When my son was born, I heard all kinds of theories about how I could get him to sleep better at night. By the time he was 3 months old, I was desperate for sleep and still hadn't slept for longer than 3 hours straight at night. A friend of mine gave me the book, “Babywise” but I was terrible at keeping a consistent schedule. Another friend told me I should let him cry-it-out (CIO) but I hated hearing him cry. I also found I hadn't the patience to rock him back to sleep every time he woke. Here are 5 reasons to get your child to bed on time.
Eventually, I realized that for some babies struggling with sleeping is just normal. But there are also some strategies that can help ease their sleep difficulties. I'm guessing most readers have heard of setting up bedtime routines and the importance of putting the baby down drowsy but awake. So the following are some less well-known tips to supplement whatever efforts you'll already making to sleep train your baby.
1. Warm the crib with a warm towel. What might be bothering your baby is the cold of his sheets after the warmth of your arms. Doctors discourage parents from using blankets for at least a year after birth. Instead, doctors suggest warm pajamas or swaddling. You could also try running a towel through the dryer and setting it on the sheets for a few minutes before bed. Be sure you remove it before lying your little one down to sleep.
2. Keep the room dust free. Is your baby struggling with nasal congestion at night? It might be because of allergens present in the room. Little babies are primarily nose breathers and won't sleep well when their nasal passages are inflamed. Dust frequently and remove fuzzy blankets and animals that might attract dust to help baby sleep better.
3. Switch between mom and dad for bedtime routines. This way, if Mom is busy it won't be traumatic to the baby to be put to sleep by Dad. Plus, moms tend to spend more time with babies and have more chances for bonding. Bedtime can be a good chance for dad and baby to have one-on-one interactions, which will help build a stronger relationship.
4. Practice daytime mellowing. When you have a bad day, don't you find you tend to sleep worse that night? The same goes for babies. Cuddle and soothe your baby as often as you can during the day and they'll be less irritable at bedtime. Plus, you'll have a happier daytime baby.
5. Try “fathering down.” I'd never heard of this until recently, but I can testify of its truthfulness. Some nights when my son gets really riled up, it seems only his dad can soothe him to sleep. Fathering down is the technique of the father nestling the baby on his chest, resting his chin on the baby's head. Dad then hums, sings, or makes shushing sounds, which resonate at a deeper level than mom's voice reaches. The vibration, then, is what eases baby to sleep.
6. Be flexible. Just because one technique worked for your previous baby doesn't mean it will work for your new one. And just because one method worked one night doesn't mean it will work the next. Change up the routine, the way you rock or how much you feed your baby whenever your tried-and-true methods cease being effective.
7. Use a variety of sleep associations. This way, your baby won't come to rely on one way of falling asleep. Switch up your strategies between rocking, feeding, driving and singing baby to sleep and they won't come to need any one particular method of soothing.
8. Check your baby's bedtime. Are you putting her to bed too early? Too late? Move bedtime in one direction or the other by half an hour and see what the result is.
9. Provide time for practice. If you never allow your baby to try falling asleep on his own, you can't expect him to get the hang of it very quickly. A few cold turkey nights of putting him down to see what he does is not allowing him to practice. Slowly easing off your presence or the amount of time you rock him will help accustom him to going to bed on his own. Of course, this isn't entirely necessary. Some parents prefer holding and rocking their babies every night, enjoying every moment of babyhood, and that is just fine, too. No child is still being rocked to sleep when they graduate from high school.
My baby didn't sleep through the night until he was 7 and a half months old and it didn't seem to have anything to do with what I did when he suddenly slept for a glorious 8 hours straight. The main thing new moms should realize is these first sleepless months don't last forever. Enjoy rocking and holding your little one while you can so you can cherish these memories when they're grown.
Katie Nielsen is an adjunct English faculty member at Brigham Young University – Idaho and mother of one. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org