I am by no means a pediatrician or sleep expert but I am the mother of two children who both slept through the night by 2 months old. It’s probably luck (because let’s be honest, babies have minds of their own) but I’ve been very diligent about setting the right conditions for sleep and it has worked well for our family. I’ll be honest, Caroline is extremely difficult during the day and cries whenever I put her down and she is not great a great napper, but she sleeps 12-13 hours straight at night and has done so since 8 weeks old. I’ve had quite a few requests for my sleep tips so here are the things that have worked for us:
Follow their Cues.
If you think that newborns have no timelines and should go to bed late then you may be missing out on the cues they’re sending you. Sometimes Caroline can wake up from a nap around 5PM and get so fussy an hour later that the only thing that will make her happy is going to bed. When she’s crying with her eyes closed in a sleepy way, even if it’s only 6PM, I’ll start our bedtime routine a little earlier. Sometimes they just want to go to bed! But if you don’t pick up on those cues then you can accidentally miss out on that window.
Make Sure they are Full.
This obviously goes without saying, but a full belly is important. I end up cluster feeding before bedtime almost every day and I think that helps top Caroline off before bed.
Observe Their Body Language.
When Jack was a newborn I would try to feed him in the old hand-me-down rocking chair in his room before bed. He would kick against the arms of the chair though, which I didn’t think was a good thing for him to be doing before bed and it was kind of annoying to me. I ended up feeding him while sitting on a low stool, and since I couldn’t rock him after he finished eating I would stand up and sway. I tried to hold him upright with his head on my shoulder but he would somehow move his body in a way that made it seem like he didn’t want to be held that way. Eventually I kind of let him end up in the position he wanted to be in, which turned out to be horizontal to the ground with his belly facing inward with his eyes hidden in the crook of my left arm. I never in a million years would have thought to hold him that way, but because I picked up on his body language and cues I found the position he wanted to be in. I swayed with him in my arms like that for the next few months and it almost always worked like a charm.
Choose One Song and Stick with It.
I read something about this when I was pregnant and it made so much sense to me. Rather than singing a random lullaby every single night (or a bunch of different songs) Tom and I decided that we would only sing Jack one particular song when we put him to bed. (Sweet Baby James by James Taylor is the song we sing.) Sometimes we’d have to sing the whole thing 4 times in a row, but we still stuck with that 1 song. By the time Jack was a little older, maybe 7 months old, as soon as he’d hear the first words of the song he’d immediately put his head down on my shoulder or start leaning into the crib. Turns out, we conditioned him so that when he heard that song he wanted to go to bed. It still works today even with a 2 year old. We are doing the same thing now with Caroline.
Keep the Bedtime Routine Short and Sweet.
If you create a long bedtime routine you’ll likely end up with a baby that expects that every time. While the time before bedtime is tender and precious, sometimes you simply won’t have the energy for a 45 minute routine. With Jack we keep ours very short with a couple books, a quick prayer, a few seconds of singing and then we’re out.
Use a Noise Maker.
I shared my enthusiasm for noise makers/sound machines in this post on baby essentials, but I’ll say it again here: get one for your baby’s room. This one is our favorite because it only makes one simple noise (you can adjust the volume) and it’s not distracting like some white noises are. We turn it on right after reading and prayers, just before we start singing.
Even if they fight it, chances are your newborn will sleep better if they are swaddled. I’ve watched Caroline fall asleep without a swaddle and she startled herself over and over again which kept waking her up. We use these wraps and they work great. The velcro is kind of annoying but we’ve tried 2 different kinds and these work the best for Caroline and they did for Jack too. We’ll stop swaddling/using sleep sacks once she’s rolling over but for now it definitely helps her sleep better.
Embrace Side-lying Breastfeeding.
In the first month or two with a newborn I always use the side-lying breastfeeding position when they wake up at night. It’s relaxing for me, it’s comfy for them, and it helps them fall back asleep quickly once they’ve finished eating. Also, in order to make sure I fall back asleep quickly I make a rule that I will not check my phone. I’ll check the time just to see how long she slept, but I will not unlock my phone. When I check my phone in the middle of the night it stimulates my brain too much and makes it too difficult to fall back to sleep.
Change Diapers before Feeding.
Newborns poop regardless of when you change them, so in the early days I always made sure to change my newborns before feeding them in the middle of the night. By doing this I never disrupted them once they were full and ready to go back to sleep.
I’m a firm believer in a very dark room with no nightlight. Blackout curtains are a lifesaver! My custom Carousel Designs curtains are my favorite. I have them in both Jack and Caroline’s rooms.
Drowsy, not Sleeping.
Put them to bed when they are drowsy, not fully asleep. They need to learn to fall asleep without help otherwise they are always going to rely on you for them to fall asleep. I make sure to start with this very early on. If Caroline starts falling asleep while eating I’ll rub her head from her forehead backwards (kind of like petting a dog against the grain) and that will help keep her awake.
Embrace the Pause.
I remember reading in Bringing up Bébé that you should embrace the pause. If you baby wakes up in the middle of the night give them a chance to fall back asleep before rushing in to swoop them up. Babies need to learn to work through their REM cycles and put themselves back to sleep. They will never learn this if you always go to them as soon as they make a peep. Of course, every baby is different, but I always try to wait a little bit just to make sure they really need me.
As I mentioned above, all babies are different so these tips may not work for everyone. Heck, they don’t even work for Caroline a lot of time during the day. They work at night though and a full night’s for everyone makes all the difference in our house! Hopefully one or two tips will work for you too 🙂