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Before you start reading this post, I want to make a few things absolutely clear. I AM NOT A BABY SLEEP EXPERT. The tips I’m dishing out will not work for everyone and every baby. Because we are all different. We have different priorities, different extenuating circumstances, different health considerations and different parenting styles. But, if even just some of my tips help you and your baby get some much needed sleep then it was worth it! Good luck mamas!
When I was pregnant I kept hearing similar advice along the lines of ‘sleep now, because when the baby comes you won’t get any!’. And after the millionth time of hearing that my eyes glazed over and I started to tune it out. I didn’t think it could be THAT bad. I mean, anyone who has ever had a kid has made it through to the other side eventually, right?
And then I had my first baby and I instantly understood. The term ‘Mombie’ is probably the most accurate description of what my state of mind was in from the day each of my kids were born til the day they started sleeping through the night. You are in mom-mode 24/7, but the lack of sleep makes you more zombie than human.
I remember with my first thinking that my body would surely give out on me at some point. And I had some amazing support from my husband and family to boot, but even with their help, it was only a few days in as a mom and I was already looking forward to the day my baby would sleep through the night.
As most new moms do, I read up on what this new phase of my life was going to be all about. And one of the books that caught my attention was Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. I enjoyed this book because it gave me a view into a version of parenting that was, dare I say, not the typical American way of smothering children. Maybe it was the millennial in me that wants to raise my children to be everything our stereotypes say we are (but we really aren’t). But French parenting really made sense.
The French seem to parent based on logic and science. And that really spoke to me. They have expectations for their children that start from the day they are born. That sounds a little severe, right? I mean, how can you expect a newborn to do anything? But the French believe that a newborn is more than just a cute blob. It’s a blob that is perfectly capable of learning if you teach them something.
And that starts with sleep habits. The French expect babies to ‘do their nights’, AKA sleep through the night, very quickly. And they achieve this by listening to their babies. Sounds simple yet confusing, but it’s about understanding the science behind sleep and then listening to what your baby is saying when they cry.
They understand that newborns are noisy. They make sounds, grumbles, and even cry when they are actually still asleep. By understanding their sleep cycles, parents can better understand whether they are crying out of need or not. It’s normal for babies to cry in between their sleep cycles, which just happens to be about every two hours. So if parents rush in and pick them up every time they cry, they will never learn to connect their sleep cycles together. Which means you will be stuck soothing them back to sleep at the end of every cycle, even when the cycle lengthens to three or four hours at a time.
Armed with this knowledge of pausing before rushing in to the room of a crying/sleeping baby and a few other tips I picked up along the way, I tried this out on both of my kids and it worked incredibly well. My first child was sleeping through the night at 10 weeks (and had I stuck to my methods more strictly it would have been sooner) and my second was sleeping through the night at six weeks. Both continue to be great nappers and sleepers and this mama bear is thrilled!
Here’s exactly what I did:
For the first two weeks or so after both my kids were born I was comforting them the second they made a peep. Either feeding them when they were hungry or rocking them back to sleep or just hanging with them at all hours of the night. I firmly believe you can not spoil a newborn so love on them as much as possible.
Around three weeks I decided to start focusing on teaching my babies how to sleep and to pause before rushing in. This usually started at night (meaning after 10 p.m., so the overnight period of time). If my babies cried, I would pause for about a minute or so and then go and grab them. After picking them up I would comfort them and sing or shoosh or rock back and forth, my goal to get them back to sleep.
I wanted them to start learning how to connect their sleep cycles as well as teach them that although they have been eating every two hours since the day they were born, their stomach is larger now and can hold more food which should allow them to stay asleep longer until they are ACTUALLY hungry.
If they fell asleep without eating, awesome! But if they continued to cry after three or four minutes after the initial pause, I would go ahead and feed them, because duh, they are telling me they are hungry NOW! ha! I listened to my baby’s own rhythm, instead of just rushing in and throwing a boob in their face.
A few other small things I did was to kick my babies out of my room sooner rather than later. I was hesitant with my first and didn’t kick him out until week eight. I had a much harder time pausing and listening to my baby when he was sleeping right next to me. I heard every single breath, kick, and whimper and it was much easier to comfort him with just a reach of the hand. Which does nothing to teach them how to sleep, but first time mommyness got the best of me.
With my second, I kicked her out at week four because I knew I would get so much more sleep if i didn’t hear every single thing she was doing. Two weeks later she was sleeping through the night. I also didn’t wait for her to fall asleep before putting her to bed which I think is another important aspect to babies learning how to self-soothe. My firstborn pretty much always fell asleep on the boob so there was no getting around it with him.
Their rooms had blinds but not the room darkening kind. I wanted them to be able to know the difference between day time and night time so we went with normal window treatments. I also had a fan in their rooms from the get go. Not only did this provide some white noise, but research has shown that a fan circulating air can help reduce the risk of SIDS, so win-win.
That’s about it! When you get down to it, the logic and science behind all of this really makes sense. It’s understanding what goes in to a sleep cycle and then listening to your baby’s cues before rushing in with your own assumptions. I hope my journey to get more sleep for me and my babies can help you catch some zzz’s too. Because believe me, it’s a life changing day when you wake up in the morning and you realize you didn’t get up a single time with the baby. LIFE CHANGING.
Good luck mamas!
If you are interested in my must have baby products that helped me survive the first few years, I’ve got five items for you that you HAVE to check out! A couple of them are items that I used to get my babies nice and comfy so they could catch their zzzzz’s.