Let me be clear from the beginning, “sleep training” is a controversial topic that everyone has their own opinions about. This blog is merely my non-professional opinion and your pediatrician is always a great resource if you don’t know what is best for your baby. With that in mind, let’s have a chat about what many consider the ultimate developmental goal, getting your baby to sleep through the night. If you’ve read any baby books, you know that there are countless methods for improving sleep in newborns, from the cry-it-out method to co-sleeping to getting a night nanny so you don’t even know if your baby slept through the night or not (must be nice). While I’m sure many of these methods “work” in the sense that WE get a better night’s sleep, I have to wonder what price our babies are paying while we try to force them to be independent mere weeks after we give birth. First off, who even came up with the idea that it is possible to TRAIN a NEWBORN to go hours upon hours without needing their mommies just because it’s dark outside?! That idea alone has always baffled me. We spend somewhere around 10 months growing these beautiful babies, pushing them out of a dark tunnel into a cold, scary, unfamiliar world, and then by 6 weeks of age we want them to only need us between the hours of 8am and 10pm. You would think we are all competing for some kind of award for how little our babies need us. We take these tiny creatures who have no concept of time and want them to feel tired at the same exact time every day, like they have any comprehension of the 24 hour cycle we have come to accept as normal. While I know there is something different for everyone, here are a few pieces of advice that have helped me survive the newborn phase that inevitably deprives us of the beauty sleep we so desperately need.
Be realistic. Sleeping through the night means different things to different people. When my baby began sleeping from 11pm to 5am, I considered it a full night’s sleep, especially for a baby with a tiny tummy who also most likely had a soaking wet diaper. I celebrated getting this much sleep! I personally feel that any sleep more than 3 hours should be considered a success, because realistically this is about how often a baby NEEDS to eat to keep up with the incredible developments they are experiencing. Do not focus on getting 8-12 hours of uninterrupted sleepbecause this may never happen for the next 10 years. Plenty of people function on 6 hours of sleep a night, sometimes in 3 hour sessions, and you can too! Set realistic goals for yourself and your baby, celebrate a 3 hour nap versus a 2 hour nap, and stop psyching yourself out by obsessing over how much sleep you’re NOT getting.
Do not deprive a baby of their basic needs. I read things all the time about not giving a baby water/milk overnight because it will develop bad habits. Have you ever woken up thirsty? Did you drink something to relieve your thirst? Did you feel better once you were no longer thirsty? How could you possibly expect a baby to sleep comfortably when their basic needs are not met?! They need so little (food, water, a clean diaper, cuddles) that it is absurd to think that we could take one of these things away and expect them to know it’s for their own good (or merely for the sole purpose of allowing us to get a few more minutes of sleep). If your baby is hungry, FEED THEM! It shouldn’t matter if its 3pm or 3am. Always feed a hungry baby. I am a firm believer that babies (and adults) will sleep so much better when basic needs are met and I would be dumbfounded if there is ANY solid evidence to support not feeding a baby overnight because it might teach “bad habits.”
Get a sound machine. Just do it. Find one you and your baby love. Turn it on at bedtime/naptime only. They will associate this sound with calm, peace, and if you’re super lucky…SLEEP! I recommend the Dohm and/or the Baby Einstein Aquarium.
Develop a routine that has little/nothing to do with “time” and be flexible. Bedtime doesn’t have to be at 8pm every night because your baby doesn’t even know what 8pm means. I highly suggest a bedtime routine that you stick to as much as possible, but it should be flexible enough that is allows for changes in your baby’s daily schedule, and it will likely change with your baby’s development as well. In the evenings when they start to act hungry, whether it is 6pm or 730pm, feed them. When they start to get sleepy, start your bedtime routine. Bathe them, apply lotion, read books, sing songs (whatever it is you set as your routine) and then put them down to sleep. It doesn’t have to be at the same time every night because that’s not how life works. If you don’t get tired at the exact same time every night, why would you expect this from your baby? Just be consistent so that your baby knows when it’s time to go to sleepbased on your actions rsther than obsessing over a number on the clock. If you watch your baby and truly learn how they act when they are becoming sleepy, it will be a peaceful transition to sleep for everyone involved rather than trying to force them to go down when they aren’t ready.
Be patient. Your baby will eventually sleep through the night, believe it or not. In the meantime, cuddle them when they need you. Kiss their adorable fuzzy heads. SOAK IT ALL IN. Be thankful that you have someone who loves you so much that the only thing that will make them happy at 3am is comfort in knowing that if they cry, Mommy will be there with open arms to reassure them that they are not alone.