I’ve been a new mom four times around and have learned a lot of things along the way. I remember bringing home my first child ten years ago and being terrified. There were so many things to do and I felt completely incompetent to raise this child. I still remembering thinking, “why would you nurses and doctors allow me to take this sweet baby home!?” One of the biggest issues I had was getting sleep with a new baby at home, a baby who NEVER seemed to sleep. I kept thinking, how do I get this baby to sleep for naps and to sleep at night without all this crying and rocking?
I have since learned several methods in getting a baby to sleep during nap times. Also, how to help baby learn the difference in nap and bed time. My fourth baby has had little issues with sleep and I thank my third child for that. He was as hard as my first and it took a lot of research and different methods to work through all of baby three’s sleep issues.
So, what can you do to help baby get quality naps and sleep well at nighttime?
- Help Baby Establish The Difference Between Day And Night
In the womb your baby is in darkness, or dim light at best, for nine months. Baby can sleep whenever and not disturb anyone if he decides to wake at 3 AM and doesn’t go back to sleep for an hour or so. That all changes of course when your baby is born and suddenly the world is filled with bright lights and loud noises. Now that your baby is out in the world it is harder for him to want to sleep or even fall asleep because of the intense stimulation compared to his previous environment.
Teaching baby that when it is light and noisy is wake time, and darkness and quiet is nighttime will start the process of establishing a good sleeping habit. To do this, you need to make sure you are keeping the house nice and bright during the day in whichever room baby is spending his wake time. So, open your curtains, keep lights on, and go about your day as you normally would as far as noises go.
At nap time and at night when you are getting ready to put baby to bed, make sure everything is quiet and dimly lit if not completely dark. Get black out curtains for baby’s room and maybe a noise machine if you can hear easily through the walls.
I know a lot of older generation parents will say to expose your baby to all sorts of noise even when they are trying to sleep and that is fine, when baby knows the difference between sleep time and wake time. In the first few weeks though you have to teach baby the difference and keeping baby out in a loud and bright space is not going to aid in that teaching.
Some babies are easily adaptable and can sleep through anything, but most cannot. So, do whatever you need to do to teach baby to associate darkness and peace with sleep time and noise and light with wake time. Your baby may catch onto this concept quickly or it may take a week or so, either way just keep trying to get baby to learn the difference.
Baby four for me was awake all night our two nights in the hospital and asleep all day, so the moment we got home I began trying to teach him the difference. Within a day he was napping well throughout the day while still having good wake times and sleeping longer stretches at night and only waking to eat and fall back to sleep. Every child is different so don’t give up!
- Napping Before Exhaustion Hits
I am not a “cry it out” mom, especially in the first twelve weeks of a baby’s life. I feel like at such an early age they are still learning how to do everything, sleep included. You don’t come out of the womb knowing how to comfort yourself to sleep and quite frankly at that age I don’t think a baby is equipped to self soothe anyway because they cannot even control their movements fully until after the twelve-week mark, if not later. If they cannot control their own movements how can they control their impulse to be near mom or dad to feel the comfort needed to fall asleep? But, to each their own, I know we all have our own methods so whatever works for you and your family is what is best.
Now, if a baby is not taking good naps then he will not be having good nighttime sleep either. So how to you accomplish that without spending all your time rocking baby to sleep or holding baby? It is such a simple concept, put baby to sleep before they are showing cues of exhaustion.
Newborns can only handle about thirty minutes of waketime and sometimes that is spend just eating. Your baby does not need to be at the point of crying from exhaustion before being put down to sleep. I also want to point out that around the four weeks mark many newborns go through a physical and mental growth spurt which will likely interrupt all you’ve taught baby..
Just like with older kids and even adults, if they are overtired then they will have trouble falling and staying asleep. Your baby cannot tell you what he needs, he needs you to know what he needs. So, watching the clock to make sure baby isn’t staying awake too long can help in the first few months of life when baby has a lot of mental growth and can become overly stimulated easily.
Here is a chart to help you determine how long most babies can stay awake between naps:
Newborn – 6 Weeks: 30-45 Minutes
6 Weeks – 3 Months: 60-90 Minutes
3 – 6 Months: 2 Hours
6 – 9 Months: 2.5-3 Hours
9 – 12 Months: 3 Hours
- Naps And Bedtime In The Same Place
When you have a new baby I completely understand wanting to rock and hold them ALL the time, I have had four so I get it. I also know through my own experience that doing that all day, every day, no matter the age of a child can be harmful in teaching self-soothing methods later.
I am not saying to put your baby in his bed every single time he is sleeping, that is impossible unless you are home all day, every day for at least the first three months of baby’s life. But trying to make sure baby is sleeping in the same place for most of his naps and for bedtime is essential to helping him sleep well.
Baby’s do much better when there is some form of routine or consistency in their life. Having baby sleep in the same bed, in the same room for most naps and bedtime teaches him to associate that room and that bed with sleeping. Sometimes even laying him in the bed stimulates his urge to go to sleep because he associates that place with sleeping. So, the more often you have baby sleep in his bed the more likely he will be to associate his bed with sleeping time. If baby is within the first twelve weeks and you’re struggling with intense fussiness or a baby who doesn’t seem to ever sleep, then do whatever you can to ensure he is getting sleep. If that means a swing or walking around in a carrier, then so be it. Your baby needs sleep and in the first three months do whatever needs to be done to accomplish that. There are quite a few growth spurts and mental leaps during that time so try to remember that your baby is going through a lot and needs your help to get through it.
- Transitioning Baby To His Own Room
I know that most new moms are hesitant to have baby in their own room. I get it, I had my first three children in the room with me until about six months old. With baby four though I was having a lot of trouble staying asleep with him in my room, he was also having trouble staying asleep. I moved him to his room at six weeks. It was terrifying lol, but he transitioned so well and from that first night and on he no longer was waking throughout the night except his one-time to eat.
I strongly recommend reading my post on Babywise so you can figure out if baby is waking too often at night and to see how often baby should be sleeping throughout the day too. If you do determine baby is having trouble sleeping like he should, then maybe it is time to think about transitioning him to his own room.
When baby is in his own room he will not hear you or your spouse making any noises and he will not sense you’re right there next to him which is a big reason baby may be waking so often. If he knows you are there then of course he will not be able to settle himself back to sleep during regular nighttime sleep interruptions because Mommy is right there and he wants to be with you.
Moving him to his room will be beneficial to you also. Without baby being right next to you, you will not wake every time he startles or makes some weird noise. You and your spouse will be able to still have intimacy without worrying about disturbing baby or perhaps just feeling weird because baby is in the room. If mom is well rested it benefits everyone in the house because you aren’t too exhausted to do all the duties of a mother, your mood will improve because you won’t be too tired anymore and grumpy, and you will not have to put any part of your day on hold because baby is sleeping in your room and you don’t want to wake him.
- Getting Baby On A Routine
I cannot stress this last step enough. People in general do better mentally and emotionally in life when they have some type of routine in place. I am not talking about a strict schedule, but a general routine for baby’s day. For instance, with my baby I use a feed, wake, sleep routine, you can read more about that here. My baby knows that when he wakes up he will get a diaper change and then eat, after he eats he will have some wake time and then he will take a nap or go to bed depending on time of day.
Because I do have three other children and a husband who works a lot, so I am the only one running the household most of the time, I have to be somewhat strict with times I feed Alex. I do that so his naps and feeds don’t interact with school pick up or drops off, errand time, or any extracurricular activities the kids have after school. You do not have to be strict with it though, having a loose and flexible routine will still help baby learn what to expect throughout the day, which makes for a happier baby who easily flows through the activities of his day.
Establishing a bedtime routine early is part of the routine process. I put my baby’s down for bed by 715 PM, that is what works for me because my other children go to bed at 745 and 8 PM and I like to have some quality time with them. So, at 645 PM I start Alex’s bedtime routine. I give Alex his bath, lotion him up, and put him in pj’s. Then we go to his room to wrap him in his sleep sack, he nurses, I read the same story every night, and then I lay him down. I typically do not have to go in there again until his dream feed at 10 PM because his bedtime routine is now well established (he is 12 weeks as I am writing this), so he starts getting tired throughout the thirty-minute bed time routine and by the time I lay him down he easily drifts off to sleep.
Your bedtime routine could consist of bath, baby massage, lullabies, swaddling, rocking with mom or dad, story time, nursing baby, or simply just getting into pj’s. Whatever you decide to incorporate into your baby’s routine, the key to success is consistency. You can start at the same time each night, but it doesn’t have to. What matters is making sure you take the same steps to alert baby it is bedtime each night.
Babies grow so quickly and progress through so many transitions throughout the first year of life so even on those days or nights of no sleep and a lot of crying try to remember your time with this sweet angel is limited. Remind yourself that one day you will miss these sleepless nights and days filled with screaming because one day that sweet baby will be grown and not need you for comfort anymore. Cherishing this time and reminding yourself of these things will help you get through any rough patches.
Do you have any tips that you have used to help your baby sleep better? Share them in the comments below I would love to hear about them!