It’s so confusing. You should just let your baby cry it out and then you can all sleep. Or maybe, your baby will be traumatized for life if you let her cry herself to sleep. What to do? Despite the claims of one of my high school friends, sleep is in fact a medical necessity. We all need sleep. My daughter is now 19-months-old and I’ve learned a few lessons the hard way. I hope that you can learn from my mistakes so that you can get some well-deserved rest. Some of these tips seem obvious now but are not always so obvious in the crazy postpartum haze. Also I might add that the phrase “sleeping the through night” can be misleading because pediatricians generally consider a 5-hour stretch of sleep to be “sleeping through the night.” So, although some parents supposedly have babies who sleep for 12 hour stretches without any intervention, this probably isn’t what you should expect.
Babies (and adults) need a consistent sleep schedule —
Going to bed, waking up, and napping at the same times each day will help babies know what to expect, and be prepared for sleep when it is time to sleep.
Create a calming bedtime routine —
The bedtime routine helps baby prepare for sleep. Something simple like bath, jammies, teeth brushing and story time works well. Again, this advice also works well for adults. I found that in the newborn days when I had to get up every two hours to nurse, it still helped me tremendously to stick to my own bedtime routine of brushing teeth, washing my face, and getting into pajamas so that I could still feel normal.
Babies need to learn to fall asleep on their own —
This was a very difficult and important lesson for me to learn. Although newborns cannot fall asleep on their own and usually need to be rocked or nursed to sleep, between the ages of 3 and 6 months babies begin to have the ability to self-soothe. If you continue rocking or nursing your baby to sleep past this point, they will need you to help them fall back asleep when they naturally wake up in the night.
I got into the habit of rocking Marie to sleep when she was a newborn, and continued to do so until she was about 10 or 11-months-old when I realized we all needed to sleep better. At that point we had gotten into the habit of co-sleeping (I’ll leave that for another post), so we just taught her to fall asleep on her own by lying in bed next to her until she fell asleep. This did involve some crying. But I didn’t feel bad about it because we were right there with her and I knew that this was a skill she had to learn. This has improved our sleep quite a bit during the rare times when she is not teething.
Babies will probably not sleep all night if you nurse them at night —
This is the step we’re working on now. My daughter is certainly old enough not to nurse at night, but since we’ve been co-sleeping, it’s hard to avoid. At the same time, if you’re co-sleeping then night nursing might not disrupt your sleep very much. If you’re not co-sleeping then it certainly will! When and how to night-wean is up to you. Different babies have different needs — my daughter is very thin so I’ve always wanted to feed her as much as possible. I just found a great article that recommends attempted night weaning by 8-9 months and that sounds realistic from my experience. However nursing at night can be very comforting for babies who are painfully teething, which typically continues off and on until about age 2.