Before Elena Vincent gave birth last April to Audrey Natalia, her daughter, Matthew Vincent, and her husband Matthew were both teachers. They could not have prepared for the nights of sleeplessness that followed when their baby arrived home. Vincent, who lives near Fresno in California, recalls that it was difficult to get her to sleep anywhere but my chest.
They knew that Audrey Natalia needed to be resuscitated before the new parents could return to work. They began to research the matter once more. She says, “It wasn’t until we fine-tuned the bedtime routine that everything finally fell in place.”
1. Maintain a routine
Deborah Givan, M.D. is professor emerita of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. Turn the lights and the volume down 30 minutes before bedtime. She explains that the right lighting is crucial because it sets a baby’s internal time clock. Our brain associates light with being awake, or asleep. This can be done by turning down the lights at night and exposing your baby’s eyes to bright light in the morning. You can also introduce other soothing rituals such as warm baths or lullabies once you have reduced the stimulation. Dr. Givan suggests that you have the routine in place as soon possible, but ideally within 6-8 weeks.
2. Teach self-soothing
Babies need to be rocked, bounced and soothed to sleep. However, babies grow quickly and no longer require these things. Heather Turgeon, a Los Angeles-based sleep consultant and coauthor, The Happy Sleeper, says that most babies can fall asleep by 5 months. In the beginning months, it’s a good idea to put your baby down as soon as she is awake. Usually the best success rate is with the first nap. This will teach your baby to self-soothe, fall asleep, and, most importantly, how to get back to sleep on her own. You can continue to cuddle, but you should gradually reduce the amount of rocking and patting that she does.
3. Separate eating from sleeping
Turgeon says that newborns can fall asleep while they eat, and that it is not something to worry about. Babies tend to sleep better if they fall asleep while eating, which is usually around 4 or 5 months. As with other sleep aids, if your baby starts to doze off during meals, he will think he needs food. This scenario has a catch: if your baby is exclusively breastfed, you are the only one who can put him to bed. Amy Pate of Nashville, who nursed her child for a year, says this.
4. Don’t delay bedtime, but make it earlier
A routine is not as important as timing. Turgeon says that babies experience a rise of melatonin around 8 weeks. This is the natural, sleep-making hormone that the body releases when it’s bedtime. It means that they are ready to go to bed at a time that’s consistent with the setting sun. If they are kept up late, they can become hyperstimulated and dysregulated, making it harder for them to fall asleep. The sundown time is when melatonin levels are highest. However, sundown can occur at any time between 4:30 p.m. in winter and 8:30 p.m. during summer. Stick to the clock, and get your baby to bed around 6:30 or 7:45 p.m.
Turgeon says that drowsiness can be seen in a baby’s calmness. This could indicate that he is becoming more passive, bored, or just looking at the screen. This behavior should not be confused with being awake. Grab the opportunity to start your bedtime routine. She notes that her baby’s internal clock tells her when she should be awake and when she should be sleeping. You want to reinforce this.
5. Swear Off Snacks
A baby should be eating on demand for the first eight weeks. However, it is important to note how often and how long they eat to ensure efficient feeding.
Prueher says that if they eat 20 minutes at night, but only five to ten minutes in the day, it is likely they are snacking and not eating enough to get them through the night. Keep a log for 24 hours of how much a baby is bottle fed and when. Note how long they are nursing each time a baby is breastfed. If your baby is eating well throughout the day, around 2 1/2-3 months, they should be able sleep for four to six hours at night.
6. Naps are serious
An overtired child will not sleep as well as a well-rested one. It is not a good idea to skip a nap so they can sleep more at night. Turgeon says that infants become more tired and their stress hormones increase. Turgeon says that once they do fall asleep, it’s likely they won’t stay asleep for too long as their stress hormones will wake them up when they are in a more restful stage. Regular naps are therefore so important.
7. Let them do the work
It’s difficult to break a vicious cycle of rushing in to get your baby back to sleep. Turgeon recommends that you start a “soothing ladder” from Day 1. If your baby is fussing, take a moment to pause and then see if they can figure it out themselves. Turgeon says, “If they don’t respond, you can go in and give them a pat or a sigh, but not pick them up.” If that doesn’t work, you can gradually move up the soothing ladder until they go to sleep. You may end up rocking them and feeding them. But the next time they awaken, try to be as minimally intrusive as possible.
8. Don’t overthink
Believe that your baby is capable of sleeping well. Turgeon suggests that you give your baby space for the first four months to show you what their capabilities are. Although it may seem difficult, you will empower your infant and help your entire family. Vincent knows this firsthand. She says that Audrey was happy before she got her to sleep on schedule, but now she is happier. “And if the baby is sleeping, then we all are sleeping so it’s a win for everyone!”