I love my sleep, and have never been able to function very well without a solid night of it (pre-parenthood, that is). When I was pregnant, Tom would tell me that he was worried about how I would do with the sleep deprivation the baby would bring. I shrugged it off, thinking that she will be so cute and snuggly that I won’t even mind being up with her in the middle of the night.
Fast forward to Georgina being born and the realities that sleep deprivation bring (one morning I put three contact lenses into one eye) and I started to read anything and everything on sleep. I had read a bit during pregnancy, but mainly in a broader sense, in books like Bringing Up Bebe and The Happiest Baby on the Block. (Loved both of these by the way.)
I Amazon Prime’d Twelve Hours’ Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old (this one was soo not for me), Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child (interesting facts on sleep but provides more technical info then practical tips; also it’s super long) and The Happy Sleeper (my favorite; this one just made sense to me). I read every forum, blog and Facebook mom group post I could find. In hindsight, I may have been a little obsessive, but I wanted to make sure I was instilling proper sleep habits, and essentially teaching Georgie to enjoy sleep as much as I do.
So, in case it is at all helpful to anyone, here are some tips that proved invaluable to our little family:
The Double Swaddle
Most newborns love to be swaddled. It’s cozy which reminds them of the womb, and it keeps their arms secure which means their startle reflex doesn’t wake them up. Georgie was no exception and slept much more soundly when swaddled, although at around two months she would start breaking out of her swaddle during the night, which would wake her up.
The RN at our pediatrician’s office gave us such a gem of advice – the double swaddle. So for nighttime sleep, we started using the Miracle Blanket as a first layer, then an Aden and Anais swaddle blanket on top (we used the star pattern from this pack), and it was a lifesaver.
The Bedtime Routine
I had read in a few different places that it’s important to help your baby learn to differentiate between day and night, as newborns don’t yet have a proper circadian rhythm or enough melatonin to do so on their own. That’s why newborns are often awake in the middle of the night and sleepy during the day – their tiny bodies are just confused. Some ways to help them along are ensuring they get enough indirect sunlight during the day (we always went on tons of short walks) and instilling a bedtime routine which eventually signals to them that it’s nighttime, and time to settle into their longest stretch of sleep.
We started a bedtime routine when Georgie was just a few weeks old, which for us consisted of a warm bath, a massage with coconut oil, nursing, a lullaby and then sleep. Georgie’s ‘witching hour’ would often happen around 5 or 6pm, so sometimes we would skip the massage if she was too fussy. The bath we never skipped however, because she has always adored being in the water. We would also dim the lights and quiet our voices in the evening to get her mellowed out.
The Fourth Trimester
The basic premise of The Happiest Baby on the Block is that babies are born three months too soon. They have to be, because if pregnancy lasted another three months, their growing brains would cause their heads to be too big to fit through the birth canal (ouch). So anything you can do to recreate the cozy life your baby had in the womb during their first three months will serve them well.
In one section of the book, the author, Dr. Karp, mentions that it can be really helpful to wear your baby for around three to four hours a day, which proved to be invaluable advice. For Georgie, it gave her the closeness and contact she needed to then be able to sleep comfortably on her own at night, in her bassinet. During the day I would wear her in the Solly Baby Wrap for walks and when getting things done around the apartment, and I would often let her nap on me as well. Part of me worried that this was teaching her bad sleep habits, but the book stresses that at that age, you simply cannot spoil a newborn. Plus, it’s delicious having your baby snooze on you.
The Gentle Sleep Training
This is a crazy topic, because moms feel so incredibly strongly about it one way or the other. I am a firm believer that mom knows best, which means you have to trust your gut, get to know your baby, and consult with your pediatrician in order to make the decisions that work best for you and your family. And whatever that decision is, it’s yours and it’s completely unfair for anyone to judge.
That being said, at Georgie’s three month pediatrician appointment, I mentioned that her nighttime sleep was pretty inconsistent. She had been ‘sleeping through the night’ for weeks, but nights were sort of all over the place. Some nights she would be out like a light, wake for her one nighttime feed, then be out like a light again until morning. Other nights she was up several times and couldn’t seem to settle herself without us stepping in. We received the advice to let her cry for five minutes before going in to get her (if she cries for three minutes and then stops and settles for a few seconds, you start the clock at zero again), which was similar to the ‘Sleep Wave’ solution I had read about in The Happy Sleeper. (The book says to not let your baby cry for more than one minute until they are five months old, but to me, good parenting is all about learning as much as you can from various sources and then figuring out the best and safest solution for you and your child.)
The idea behind the five minutes of crying is that your baby needs to learn how to self soothe (putting themselves to sleep and getting themselves back to sleep when they wake up) with the ultimate goal of sleeping through the night and also taking solid naps.
We didn’t utilize the five minute rule right away, partially because we are selfish sleepers and it was just so easy to pop the pacifier back in and have Georgie drift back to baby dreamland, and partially because we spent a few weeks in Florida with my brother and sister in law and didn’t want Georgie’s crying to wake them up, or to wake up their sweet little boys.
Georgie was almost four months old when we did finally start, and after a few rough nights, she was a self soothing queen and I was so proud. Once nighttime sleep was solid, we started to apply the five minute rule to naps (everyone says: ‘naps follow nights’). Again, it’s a little bit of bumpiness at first but it’s so worth it in the end.
The Awake Time Rule
I first read about this in The Happy Sleeper, and then saw it everywhere I looked. It’s such a simple piece of advice, and I swear by it. All babies have an awake time window, which at three to five months of age, is typically 90 minutes. That means that babies who are kept awake longer than 90 minutes become overtired and fussy, which makes it that much harder for them to fall asleep when they are put down. Since daytime sleep has such an affect on nighttime sleep (everything I read would repeat this phrase: ‘sleep begets sleep’) it’s important that baby is well rested from their naps in order to sleep well throughout the night.
The Happy Sleeper also advises starting a short nap routine at 75 minutes, so that by 90 minutes your baby is snugly in their crib and drifting off to sleep. Our nap time routine is short and sweet – a diaper change, putting Georgie in her sleep sack (we love these), and a lullaby.
Side note: It’s important to watch your little one for cues that they’re sleepy (for Georgie, that means yawning, rubbing her eyes and sort of dazing off as opposed to engaging in playtime) because awake times can vary and they can also change quickly as babies grow.
PS – I hope you enjoy the pictures of sweet Georgie girl snoozing away as much as I do!