My (almost) 5 month old now sleeps an average of 10-12 hours nightly and naps (with some or no fuss) in his own crib during the day.
Most newborns struggle with sleep at some point. Professional sleep resources like The Baby Sleep Site are an interesting read but the most practical advice I received was from actual Moms (bloggers, YoutTubers, friends).
I am a firm believer that – when it comes to little humans – none are exactly the same. Factors that affect a baby’s daily routine are a combination of their own personality and how we react to their cues. I also firmly believe that parents and parents alone know what is best for their child. Parenting rule #1 is to always follow your gut when it comes to parenting books/theories/blogs and the variety of advice you will surely receive from peers and family.
Alex and I were never big on parenting theories in general. When I was pregnant we steered clear of books, believing when our child was born we would instinctually know what he needed. Unbeknownst to us, our earliest days as parents were very much in line with the principles of attachment parenting. We recognized the value of skin to skin contact, doing this constantly in Gabriel’s first few days and daily in his first few weeks. He spent his first 1-2 weeks in a diaper and swaddle blanket, so when we took him out of the bassinet it was easier to strip down and put him on directly on the chest. I believe our commitment to skin to skin contact helped us with everything from successful breastfeeding to development of a strong emotional bond between him and us. From 8 weeks onward, I saw a definite difference in his recognition of Mom and Dad as opposed to being held by strangers or even those he saw once a week or so (e.g. Grandma). We also consistently responded to his cries with holding, cuddling, rocking/bouncing and comforting. I adopted baby-wearing around the house using a second-hand Bjorn carrier given to me by a friend. I hadn’t invested in one before Gabe was born because I had no idea how much I would actually use it – apparently very much! As a side note, I recently upgraded to an original Ergo Baby which is much more comfortable and baby hip healthy.
Gabe spent the first 5-6 weeks of his life sleeping in his bassinet in the living room with me on the couch beside him. When he started sleeping through the night with only 1-2 short feeding wake ups we moved the bassinet upstairs to our room, a practice I now know is called “co-sleeping” (not to be confused with bed-sharing). Just after 3 months he moved to his own room at night, which is right next door to ours. I recently purchased a video baby monitor to supervise his every move without disturbing him.
Like anything we teach our babies, sleep is a learned skill. As an example, babies don’t learn to walk all at once, they do a gradual process of lifting their heads, rolling, sitting, crawling, and so forth before finally pulling themselves up to walk.
Sleep is critical life skill. Obviously a rested baby is a happy baby, and I have read studies that sleep skills developed early in life result in better toddler, child, and eventually teenage/adult sleep patterns.
At no time along this journey did I push anything very hard. I describe my method as one of gentle encouragement. In the initial weeks, I parked myself on the living room couch with Netflix, holding Gabe for hours while he adjusted to nights. First he needed to learn to sleep still. In the womb – like many babies – he was active at night while I was still and sleeping during the day while I was moving around. As a newborn he settled easily while lying on my chest (listening to my heartbeat), so I allowed him to do this and rocked/bounced as little as possible. I admit to dozing off with him on my chest a few times, however he wasn’t strong enough to move anywhere at the time and I stopped doing this as soon as he began to wiggle. The darkness and low stimulation of night quickly registered that nights are for sleeping. When he woke I would feed him and put him straight back to sleep with no talking, singing, or stimulating. I admit to sometimes not responding right away when he woke, not out of strategy but out of exhaustion. He would sometimes fuss quietly (not cry) in his crib for 20-30 minutes while I dozed. In retrospect, this was a good thing. He learned both to feel safe alone in his sleep space and to not to expect an immediate response when he woke.
After he was sleeping well at night, he had a period of struggling to fall asleep so we would rock and cuddle him for short periods before putting him back in his bed. If he cried we would repeat the process until he was settled in his bed. I also did occasional bed-sharing, but would stay half-awake due to ensure safety then transferred him into his own bed as soon as he was asleep.
I started a bedtime routine which mainly consisted of a bath or baby massage then a few books with Alex, some songs, and finally a long breastfeeding session in our bed upstairs. It felt like forever, but he finally learned his routine and began to self-soothe in his crib at bedtime, somewhere between 2.5 and 3 months months.
As an aside, we did use a swaddle for a short period (2-3) weeks in the first month. It helped him sleep for slightly longer periods before it stopped working, after which I put him straight into a sleep sack with both arms free. Various methods of swaddling is effective for many babies however, so definitely worth a try.
Daytime naps in the first 3 months were a bit erratic. He loved his side-to-side rocking swing and we embraced that for naps during the day. He also napped “on the go” in the car, stroller, baby carrier and so forth. At the time we were focused on night sleep, and I figured a sleeping newborn is a sleeping newborn – no matter where or how! I did a simple eat, play, sleep routine with naps every 2-3 hours as needed. I kept awake times stimulating and always made sure he did nap somehow, believing that an overtired baby would be difficult to settle at bedtime. Once bedtime/nights were well-established, I started decreasing Gabe’s motion sleep during the day and encouraging him to nap on my chest once again. The hardest part was teaching him to fall asleep in his crib without me during the day, but he had already developed this skill at night so I did it much less gradually. I would put him in his crib and leave him for a set period (e.g. 10 minutes). He did cry and fuss, sometimes putting himself to sleep and sometimes not. If he was fussing himself to sleep I would leave him and he would eventually nap. If he was crying (screaming) himself awake, I would go get him after a set time and keep him awake another hour then try again. He nearly always fell asleep on the second try. I learned this method through trial and error. I tried going in the room while he was crying and soothing him to sleep without taking him out of the crib, but he just looked at me and cried even more so I never did it again (although I hear it works for some Moms).
The most challenging times to put him to bed or nap is if he skipped an earlier nap or was awake too long (overtired). This is often unavoidable with outings, however I have started developing a flexible routine to maintain some consistency. I rely primarily on his cues to tell me when he is tired (yawning, fussing, eye-rubbing), so that is when he naps.
Now that I have done it, I would disagree with the method of letting a baby completely cry it out. I believe babies learn in stages, so putting them in crib and walking away without a foundation of necessary skills is harsh. Additionally, we don’t always know WHY a baby is crying. There could be many reasons besides fighting sleep e.g. teething, tummy ache for which they actually require our love and comfort.
I recommend a focus on night sleep over day sleep, starting with decreasing motion sleep then encouraging independent sleep in the baby’s own sleep space. After night sleep is established then similar methods can be applied to day sleep. Every baby is going to be different, so I encourage you not to compare to others or set your heart on a particular goal or timeline. Trust yourself, trust your baby, focus on one skill at a time and I promise you will get there!
THAT’S ALL FOLKS!
Please share your own baby sleep experiences in the comments below.
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