I may not be an expert at parenting.
Heck, I'm new at this.
But I would consider myself a sleep expert.
I have had sleep issues since I was a child.
And I have blogged about these sleep issues countless times.
Here, here and here, for example.
I can remember being in first grade.
Tossing and turning all night.
Trying different sleep positions.
Covering up any sliver of light peeking through with blankets.
Moving to the couch.
These problems only worsened as I got older.
I have read just about every article and book on sleep.
And I'm convinced these issues started as a baby.
My mom has always said that I refused to sleep as a baby.
And lucky for her, I was an all-the-time happy baby.
Even without much sleep.
Just about every baby refuses to sleep at times.
They just need a little encouragement.
And I believe, like everything else, they need to be taught how to sleep.
When I became pregnant, I knew right away what my number one priority would be:
Instilling healthy sleep habits.
I began talking to numerous mommy friends.
And pin-pointed those whom had babes who consistently slept through the night.
And I began to notice a recurring theme.
Over and over again.
The book, On Becoming Baby Wise by Gary Ezzo.
Moms swore by this book.
Of course I had to see what the big deal was.
So Gabe and I read this together when I was pregnant.
And my plan was to follow it religiously.
Then Lyla was born.
And reality slapped me in the face.
I realized that you can't just follow some book.
You can use it as a guide.
But not as the holy word.
Because all babies have very different needs.
And you have to relinquish all control with a newborn.
And learn to be flexible.
After a few weeks of motherhood,
And after picking up another highly recommended read (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby by Marc Weissbluth),
I made a plan.
I soaked in all the knowledge from my sleep books.
And combined it with with some good old fashioned mommy intuition (a.k.a. common sense).
After a somewhat torturous road, we finally reached what every parent desperately wants.
Sleeping through the night.
We're talking 12-13 hours every single night for over 3 months now.
There is no silver bullet.
And no plan is foolproof.
But here is a breakdown of how we successfully got where we are.
My Sleep Goals. Ultimately, what did we want?
Sleeping through the night. The holy grail of parenting. You hear this term over and over. And it means different things to different people. To me, it meant sleeping the entire night, without waking, from the moment we put baby down until wake up time in the morning. I didn't realize how badly I
An Independent Sleeper. I wanted a baby who wasn't dependent on anything to fall asleep. This meant I didn't want baby to have to rely on swinging, rocking, riding in a car, or nursing to fall asleep. Don't get me wrong. We did all of those things. Especially when Lyla was a newborn. And especially when she needed extra comforting when she had tummy flare-ups. But we made sure to switch it up. And we never relied on any one thing as a "sleep aid". We made sure to always try to put her down while sleepy, not asleep.
A Schedule. I am the epitome of a planner. I practically break out in hives when life deviates from "the plan". But, as mentioned earlier, a newborn turned this control freak's world upside down.
However, babies (and children, in general) thrive on and need routine. So, it was very important for us to try to incorporate something that at least resembled a schedule and routine.
Tricks of the Trade
I guess you could say that the following were the guidelines we lived by throughout the sleep training process. Things got really tough for awhile, but we stuck it out. The key was to NOT GIVE UP.
What We Learned from Becoming BabyWise by Gary Ezzo.
*I will say there is major controversy over the BabyWise method. Although we used it as a guide, it was by no means the end-all, be-all. Common sense trumps anything you read!
Feed/Wake/Sleep Pattern. This is the one thing we followed pretty religiously from the moment we brought baby girl home. Every time she woke up, it looked exactly the same: change diaper (to fully wake up), nurse, awake time, and then down to sleep again.
The idea here is to get into a routine early-on so baby can learn to know what to expect. *This is where the controversial part comes in.* This pattern encourages parent-directed feeding (as opposed to on-demand). This gets them in the habit of nursing for a full feeding, not just snacking throughout the day. Then they have a full belly after each feeding, which will make them less likely to wake because they're starvin marvin.
Now don't get me wrong. I fed on-demand at times. Especially when she was extra needy, or if I just thought she needed it (common sense alert). And we totally deviated from the routine at times. But the key was to always get back on track.
Crying It Out. Insert more controversy. To be honest, this is the one that I had (and still have) trouble with. Crying it out is not for the faint of heart. And, well, I guess my heart is faint.
This is the idea that once the baby begins to take in more with each feeding, they are able to sleep longer periods of time. And baby should sleep when mom or dad says it's time to sleep. In other words, let them cry it out if they can't fall asleep or if they wake early (be it from nighttime sleep or a nap). After doing this multiple times, baby is supposed to learn to self-sooth.
For me, I think the longest I ever let her cry was 15 minutes. And that was only after I nursed, changed, rocked, and knew she wasn't in pain of any kind. We would let her cry for 1 minute. Go in, pat her, give a kiss, and tell her we loved her. Then, 5 minutes. Then 10. Then 15. After 15 minutes, we would rock her. And she would fall asleep right away after that.
*Side note. Once we knew she was having tummy troubles, we stopped letting her cry it out.
Routine. At around 6 weeks old, I became a routine nazi. Specifically with bedtime and wake time. I put her in bed *around* the same time every night (which at the time was between 9 and 10) and woke her up every morning around 7. We still followed the feed/wake/sleep pattern, and we were on a three hour schedule by that point. She started sleeping a little bit longer once we established bed and morning time, but still only about 6 hours at a time. **See very end of this post for sample schedules**.
Put Baby Down When Sleepy, Not Asleep. This goes back to the whole not depending on a sleep aid thing. When we did soothe Lyla to go to sleep, whether it be by rocking or a swing, we tried to put her down when she was drowsy, not already sound asleep. According to both books, if you consistently pull out all your tricks to get a baby to sleep, and then put them down, they will eventually become dependent. Then, if they wake up in the night, it is much more difficult for them to fall back asleep on their own. So although we used all the comfort tricks (and still use rocking when she's sick or needs comfort), she's not dependent on those things.
What We Learned from Healthy Sleep Habits by Marc Weissbluth.
*The moment we started implementing the following is the exact moment Ly began sleeping through the night. She hasn't woken since.
Two Hour Window of Wakefulness. Wow. This changed our world. Dr. Weissbluth says that babies really should't be awake for longer than 2 hours at a time. Thus, the two-hour window of wakefulness. Anything beyond these two hours creates an overtired baby - one who is wired, overstimulated, and ultimately has trouble sleeping. Just like adults, when a baby is overtired, they can't fall and/or stay asleep. You ever notice when you are extra tired and you get a sudden burst of energy and can't fall asleep? Babes are the same way.
So. We started putting Ly down pretty much at the two hour mark. Even if she wasn't giving any tired signals. She fought it at first. And we had to do some crying it out. But after a couple of weeks, she was practically begging us for naps.
Early Bedtime. **If you don't read anything in this post, at least read this**. This is the theory that I battled with most. I had multiple friends who kept telling me to just try it. But I kept refusing. I even stopped reading the book because I didn't want to admit it.
Healthy Sleep Habits encourages an early bedtime over everything else. We're talking 6:00-6:30 p.m. I know. It seemed like an oxymoron to me too. I thought that surely if I kept her up later, she would sleep later. Plus the thought of putting my babe to bed that early was unbearable. I already only had 2 hours with her in the evenings when I got home from work.
But I finally reached my wit's end. Ly was so close. Sleeping from 7:30 p.m. - 4:00 a.m. We just couldn't get over that hump. And I came to terms with the fact that her sleep needs come first.
So I tried it.
We started putting her down 20 minutes earlier at night. And then the next night, 20 minutes earlier than the night before. And so on.
Until we got to the point where bedtime routine started at 6:00 p.m., and she was sound asleep by 6:30 p.m.
After a few nights of resistance, she finally started sleeping through the night. We're talking, asleep by 6:30 p.m. and doesn't make one single peep until I go in and wake her at 6:30 a.m.
And we're going on over 3 months of this.
Bottom line. Sleep begets sleep. The more they sleep at night = equals the better naps they'll take = the more they sleep at night.
Most Important Things I Learned.
Early bedtime. See above.
Don't rush in at first whimper. This one is super important. If they weren't fully awake before, they're fully awake the moment you barge in there. Much like adults, babies have various cycles of sleep. Sometimes they stir and make noise...even if they're not fully awake. If she ever does start to make noise, we do not go in her room (unless she's really crying hard). And she eventually just puts herself back to sleep.
Schedule. Now that Ly is 6 months old, we are on a pretty solid schedule. But again, this (somewhat) started from day one. She knows what to expect. We know what to expect. Everybody wins.
*So what are the results of all this?
A Sleeping Baby. I mean, sure. Sometimes we get sad that we can't bring her out at 8:00 p.m. because girlfriend needs her sleep. But, the tradeoff of sleeping through the night completely trumps those sad feelings. She sleeps 12-13 hours every single night and takes 2 solid naps every day.
Back on Track. If we do get off schedule, or if we do have a bad night, it's so much easier to get back on track. And honestly, we had our first bad couple of nights for the first time in three months because Ly has been sick. But it only took 2 nights, and then she was back to sleeping through the night again.
Falls Asleep and Stays Asleep. As long as there is a bed, we can take Lyla anywhere, anytime. We take her to friends' all the time and put her to sleep. When it's time to go home, we put her in the carseat, get home, put her in her crib, and she sleeps until morning. And she's getting much better about napping if we're out and about!
Puts Herself to Sleep. She does not depend on anything but herself to fall asleep. Even if she wakes up early from a nap or in the middle of the night, she babbles for a bit and then puts herself back to sleep. Although I get a little teary about this at times (because sometimes I desperately want to rock her), she is our little independent sleeper. And that was a goal...remember?
Predictability. Everyone knows what to expect. Some would say that we aren't so flexible because we stay home during nap time or bed time, but it actually makes life easier. We know what and when to expect it!
Happy Baby. Lyla is happy. I mean, incredibly happy. Except when she's ready for a nap. Girlfriend let's you know it. She practically begs us to sleep when she needs it. And we give it to her. And then she wakes up happy again. And then mom and dad are happy. Win-Win.
The key is doing what works best for YOUR baby. What worked for us now may not work with another baby. But we have at least introduced healthy sleep habits. Which will hopefully carry over into
And believe me, I get a lot of ridicule for putting Lyla to bed so early and for being so protective of her sleep. And I do get sad when she can't stay up late to hang. But the tradeoff is so completely worth it. A happy, sleeping baby.
I'll take it.
**After submitting this post, I had multiple mamas e-mail me asking for examples of a daily schedule. I remember looking for the same thing when Ly was a newborn. So, I've included three example schedules that will hopefully help.
However, please remember (this note is also is to my future self when we have baby number 2), use any of this info with flexibility. I got to a point where I got obsessed with sticking to the schedule, and I do not recommend that. I began to relax a bit and realized Lyla would sleep through the night when she was ready (and with my commitment to encourage healthy sleep habits). I know that many die-hard BabyWise followers do strictly follow a three-hour schedule, and I did that for awhile. But, it just didn't work with Miss Beans all the time. I had to remind myself that she's a baby for Pete's sake. And honestly, there were times when I just felt like nursing on-demand was necessary, rather than sticking exactly to our schedule. (Sidenote: BabyWise does warn mamas to be aware of growth spurts, and how things go haywire and schedules get all-kinds-of chaotic during those times.)
I say all that to say, when I post these sample schedules, just remember, mother instinct > guidelines in a book.
And just a few side notes. Sorry. I'm a talker.
*The first couple of weeks were spent getting to know our newborn. Although we had her sleeping in her crib the day we brought her home, we didn't follow any sort of schedule. I did however, stick to the routine of feed/wake/sleep. Every time she woke from a nap, I changed her diaper, nursed her, "played", and put her back down. And I nursed on demand at that point.
*I didn't really follow an exact schedule until about 6 weeks - this is when newborns begin to form sleep patterns on their own. Until 6 weeks, I really let her decide when she wanted to wake in the morning (and let's be honest, I was exhausted), and then our day followed a three hour schedule from there.
*When we started following a three hour schedule, there were times when Lyla refused to nap. So, I just reinforced "quiet time". This mean that even if she refused to sleep, it was still "nap time". And for awhile, I had her napping in the pack-n-play in the living room so she could be near me, or on the couch next to me, or in our bed. I wanted her to get used to napping anywhere.
Newborn Schedule (Before going back to work): 6 Weeks - 12 Weeks
7:00 a.m. - Wake, change diaper, nurse, awake time
8:30 - Nap
10:00 - Wake, change diaper, nurse, awake time
11:30 - Nap
1:00 - Wake, change diaper, nurse, awake time
2:30 - Nap
4:00 - Wake, change diaper, nurse, awake time
5:30 - Nap
7:00 - Wake, change diaper, nurse
7:30 - Play time - Found this to be the most important time to try to keep her awake. If we kept her awake, she could usually make it by only waking once (sometimes twice) to nurse in the middle of the night.
9:00 - Start bedtime routine: bath (every other night), lotion, massage, bedtime story, prayers
10:00 - Bedtime
Newborn Schedule (After going back to work): 13 Weeks - 4 1/2 months
6:30 a.m. - Wake up, change diaper/nurse.
7:00 a.m. - Put Lyla in bouncy seat while I pump with a hands-free nursing bra. (I found this pumping session was crucial as it helped keep up my milk supply).
7:30 - Sleep in carseat on the way to GiGi's and nap in carseat
9:30 - wake up/change diaper/bottle/play
11:00 - down for nap
12:30 - wakeup/change diaper/bottle/play
1:30 (ish) - down for nap
3:30 - wakeup/change diaper/bottle/play
4:30 - pick Ly up/nurse/head home
5:00 - short cat nap
5:30 - play
6:15 - start bedtime routine7:00-8:00 ish - Bedtime
After a few weeks of being back at work, Lyla was sleeping (almost) through the night. She was waking at 4:00 a.m. But I was desperate for that extra hour and a half of sleep...as was she. So, I referred back to my Healthy Sleep Habits book and talked to several mom friends.
In my "research", I found that it is actually better to put baby down earlier rather than let them catnap at night (which Ly usually had a short cat nap every night around 5:00 because she couldn't stay awake until bedtime). And that's when I started putting her to bed earlier. Then, voila! She started sleeping through the night. Every.single.night.
Also, she was taking in more during her feedings and able to stay awake longer to play. So a four hour schedule just naturally evolved.
Big Girl Schedule (4 1/2 months - now) *In terms of naps, sometimes she gets a really good morning nap and a not-so-good afternoon nap or vice versa. So, this is just an example or pie-in-the-sky schedule. However, we are usually right on the money with wake-for-the-day time and bedtime. I let her sort of control that at this point. Some nights, she goes down at 6:00, while some nights it's 6:45.
6:30 a.m. - Wake up, change diaper/nurse
8:30-9:00 ish - Nap
11:00 - Wake/bottle/play
1:00 - Nap
3:00 - Wake/bottle/play
4:30 - Nurse
5:30 - Start bedtime routine
6:00 - Nurse
6:30 - Bedtime
Then my personal schedule kicks in.
6:45 - Dinner for mom and dad
7:30 - Lesson plan and get some work done
9:00 - Hang with Gabe, blog, read...the possibilities are endless
9:30 - Mama's bedtime