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Many of you have asked me about sleep training since I posted a picture of Quinn and mentioned that we sleep train her. This isn’t something that you do for a week and give up. Babies need guidance for much longer than a few days. I’ve actually trained both of my babies to be good sleepers. I don’t think this is something that happened by accident, and I definitely don’t believe we “just got lucky”. Bear, our oldest, is a sleep walker and sometimes I wonder if I trained him a little too well.
I wish I had a fancy training method to tell you about or a popular site to send you to, but I don’t. I did hours of research with my first baby and came up with a method that works for our family. So, take parts that fit your family and use them, or pass it on to a new momma who is just desperate for some sleep. I’m not a doctor, or a sleep specialist, just a momma who values the importance of sleep and knows the impact it has on a baby’s cognitive levels.
MAKE A PLAN FOR WHEN BABY COMES HOME
I actually started training both of my babies the day we came home from the hospital! I know, this seems wild to some of you. And you’re probably asking yourself, “How am I supposed to train my baby to sleep when I haven’t even slept a full night during my entire hospital stay?” I get it! I’ve been there. But before you deliver, come up with a plan for the first week you come home. We didn’t have a birth plan (only because I didn’t really understand what that was and felt we didn’t need one), but we sure had a plan for the first week we were home!
ASK SOMEONE TO COME STAY WITH YOU
If you can, have a mom come stay with you. Your mom, your spouse’s mom, a mom friend, maybe just a friend. Anyone who loves you enough to give up a few nights of sleep for you and your baby. Thankfully, my mom came to stay with us the first week we brought both of our babies home. Bless her! She gave up SO MUCH sleep both times. Women just seem to have an understanding for each other when it comes to postpartum. There seems to be a little extra grace for those crazy emotions that show up after delivery.
MAKE A SCHEDULE
My schedule may look different than yours, and that’s okay! We’re training our babies to fit the mold of our family’s routines. Babies need help learning the appropriate sleep and wake times. They need you to set their internal clocks to be able to have a healthy circadian rhythm. Write down your normal bedtimes and wake times. For us, Bear goes down by 8pm and we go to bed by 10:30pm. We’re all usually awake by 6:30am on a work day. Babies have the ability to sleep four hours, they just don’t always do it during the night...hence the reason you’re training them. So many people that I talk to put their baby down at 7pm and expect him/her to sleep until 7am the next morning. For a newborn, this isn’t healthy. If you’re nursing, you will regret it! I want my babies to be successful when I sleep train them, so I have to set them up for success.
The first weeks home from the hospital looked like this for night time:
(She had a couple nights where she would wake up at 3am for a feeding. I waited until she completely dropped those before starting the next transition.)
Once this is established, you can start moving the night feeding and bedtime back 30 minutes each week. DO NOT JUMP THE GUN! It’s tempting to just put your baby down at 7pm and hope for a full night’s sleep. This is where regression happens. Slowly ease baby into the 7pm bedtime. If my baby sleeps seven plus hours at night for seven consecutive days, I then start to move bedtime back each week until I get to 7pm.
Babies can sleep the same number of hours as weeks old they are up until 12 weeks. So, a seven week old baby should be able to sleep seven hours without feeding or waking.
Quinn came two weeks early, so I count weeks by her due date, not delivery date. I do this because your cognitive development begins at conception, not birth, and your brain plays a huge role in sleep. However, she picked up the sleep patterns rather quickly, and I’ve adjusted as needed. If your baby is premature, you will need to adjust this schedule accordingly.
Dream feeding is dropped after week 7 if baby is sleeping well, if not, continue to dream feed.
Our evening routine is the same for both Bear and Quinn. Bear’s routine is well established, and it has been easy for us to continue to follow that with Quinn. A routine is important so baby knows what to expect. Babies like routine, so be consistent with what you do every night. For us, we do bath time every night followed by lotion, diaper, jammies, (swaddling up to 2 months), nursing, sound machine, and put baby down when drowsy. For naps during the day we have a simple routine and try to keep it consistent as well. Diaper change, feeding, play time, massage, sound machine, sing/talk until baby is drowsy, and sleep.
During bath time we talk to baby as much as we can. Bear likes to help get her water started and wash her hair. I know most people don’t do a bath every night for the baby, and that’s okay. This is just our routine. I’ve found that with both of my babies, this part of the evening really relaxes them. If you aren’t sure how warm to get the water, you can always test it on the back of your hand, never the palm. While in the bathtub, we talk to baby and let her know that we are washing her hair, rinsing her off, and when it's time to get out. With both babies I talk to them like they are able to understand what I’m saying to increase vocabulary skills. If you have older children who are willing to help, let them.
LOTION, DIAPER, JAMMIES
I like to use lotion to give an after-bath massage to baby. To relax them, I start with the arms and rub away from the heart. Then, I move to the tummy and rub clockwise. Last, I do the legs and rub away from the heart again.
For bedtime I size up one size in diapers. If you purchase night time diapers, this would be the time to put those on. I’ve found that by sizing up one size the baby sleeps better since they don’t get wet as quickly as they do with their current size diaper.
Jammies are the last thing I put on. We talk about the head going in first, then the arms, and then the legs. Let baby hear your voice as much as possible! With jammies, make sure that baby won’t be too warm once they are swaddled, or in a sleep sack.
Up until two months I swaddle my babies. I make sure their hands are in a comfortable position. Both of mine like to have their hands under their chin. I swaddle before I nurse so they feel comfortable and safe and know that sleep is coming.
I nurse on the couch in the same position every night. Always turn the lights down to let baby know that its bedtime. We don’t want bright lights shining in their eyes and set the expectation that they will go to sleep. Help the baby be successful by giving the cue to night time. I let her nurse for as long as she needs so she can store up for a long night. I just make sure she eats for 15 minutes on each side. In the early weeks, she would fall asleep and I would have to keep waking her. Sometimes babies fall asleep even if they are still hungry. Just because they fall asleep doesn’t mean they are full! This is why some babies will eat, fall asleep, parent puts them down, and then they wake in a few minutes. I just set a timer for each side and make sure she’s nursing the entire time.
At 2 months with Bear, I began putting a lovey on his tummy for him to touch while I was feeding him. This was to help him associate the lovey with comfort and not food. I would put this in bed with him to help with self-soothing.
PRAYERS AND RELAXING
Another signal we use for our babies to let them know it’s sleep time is prayers. We go in the room as a family, one person prays, and then we each say our own thing to the kid going to sleep.
PUT BABY IN BED DROWSY
Don’t put baby in bed fully asleep. I know, you’ve done all that work and you’re just ready to fall asleep. But trust me on this one! An important part of sleep training our babies was encouraging them to use self-soothing skills. I did this so that my babies would be able to put themselves back to sleep if they wake in the middle of the night. After 2 months, I let my babies fall asleep with lovies. Once asleep, I’ll go in and remove it just for safety purposes. After 6 months I let them keep the lovey in bed all night.
When Bear was a baby, I would go in his room and nurse him before I went to sleep for my own comfort and to empty before I went to sleep. I later found out this is called “Dream Feeding”. This helped my babies sleep through the night.
I don’t wake the baby during this feed. I keep the lights low or off, and avoid a diaper change if possible. This feeding just helps to fill up baby’s tummy a bit more before you fall asleep. I only feed for about 5 minutes on each side, burp, and then put them back in the crib for the night.
I’ve learned that naps play an important role in nighttime sleep as well. Remember pulling an all-nighter in college and then you became so tired that you weren’t tired anymore? That’s exactly what happens when a baby doesn’t take naps. They can’t calm down and relax enough to go to sleep at night.
Again, I am not an expert or a doctor. If your child doesn’t follow these patterns for sleep, that is okay. You are still a great mom! I just found a method that works for our family and wanted to put it out there for any momma who might need it, or know someone who does. If you have questions, feel free to email me!