Are you sick of hearing about those mamas who have it SO easy? Well sorry to disappoint but I am one of those mamas… although, I didn’t have this story straight outta the gate!
I am a first time mama who has researched the web up and down, spoken to many women in my life and many professionals. Using a little token from every piece of advice I have been given, I have tried almost everything to get my bubs to sleep when I want him to and where I want him to. And I can happily say I have achieved the elusive 8 hour sleep and during the night at that!
I am here to tell you that it can be done! I have done it and I am here to show you how you can to. All you need to do to make it work is take all the advice with a grain of salt and find out what works for you and what is comfortable for you.
That being said this is the set of ‘rules’ ok I don’t like that word let’s say guidelines that we follow with Jaxon to ensure a restful night’s sleep every night.
Feed, Play, Sleep
This is the golden… guideline that any practiced maternal child health nurse will tell you. There is good reason for this, it works!
So how to put it into practice?
The theory is that a baby will not sleep if they are not tired. Pretty simple huh?
So how do we tire out baby? Play of course!
This is what we do:
Baby wakes and is immediately fed and burped.
Then nappy changed (because feeding means pooping and we want to make sure there is room in the nappy).
It took us a while to figure out that Jax needed a clean nappy to poo in. He would fill it up so much with wee but not complain. Then we would find a poo-splosion due to the nappy not being able to hold everything!
Then its time for the bouncer. We do this because if we put him straight onto his tummy or flat on his back, he will likely spit up most of what he ate. Your baby may not have this problem, they are all different but Jax was a greedy-guts and we just couldn’t control how fast he wolfed down his food.
After about 10 minutes (or enough time to make a coffee) baby is moved onto his playmat, first on his back for a bit then over to his tummy. One of us sits on the floor next to him and we have active play. Interacting with facial expressions, toys and sounds or ‘talking’.
This is probably one of the most important guidelines that needs to be followed. And probably one of the hardest to keep to.
Jaxon usually lasts awake about an hour but if your child is older (around 6-8 months) they may last up to 2 hours. Any more than this and they will become overtired and you will have trouble getting them to sleep.
On the other hand, if you try and put them to sleep too early when they haven’t had enough play then you will have just as much trouble.
Here’s what to look for:
Baby becomes disinterested
One minute he is smiling at you and interacting and the next he starts looking away from you when you try and catch his gaze. He is not responding or ‘talking’ to you anymore.
Baby may become irritated and start making annoyed noises.
Yawning, rubbing eyes and ears, rooting or looking for something to suck on, eyebrows start to turn pink.
Here’s how to respond:
You have about 10 minutes to get baby into bed. In this time, you should start with your bedtime phrase, something like ‘it’s sleep time’ or ‘time for na-nighs’ believe it or not babies start to understand language earlier than you think.
Take baby into the room he sleeps in and start preparing the room for sleep – draw the blinds, put on his noise maker or some music, even a fan will do. You want noise so baby gets used to sleeping anywhere. The constant noise will also drown out any household or outside noises. It also reminds baby of your noisy belly not that long ago.
Do this while carrying him so he learns the routine. Do not speak anymore, light shooshing will do.
Check his nappy if you think he may have gone again. You do not need to change it every time. You can simply check the nappy and this can become part of the routine he will remember. I choose to do this on our bed as he has play time on his change table and it is also where he has his bath so not a sleep-inducing place.
Pop baby in his cot or bassinet and give him a pacifier if he takes one. Sit next to him on a chair and look away from him. Eye contact means play time and you want to send the signal that it is not time to interact but to sleep.
If he is stirring you can place 1 hand on his chest and give him rhythmic pats while shooshing. As he settles and his eyes start to close you can slow the patting until your hand just rests on his chest still. I like to hold my hand in such a way that my wrist covers the line of sight from his eyes to mine but I can still peak to see if the corner of his eyes are open/closed. Once his eyes are nearly shut, leave the room.
Do not stay around until he falls asleep as when he stirs awake between cycles and you are not there he will cry and will need you to settle him back to sleep.
Experiment with touch. As Jaxon got older patting him just unsettled him. He was learning to grab things so I would put my finger in his little hand to grab onto. As he drifted off to sleep his grip would loosen and I could slip away. Your baby may respond to gentle head strokes or no touch at all, just shooshing.
Note: babies under 3 months should be swaddled snuggly to mimic the womb. As baby reaches 9-12 weeks old you can start to loosen the swaddle. The swaddle is designed to hinder the effect of the ‘startle reflex’ waking baby up. As your baby reaches 3 months old you want him to grow out of this reflex and this will be hindered if you continue to swaddle baby too tight. Loosen the swaddle over a few weeks. baby should be able to kick off the blankets and you might even wake up to him completely uncovered by morning – this is a good sign at that he is practicing his movements in his sleep.
Once you leave the room baby may call out to you, resist the urge to run to him straight away. Note that this is NOT controlled crying. This is just letting him know that you will not always be able to drop everything to get to him starght away and this will slowly teach him to self soothe at least for a few minutes until you get to him.
Likely he has lost his pacifier and so all you need to do is pop it back in and leave the room.
Watch the clock. Baby’s sleep cycles are about 20-40 minutes long. You know how you wake in the night and open your eyes, check the clock and then roll over and go back to sleep? This is because your sleep cycle has finished. You have the skills to self-settle and put yourself back to sleep for another cycle. This is what baby needs your help with.
When baby wakes, he will cry out. It will likely sound like a single cry and then a pause. This is him calling you. He pauses to see if his cry has worked.
If you ignore it 1 of 2 things will happen.
- Baby will realise it did not work and put himself back to sleep
- Baby will cry out again and again and get progressively more unsettled.
If you hear the second cry you need to help baby back into another cycle of sleep. This can be the most difficult thing to train into parents and babies. Once baby cries there is an instinct that the nap is over and it’s time for feed and play time. Persistence will get you another 20-40 minutes of sleep so read on!
Enter the room and let baby know you are coming by shooshing as you walk in.
Sit next to baby on a chair, do not pick up baby. Do not lean into the cot or bassinet. If you lean in and baby sees your face, he will think that you are going to pick him up and leaning in and not picking him up will just tease him.
If you do pick him up, he will think nap time is over and that’s the end of that.
Make a point when nap time is over to uncover baby, lean into the cot, smile at baby and then pick him up. This will help him differentiate the two scenarios.
Place his pacifier back in his mouth and also a hand on his chest if he needs. Lightly pat and shoosh as previously until baby is just on the verge of sleep – then leave the room.
Repeat as necessary. As your bubs is growing out of the startle reflex it will seem like you have to intervene every 10 minutes – this is about right! The startle reflex makes them jolt and drop their dummy, which wakes them up… *facepalm* Eventually baby will drift into a deep enough sleep that the startle and losing a dummy will not wake him.
In the beginning our record was 13 times I had to return to pop dummy back in. Now it is only likely to happen once or twice before Jax is fast asleep. As he gets older and can hold his dummy on his own this will reduce again.
Note: if he is crying hysterically and is not able to be settled using the above then of course pick him up, controlled crying is a myth! Try to settle him by holding him upright, not lying in your arms as this will signal food and also that nap time is over. Also, important to note that after a couple of weeks he will start to get smarter and learn that if he cries enough you will pick him up. Really try not to pick him up until your mama-instinct tells you enough is enough.
Once baby has the required amount of sleep – usually 2 or 3 cycles or around 1-2hrs depending on age you can bring baby into a lit room for the next feed and play.
A Note on Loveys
A lovey is a soft comforter toy that you can use to reinforce sleep time.
When you pop baby down to sleep you can place this on the baby’s chest of next to his face and he will associate this with sleep.
Why it’s a good idea? Well when you want bubs to sleep outside the home (at grandma’s house, in the pram or otherwise you can use this as a form of familiarity for baby.
Best to pick a lovey that has a stuffed animal head and a soft face-washer sized blanket coming from it. Ensure it is not bigger than your hand. Do not use these if your baby is still swaddled as if it covers your bubs face he wont be able to bat it away. Also wearing it in your bra once a week for a couple of hours will make it smell like mama.
Night Time Routine – The 4 B’s
Babies like routine. Afterall, we are creatures of habit! You need to signal to baby that it is time to sleep and that its not a nap. Here is our routine in a nutshell. We do this at the same time every night, 8pm for us. Earlier may work for your family.
Jax has a small feed. He feeds on 1 boob and once he unlatches I burp him and don’t put him back on for another go (unless he screams for it). This is to fill his tummy just enough that he doesn’t get hungry in his bath and have a tantrum. You want this to be a positive experience.
We dim the lights in the nursery, run his bath and let him soak for 5-10 minutes. Washing his hair every second night. He loves the bath and this acts as his play time (see above feed, play sleep). Once the water starts to cool OR he becomes unsettled or ‘over-it’ (kicking legs and not looking interested in smiles anymore) he is wrapped in a towel, dried, massaged with coconut oil head to toe and clothed. If he is not showing signs of hunger, we pop him on his tummy for some more play.
Once he is hungry again, we feed him 100mLs of pre-expressed breast milk from a bottle. Alan usually does this feed as it is good bonding time for them and gives mum a break (or, mum goes around the house and turns off lights, tidies toys etc.). This feed takes place in the dim nursery. It is important to note that we feed Jax in the loungeroom or in a brightly lit nursery throughout the day.
Once Jax either finishes his milk or stops taking the milk (i.e. he is full) we burp him and walk him to our bedroom (where the bassinet is located). Here we swaddle him (until 9 weeks) and then pop him in his bassinet. The same sleep time routine ensues, patting, pacifier and shooshing. From here he gets sleepy, we leave the room and he falls asleep, usually for between 8-10 hours.
Note: newborn babies have two large sleeps (around 4hours each) and several small naps (1-2hrs) in a 24 hour period. Keep reading to see how I managed to get the larger sleeps to happen at night!
Night Time Waking
In the early weeks baby will wake 2-3 times in the night. This is because baby’s stomach is small and so he needs to top up on milk in the middle of the night. As baby gets older and their stomachs bigger, they can go for longer stretches of sleep with no feed.
When baby wakes it is important to remain quiet and methodic in getting them back to sleep quickly.
This is what I did to get baby’s waking time from 2hours at 2 weeks to 30 minutes at 4 weeks:
Stay quiet, get out of bed, prepare pillows for sitting support on bed. Walk over to bassinet, pick up baby and settle as walking back to bed. Sit on bed and feed baby until he falls asleep. Burp baby sitting and then once baby settles to sleep again, get out of bed and continue burping and settling. Lay baby on bed to swaddle (or straight into bassinet if older than 9 weeks). Cover baby with light cotton blanket, leave the room to go to the loo (optional), come back to sleeping baby, hop into bed, cuddle hubby.
The points you want to take away from this are:
- Stay quiet: talking to baby or interacting with baby will signal sleep time is over. This will result in ‘split night’ which is baby thinking it is day time and will want to stay awake and play for 1-2hours before even thinking about sleep again.
- Stay in the bedroom or nursery: do not take baby for a walk around the house to be settled. This will stimulate baby and make them wake and want to play – see point 1
- Do not change nappy: this again will wake baby and instigate split night
Again, this is what has worked for us.
Correcting Split Night
Split night is when your baby wakes up in the middle of the night and thinks it is day time. They feed and then want to play and are full of smiles and coos.
At 2 weeks Jaxon had a bad case of split night. He would want to sleep during the day for long stretches and then would wake at 2am and want to play until 4am. It was hell on earth! He wouldn’t settle after eating and it was because I was taking the wrong advice:
- Only feed baby in the nursery
- Change nappy before feeding baby every time
- Never wake a sleeping baby
Wrong. Wrong. WRONG!
It is important to understand that newborn babies do not have any clue of the difference between day and night. Remember that when they were in your belly they would sleep when you were moving (during the day) and they would be wide awake when you were most still – at night! So really, they have it completely backwards. Does that explain all that kicking at 2am matching up with bubs now split night? Sure does!
So how do we teach baby not to sleep for long stretches during the day? Wake baby up!
“What?!” I hear you ask, “wake up that gorgeous, innocent, peaceful little soul?” – yep sorry mama, but this is for the greater good.
It may seem counter-intuitive at first as you spend so many hours a night trying to get baby to sleep that waking baby when he is in dreamland seems cruel.
Remember that feed, play, sleep rule? Yep this is where this comes in. Tiny babies will fall asleep feeding. They are full, comfortable on mums boob and comfort sucking – all their favourite things to do. Up to about 3 or 4 weeks this is fine. By about 6 weeks old you want your bubs living the sleep, feed, play lifestyle.
So, during feeding you want to practice undressing baby. Cooling them down will keep them awake. Now no need to get baby completely naked in a cool room. Just take off the top half of his onesie up to his waist, leave his singlet on though. This is a good maneuver when your baby will not feed for very long also. If they keep falling asleep mid feed they will want to feed more often as they are only snacking and will get hungry more often – which will also interfere with their sleep.
After baby has eaten you need to burp them and then change their nappy. Talk to baby and try interacting to wake baby. Practicing tummy time on the change table or playmat is good too. You want to have at least 10-15 minutes of solid play at first and work your way up to 45-60 minutes over a couple of weeks. At first it may see like baby is exhausted and nothing you do will keep him awake but stick to it and you will get there eventually. Watch the clock and once baby reaches his playtime quota, transfer baby to bed.
Make sure you are watching the clock and go and wake baby for a feed when it is time.
As noted above babies have several sleep cycles. Usually they will have about 2-3 large sleeps and several smaller sleeps in a 24 hour period. You want to direct the smaller sleeps to the day time and the longer stretches of sleep to the night time.
Here is how Jaxon has his sleep distributed through the day:
Do I Set a Morning Alarm?
Heck no! Any sleep in is a bonus for this mama! Depending on when he wakes up in the morning our routine is sometimes a bit off but it follows the 1hr awake/1hr asleep rule and he always has his large naptime between 2-4pm or thereabouts. He also has a longer waking time in the afternoon around 4:30pm which is when Alan gets home from work to play with him (and I cook dinner – yay).
Note: If the weather is too hot/cold or for some other reason he becomes unsettled he may wake up at 3:30am for a night feed as well as the 5:30am feed but this is rare. It can also happen in a leap sometimes but that is a whole other story!
This is a really important part of Jaxon’s day. This mini power nap before his bedtime routine is what stops him from getting over-tired in the bath and throwing a tantrum. He wakes and then we do our boob, bath, bottle, bed routine. As they say, sleep begets sleep.
If Jax doesn’t have this little power nap its very hard to settle him after his bath and his bedtime goes from 9:30pm to 10:30pm very quickly which means his night feed at 5:30am becomes a 6:30am start to the day!
You can also see that he has more waking time in the afternoon as this is when his day time is. The cat nap brings his activity down and gets him ready for a long sleep.
When Out of the House
So of course, this is much easier to follow when you are at home and can run like clockwork (or close to it). As for when you are out? Just make do! Just try your best to follow this feed, play, sleep pattern. Of course, baby is not going to have the dark bedroom but a closed canopy on a pram may do the trick.
I have also been guilty to abandoning procedure and rocking Jax to sleep when he is super unsettled or we are out and in an unfamiliar place.
One thing we do though is to make sure we are home in time for his bedtime routine as his night time sleep is one thing we have worked really hard to achieve and we don’t want to do anything that is going to compromise such a beautiful accomplishment! I’m sure we will get to a point when Jax is older and this is no longer such a delicate thing and we can start staying out past his bedtime, but until then if you want us at dinner it better be at 5pm lol
This constant routine has been in effect since week 3 with Jax. Prior to that we only bathed him once a week and replaced the bath with a sponge bath as we did not want to dry out his newborn skin. After week 7, he screamed through sponge baths and it was clear it was no longer a comparison to his daily float in a warm bath. You need to listen to your bubba and together you will find what works for you.
Important to note that Jaxon used to only sleep during the day when I was rocking his bouncer and now, he self-settles back to sleep almost every time.
I hope that this can shed some light on your own situation and how your bubs is sleeping (or not sleeping). I would love to hear from you and see if I can help you with your bub’s sleeping patterns.
If you think I can assist OR if you have tried any of the above methods I would love to hear from you! Shoot me an email or comment below!