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Helping Babies Sleep at Night

After my last post, you should know I don’t consider myself an expert on this baby life thing.  Babies are so intricate and individual and what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another.  Equally important, moms are different and what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another.

solly baby wrap (1 of 1)

If I could only tell a new mom one thing I think this would be it.  Do what works for you.  Follow your mom intuition.  You may not have a big sense of it yet; but you do have one.  The more you exercise it, the more you will hear it.  Listen to it. It doesn’t mean you are always right; but often you are.  The right decision is the one that works for you. Not the one that works for your sister in law or your friend or the other mom at church who makes parenting look like a piece of cake.

two weeks old (8 of 1)

I learned this quickly.  Adam was a few months old when I tried making him go to sleep in his crib.  Why? Because that’s how most of the moms at church did it.   It’s what the pediatric magazines all said.  It’s what his doctor recommended.

He cried for what felt like an eternity while I bent over his crib and patted his back.  I hated every minute of it and I totally refused to do it again until he was almost two.  I love, love, love rocking my babies. It’s one of my favorite things to do.  They love it, too.  So I don’t care how many hours of research are behind those magazine articles, I will rock them until they or I am ready to transition.  Same thing with so many other things.  Figure out what you believe when it comes to all those hot button mom topics and follow your heart.  You will be a far more consistent and less frustrated mama if you believe in the way you are parenting.

one month (4 of 1)

So I offer this, not as a do it this way solution; but simply as one of those hanging out in the nursery at church chats.  It’s what worked for us and some of it has been handed down from my mama because it worked for her.  She was told by her mom and it worked for her.  Who knows.  Maybe some of it’s genetic.  Maybe it’s just the way we’re wired to parent.  But I’ve been sharing this with friends for awhile and sometimes it has helped.

I’d reeeaaally like to avoid creating a hot button post so please can I say one more time, this isn’t the only right way.  I have no judgement for anyone who likes to sleep train or who enjoys getting up with their baby at night and doesn’t want it to change.  I’ll celebrate whichever way you want it.  But just in case you wish your baby would sleep through the night and want to try something that might help, I’ll share the love that was shared with me.

six days old (8 of 1)

My babies have all slept for long chunks of time at night from early on.  One of them waited until just shy of four weeks to pull a five hour stretch but I think they all did eight by two months.  The last three slept four to five hours by the time they were a week old. Bella might throw me on the eight hour stretches by two months though. :)

We don’t do any sleep training.  I’m a bit more of a gentle, middle of the roader when it comes to that one.  But I do like to encourage it.  Here’s what we’ve learned.

Advice from my mom and from her mom.

Keep it quiet at night.  Believe it or not, in those first few days it is possible to be so euphoric about your darling baby that when she wakes at 2 AM you want to talk to her. Try not to.  Don’t make eye contact either because eye contact is super stimulating to a tiny baby.  Use the lowest light possible for those diaper changes and feedings.  We put a 15 watt bulb in a lamp and keep it away from the changing table / feeding area.

Keep your baby warm.  All the experts say to dress your baby like you dress or maybe one more layer.  Really? They just exited a cozy apartment where they were snuggled tight and the temperature always stayed just shy of 99 degrees.  And now we’re supposed to lay them flat on their backs in a 70 something house with only the amount of clothes we wear and expect them to sleep.  It’s kind of laughable, really.

Lots of babies like to be swaddled and it’s safer to swaddle them than to put a loose blanket on top of them.  So swaddle them up.  Bella loves a cotton swaddle and a heavier blanket wrapped around her and tucked in.  Your baby shouldn’t sweat, but if she’s waking up with cool hands and feet, she’s probably cold. (Yes, I know they all say babies have poor circulation.  Their hands and feet might be cold.  I’m just saying what works for us.)  Think about how hard she sleeps when she’s lying on your chest.  She gets all warm and relaxed from your body heat.  Her circulation might not be great; but she doesn’t like being cold.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a tiny baby with mottled arms and legs in a cold restaurant and had to almost physically restrain myself from walking up with a blanket. 😉  Babies love to be warm.

six days old (5 of 1)

The other tip I learned from lactation consultants and my mom.  Wake your baby to eat during the day.  How often will vary based on whether you breastfeed or bottle feed.  Until mine are sleeping well through the night, I always wake them every two hours through the day.  Babies often want a 4-5 hour block without feeding during a twenty four hour period.  They just don’t always choose to take it at night.  I choose to not let them have that block during the day to help encourage them to take it at night.  Occasionally I hear a mom say, my baby woke up every two hours at night; but she takes such good naps.  Sometimes she sleeps for four hours.  That was baby’s night.  She just happened to take it during the day.

Once they’re solidly doing nights, I let them stretch it out longer if they want to.  But until then, two and a half hours is our max.  Three if it’s in the morning or soon after lunch.  Don’t be surprised if your baby wants to cluster feed in the evening.  This is usually a sign that they want to stretch out their nights a little longer.

Listen to your baby! It’s amazing how much they tell us.  It’s just not always easy to decipher the codes.  Zara was a few months old when she started wanting a double feed around ten in the morning.  I almost didn’t let her because I was sure it was going to be disaster.  I figured she just had tummy ache.  But when I did, she slept for three to four hours straight!  It was such a God-send because I was doing school with the boys at the time.  It became the consistent pattern of her day.  Be wakeful, eat, play, do a double feed, take a loooong nap, be wakeful, take a catnap, and then do an seven to eight hour night.  On the days when Bella isn’t tummy achey, she’s definitely asking for more 2 1/2 to 3 hour slots than any of the others who seemed to start yelling for food every hour and a half.

So encourage, but listen to your baby, too!

two weeks old (9 of 1)

If you’re still staggering through to many dark o clock feedings, here’s a hug!  And if I could, I’d deliver a hot cup of coffee in the morning.

6 thoughts on “Helping Babies Sleep at Night

  1. Helen Braun

    What a beautiful and precious baby girl! And, yes I totally agree with you. I am a grandma, looking forward to my first great grandchild!

  2. Joanna

    Thanks, Michelle, I really enjoyed this post. Especially what you said about being ok with your style of parenting. If you have any tips for getting a six month old who uses me as a pacifier to sleep through the night,(without making him cry for hours) I’d be all ears.:) He did sleep through the night at a young age, but now…. Oh and he’s never really enjoyed being rocked, so different from my other babies.

    1. Michelle Post author

      Oh, that’s hard! I know it is THE TOUGHEST THING ever to do at 2 am when you are sooooooo tired all you want to do is get back to bed the fastest way possible; but! About the only way to break his eating at night habit is to stop feeding him at night. If you are convinced he’s getting enough during the day (6 months can be a growth spurt), then you can play tough love and just cuddle him until he goes back to sleep. It is so hard and I caved way too many times with Zara; but it always ends up making for a wakeful baby way too many more nights in the future. Maybe he is teething? I hope he learns to sleep all night soon!

  3. Lori Weaver

    I love this..I have four children ages 10, 8, 5, and 18 months. Between my husband and I bet we’ve racked up an impressive number of miles walking the floor with our fussy babies and have spent countless hours in our glider rocker soothing them to sleep. I don’t regret a single second of it. I only wish I could go back to myself when I was a young, stressed out first time mama with a colicky baby who didn’t sleep well at night and wanted to be held all day..I’d tell her that it’s okay..you’re not doing anything wrong that your baby is fussy and she’s not sleeping through the night. This is just who she is and it will pass. And it did. Thankfully by number two and three I had gained much more confidence and instead of going by the books I followed my own instincts..even though those babies were also fussy at first I had so much more peace and was much less stressed out. And number four? It’s my fault he still wakes up at night because I know he’s our last and I snatch any chance I get to cuddle him and rock him. He’s very busy during the day and nighttime is often the only time he’ll let me.:)

  4. Melody

    I love this. I agree with you totally… my baby is almost 6 weeks old and he is easily doing 8 hour stretches at night. And I am almost always waking him during the day for feedings. My theory is, wake them often and feed often during the day and their nights will be much better. And thanks for giving everyone freedom to parent as they feel led. ?

  5. Susan

    I found that waking to feed regularly during the day was a big help in getting my babies (10!) to sleep through the night. Each one had their variations, but they all followed the general pattern.

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