So I’m not going to lie, it’s no secret I was truly blessed with my little lady when it comes to sleep, a feeling similar to hitting the jackpot I can only assume. I initially read so much information about babies sleep whilst I was pregnant, of course nothing you read can compare to real life, but it did assist me to use my intuition. It’s often assumed parents to newborns don’t get any sleep and it was one of the most asked questions while Layla was little, “how is she sleeping”, “you must be exhausted” I was so afraid to tell people she was sleeping incase my ‘luck’ changed, realistically that wasn’t going to happen, but I had heard so many horror stories I didn’t know what to expect anymore.
My mother always spoke about how she rocked my sister for years and would spend hours on end up with her to get her to sleep. Which brings me to forming good habits while your baby is still little, babies start to learn sleep associations from the get go and some sleep associations (rocking, cuddling, walking around, driving the block etc) can be hard to maintain long-term and so doing something to ‘save your sanity’ in that moment may rob you of your sanity down the track. However in saying that, babies need to sleep to be healthy and develop mentally, so a happy medium should work.
All of my tips and tricks may have worked well for my baby but it may not for your little one. Layla was 40 days old when she did her first 9-5am sleep, and everyday after it just got better and better. She’s now almost 19 months old, has all but 2 of her teeth, has travelled half way around the world twice and we have never had a problem with her sleep routine – to this day from 3 months old she sleeps 9pm-10am with excellent midday naps, in her own bed, without a dummy.
~Before I start, I understand not all mums will have the opportunity to try some of these tips due to health concerns of their little one, so just remember the health of the baby ALWAYS comes first & just follow your intuition as a mum – you know best!
So here it goes –
1. Watch your baby NOT the clock
I tried to time feed Layla once she was born but me forcing her to feed every 2-3 hours was a no go from the first time we attempted it. It resulted in a stressed out baby who didn’t want to latch on and a mum who was stressing out, because well – “why won’t she eat, it’s been 2 hours!”. I instead started to watch her cues, when she would start opening her mouth, rooting around or licking her lips; I would offer her a feed, i’d first put the teat (or nipple) under her nose and if her mouth would open for it she would take the bottle. Layla developed her own routine of when she was hungry and oh boy would she let me know when it was time; it allowed me to relax & follow her flow instead of interrupting her sleep. Feeding on demand definitely assisted Laylas sleep cycle in that sense.
2. Don’t wake the sleeping baby
There are so many different opinions on this one, but not waking Layla worked for us. My Dad always used to tell me “sleep promotes sleep” not waking her was something I took very seriously, I would make appointments around her sleep time, ensure I was back home in time so she could sleep in her cot (i felt bad whenever she would fall asleep in a confided space as she slept much better in her bed, 15-30 minutes in the pram compared to 2-4 hours in her bed…Refer point #4) essentially my entire day was planned around her sleep.
People used to always tell me “don’t let your little one sleep that much through the day, she won’t sleep at night” and I know there are a thousand and one articles out there telling us to wake them if their day sleeps are too long but I found, when Layla slept amazing during the day, she would go even better at night not only that but she would settle so much easier when she would go down for her night sleep. On the few days her day sleep was interrupted it would be so hard to settle at night, and most of the time she would wake earlier. So I made it my mission to encourage her day sleeping – and as I mentioned she now 19 months and still sleeps 12-4pm with no issues to settle at night. As long as your baby is growing, gaining weight, producing wet nappies and meeting milestones let your baby & you enjoy the sleep!
3. Newborn confusion
This was a small but helpful tip I got from my midwife to assist the newborn day and night confusion. I’m sure most of the mums with newborns have a baby who’s down like a dream all day and ready to party all night. The confusion stage passes fairly quick but we can assist by opening all the blinds to let daylight in during the day accompanied by lots of noise, talking, singing and engaging with the baby / whilst keeping the night times dark, dull, quiet and not engaging as much as we do through the day (i know this one is hard, but if your baby is anything like what mine was, she was very easily stimulated so it’s an important step for baby to know at night we sleep), keeping night times dark triggers the brain to release melatonin, a key sleep hormone which we want during the night. So during the day whilst Layla would nap I would keep it bright and light. It took Layla about 2 weeks until her longest stretch of sleep was during the night-time and not midday.
4. Big, free space to sleep in
I am a lover of a big bed and the ability to roll in a large space gives me a good night sleep, I suppose that’s what influenced this step for me. I didn’t want her to feel confided (if that’s even a thing) but I wanted her to have heaps of air flow and plenty of room, so from the first day home after the hospital I placed her in her cot, she was incredibly tiny, but I personally think the air flow helped her get a better night rest. When she was 12 months old she started to get restless when she would have to go in her cot, there wasn’t much room for her in there anymore, throughout the night I could hear her tossing and turning and in the morning there would be an arm out here and a leg out there. So, we moved her into a toddler bed. BEST. DECISION. EVER – no problems with her going to bed after that and in fact, her sleep had also gotten better if that was even possible!
I followed a B.B.B routine, Bath, Bottle & Bed. There are heaps of routines out there, but this was one I felt fitted us best. For the first 40 days of Layla’s life I bathed her every night, no shampoos or body washes, just water and wet towels (Every 2nd or 3rd night I would add 2 drops of Lavender oil – purely to relax her for bed). This was done at 7pm every night. Bath followed by a back massage, then her feed and once she was drowsy in bed she went and swaddled. The first few nights it would take about 8-10 minutes (no crying) for her to fall asleep…but she did it. After the 40 days we still kept our routine, never missed a night massage – but bathed every second or third day. Something I was extremely conscious about, was not feed Layla while she was swaddled, swaddling the baby while feeding associates feeding with sleeping which is something I didn’t want for her down the line.
6. Self soothing
Controversial, I know. Let me put it straight out here, self soothing for me does not constitute the CIO method, I cannot handle her screaming and crying, but don’t get me wrong if she is murmuring, talking or doing anything but crying – I do not interrupt her. We started letting her sooth early on, we’d put her in bed drowsy and let her talk it out with herself until she would fall asleep.
She soothed easily at night time but through the day would not have a bar of it, especially once she hit the 4 month mark. She would scream as soon as I would take her to her room, so I changed it up. Whenever I seen she was tired (yawned, rubbed her eyes) I would take her to the room and wrap her up, as soon as she would start yelling I would play “baby rain” literally the sound of rain falling with some light white noise. She would stop yelling immediately and within 5 minutes she would fall asleep. We repeated it a few times, and then she didn’t need it anymore. If she was teething, or going through a ‘mental leap’ I would put the music back on and she would settle within seconds. Self soothing doesn’t have to be torture for the parent, people associate a Childs cry to immediately needing their parent – for us, it was when she needed a change, she cried when she wanted the music off, or when she was ready to transition out of her swaddle or her cot. (*Obviously this may not always be the case, but for us the majority of the time it was) If she continued to cry, I would take her back out to play and on her next yawn we would try it all over again.
Fast forward to 19 months old, once I say ‘bed time’ Layla gets in her bed, I say my words and give her a kiss, turn off the light and walk out. Literally, that’s it.
7. Swaddle, Sleep bag, PJ’s
In line with routine, associating things with sleep like specific clothes gave Layla a sense of what would happen next. I swaddled Layla till about 4 months old; up until she was rolling vice versa and strong enough to lift her neck. Swaddling prevents unnecessary wake-ups due to newborn startle reflex, with Layla I needed to do it tight enough so her hands couldn’t escape, because if they did she would wake within minutes. Once she transitioned I kept her in a sleeping bag to keep her warm, I didn’t want to use a blanket as she would move around the entire bed, so a sleeping bag was a good choice for me. Again once it was bed time I would then put her in the bag. It was summer time overseas and there was no need for the sleeping bag anymore so that was when we transitioned, Layla was about 10 months old. For bed I would put her in PJ’s and in the morning I would take them right off so she knew what they were for.
Finally, the most important association with sleep for me was as simple as saying ‘Goodnight, see you in the morning’ followed by a kiss on her forehead. These 10 seconds tell her its bed time, re assures her that I’ll be there in the morning & reminds her how much I love her. These words cannot change, you need to be consistent with them so avoid any long words, keep it simple and get to the point.
*Again I am not an expert of any kind, these tips are from my own experience. I implemented these steps with my little one and they worked wonders for me.
Whatever you choose to do or are doing, if you don’t see any improvement, reassess your strategy and try a new approach.
It’s your child, listen to yourself, follow your own intuition & remember every child is different with unique needs.