When it comes to baby sleep habits and sleep training, I’ve been through my fair share.
Anticipating the birth of my first child, I read books, got prepared, and promised to do things the ‘right’ way. By about nine-months-old, my daughter went to sleep on her own, in her crib and slept through the night.
Then came my son.
I was already crazy tired by the time he was born. My daughter wasn’t even fifteen-months-old. I mean I had just survived the sleeplessness that comes with having a baby only to be an uncomfortable pregnant momma a few months later. Seriously, it was as if I needed to wake to pee or roll over every other hour.
Shortly after my son was born, we found out he had reflux. For him, this meant that despite medication, he threw up so much of what he had nursed. However, nursing at night stayed down.
So I was up feeding him pretty much every hour on the hour.
I was so tired that I broke every single baby sleep rule.
I co-slept merely out of convenience (I understand and commend anyone that does so out of choice). He nursed to sleep for naps. Really, I just wanted him to sleep as fast as possible so I could nap too. And of course, he nursed all throughout the night. He equated sleep with nursing and nursing with sleep. So much so that he ‘day weaned’ from nursing around the age of two, but still nursed at night for months longer.
He was nearly three before I was able to break this habit. Looking back now, I don’t remember a lot from his infanthood because I was so inconceivably tired.
Meanwhile, I had a daughter who slept perfectly. When it came to baby sleep, I existed on two totally opposite ends of the spectrum.
Two months ago, my husband and I welcomed our second son into the world. Having learnt from both his big brother and big sister, I’m determined to set him and myself up for sleep success. Because I know this is an area that so many new parents struggle with, I wanted to share the best baby sleep advice I have.
One Tip That Will Make Baby Sleep Better
The most crucial factor in my success with my daughter and my struggles with my son came down to putting Baby down to sleep when he or she is drowsy but not fast asleep.
For different babies, this will look different. In the case of my daughter, this meant around two-months-old, when she started to doze off on either my husband or me, I would take her, singing a bedtime lullaby and lay her down in her bassinet. Within minutes, she would fall asleep. With my youngest son, it hasn’t been quite as easy. When he gets drowsy, I sing a lullaby, put him in his bassinet. Every so often he gets fussy and I have to pick him up, calm him down, wait until he is drowsy again, and place him back in his bed. Usually, for him, it’s only a few times before he does, in fact, fall asleep.
[Related reading: Why Sleep Training May Not Work and What to do Instead]
Why is teaching them to fall asleep on their own so important?
The reason this is so helpful is this. A baby who learns to fall asleep on her own at bedtime will learn how to fall back asleep throughout the night.
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So how do you set yourself up for success?
Here are some sleep strategies that worked really well with our daughter, ultimately our first born son, and that we are trying with our two-month-old.
Avoid a ‘sleep – feed’ association.
What I’ve found works really well is ‘feed – activity – sleep.’ This means that if your baby falls asleep while feeding, you need to slightly rouse them, breaking the association between feeding and sleeping. Changing the baby’s diaper or moving them from where they were nursing can help. In the day, it also helps to feed your baby as soon as he or she wakes. Then have play time, then cue sleep by calming the baby down before bringing him or her to bed.
Have a predictable bedtime routine.
For young babies, I like the routine of bath, massage, dress them, sing a song, and it’s into bed. Bathtime is so great because it stimulates my son just enough that he leaves the bath exhausted. In his bath, I use Cetaphil BabyShampoo & Body Wash with organic calendula. We love it because the calendula has a calming effect. The wash is hypoallergenic, paraben free, and incredibly gentle on his skin. During the day, have a shortened version of this same routine to cue naptime.
Massage your baby to relax him or her.
For parents who don’t want to bathe their babies every night, a simple massage can be just as relaxing as a bath. Or a massage can be a nice way to relax a baby before his or her nap. Find great tips on baby massage here. We love Cetaphil Baby Moisturizing Oil for because of its calming effect. Also, it’s paediatrician-recommended. It smells so much nicer than conventional baby oil and isn’t greasy.
Always soothe your baby when he or she is upset.
One of the reasons parents steer clear of any sleep tips is they fear the source will recommend cry it out. Always console your baby and then try to set your baby down to fall asleep again. For great resources on baby sleep, I highly recommend The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Infants, The Baby Whisperer and Susan Urban’s Hold with Love technique featured in her book, How to Teach a Baby to Fall Asleep Alone.
Above all, forgive yourself and listen to your gut.
No two babies are alike so no blanket sleep strategy is the cure-all. Moreover, babies are only little for such a small period of time, if rocking, bouncing, and nursing to sleep make you and Baby happy, do it.
I hope you get as much from these sleep tips as we did!