
TRY THESE THINGS: (These may happen over the course of one night or a few days, to a week, depends on your baby and what you are able to manage)
1. First time he wakes up, decrease feeding, change diaper, make sure warm enough, etc. Make sure feedings occur in the baby's room, not back in your room where you're more likely to fall asleep again or stay longer.
2. Second time he wakes up, don't offer feeding. Instead, pick up and rock him. You can put music on if that's part of your sleep routine, or just sing a song. Rock for a few minutes, put him down. Stand over him singing, rubbing his back, until he lays down.
If still in a bassinet, you could get really close to her face, while she's laying in the bassinet, and sing or shush from there, letting her know you're still there, it's OK.
3. Next time he wakes, go in but don't pick him up. Hug him from the crib. Lay him down, rub his back, shush him, sing to him, rub his hair, etc.
4. Next, sit next to the crib or lay on the floor next to the crib, holding his hand through the crib slats if you are able to. Sing from there, talk calmly from there.
5. Next time stand at the door, sing from there, shush her from there. You can go in and lay her back down, don't pick her up, go back to the door each time.... until you are outside the door singing a song or two.
6. You put her down, she doesn't get up, all is well and you are all sleeping again :)
Try this. One step at a time. Again, each step could take you through the night or over several nights. It depends on what works for you or your child. Point: be consistent! Just keep following through.