It seems when it comes to babies and sleep the discussion is as heated as the Democrats vs. the Republicans. Your baby’s sleep should not be a pawn in partisan parenting politics! There doesn’t need to be two camps –the “cry it out” party vs. the “never let my baby cry” party. Let’s calm down the rhetoric and just look at some very simple and gentle ways to help your baby get the sleep she needs.
Parents have been following Soho Parenting’s sleep advice for over twenty years and we have helped thousands of babies become and remain great sleepers!
Birth – Three Months:
Practice putting your baby down on her back whenever she is in a quiet, alert state, anytime from birth on. If she falls asleep after being fed and rocked, lay her on her back swaddled up tight. The goal of putting the baby down when she is awake or asleep and comfortable is to build connections between lying down and contentedness. Experience adds up over time and becomes meaningful even in a tiny baby.
The next thing on the path to great sleep is to differentiate day from night. From about eight weeks on you can start to think of your baby’s bedtime somewhere between 6 pm and 8 pm. This is “bedtime” even if your baby will eat or awaken many times between “bedtime” and “morning time”. Treat every wake up after “bedtime” as a night waking. Handle these wakings with the least amount of intervention: dim or no lights, whispering, changing diapers only when you hear or feel that it is a necessity, and keeping the goal of getting her back to sleep in the front of your mind. You and your partner need to be on board to avoid those middle of the night arguments that come hand in hand with sleep deprivation. Just concentrate on getting that baby back to sleep. Sadly, this means not watching the Daily Show or Friends reruns at eleven with the baby after those first few months. Not feeling overstimulated by nighttime hoopla, your baby will adjust to a day/night cycle
Now it is time to establish your bedtime routine. Bath, boob or bottle and books is a typical one, but you can get creative! Put the baby down when she is drowsy and work on helping her fall asleep while she is laying in the bassinet or crib – this takes more work but will pay off in the end. Of course some babies just can’t settle on their own or with only minimal help so do what you need to soothe your baby in these early months.
Babies often surprise us. We have seen countless mothers in groups and individually who swear that if her baby is put down she will immediately freak out. When put to the test – lo and behold, with a bit of patting or jiggling, the baby quiets and stays that way for a period of time. Therefore, we encourage you to keep experimenting. If your baby is crying and uncomfortable by all means do what ever it takes to calm her. Remember that in these early months the physical connection between you and your baby is primal and necessary but helping your baby feel comfortable in her own skin, with you nearby, is important as well. Finding the midpoint between closeness and helping to regulate her biological need for sleep will help your baby thrive.
Three to Six Months
Once your baby gets used to falling asleep at approximately the same time every day, the next point of focus is slowly weaning out nighttime feedings. After your baby is over 12 weeks and 12 pounds you can BEGIN to move towards the goal of not feeding during the night.
Very important medical reasons support this move — one of course being your sanity — but for a baby, night feedings after they are nutritionally necessary become too much work for her body. Think of your baby as being see through or clear. If you could watch the bodily processes of sucking, swallowing, digestion, peeing, pooping and getting rid of gas you would realize that what appears to be a simple activity is actually revving up the metabolism. Your goal should be to quiet the baby so the brain can cycle through the different levels of sleep. We now have much research to prove that these deeper levels of sleep are critical to both her bodily needs and also the intellectual processing. Begin to consider nighttime as your baby’s opportunity to digest information, not milk.
Many babies will drop one or two feedings on their own as they approach three to four months, and these techniques will help move your infant even further in that direction. Slowly reduce the number of ounces given. For instance, if your baby takes a six ounce bottle twice a night at one and four o’clock, start with just one feeding and reduce the amount by one ounce or minute every few days. If you are nursing you can either reduce the number of minutes or just feed on one side at the first feeding and the second side at the next waking. The baby’s stomach will adjust to having less and less milk. This is a slow and gentle way to help your baby comfortably give up a feeding. Once you reach the point where your baby is only receiving one or two ounces/minutes, you can feel certain that she is no longer waking because of a NEED for food. The night you decide not to feed – and if your baby awakens and is crying – first offer a pacifier, water or soothingly pat her back to sleep. If the baby becomes more upset, then leaving the room and letting her figure it out might result in some tears but also in her finding her own special way to soothe herself back to sleep. No doubt, this process will feel much more difficult than just feeding the baby, but it is worth the effort as the ultimate goal is her sleeping for longer stretches of time.
Remember, your job is to help guide the baby’s body toward not requiring a late night feeding. If you have followed this, your baby should be getting her last feed of the day in the 6:30 pm range, one feeding in the middle of the night, and her next eating in the morning – anytime after six. The next step will be to cut out the one remaining feeding in the same way.
Day Time Sleep
Here are some additional things to be done during the day that will assist you in reaching your goal of eleven to twelve hours of nighttime sleep and at least three hours of daytime sleep. Notice that your baby will want to go back to sleep soon after she wakes up in the morning. This can be taken as another reminder of how much sleep she needs to fuel herself while growing in leaps and bounds. A pattern will begin to develop – she will become cranky about one to two hours after waking. Capitalize on this natural pattern and as your baby moves into her fourth month of life decide on a specific time within that range, for example 8:15 or 8:30 am. Once designated, begin to think of this as “nap time”. Stop following patterns and use the clock to establish a daytime schedule. Do a very abbreviated routine–change into “day clothes” sing a little song and become dedicated to putting the baby down at the same time every day.
Another tip to help the process — the more you put the baby down in the exact same way, same place and same time, the easier it is for her to count on these routines. Your baby is quickly learning to associate and remember things in her brain and body. Repetition is both respectful and crucial because it communicates what is to come next to your baby. Soon, you will be able depend on this morning nap. The two remaining naps will fall into place a bit later. A typical schedule is 8:30 am, 12:30 pm and 3 :30 pm. One nap will drop out between 5 and 8 months and the two nap schedule can last well into the second year.
Prepare yourself — this transition will come with fits and starts. There will be days that seem haywire — and days that feel smooth and wonderful. This is to be expected and is truly the essence of taking care of children. You are looking to establish a routine that you count on — most of the time — creating structure to the day. Do not fret if it all seems to have gone down the tubes after one hard day. Instead, think of any mishap as a glitch, a ripple and stay your course.
As for crying, an issue strong enough to birth a parenting divide, it is a part of human life. A communication, a release, a sign of discomfort when we go through big transitions. Some crying is inevitable as your baby learns to soothe herself but if you follow these guidelines she will cry the least amount of time possible. Just enough to learn something very important and fundamental.