SLEEP. This can make or break you during that first precious year with your sweet bundle of joy. And I'm a need-eight-hours-each-night-to-properly-function type of gal. So during the first few months when Ava had no sleep schedule, and my husband and I spent hours each night taking turns trying to get her to fall asleep... I was a straight zombie. A hormonally imbalanced, sore-nipped zombie.
SO... when I finally got the green light from our pediatrician to stop waking her to eat, I switched into 'Let's get this baby on a schedule!' mode. And within a month, she started sleeping 7 hour stretches at night. Which slowly turned to 9 hour stretches, and finally, the coveted 12 hour stretch of sleep. Thank Baby Jesus, I am now back to MY normal sleep schedule (oh and those hormones are back in balance too... Jordan is thanking Baby Jesus for that one).
So I have had a handful of mommy-friends ask how we did it - so for the sake of other mamas trying to get their little ones on a schedule, and so that I can remember how we did it, when number 2 makes her appearance in July - I decided to put our tactics into a blog post!
OH and I'm linking to all of the sleep gadgets that worked so well for us, at the bottom of the post!
DISCLAIMER: Every baby is different. Some babies aren't sleepers. Some moms prefer to co-sleep. Some babies like to sleep without any coercing. Some babies are screamers so 'a little crying' is simply unbearable for an already exhausted parent. SO no judgement here... you have to do what works. This is just what worked for us, and for THIS kid (I know there are no sleep guarantees with our second!). Also, always check with your pediatrician and/or with google before making any sleep decisions. The internet advised against putting the DockATot in the crib, but we did our research and felt comfortable enough to do it. So please do your research before taking ANYONE'S advice (including mine).
GET THAT BABY OUT OF YOUR ROOM and crank up the white noise
I had heard horror stories of co-sleeping, so my husband and I decided from the get-go that we wouldn't do it. Ava slept next to our bed in the Halo Bassinet (with the DockATot inside), for the first 3 months. But once she started sleeping 5-6 hour stretches in there, we simply moved the DocATot into her crib in her own room.
Honestly, she was so used to her comfy DocATot at that point, I feel like she didn't skip a beat or even NOTICE that we relocated her. She also couldn't smell her midnight (2am) snack anymore (me) so that helped us to start to eliminate the night feedings (more on that in step 2).
Getting Ava in her own room was honestly the best thing we did in this whole sleep journey because she could no longer hear us, and we could no longer hear her (unless it was important). We also cranked up the white noise machine in her room. Top volume. It worked miracles. She still sleeps with it on to this day.
Implement a bedtime routine, and those 5 S's
Bedtime routines help signal to your baby that it is time for night sleep. It helps them wind down from the day, and associate certain activities with bedtime.
We would turn the lights down low and do the following: Bath, light baby massage (with olive oil), read a book, and then breastfeed with my Spotify lullaby playlist playing softly in the background. In the beginning, she would fall asleep eating, and then I would tiptoe into her nursery to lay her down. Around 5 months she stopped falling asleep at the boob (which is a good thing -- remember, the less sleep associations the better), so I would just lay her down awake and let her fall asleep on her own.
Next, try the 5 S's from "The Happiest Baby on the Block". This book/video gives you 5 tools to help soothe your baby to sleep:
Swaddle: YES. She broke out of every swaddle blanket swaddle, so the 'Halo Swaddle' (with velcro wings) worked wonders for us. She eventually was strong enough to break out of this too, so we switched to the '50/50 Love to Sleep, Sleep Sack'
Side/Stomach position: This never worked for us.
Shush: I used this technique A LOT between 4-8 months. If she wouldn't go down for a nap, I would gently place my hand on her tummy and SHHHHHUSH over and over, without making eye contact. It may sound weird, but it worked. And it forced her to still rely on herself for a majority of the falling asleep process (as opposed to rocking, where a baby might become accustomed to that motion lulling them to sleep).
Swing: In the first month, Ava took many-a-nap in her swing or Rock N' Play. It was out of necessity because we needed to sleep. But professionals advise against this - for safety reasons, because it can cause their head (or one side of it) to flatten, and because you don't want them to start relying on that motion for sleep.
Suck: I resisted the paci in the beginning because I was worried about nipple confusion. But around the 4 week mark I gave her the paci for sleep and it was a God send. But it stayed in the crib and was used for sleep only (although I would always have one on me in case of a crying emergency, or if I needed to get her to sleep in the stroller or car seat). But it REALLY helped between 30 minute sleep cycles, because she would start to wake up, then find the paci nearby and fall back asleep.
*NOTE: we also heavily relied on it for falling asleep (nap and night) between months 2-12. If it fell out of the crib while she was trying to fall asleep, I would go in, place the paci back in the crib, and walk out (all without making eye contact). The eye contact thing might sound silly, but I didn't want to arouse her any more by giving her attention in that moment.
Start cutting out night feedings
The advice below is in regards to cutting out unnecessary nightime *nursing sessions, but some of this will apply no matter how you feed your babe!
This advice came from my saint of a Lactation Consultant. She said the following:
When baby is still needing to eat at night, make nighttime feedings very quick and business-like: feed, change diaper, feed again, swaddle tight, feed to sleep. This method is used to decrease stimulation that might keep baby awake AND to help baby associate night wakings with FOOD ONLY... not snuggles or comfort. Some moms may be pulling their hair out reading this (you're telling me not to snuggle with my baby??), but don't worry -- the day time was FULL of snuggles and kisses and baby-wearing.
Around 3-4 months, baby is likely waking 1-2 times to eat at night. At this point, have someone besides mom try to soothe back to sleep without feeding (IF baby is gaining weight and eating well during the day). After a week or so of soothing back to sleep without milk, Ava dropped down to one feeding (I believe it was around 1am) with a 5am wake-up. At 3 months she was sleeping 6-7 hour stretches at night, and at 6 months she finally ditched the 5am wake-up and started sleeping through to about 7am (cue angels singing).
IF you are a breastfeeding mom and are interested in this method -- click HERE to send me an email requesting a PDF my Lactation Consultant provided. It was my bible during those first months, and it covers this topic more thoroughly, with important notes about how many feedings should be taking place during the day BEFORE you start to cut out night feedings.
Let baby learn to self-soothe (yes, this involves a bit of crying)
Everyone has a different comfort level with the whole crying thing. I wasn't on board with the complete CIO (cry it out) method, BUT I was okay letting her cry/fuss a bit to settle herself down, without intervening. Here were my crying rules:
In the beginning (1-6 months):
If she actually cried, I would tend to her. Babies aren't manipulative. They aren't just crying for attention at this stage, they are crying because they need something and are unable to tell you with words.
That being said, don't intervene at every noise. Babies are still learning how to connect their sleep cycles in the beginning so it is VERY normal for them to wake up at some point during the night (or at the 30 minute mark during day-sleep) and make some noises/fuss a bit. If you go in to hold them or soothe them after every noise, you are not only stimulating them (stimulation during sleep time = BAD), but you are aren't allowing them to learn to soothe themselves back to sleep (because YOU are doing the soothing).
I read somewhere that it is CRUCIAL they figure out to connect those sleep cycles without intervention, before the 4 month mark. I don't know what evidence is out there to back that, BUT I always kept that tidbit in the back of my mind and it seemed to work.
At 3-4 months I would help her fall asleep during the day by rocking her to sleep. After being consistent with her nap schedule for some time, her body would know when it was time for her next nap, and I would start to notice her sleep cues (yawning, rubbing her eyes, fussing, tugging on her ears).
At 4-6 months, once she was on a good schedule, I would swaddle her, turn on the white noise, give her the paci, and lay her down awake. If she spit out the paci and started crying, I would go in, give her the paci and lay my hand on her belly to 'shush' her (all while she laid in the crib). I would do this for up to 10 minutes if needed.
At night I would feed to sleep (for the first couple months only).
At 6 months:
This is when most agree a little crying is okay. So at this point I implemented the following:
I started to let her cry for about 5 minutes if she was fighting sleep. Then I would go in, give her the paci again, and she would usually fall asleep after that.
I slowly extended the amount of time I would let her cry. I would typically set a timer for 10 minutes. Then I would go in, 'shush' with my hand on her back to calm her down, then walk out again. The longest I had to go (with actual crying) was about 15 minutes, for 2-3 back-to-back days. That's all it took. Then the crying dissipated (for the most part).
This is also how we got her to drop the 5am wake/feed. It happened around 6 months, and I just let her cry and fuss for about 10-15 minutes one morning... and that was the last time she woke for that feeding.
NOTE: I use the word 'cry' loosely. Ava isn't a huge 'lose-her-shit crier'. If she started full-on wailing, I would usually go in after about 5 minutes. If she was crying out of pain (if she was sick for example), I would go in much sooner.
Start turning down the monitor volume
This sounds like bad parenting, but let me tell you. If you're a light sleeper like me and the monitor is on full blast, you'll wake up with every noise. And you might be more tempted to run in and intervene when it isn't truly necessary. So one day I took it down to volume 4... then to 3... and now it's on every night at level 2. If she actually cries, I'll wake up. Otherwise, I get to sleep through the night just like she does!
Get 90 minute day naps on track. Good sleep promotes good sleep!
We started her nap schedule at 3 months. And once she was fully on this schedule, she started sleeping though the night. It was like magic. And the trick is simple. You put her down for her next nap after 90 minutes (1.5 hours) of wake time. This is in sync with your baby's natural sleep rhythms and it really works.
The entire method is explained in the book, 'Natural Baby Sleep Solution'. It's $7, a very quick read, and worth every penny.
Put good sleep ABOVE ALL ELSE!!!!
Baby's schedule trumps everything (at least in the beginning). We didn't do as many 'extracurricular' things in the beginning, but my girl was sleeping and that's all that mattered to me.
I lived and died by that 90 minute schedule for the first 9 months. At 8 months she was still doing 4 naps. 9 months it was down to 3 (still spaced 90 min apart), and then as we inched towards 10 months she dropped the third late afternoon nap, and at 11 months we got her on a two nap schedule (putting her down at more set times (8:30 and 1:30), rather than 90 minute spaced times).
Give yourself (and baby) some grace
Not all days will be good sleep days. There will be some days you 'SHHH' to sleep for 45 minutes, only to have baby wake up 30 minutes later. It can be exhausting and some of the tactics I mentioned might be downright unrealistic if you have more than one child to tend to. And that's okay. Just try your best, do what works and adjust what doesn't. And know that there WILL be a day where sleep deprivation is not a part of your everyday life. And that day will be wonderful, and will make all of the late nights, endless SHHHH'ing, and long blog posts read (ahem, wrapping up here), SO worth it.
Okay so here are the sleep products I mentioned in this post. Some of these items are pretty pricey. And trust that I did get teased by fellow mom-friends for buying 'a really expensive pillow' AKA the DockATot, but I'm telling you... that thing was worth its weight in gold. The Halo Bassinet is also pricy (and I had heard that it works GREAT for some and not so great for others), so I suggest looking at high-end baby thrift shops to see if they have any in stock. We bought a gently used one from a thrift shop in Newport Beach and saved about 50%, so don't be afraid to get resourceful to get the baby gear you're coveting.
LINKS // one // two // three // four // five // six
*Photos by Francesca Marchese Photography