Teaching Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night
Hello, mom of a precious infant! I remember the exhaustion of having a newborn and how hard it is to wake up multiple times during the night to feed your precious baby, change their diaper and cuddle them. The first few weeks are manageable, but then the exhaustion starts to set in and you feel like you are in the twilight zone. But take heart... the sleepless nights are not forever!
I currently have a 4-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl. They both started sleeping 12 hours a night by the time they were 4-months-old and they have continued to have healthy sleep cycles that have allowed them to be healthy, strong and emotionally stable. This includes naps during the day as well as a consistent bedtime routine.
My biggest motivation for my baby and child to achieve a good night of sleep was learning how important sleep is in their development and how much easier it is for a baby who has good sleeping habits to learn and self-regulate. In fact, numerous articles pinpoint a direct correlation between the amount of sleep a child gets and their social and cognitive development [1,4].
Sleep is as nourishing and beneficial as eating. During sleep, the neuron connections activate and we are able to learn better . This is why you can see that most babies and kids who sleep well are more motivated to learn, have less tantrums and are able to handle most emotional situations well . I am not saying your baby will be perfect if he/she sleeps well, but I do want to emphasize that we ALL just do better with good sleep!
Okay, I know sleep is important... But what do I do next?
Before I had my first baby, Jack, I read a lot of books, blogs and I asked a lot of questions regarding sleep, but no one seemed to have the one plan that worked! An accumulation of sleepless nights, a tired baby, and a lot of determination pushed me to gather all the information I had to make up my own sleeping plan. I know every baby is different, and most moms think that it is simply luck to have a baby that sleeps versus one that does not. The truth is every baby IS different and you might have one that enjoys sleeping more, but just like with anything in life, we all have the capability of being taught something even when we are not naturally good at it. So with your loving mom instincts and a couple of tips and routines you too can be successful! Below, I go over tips that I have used to create a sleeping plan for my two babies to sleep through the night. I am telling you... these were life changers!
Ready? Lets do this!!!
Scientists debate a lot on what the best sleep practices are, and there is really not one right answer. This is my personal experience and recollection of tips that worked for me while creating our sleeping plan. So, if you are desperate for some much needed sleep, keep reading :)
Tip 1. Establish a sleep and eating routine from the get-go.
I started to establish a routine in which my baby would know that we eat and then sleep not eat sleep eat sleep. Research shows that babies who are on a sleep/eating schedule (as opposed to "on demand" eating and sleeping) will sleep more through the night by 12 weeks . Because of this, I fed my babies on demand and let them sleep at their leisure, but made sure I gave them a full feeding every time. So for example, I did not let them simply snack on my breast; I fed them fully. They usually are so comfy that they tend to fall asleep on you as you yourself are falling sleep. However, I did whatever it took to have a full feeding. I would tickle their cheek, stop to burp and change diapers in the middle of feeding. Taking their clothes off helped too. By doing this, it gave me peace of mind that my baby was fed and he/she would be ready to sleep for a good chunk of time during the night.
Tip 2. Place your baby in a basinet/moses basket to sleep.
This allowed me to move him/her to anywhere in the house with ease and the smaller surface area helped them to feel more snuggled and secure. I would make sure that when I fed my precious one, I cuddled, kissed, talked, singed, hugged and filled up their love tank to the fullest. Feeding time was dedicated to my infant 100% away from my phone, iPad, social media or TV. It was my time with my little one to connect and invest in them. I know that sometimes this can be hard to accomplish when there are other little ones at home so, I let my first child pick three toys that he was only allowed to play with during feeding time. (His choice at two years old were legos, playdough and coloring books).
After I finished fully feeding and spending time with my baby and it was time for their nap, I put them in their moses basket. This is important, because you don’t want your baby to get used to sleeping on you. You want to allow your baby to feel secure falling sleep on their own and not while being rocked or hugged. Your goal as a mom should be to fill up their love tank, while also making your baby as emotionally secure as possible. This includes allowing them to fall asleep without constant help.
Tip 3. Give your baby the opportunity to learn how to self-soothe
Did you know that infants have the ability to resettle and self soothe themselves back to sleep by the time they are 4 months old [3,5]? This means they don't need you pick them up and rock them and feed them to get them to fall asleep when they wake up in the middle of the night. They have the capability of doing it all on their own! As moms, we want our child to always be happy and want to avoid them crying at all times. But I also think that it is our job to show our babies how things work and to give them the tools to adjust accordingly. When my babies would cry in the middle of the night and it had been less than four hours since their last feeding (This was after they were 12 weeks old and were meeting their growth curve) I checked on them, made sure they didn't have a dirty diaper (try to do this without turning the lights on and unsettling them) and would pat them on the back, sing, and caress them. This made them feel secure, loved, and would soothe them back to sleep. If you implement Tip 1 and feed your baby fully, then you know your baby isn't crying because they are hungry. They are probably just adjusting to a new environment, exercising their lungs, or might be uncomfortable. This is why I would always check on them and made sure they were okay, but I did not pick them up. By doing this, my babies learned to soothe themselves at night without the need of being fed every hour and eventually began to stretch their sleeping bouts until they reached 12 hours of sleep at night. With that being said, moms have the super power to discern different types of cries, so implement this tip judiciously.
Tip 4. Avoid sleeping places where there are bright lights.
Start a routine in which your baby takes naps and has bedtime away from flashing lights, including TV, since research has shown that having bright lights can disrupt a baby's circadian rhythm, making it more difficult to remain asleep . I tried my best to have my baby nap away from TV or other disruptive lights.
Tip 5. Give your baby a warm bath at night.
Once their belly button was in the clear to take a bath, I gave my little one a bath at around 7pm. I started this routine early on to give them the cue that it was bedtime, as well as to help them relax. We are creatures of habit and are sensitive to cues, so having a daily cue before bedtime signals the brain that it is time to shut down and go night-night. I would get them dressed in their footie Pajamas to keep them warm. I tried to save all of their zipper footie jamies for night-time because at 3am, buttoning a baby down is crazy! I like the gown pajamas for daytime to have easy access, but at night I tried to keep them as warm and cozy as possible. After feeding them I placed them in their bassinet in my room, turned off the lights and turned on their Sleep Sheep (I like the sleep sheep because it can serve as an additional sleep cue. You can also find additional information on helpful baby products at Jenn Reviews).
These 5 tips were literally life savers when my babies were infants! But like we always say, every baby is different, and mom knows best, so use these tips to create a sleeping plan that works for you and your little one! I hope you enjoyed learning how to give your baby the gift of sleep :-). Until next time!
1. Bates, J. E., Viken, R. J., Alexander, D. B., Beyers, J., & Stockton, L. (2002). Sleep and adjustment in preschool children: sleep diary reports by mothers relate to behavior reports by teachers. Child development, 73(1), 62-75.
2. Goldberg, W. A., & Keller, M. A. (2007). Co‐sleeping during infancy and early childhood: key findings and future directions. Infant and Child Development, 16(4), 457-469.
3. St James-Roberts, I., Alvarez, M., Csipke, E., Abramsky, T., Goodwin, J., & Sorgenfrei, E. (2006). Infant crying and sleeping in London, Copenhagen and when parents adopt a “proximal” form of care. Pediatrics, 117(6), e1146-e1155.
4. Sadeh, A., De Marcas, G., Guri, Y., Berger, A., Tikotzky, L., & Bar-Haim, Y. (2015). Infant sleep predicts attention regulation and behavior problems at 3–4 years of age. Developmental neuropsychology, 40(3), 122-137.
5. St James-Roberts, I., Roberts, M., Hovish, K., & Owen, C. (2015). Video evidence that London infants can resettle themselves back to sleep after waking in the night, as well as sleep for long periods, by 3 months of age. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 36(5), 324.
6. Maquet, P. (2001). The role of sleep in learning and memory. Science, 294(5544), 1048-1052.
Disclaimer: While we mostly report robust scientific findings that have been replicated, science is a constantly evolving field, meaning new findings might support or contradict previous findings. Scientists may also differ in their interpretation of findings. We thus encourage parents to be critical of all information before they choose to apply it or dismiss it.