Dealing with newborn crying and getting baby to sleep are by far the two hardest things for us during the first
three several months. Some people say you just get used to sleep deprivation, but I never did. When you only sleep in 2-3 hour increments for months on end, you simply can’t function like you normally would. So make sure you’re putting less on your plate than before, until you are back to a place where you feel like you’re finally getting enough sleep again. For some new parents, this is only a few weeks. For others, it’s several months or a year or more. The good news is that there are so many resources to help.
I read “On Becoming Babywise” and I highly recommend it. On the one hand, the book could definitely have been condensed into a small pamphlet–not an actual book. There’s a lot of fluff in there. Also, the routine the authors recommend is very strict. When you’re trying to implement a strict routine with your baby and your baby doesn’t cooperate, that alone can be severely stressful. On the other hand, they do have some superstar advice, and you may find that your baby needs a strict routine. My advice would be to read the book, then use your own parental judgment to instruct you on where to go from there. And if you have questions after reading (I had a TON!), visit this blog: http://www.babywisemom.com. The author of that blog has TONS of posts, and a searchable index, so you’re sure to find any answers you need. I found her site to be even more helpful than the book itself. In fact, I do wish SHE had written the book instead of the original authors. She could have done a much better job. I also read “The Baby Sleep Solution: A Proven Program to Teach Your Baby to Sleep Twelve Hours a Night” by Suzy Giordano. It was also a great book, with a great list of strategies and tools to use to help your baby to sleep well. However, many of the strategies are just too hard to do when it’s the middle of the night and you’re too blurry-eyed to concentrate on what you’re supposed to be doing.
Here are some major tips I learned from these books:
- Put baby to sleep AWAKE. Do this from birth so baby immediately learns to self-soothe. Do this for nap time as well as bedtime. For a newborn (0-3 months), you can rock him and soothe him until he is drowsy (his eyelids start getting heavy) and then put him down, but this is not necessary for older babies. Simply put him down, give him a little kiss, then walk away. If he cries, you can decide how long you’ll let him cry before you attend to him. Crying it out (CIO) is generally NOT recommended for babies 0-3 months. For a baby 3 months or older, I usually give it only about 2 minutes (less time if he’s crying really hard; more time if he’s crying softly) before going in, putting his pacifier back in, shushing him, then kissing him again and walking away. If he cries after that, I wait a little longer (about 5 minutes) before going back in. If he cries after that, I wait a little longer still (about 7 minutes), or see if something is wrong (diaper, gas, etc). See the section on CRYING.
- Daytime routine=the EASY cycle: For your routine, always use the order of EASY: Eat, Activity, Sleep, Your time. When your baby wakes up, the first thing to do is feed your baby. Then spend some awake time doing some kind of activity (tummy time, talking with baby, reading, playing, putting them in a swing, etc.). Next, put your baby down to sleep (while baby is drowsy, but still awake). Once baby is asleep, it’s your time! For the first two to three months, “your time” means YOU SLEEP. Whenever the baby sleeps, you sleep. Don’t worry about laundry or dishes or anything else. Your job is to sleep. When baby wakes up, it’s time to feed him again, and the cycle starts all over again.
- The EASY cycle should last about 2.5-3 hours for a newborn. With my first baby, his cycle was only three hours, until he was about 5 months old. For my second baby, her cycle increased to 4 hours by the time she was 4 months old. For a newborn, they should be awake for no more than 45-60 minutes at a time. Here’s a sample plan that you can start with: As soon as he wakes up, feed him and burp him (this takes about 30 minutes). Then change his diaper and put him in his pajamas (or swaddle him, depending on what he likes). Rock him until he is drowsy and put him down in his crib/bassinet. Be sure he is put down by no later than 60 minutes after the time he woke up. He should sleep for 1.5-2 hours. Be consistent about the amount of waketime he has. If after a while you notice a pattern that he has a hard time getting to sleep, or that he sleeps for less than 1.5 hours, cut back on the amount of waketime. If you are still having issues with him not getting to sleep or not staying asleep, go to the blog at www.babywisemom.com. Also, you may have to wake up your baby in order to give him his next feeding. You’ll hear people say “never wake a sleeping baby,” and there may be times when your baby does need to catch up on sleep. But you may find that you do occasionally have to wake your baby. You need to make sure he is eating enough during the day and not waking up too much during the night. They need those long stretches of uninterrupted sleep during the night. If they don’t eat enough during the day, they will try to make up for it during the night. This is not good for them, and it certainly isn’t good for you. For a newborn, you should complete about 6-8 EASY cycles during the day. For example, a newborn’s day may look like this:
- 7:00 am: eat; 8:00 am: in bed for his first nap
- 9:30 am: eat; 10:30 am: in bed for his second nap
- 12:00 pm: eat; 1:00 pm: in bed for his third nap
- 2:30 pm: eat; 3:30 pm: in bed for his fourth nap
- 5:00 pm: eat; 6:00 pm: in bed. You can decide if you want 6 PM to be baby’s bedtime by doing a bedtime routine before putting baby down, or if baby should only take a nap and then have more waketime, followed by a later bedtime.
- 8:30-10:00 pm: Dreamfeed. Before you hit the sack for the night, pick up your sleeping baby and give him one last feeding. Your baby doesn’t have to be awake for this; he’ll nurse even in his sleepy state. This isn’t a time for talking or singing. Just quietly nurse him, burp him, change his diaper (if needed) and put him back down. Sometimes babies really need that diaper change in order to feel comfortable enough to go back to sleep, but sometimes having a diaper change can be more disruptive than beneficial. Try to find out what your baby likes, and keep in mind that their preferences are constantly changing!
- Expect your baby to wake up a few times during the night for more feedings. By 12 weeks, your baby might be able to go 7-8 hours without waking up. For the first few weeks, though, most pediatricians recommend that you not let your newborn go more than 5 hours without eating. Talk to your pediatrician. Newborns should get 8-10 feedings within a 24-hour period.
- As your baby grows, and doesn’t sleep as well for each nap, you’ll find you can gradually increase the amount of waketime between each nap. For advice on how to drop naps, see this blog: http://www.babywisemom.com/2008/01/dropping-naps.html.
- For advice on how many naps and feedings babies should have as they grow, see this page: http://www.babywisemom.com/2012/01/your-babywise-baby-first-year-overview.html
- Consistent bedtime routine: It’s good to have some kind of bedtime routine so your baby has cues to tell him that now it’s time for the “long nap.” It’s totally up to you how involved you want it to be–it may be short or it may be long. Just do whatever seems to work best for your family and your baby, and be consistent about it so your baby knows what to expect each time.
- Consistent bedtime: Have a consistent bedtime each night and a consistent wake time each morning. Choose whatever times work best for your family, but try not to keep your little one up too late. Babies (and toddlers!) usually sleep best when bedtime is between 6-8 PM. Morning wake time should be about 12 hours later, regardless of how many times baby was up during the night. To get your baby on a good routine, put them down at the same time each night, and wake them up at the same time each morning, usually about twelve hours later. Once a routine has been established, it’s not so important to wake baby up at the same time every morning. You never know when baby needs to sleep in late because of a growth spurt or some other reason. For example, my 8-month-old daughter’s day usually looks like this:
- 7:30 am: Wake-up and eat. 9:30 am: in bed for first nap
- 11:30 am: Wake up and eat. 1:30 pm: in bed for second nap
- 3:30 pm: Wake up and eat. I keep her up for the next 4 hours.
- 7:00 pm: Start bedtime routine, including final feeding of the day.
- 7:30 pm: in bed for the night. I try to be really consistent about this, even if she woke up from her last nap at 3, 3:30, 4, or even 4:30.
- 10:30 or 11 pm: dreamfeed. This means that I go into her room whether she is awake or not and let her have some milk. She is usually so drowsy that she doesn’t realize what is going on but guzzles down milk and then promptly falls asleep again. This is what you want to have happen–don’t talk to baby or make much noise, and don’t turn on the light. You want baby to be just barely awake enough to eat, but sleepy enough to easily fall back asleep when you leave. Giving baby a dreamfeed means she has a better chance of sleeping through the night.
- She usually wakes once during the night, although we are still working on this. Sometimes it’s because she is teething, and sometimes it’s because she’s just used to waking up during the night.
- NOTE: If your baby misses a nap during the day, put him or her down to bed EARLIER than usual that night. The exact time depends on how much sleep your baby missed during the day. If baby missed a 1-hour nap, put him or her down for bed 1 hour earlier than usual. Baby will generally wake in the morning at the usual wake-up time, despite the earlier bedtime.
- Nighttime wakings: For the first several weeks, your baby will likely wake a few times a night for a feeding. This is normal. Newborns need to eat every few hours around the clock. During those feedings, keep all stimulation to a minimum. Make as little sound as possible; if you need to talk to your baby only do so in a whisper. Change baby’s diaper only if needed, and get baby back to sleep promptly.
- Sleeping through the night: Around 3 months is usually when I start weaning them off night feedings, except for the dreamfeed. I continue to give a dreamfeed until around 9 months. For advice on how to help your baby decrease the number of nighttime wakings, see this page: http://www.babywisemom.com/2010/01/nightime-sleep-issues-revised-and.html
GOOD LUCK! And just one last thing: you are not alone. No matter how little sleep you are getting or how crazy you feel you are becoming, just know that there are millions of parents who have been in your shoes. Take a deep breath, grab a snack and some water, do a little troubleshooting, and create a plan. Or take a nap. Whichever.