Sunday, June 10, 2018

Tips On Getting Babies to Sleep by Guest Blogger Angela of the Mommy Stories

Well, it's been awhile, my friends! This poor little space is getting pretty dusty and it's time to change that. Being a mom of three has started to catch up with me. Mira is 16 months now and she's a firecracker. She climbs everything, dumps anything she can find, makes more messes than any of my kids and has been on a sleep rebellion. So I thought since I'm a walking zombie, maybe you are too. In our family, I am the strict one with kids. I have rules and I am admittedly on my kids all the time to correct behavior. It's an exhausting job! But I am terrible at the sleep part. My sister, however, is the baby sleep master. Her kids slept so early and never looked back. Over the years she's helped me get mine on track and I'm so grateful for it that I figured you'd enjoy her wisdom as well. So here it is, words to live by from my sister Angela of The Mommy Stories:
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I'm getting caught up on some old post ideas I've had and this one has been on my brain for years to actually write and put to words. Getting a baby to sleep through the night is the hardest thing ever. It's something all moms talk about, all moms work toward and strive to figure out, because well, we NEED sleep. The lack of sleep thing with a newborn is the hardest part of parenting it feels like. I was a zombie during that part of our lives.

I've taken years to post this, because, well, I hear so often from parents who are in the thick of not sleeping that they just cannot do anything to fix the problem, it is what it is, they're just dealing with not sleeping for a year or more. They think it's normal and they feel judged or bad mothers if you suggest anything else. I've never wanted to judge, only teach. I want you to take this information as helpful tips if it can be for you. No judgment at how your path has gone up until now.

After three children who slept through the night at 5 weeks, 8 weeks and 9 weeks consecutively I've learned a few things I'd like to share in hopes that it helps you teach your little one to sleep through the night early on.

NOTE: This post is written for new parents starting out with an infant or parents starting out with their second, third etc. and wanting to ensure they sleep better than the last. If you need advice on how to help an older baby/child sleep through the night after a pattern has already been established to not sleep please consult with your pediatrician and a sleep specialist such as the Baby Sleep Geek in Maine https://thebabysleepgeek.com/.


Sleep Philosophy
I think it helps to start with hearing a little about where I'm coming from in my belief and philosophy about sleep. Notice the title of this article, "Teaching a Baby to Sleep Through the Night." I don't subscribe to the philosophy that some babies just decide to sleep through the night. I think it's different for all babies, yes, but for the typically developing, healthy baby I believe you need to teach them to sleep through the night. I think there are conscious things you can do to help your little one sleep longer stretches early on.

To me, it's a parenting choice you need to make for your sanity and your own health, as much as for baby's learning experience and overall wellbeing. When I talk to parents of babies who don't sleep through the night at 9 months, 12 months, 2 years old, there are typically things they've done or not done to get there. That's not to place blame, in fact it's a good thing, once you know what's not working you can work toward fixing it to something that does work and gets all of you more sleep. It's the same as any other situation that doesn't work for you- exercising or being out of shape, buying fruits or not, having a clean car or not. If it's your priority, something you're working on, it may have a better outcome than not focusing on it.

I also believe that it's OK to want to sleep. It doesn't make you a bad mother if you work hard to help your little one sleep - without nursing nonstop and without putting them in your bed. If you want to do those things, that's great, I don't judge you. But I think it's completely OK and nurturing and wonderfully bonding to have your little one sleep through the night and take bottles instead of needing to nurse every hour in your bed. I think there's this shame or something for moms who talk about needing to get that sleep, and that's just ridiculous.

A well-rested mother is a better mother, end of story. I think we'd all agree to that. So just give yourself grace if you want sleep, it's normal. It is not a badge of honor to say you're nursing nonstop and staying up with your baby. You don't HAVE to do that to be a good mom. 

Of course, those who do ARE great moms, and those who sleep longer stretches are great, too, just like those who use formula are awesome and those who nurse are, too. Everyone's experience is different.


Tips for Teaching Your Baby to SLEEP: 
Note: These tips are for the typically developing, healthy baby. I realize that all babies are different and those who have an extenuating circumstance like sickness or colic or something along those lines may have a different challenge with sleep to address with their doctor. Growth spurts? Do your best to keep to routine, but remind yourself it's NORMAL for babies to eat more and need to be held more during those times. The key here is to TRY to follow some of these suggestions and to make better sleep a priority versus something that you expect to just happen. 
  • Set a routine in the hospital. Feed every two hours. I learned this one by chance. When my doctor left the room the first day after settling me in with the newborn after my c-section I asked how often I should feed the baby. He said every 2 hours. So I did that. On the dot. Of course, if baby was hungry sooner, that was fine, but I kept it routine from day one every 2 hours. Regulating the feeding pattern naturally regulates the sleeping pattern. So feed baby every 2 hours- nursing or bottles, whatever, it works the same. If baby is sleeping when 2 hours comes along, wake them with a diaper change and feed to keep routine. Yes, I know you aren't supposed to wake a sleeping baby.... but during the day all bets are off because YOU need your sleep at night. If you feed a baby every two hours during the day, you get more sleep at night because baby is fuller during the day and not as ravenous when he wakes up later. Feeding every two hours I kept up with the same ounces also. Nursing or bottles, this works the same. 
  • Start early… I start helping my babies sleep better in the first few days of life by feeding them on a routine… that leads to sleeping on routine. But at least by 6 weeks, you should be thinking about teaching them to sleep. It won't be perfect, it won't be succinct, but you HAVE to work toward a routine. It doesn't just happen. I believe we need to teach babies to sleep, just like we teach them to walk and to use a spoon at breakfast. Help them by setting the scene and routine early on. 
  • Keep to the schedule. Schedule with a newborn? haha Yeah right! I know, I get it. It's not always on cue with a newborn. Butttt the more you stick to feeding on a routine, then sleeping happens on a routine. So make your #1 priority be that you are feeding on a routine. This means you schedule play dates and doctors appointments and things around the feeding routine as MUCH as possible. Not always possible, of course, but do your best. It means you wait to go to Target until you know you can feed baby first and then go, and then shop and change diaper in the parking lot and then nurse in your car so you're on routine. Think of it like your job right now is to keep this baby fed, healthy and happy- which includes sleep, too. It's OK to let other things go by the wayside. 
  • Don't pick up right away. If baby wakes in the night, don't pick her up immediately. I know that is your instinct, but sometimes babies wake up. That's normal. They don't always need something. Shush them, rub their face, re-wrap the swaddle around their body from the bassinet, but don't pick up if they aren't really crying. 
  • Don't offer food right away. Sometimes they just need to be held upright to get a burp out. Sometimes it's a wet diaper. Other times their sock fell off and they are cold. Don't instantly go for more food. Yes, of course many times it's food in the beginning, particularly through a growth spurt, but don't always immediately think that. Try a pacifier. Try shushing to sleep on your shoulder. My kids were very routine with eating because I set it up that way from day one in the hospital- feeding every two hours, so when baby was crying at 45 minutes to an hour after I fed them, I knew it was not food they needed so I'd help them fall asleep. IF baby is hungry, of course feed them. But don't always rely on that being the case. 
  • Dream feed at 10-12 at night to fill up, and make it a bottle. This is a big one that helped us. Staying up later at night in those first few weeks and waking baby to feed him before you go to sleep at 11 or 12 at night helps you to get longer stretches during the time you'd be going to bed. Babies don't go to bed at 7 at night or even 9 at night, if you do that they will be up in a few hours. Of course, my babies would fall asleep by 8ish at night and then we'd just wake them with a diaper change and a bottle. Bottles fill them up longer than nursing, so this last feed at night I pump and Dad fed a bottle. Then we'd all go to bed at midnight to get in a few hours during our normal sleep pattern. This worked great. 
  • Start bottles and pacifiers in week one for soothing and filling baby up more. Pacifiers are a must in my opinion. Babies need to suck and soothe. They do NOT need to use you or a bottle for that purpose. We used a bottle by 5 days old with every child of ours. Two of the three nursed perfectly, one never nursed to begin with. Same with don't always go for offering food, sometimes baby is just fussy and needs soothing instead of more food, so give a pacifier. Waiting to use bottles until the week before you return to work after maternity leave is a BAD idea. Many, many moms and babies struggle with this, I see comments about it all the time in our Facebook group. Avoid that by using these tools early on before baby has a chance to get confused by them. If it's all baby knows from the beginning, they won't be confused or bothered by using any option- breast, bottle, pacifier. 
  • Bottles from 12-4 am only. No nursing during this time. Bottles fill babies longer, three kids and that's our experience. Talking to other moms who use bottles, this was the case for them also. This also avoids the case where you nurse at 1 a.m. and baby is sleepy in the dark setting and doesn't nurse on the second side so isn't full and so needs to nurse a half hour later. Nope... bottles only so they fill up and get back to sleep. 
  • Teach them where they will sleep. Lay baby down for at least one nap a day in the place where you want baby to sleep at night… bassinet, crib, etc. NOT just swings or rock and plays, etc. IF you want baby to sleep in the bassinet in your room at night, you need to teach them it's a good place to sleep during waking hours where they can see in the light. If you are moving from bassinet to the crib in the next room, then during the day put baby in the crib to lay around awake while you fold laundry or put them down for a nap in there - even after they've fallen asleep in the swing move them to the crib for example. It's about comfort and teaching them this new place to sleep. I held my newborns while sleeping multiple times a day just because they grow so fast and it was so sweet. My routine idea doesn't suggest you don't hold your babies. It's just that you need to try at least a few times a day to help them sleep where they will sleep when older, in a setting they will sleep in when you return to work, for example. 
  • Keep the sleep routine short and simple. I've heard of people having these elaborate sleep routines, like bath, lotion, nurse, rock, song, music, massage, etc. It sounds lovely, but it's too long and not something anyone can duplicate. Make your sleep routine simple, something that anyone can step in and recreate - in case you want a night out and Dad's in charge or you are heading to a wedding and grandparents step in, or perhaps you go back to work and daycare provider needs to repeat this routine. Make it easy, only 1-3 steps, and less than 10 minutes long, 5 is ideal. I know this sounds harsh... but you won't only have this one child typically, and when second child comes along it'll be hard to keep this up. So stick to pajamas and diaper change, rocking while singing a song, and into bed or something along those lines. 
  • Don't start anything you can't finish or continue as part of the sleep routine. This involves things like the rock and play - babies grow out of these quickly and then are used to rocking to fall asleep so struggle in cribs I've heard. I had a friend who was going to give me one of these for baby #3 and I refused it, afraid we'd create a habit we couldn't break. I never swaddled my kids for sleep, because I'd heard WAY too many stories of babies outgrowing swaddles around 5 months old and freaking out crying and not sleeping when they weren't swaddled since they were so used to it. I avoided this altogether, mostly because baby #1 taught me he didn't like his arms in the swaddle, and then purposely with kids 2 and 3. We'd swaddle their body tightly but keep their arms out so they were used to that part. Be conscious about your sleep aids and routine- if you can't continue it past only a few months, don't start it. It's one less thing to deal with. 
  • Night time is NOT play time… don't talk, don't turn on lights, move swiftly and quietly when doing a diaper change and getting a bottle out or when nursing. Day time is for lights and playing. I'd put the hallway light on, not the baby's room light on. I'd rock in the dark to nurse or bottle feed. I'd pick baby up crying and shush them and whisper that it was ok, that I was here, but no cooing and talking after that. Keep it a quiet setting so they can easily fall back asleep. 
  • Have help, let dad in on the process too. You don't have to do it all in the night. NO way! This is another reason I use bottles in the night. It's OK to want some sleep yourself. You don't have to be the ONLY one helping your baby. Teach your partner whatever you are doing with your routine so that you aren't the only one who has to always do it. Start by showing them during the day for naps. 
  • Noisemaker - these are must haves. They make noises like in the womb that are comforting for baby. They block out your own noises of snoring and moving side to side in your bed, or a cough that could wake baby. These are great. 
  • Think basic needs: are they cold? is there light in their face? is it too dark? too noisy, not noisy enough? diaper change? need to burp? take care of these things for a happier baby to sleep. Do these things when baby wakes and before putting baby to bed. Diaper changes in the middle of the night - YES. I know some people don't do this, but you can do a diaper in less than a minute if you need to to keep baby sleepy. It'll help them sleep longer if you give them a fresh diaper, then feed. It'll also wake baby to be alert to feed appropriately so they get filled up longer before you put them to bed again. 
  • Don't let all naps be in car seat or driving around with motion. Yes, these are great places for sleep, my babies slept wonderfully in the swing and in the car. BUT it should not be your go-to. If baby falls asleep while nursing, then swaddle and put into the crib once a day so he wakes up there. If baby falls asleep in the swing, great! But go over and shut off the motion of the swing after a few minutes. If you know baby typically sleeps at this time or that, don't go out in the car, stay put so she can learn to sleep in her bassinet. 
  • Don't take the easy way out. It's so much easier to never think about sleep and to just go through the motions letting baby sleep all day long in the crib for hours and to just nurse every time you hear a fuss from the baby. It's so much easier to whip out your breast than it is to pump a bottle in the night. I get that... but long term that's not easier, it's not helpful for you. It's harder to think it out, be proactive planning ahead and teaching your baby when you're so freaking tired already. I get that... but it's hard for about two months maybe versus the long term hard of not sleeping through the night for over a year.... think of it that way. 
  • Put to sleep groggy, but not asleep. This comes with time, usually after the six weeks mark. It's really good to help put baby into bed before she's asleep so she gets used to falling asleep. Babies wake a zillion times a night, it's normal for them. So to help them fall asleep on their own in the night, you need to help them fall asleep during the day too. So feed them, burp and rock, and quickly put into bed, with music and noisemaker if you wish. Let them stay there. In the beginning they may not fall asleep, but they get used to this and it's good for them to learn. 
  • Go longer stretches without feeding when they get a little bigger. After about the 6-8 week mark, give or take, you can start to eliminate those 2-4 am feedings by doing a diaper change, shushing them to sleep, rocking, or decreasing the amount of food they get. This only works for a healthy baby who's back above birth weight and when you know they aren't needing to be fed just tired from waking up too soon. Never prevent a hungry baby from eating, of course! Just be more conscious as they grow bigger- do they really need to eat or is this just fussy crying from waking up a little too early? 

Getting Your Zzzzzzs
Of course in the beginning you're doing all you can and juggling too many things, including your hormones. If you use the swing more or you nurse more or hold baby to sleep more - it's OK! My second fell asleep to her bottle every single night for months and months, probably like 9 months old we were doing that as our routine, it just happened she'd fall asleep. It's OK! Just do your best to set up a routine that works and to be more conscious about teaching your baby to learn this skill of sleeping through the night.

It may sound harsh or strict or too routine for a newborn... but it's the same thing as going to take your child for immunization shots or teaching them to potty train or reminding them not to use bad words. YOU have to teach them, and then you have to be consistent in that routine so they learn it. It's NOT something that just happens.

You have to make a conscious effort those first two months especially to help your baby sleep, to get him on a routine so that he's able to sleep better and so you get the rest you need. 

Think of anything else in your life - at work, with your family, with your other children - if you do something haphazardly, randomly, not planned and then all of a sudden six months later (typically when most parents are losing their mind from lack of sleep and desperately want their kid to stop waking up in the night) you decide it's time to change it up and force them to sleep and even make them cry it out... how's that going to go for you? How's that going to go for your baby?

I've not had to cry it out a single day with any of my children. I understand why some have to do this, but it's not ideal for me. If you can avoid it by teaching your child, by YOU being consistent and planned and more thoughtful from the start, that's ideal for you and baby versus crying - both of you crying typically through that process. It just takes effort, patience and thought. I do not suggest these things lightly. I know they take time and a lot of effort during a time where you are sooooo exhausted and can barely pour your coffee. I get that. So enlist help, talk to a friend, get your partner on board to assist you. If you do this, you have a couple of tough weeks or months of lack of sleep and putting in more effort - versus a year or two of NO sleep.... pick your battle here.

Yes, it's more effort at first, it'll feel exhausting thinking this much.... but it's worth it in the end. I swear.  I'm one of those people who needs sleep to be a good mom. I rest daily on the weekends even for 20 minutes to lay down and close my eyes. I'm not patient otherwise. It's OK to recognize this in yourself. Helping your baby sleep helps you, too, momma, and that's a good thing.

Happy resting! :)






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