Today, I took care of a friend’s two-year-old. I carried her to the bed, gave her a bottle, covered her, and walked away. She fell asleep without a peep and kept sleeping for over two hours. With this positive image in my mind, I believe my family can get to this place, and so can you!
For my family, it is month eight of this beautiful new chapter of our lives. A month in which I am no longer spending sleepless nights rocking my infant to sleep as he suckles milk from my sore breasts for the fourth, fifth, or even sixth time in the night. A month in since I’ve come to terms with the fact that my infant will not be one to sleep through the night, but has made so much progress.
Progress may look different for you and me, and that’s okay. For us, it means peacefully falling asleep without tears—but on the boob, waking a couple of times a night to eat, sleeping the number of hours he should, and getting two to three good naps. So how did we get here? Lots and lots of work and trial and error.
Here are some things to try when baby won’t sleep, suitable for building sleep habits AND feeling like a successful parent:
1. Create a routine.
Yes, everyone says it! But with good reason. And no, it won’t take three nights as it did for your neighbor or sister-in-law. It may take three weeks. Or sometimes even three months. But don’t you want to be that parent who easily sets your child down to sleep and walks away? Our routine looks like this: take baby out for a stroll around 6 pm, have dinner such as fruit and/or cereal, give baby a bath, lotion, and dress baby in his pajamas, feed with breast milk, and sleep by 8:30 pm. I say 8:30, but that’s not always the case—and that’s alright!
2. Make sure baby is comfortable.
We never discuss baby comfort, but wouldn’t discomfort make you miserable? We tried so many different sleep sacks, and nothing provided any progress. One night, my husband stepped in and carried our baby around until he fell asleep and set him down on his side. 7 hours he slept! 7 hours! From an average of 2 to 7! We realized our baby isn’t comfortable sleeping on his back, and now I don’t have to carry and bounce to set him to sleep. I can set him down when he’s tired and almost out, and he’ll roll to his stomach and sleep “like a baby!” So figure out what your baby needs for comfort and use it as a tool. The figuring-out part takes time, but you’ll get there!
3. Baby can smell mom!
So . . . I set a bottle of milk in his crib overnight so that he could smell me and think I was there, and it worked! Haha! How do I know? Well, I tested it. I placed milk in there for several nights, and baby would sleep 5-7 hours. Then, the nights I’d randomly remove it, baby would sleep 2-4 hours. Try it! It doesn’t hurt! Trick the little monster for some extra Zzzs. Or maybe sleep with their sheets for a couple of nights before setting them in baby’s crib so that your scent is there to provide comfort.
4. Have someone else put baby to sleep.
Try to switch things up with your partner. My husband put our baby to sleep for a few nights, and it was a game-changer. All this time, we thought he needed mommy and mommy’s boob, and then daddy stepped in, and there were new standards! This helped so much! After month four, babies know how to get what they want, and after month six, they get separation anxiety, so having someone else step in can benefit mom and baby.
5. Don’t beat yourself up!
Try not to beat yourself up when your baby doesn’t sleep. So your friend’s kids are asleep by 7:00 pm? That’s okay. Don’t feel like a horrible parent if it’s 10:00 pm, and your child is still awake. I used to beat myself up over this, getting emotional and frustrated when my child was having a party at 10 pm, but I figured he was happy, so I should accept it and move on.
Although we stick to our routine (this is key), he sometimes talks and talks for an hour or two after bedtime. My husband and I stare at him, kiss and cuddle with him, and once he falls asleep, we set him in his crib. And if you think that’s a bad habit, oh well, because when I get five to seven straight hours of sleep, I am happy for his health and because I just got REM sleep!1
6. Don’t fix something that isn’t broken.
And that’s precisely what I tried to do. My son would wake several times throughout the night, and I’d put him on the boob, and he’d go right back to sleep. Well, I read that it’s important to disassociate food from sleep. So I began to feed him between naps. This was to try and help him not to fall asleep while feeding. And boy, did this cause chaos. The boob was no longer magical! I had disassociated food and sleep, which wreaked havoc, not having something comforting to go to sleep. We had about two weeks of sleepless nights, tears, and more tears. This had never happened before!
I decided it wasn’t working and went back to old habits. It did take a while to get back into our rhythm. But it’s so much nicer when your baby falls asleep without crying and when you have a magic boob! The moral of the story? Don’t fix something that isn’t broken; if it’s working for you and mom and baby are happy, keep at it, mama!
These are some great tricks to try when your baby doesn’t sleep. However, remember, good things don’t always happen overnight. Keep at it and stay positive; build sleep habits, AND feel successful as a parent.