Before Olivia was born, I did all kinds of research about how to properly care for a baby. I had no idea how much sleep babies needed, how often they needed to be fed, etc. so I read several books, blogs, and did online research to prepare myself.
A year and 3 months into it, I feel really confident about some great ways that have helped me -and many other parents- teach their babies good sleep habits. So, in no special order…
Oh, and I guess I should include that all of these are based upon not just my own personal experience, but scientific reasons that are backed by research studies (which I encourage you to look into) that are valid. If you want the details on where I found the sources, feel free to message me or leave a comment below!
1) Learn the proper waketime for your baby. This is mostly dependent on age, but also about simply getting to know your baby and watching closely for sleep cues such as yawning and rubbing eyes. When Olivia was in her early months, the difference between putting her down after 30 minutes or 40 minutes of waketime made a huge difference. Those extra ten minutes of being awake could throw into complete overtiredness, making it very difficult to fall asleep, and more likely for her to wake early from her nap. Which of course would lead to more overtiredness, and then it can become a vicious cycle! Don’t worry, if you pay close attention now, it will get easier and easier and soon enough you’ll be able to read your baby like the back of your hand! These charts are really helpful: http://www.mybabysleepguide.com/2013/02/average-sleep-charts-by-age.html
2) Implement a simple nap and bedtime routine. Babies thrive on consistency, routines, and rhythms. You may not think they notice when they’re only a month or two old, but your consistency is something they catch onto very early on. Consistency helps them feel safe, and able to trust. Our routine is this: go into bedroom, change diaper, put on sleep sack (or swaddle if baby is under 3 months/unable to roll over), turn on sound machine, place in crib and say goodnight and I love you. *At bedtime we also do bath time right beforehand.
3) Do not create habits that you don’t want to keep. If you want to be able to put your baby down to sleep in a crib, don’t let them sleep on you or in your bed every day. If you want your baby to sleep without needing to nurse or suck on a bottle to fall asleep, don’t do it. It’s okay to do these things every once in awhile when you absolutely need to, but don’t let it become a habit! Your baby will get confused and it will be extremely difficult to get away from whatever habit you start, especially the longer you go on with it. Begin with the end in mind.
4) Use a swaddle or sleep sack. When babies are in their first 3 months or so, they startle themselves often in their sleep, and it can easily jolt them awake. Swaddling is a simple way to keep them sleeping! When your baby starts to roll over, it’s unsafe to keep them in a swaddle, but you can transition them to a sleep sack with armholes so they’re still bundled up. Not only does it make your baby feel cozy and give them that womblike feeling, but having a sleep sack as part of the routine before nap or bedtime helps indicate to your baby that it’s time to sleep! My favorite swaddles and sacks are here: www.ergopouch.com
5) Use white noise and black-out blinds. This helps drown out other noises, voices, and creaks of the house, and makes it easier for your baby to sleep soundly. We all sleep better when it’s dark! You can get black-out blinds on Amazon and it will make a huge difference in your baby’s sleep quality – it’s worth the investment. We use this simple sound machine that can either be plugged into a power outlet or run on batteries, which has been a lifesaver when traveling! http://www.homedics.com/sound-machines/soundspa.html
6) Get your baby on an eat, wake, sleep cycle. This is so key. This order may not seem important but it absolutely is. After sleeping, your baby should eat right away, when they are most awake, so that they can take a full feeding. After eating, they have waketime – which means play time! They’ll get the most out of waketime if they’ve had a full-feeding and are able to be present physically and mentally. After a proper waketime, they can go to sleep! It’s important that eating never comes right before sleep, so that your baby doesn’t associate it or start to depend on that to fall asleep.
7) Don’t give in to the 45 minute intruder. Did you know that we humans all go through sleep cycles during sleep? As adults, our cycles last about 90 minutes, and baby’s sleep cycles are about 30-45 minutes. We adults toss and turn and go back to sleep, and baby’s often have to be taught how to transition into their next sleep cycle. Olivia struggled after being asleep for 45 minutes until she was around 4 months old (the age when babies are able to self-soothe), but I’ve heard of other babies struggle with this for much longer. Up until Olivia started transitioning on her own and taking long naps, we tried a few different things that helped. We would go into her room right before the 45 minute mark, and we’d put our hand on her chest to soothe her, or turn her to the side and pat her back, and she’d often go back to sleep. Sometimes, we’d pick her up and hold her for 5-15 minutes until she dozed off again, and lay her back down.If your baby takes a pacifier, that might be all they need to make it through the transition. It didn’t always work, but most of the time it did, and she’d go back to sleep and make it a 2 hour nap like she needed. When she got a little older, around 4 months, we’d progressively do less to help her back to sleep, and she would sometimes even stay awake babbling anywhere between 5-20 minutes, and then go back to sleep! This is how babies learn to self-soothe and put themselves to sleep on their own! Now Olivia consistently takes 2-3 hour naps without waking at all, and she’s been doing that since 5 or 6 months. I know somedays feel hopeless, but you can do this if you just stay consistent!
8) Choose a wake-for-the-day and bed time, and stick to it! This is EXTREMELY important, especially in the early days. Like I said before, babies thrive on consistency. Like any human, babies do best when they go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, but they need your help! Newborns have to be taught what is night and what is day time, and they will quickly learn what you teach them. For us, 6:30AM wake up was what we needed to nurse, get dressed, and be on time for work each day. Now that Olivia is older and eats faster, waking up between 7 and 7:30AM is perfect. So you can change to a different time later if you want to, but just pick something that works and stick to it for now. Your baby’s natural clock will catch on quickly and naps and bedtime will become easy. As our baby grows, they’ll drop naps and drop feedings, so just remember to keep checking the recommendations on the chart linked in Tip 1.
9) Put your baby to bed “wide awake.” Many people don’t put their babies to bed until they “act tired,” for example, crying, becoming easily upset, throwing tantrums, or even falling asleep while playing. What many people don’t realize is that by this point, your baby is already overtired, which causes difficulty falling asleep, and makes it likely that baby will wake early from their nap. Putting your baby down when their fully awake, not even looking drowsy, is the best way to help them learn how to fall asleep on their own. This doesn’t mean putting baby down too early, but being aware of how much waketime they need and not letting them stay awake longer than that. It takes practice and consistency, but it will more than pay off later. Plus, as baby gets older, it becomes easier and easier to identify their necessary waketime, and easier and easier for them to put themselves to sleep.
10) When it’s time, give your baby a “lovey” or security object. Once your baby has mastered rolling both ways and removing things from their face, you can safely give them a lovey or security object. Make sure it doesn’t have any sewed on buttons or anything they could choke on, and use it only for sleep times. Olivia uses this cute little lion lovey, and it always stays in her crib, with the exception of times when she has to sleep in the car or on an airplane – then we give it to her just as we would if she were in her crib – and it’s accompanied by her white noise sound and sleep sack. A lovey is something that helps teach baby it’s time for sleep, and more importantly, helps baby feel safe and secure when going through phases of separation anxiety. https://www.amazon.com/Angel-Dear-Baby-Blanket-Lion/dp/B0035X6VG6/ref=sr_1_2_a_it?ie=UTF8&qid=1502255671&sr=8-2&keywords=lion+lovey
I hope these tips help your little one get some deep, peaceful sleep!