Monday, January 28, 2013

how to get your infant to sleep

{ let me start this off by saying i am by no means an expert. and i have only had 2 children from which to draw any kind of experience. i am just offering my humble opinion. }

i feel like, other than trying to figure out how to nurse, lack of sleep is one of the most common complaints among parents with infants. new parenthood is portrayed that way in media with that bedraggled mother, stumbling around as the infant cries in the background. and many parents suffer from lack of sleep, especially in the early weeks. but after having 2 very different babies, i believe firmly that that doesn't have to be so.

when you think of getting your infant to sleep, the first things you may think are "ferber" and "cry it out". while the ferber method is not ''leave your baby to cry all night long until they finally figure out you aren't coming", i don't think it's for us. (as a matter of fact, dr. ferber never says you should simply allow your child to cry on his own.) 

i have read several theories and i am sure that they all work for someone. but i am not big on following a laid out plan for babies or children. mostly because they are so different that what works for one, will almost certainly not work or the other. there is a reason the hospital doesn't send you home with a guide book. 

but i like to subscribe to the guide book of common sense and/or instinct. because that's what parenting is, really, at it's core. if you shut out all the advice and all the "experts" and focus on what feels right, focus on that voice inside your head (not the crazy one.....), that's where you find the easiest way to enjoy the whole process. 


1. have realistic expectations. sure, some babies sleep 10 hours at a time from the time they are 4 weeks old. they are the minority. most babies sleep an average of 3-5 hours before waking to eat. as a matter of fact, "sleeping through the night" is generally defined as sleeping for 6 hours in one period. so if you put your baby down at 8:30, waking at 2:30 would be considered sleeping through the night. but that is not my night. at that point, i have had no more than probably 3 hours of sleep. but even that is not entirely common, especially not early on. infants need around 18 hours of sleep a day, 12 of which generally occur at night. but if they get their days and nights mixed up, that can mean a spell of wakeful nights. 

2. take the pressure off. along the same lines, don't feel like your success as a parent relies heavily on how long or how often your child sleeps. it feels that way in the beginning. as though, if your baby can't figure out the sleep thing on day one, you will never amount to anything as a parent. but this simply is not so. and it doesn't mean your child will be messed up for the rest of their life. bella didn't sleep more than 3-4 hours at a time early on, and even then she wouldn't sleep soundly unless she was in a swing or on my chest. i felt so much like a failure then, because people would talk about how their child slept through the night, only waking once to nurse. bella woke 4 times a night to nurse. 

3. don't believe the hype. like losing weight, quick and easy does not exist for the long term. it's tempting to try more extreme measures that promise to have your baby sleeping all night at the ripe old age of 4 weeks old. if you follow their advice, it may be true. but at what cost. again, i am not suggesting you will screw your child up, but i am under the impression that infants never cry for no reason. even in the middle of the night. maybe they just want comfort, but when you are a teeny tiny little human in a big cold world, maybe you just need a little comfort. so go, pick up your baby. comfort them until they fall back asleep. it costs you a few minutes of rest and maybe makes your next day a struggle, but it means telling your baby, whatever happens, i'm here. 

4. swaddle. i live and die by the swaddle. there are so many swaddlers out there and they are all fantastic. we used this one with bella. revolutionary. she hated it for the first couple of weeks, so i tossed them in the closet. at around 5 weeks, and out of desperation, i pulled them back out and tried again. i was more confident with her, so it didn't feel so much like a torture device anymore. i wrapped her up and once the velcro was secure, her whole body seemed to relax. within seconds she was asleep, and she slept deeply. i'm not saying she slept for 12 hours straight, but she did have a very sleep filled night after that. it increased her sleep time from around 4 hours straight to around 6, followed by 5, followed by another 2 (my memory is shot, but i wrote all of this down in her baby book! so i am not making it up!! swearsies!) with cora, we use this one. and have from day one. 

5. snuggle. i said we don't really follow the books much, but i kind of lied. i am a big fan of dr. sears. bella slept in my bed until she was 3 months old. granted, joel was deployed the majority of that time, but once i started bed sharing with her, we both slept wonderfully. dr. sears advises against this if you are severely overweight, a smoker or drinker, as it can cause you to sleep too deeply, not being cognizant of your child. but in cases of normal weight, nonsmokers/drinkers, bed-sharing can be very safe. if you don't feel comfortable with this practice, don't do it. it's that simple. but it was amazing for us. i nursed bella, so when she did wake, i barely needed to even lift my head to allow her to nurse, and even though i wasn't technically sleeping, i had my eyes closed and was laying down, so it barely felt like my sleep was interrupted. co-sleeping, with your baby in a bassinet beside the bed is a very similar way to go without the fear of rolling over on them. personally, it seems like my babies sleep deeper snuggled up, and i am a light sleeper. 

6. routines are your best friend. not schedules. and not rigidity. flexible sleep routines that cue your child in to the fact that it is time to wind down. ours is like this: 

bath, brush teeth, brush hair, jammies
 read books-bella gets to pick 4 books and then she does a page in her sticker book
she climbs into her bed and i sing her "her" songs. the ones i have sang to her since she was a newborn
by 8:30pm 
i leave, we say good night and i crack the door, with the contingency that if i hear her, i shut the door. 

that routine isn't based on the clock, though. it's the same no matter what time we start. i aim to start at 7, so that she is down by 8:30. when joel does it, she is usually down by around 7:45 (he reads fast?), and if we get home late, it starts later. it doesn't always take 1 1/2 hours. as a matter of fact, if she is behaving, it can take up to that long, but if she fights me brushing her teeth, or refuses to let me brush her hair, she may lose a book. if she throws a fit getting her jammies on, or cries about not getting 17bajillion books, she may lose another one. she has gone to bed a couple of times with no books, because she wasted too much time begging to stay awake late. (it's not a fight, it's simple. you are wasting your book time. you have run out of time for 4 books because you won't get through brushing hair/teeth, so you now only have time for 3 books. ) but, unless we are not home, she is in the bed with the lights off no later than 8:30. 

7. create an environment conducive to sleep. babies in the womb are used to noise. so keeping your house super duper quiet can actually work against you. during naps, we would run the vacuum, play music, whatever we would normally do during the day. at night, white noise was and is our best friend. both girls have sound machines set to either rain or ocean. we never used mobiles, as they can actually distract your children from sleep. we eliminate light noise by using black out curtains, and now that we are in germany, both girls have humidifiers, because the dry air has sent bella into hacking fits. 

8.  remember, it won't be like this for long. it really won't. bella had a hard time adjusting to life on the outside. she had colic, it took us a good 6 weeks to figure out the whole nursing thing, she mixed her days and nights, she didn't sleep for long stretches and she woke 3-4 times a night. this went on until she was 14 months old. but we co-slept until 4 months, and even then, if she would have a hard time sleeping, she came back in and slept with us. if she cried in the night, i picked her up kissed her and swayed with her. i rocked her to sleep every night. people told us we were ruining her. that we would have a 10 year old sleeping with us every night. that she would never be able to go to sleep without being rocked or nursed down. untrue. she is 3 now and every night, she goes to sleep on her own, sleeps for 12 hours, doesn't wake, and sleeps in her own bed. that started happening around that 14 month mark. occasionally, she would get scared and would come into our room, climb into our bed and sleep with us, but i think the simple knowledge that that is an option allows her to sleep soundly and confidently. 

9. if all else fails, have a second baby who is completely different from your first. i am kind of kidding here, but whereas bella was the rule, cora is the exception. we coslept with her starting in the bassinet then, after she woke around 4 to nurse, i would leave her in the bed with me. then 3 nights ago, i put bella to bed and while i was singing to bella, cora fell asleep in my arms, so i laid her in her crib. where she slept until 4. so the next night we did the same routine. and last night she slept from 8:45 until 6:30 this morning. we include her in bella's routine-she gets in the bath with bella (in her infant tub, of course), then i put her in jammies along with bella, she sits in my lap nursing while i read to bella, and then it's lights out while i sing to them both. generally, by the time i walk out of the door, cora is asleep. and that's that. i would like to say i am awesome at getting children to sleep. but i think it's more likely that her personality is more conducive to compliance. 

read whatever you want, use your judgement and common sense and figure out for yourself and your child what practices are best for you. then stick to them. your timeline will be different from every ones else's. be patient and remember that you are teaching your child how to sleep. just like everything else they learn in life, it may take a while, but they will get it. 

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