How do you teach you baby to sleep through the night?
It’s the question every parent of a newborn wants answered right away. You’re in love and you’re exhausted. What everybody needs is a night’s sleep. Follow these ten steps and before you know it, the whole family will be able to slumber peacefully through the night.
For the first few weeks of a newborn’s life all you can do is hold on and go with the flow. Baby will be feeding about every two hours and your body will be recovering from labor and delivery. Your only goals should be to establish a good nursing relationship and to rest as much as possible. Nothing you do to establish a routine will be effective at this time, so just relax and marvel at the tiny life in your presence.
After a few weeks, a fog will lift. You will still be tired, of course, but now is the time to teach baby good sleep habits. Here are my top 10 tips for a good night’s sleep.
1. Establish the difference between night and day as early as possible.
Night is quiet and the lights are dim. Feed and change baby as needed, but do not engage him. Keep talk to a minimum. On the other hand, daytime is bright, noisy and filled with activity. Sing songs and talk to your baby even if you’re groggy. Don’t silence the house or draw the curtains for nap, because you want to teach baby the difference between when we sleep for a long time (at night) and when we sleep for a short time (daytime naps).
2. Buy a low-energy white noise machine and run it during all sleep periods.
This does two things. First, it blocks out any random noise that may startle baby awake. Second, when baby learns to fall asleep to that sound, he will be more likely to drift back to sleep on his own when he awakens at night. When you travel, take it with you to add familiarity to a new place.
3. Follow the pattern: eat-play-sleep during the daytime.
This is the natural order of life: We eat for energy. We use our energy. We sleep to recharge our energy. Avoid the trap of always nursing baby to sleep which delays independence and becomes a problem when baby has already been fed, but needs to sleep. Newborns don’t play much, but talking to baby, making faces and moving his limbs counts as early play. You will begin to see a natural sleep pattern emerge which you can craft into a nap schedule. This allows you to guide your child into a predictable routine.
4. Adhere fairly strictly to a daily routine.
Children thrive under routines. It gives them clear expectations, security, and sets their body clocks so they are hungry and sleepy at the same times each day. Try to schedule your errands and doctor appointments at about the same time. This means you will sacrifice some freedom and spontaneity. It is the price you pay for a good night’s sleep with small children.
5. Establish a bedtime ritual as soon as possible.
Baby massage, bath, lullabies and stories are wonderful components to this special time of day. Turn your phone off and don’t accept visitors. Baby is about to spend a long stretch of time without you (hopefully), so take the last hour of wakefulness to give him your undivided attention. Even though baby will need a few feedings at night, a bedtime ritual helps signify the end of the day for both of you.
6. Put baby to sleep when he is drowsy, but not completely asleep.
After a month or two this is really important. Baby needs to learn how to fall asleep in his crib by himself. It’s an essential life skill. The younger a baby learns to fall asleep on his own, the easier it will be. Babies who only fall asleep in your arms or in a swing will have a more tearful and upsetting time learning this skill. If he needs comforting, try to do the minimal possible, such as patting his back rather than picking him up. This often works and teaches your child the important life skill of self-soothing. If it doesn’t work, by all means, pick up your baby and comfort him, but as soon as he is calm, put him back down.
7. Cultivate a comfort item like a blankie or lovey.
Help baby snuggle the item when he is sleepy and hold it when you cuddle him. Having a comfort item gives young children a tool to feel secure in your absence.
8. Once baby is older and drops night feedings, don’t bring them back.
If baby needs to eat more during a growth spurt, make sure those calories come during the day. If you reintroduce night feedings, it will take weeks to get back on track.
9. Once baby transitions to solid food, switch your last feeding to dinner in a highchair.
Give baby his milk before the meal if he can’t drink reliably from a cup yet. The solid food will keep his tummy sated longer than milk. This will also be better for dental hygiene once teeth sprout and need brushing.
10. Keep your sense of humor.
Remember, all of this is temporary even though it feel like forever. Babies grow so very quickly. Every parent on the planet has gone through the same thing, and we all come out the other side just fine.