Last week we covered the benefits of setting a routine for your little one. All of that hard work goes toward teaching your baby an emerging sleeping pattern, which of course sets the foundation for a healthy day-to-day life. Here are some tips and advice that worked for me from trusted sources, as well as a few things I learned on my own. Just remember that even the best methods take time to work. Give things at least a week to two weeks to take effect.
What Worked: From the Experts
1.) A Bedtime Routine: We already established that some sort of routine throughout the day– even one based on or around a feeding schedule– is essential, because babies rely on the rote repetition of things to learn and, eventually, commit them to memory. But there’s nothing that helps flip the sleepy switch like a set bedtime routine. Regardless of what goes on in a given day, how many naps she’s taken or what she’s eaten for dinner, the moment you start going into the routine, she knows it’s time for bed. A lot of people swear by bathtime as a good starter to such a practice, for example. And it’s true: a drop in body temperature naturally makes one sleepy. For us, it started with “dinnertime.”
Initially, this was how the routine went for my daughter:
– Go to the nursery. The nursery has been associated with the quiet and calm times of the day already. So waning light (or dark) + nursery has become indicative of the end of a day.
– Diaper change and get into pajamas. Pajamas also have become associated with downtime.
– Last feeding of the day in the rocking chair. (And, honestly, wouldn’t you be sleepy if you were fed while being, simultaneously, cuddled and rocked?)
– Burping, cuddling and soothing activities– anything from lullabies, soft classical music or just plain, quiet cuddling.
– Into the crib! Keep the parting short or else she might think you want to keep playing.
Now that my daughter is incredibly active during the day and transitioned to solids:
>Dinnertime is now part of the “regular day” but we keep it low-key and associate it with the “end of the day.”
– Go up to the nursery.
– Change into jammies and get a diaper change.
– Settle into rocking chair for stories. (We tend to use the same three at this stage since this “routine” is still relatively new.)
– Cuddle a little more then into the crib. Tuck her in with her sleepytime plushie and blankie. She’s taken up to playing peek-a-boo with the blanket but, again, keep it short. You don’t want to get her too revved up again.
It’s also important to note that your baby should be in her crib– and with you out of sight– around the same time each night with as much as an hour’s worth of wiggle room. Why the extra time? It takes into account all of the things you might not be able to control: dinner took too long to cook/eat, visiting relatives or an evening appointment or even the change to/from Daylight Savings. That flexibility creates a little buffer from having a happy baby one moment and a wailing mess the next.
2.) Introducing a Sleepy-Time Pal: This works especially well for parents whose little one tends to be clingy when it comes to sleep. My husband and I thought it couldn’t hurt to introduce a plushie to help her associate with sleeping once she was old enough for one. What if the other cues didn’t register with her? we thought. What if the transition to solid foods throws a wrench into her idea of the routine? We wanted to make sure there was nothing standing in between her (and us) from a full night’s rest. One plushie (and now, alongside one blanket) that she only sees when she’s in the crib. And when is she in the crib? Only for naps and bedtime.
3.) Get to the Crib!: Early on, your baby probably isn’t very good about telling you she’s tired or sleepy. But you’ll notice she begins rubbing her eyes or yawning as she gets older. Maybe she starts slacking off on the activities: you’ve been listening to her tumble with plastic blocks for the past half hour and then there’s a lot of quiet. It could be that she’s bored or, indeed, tired. Whatever your little one’s cues might be, that’s your sign to tone things down and bring her to her sleeping place. If you’re at home, it’s probably the crib. If you’re out and about, it could be the carseat and a moving vehicle. Whatever it is, take note of her cues and act on them while she’s still drowsy. For starters, it prevents overstimulation. Most importantly, however, it teaches your baby to fall asleep on her own. At the same time, your baby may begin associating her crib, for example, with sleep since it’s where she’s always whisked away to when she starts yawning!
What I Learned Along the Way
One of the things my husband and I learned was dealing with diaper changes in the middle of the night. Usually, we just let her sleep and don’t disturb her. But sometimes she’ll have a present waiting in her diaper when we check on her before we go to bed! Obviously, she needs to be changed but won’t that wake her up? Sort of. Keep these things in mind if you have to make an emergency pitstop:
– Don’t talk. If you have to calm her down or let her know you’re there, speak in low, flat tones, or stick to soothing noises like shushing.
– Keep the lights low if you can. The light from one nightlight may be enough to get it done.
– Make it short and sweet. The less time you spend doing things, the less likely she’s going to realize that she needs/wants to be awake. She might even just think it’s some strange dream or momentary occurrence, and not worry too much about it.
– If she does wake up fully, just soothe her and cuddle with her a little after you’re done. Then it’s back into the crib and out of sight!
Another thing we were careful about was the whole feeding-sleeping thing. Doctors have been warning us since our daughter’s birth about severing the tie between eating and sleeping. While a full belly certainly does help one sleep, it becomes a bad thing when your baby constantly needs to eat before any sort of sleep. That’s why there’s always some sort of activity in between the actual act of eating and finally going into the crib for us. We found out that small, simple activities, even just pointing out Mama and Dada helped.
We also thought that since the baby was so apt to fall asleep at any given moment in the beginning, she’d just sleep when she was supposed to, given the correct cues (e.g. being in the nursery). But not so! When it came down to training her for naps , there were times she’d just scream and howl the moment I left the room, even if she was yawning and fussing a minute ago. She thought we were abandoning her to her fate! Woe is the baby, indeed! But after a couple of minutes, we’d hear the monitor go silent and the next thing we’d hear is a happy gurgle about an hour or two later. I know I can’t go to sleep immediately, so why should I expect my baby to? My husband created the nickname Five Minutes of Fury for our during that phase, because it was incredibly true. We knew that if she didn’t calm down after eight minutes or so, she just wasn’t sleepy and wanted a change of scenery or activity instead. But we also recognized that sometimes a baby can be so tired that she actually gets mad at the idea of being tired. There’s so much to do and be done! Who has time for naps?
More often than not, your baby knows what she needs better than anyone. But that doesn’t mean she should be given a free pass to do whatever she wants whenever. She needs your guidance on such things, even when she needs to sleep.