Many of us spend 8 or so hours asleep per night - practically a third of our life. It's no surprise then the impact it has when we go without it, something us parents with newborns know all too well.
While traveling a couple of weeks ago, a conversation with a woman sparked this interest to share more of my experience with sleep after baby. She informed me that her youngest child was 3 years old and sleeping through the night. She was shocked by my response that my daughter, at one year of age, too sleeps through the night - around 11-12 hours straight - and has been since six months old. She told me that I was "lucky." Perhaps. I also believe that some of the habits I practiced in those first six months helped us all start sleeping more soundly at night.
Before going further, I should preface that this is not meant to be a catch all, sleep training solution. Every baby and every parent is different. I personally do not believe in full on cry it out sleep training (to each his or her own right?) and full disclosure, I did not follow one particular method. The intent is to share more about my experience with what worked for us.
As I was preparing for the end of maternity leave, I knew we needed a schedule to help balance the demands of an infant and the 40 plus hours of work each week. I researched a lot about infant sleep and noticed a common theme: Routine.
I found from everything I read that babies thrive with routine. It helped us new parents thrive just as equally. We follow what I call the "B" routine - Bath, Bottle, Book, then Bed. I tweaked ours however to include "Bonding" time, where I rock and sing to Lena after the book until she gets sleepy. Although rocking to sleep can often be associated as a sleep crutch (more to come on that), I selfishly included this as part of our bedtime ritual because I get so little time with her during the week.
Not to be mistaken for weaning from breast or bottle feeding (I recommend continuing to feed your baby as instructed by your Pediatrician), wean in this context refers to gently removing the dependency, commonly known as a sleep crutch or prop, your baby needs from you in order to sleep. These include swings, rocking to sleep, and nursing (other than for hunger) to sleep. For Lena, it was the paci.
We used the pacifier in the first couple of months because of the research linking it to a reduced risk of SIDS. However, while transitioning to the crib between 3-4 months of age, Lena regressed in sleeping through the night. She went from sleeping anywhere between 6-7 hours straight each night the month before to waking every 2-3 hours at night. We soon discovered it was because the pacifier would fall out and she needed it in order to soothe herself back to sleep.
Remember that mention of "rocking to sleep"? There is a solution that not only helped us wean the paci but also prevented our bonding time in the bedtime routine from becoming a sleep prop: putting baby to bed sleepy but NOT sleeping. I remember at first thinking this was crazy advice when I read about it, yet it truly worked for us.
Sleep changes so much with every milestone throughout the first year (hello development of separation anxiety); yet, these habits are ultimately what helped us regain our much needed rest at night. Any other habits or tips that helped you and your baby sleep at night?