Our only son, our darling boy, our new little man. For the past 5 nights he has slept 9-10 hours straight. He wakes up frantic and famished and I wake up in a puddle, but that’s OK. I’m doing the happy dance.
In his honor and in hopes of sharing my bliss with other moms of babies, I will repost our tips on helping babies learn to sleep through the night with minor edits and updates.
Since this can be a hot topic for some, let’s start with the standard disclaimer:
I’m going to share another of our methods for maintaining general sanity in the form of sleep patterns. This is not a principle, that must be obeyed lest ye fall into sin. This is our account of how we accomplish a goal that, we think, ultimately aids us in ordering our lives and maintaining a good attitude – something that is pleasing to God. Your mileage may vary; your childrearing style may make other methods more suitable for your family; you may think we’re callous nuts who hate our children (in that case, we’re right and you’re wrong; go read someone else’s blog).
All of our babies but one have slept through the night by 7 weeks. That one was reared under very different circumstances where we could not apply our method, and thus we saw very different results.
Here are some factors that we believe help our children to sleep for a 7 hour stretch from a very early age:
- I always nurse our babies on waking, and self-consciously do not nurse them to sleep.
Our babies sleep near us, but not in our bed. I rest better this way, and the baby learns to sleep well without depending on snuggling or nursing constantly – this also translates to better daytime naps, when Momma can’t necessarily lie down with Baby.
- I nurse on demand, but I do not use nursing as an all-purpose pacifier; I try to distinguish between a hungry baby and one who just wants attention – which is a perfectly valid request on its own. Know your baby. Learn to recognise her different cries when she is hungry, dirty, lonely, etc. and respond accordingly. The breast (ok…or the bottle…) doesn’t answer every need in the best way.
- We also do not rock, pat, or otherwise “entertain” a baby to sleep. When the baby is clearly tired, we lay her down; she may fuss a little, but not much if we do this from the start.
We encourage thumb-sucking [ducking]. We think that babies who know how to pacify themselves fall asleep much more easily and are generally more content. This is especially nice when they wake up in the middle of the night and don’t *need* Momma to get back to sleep. Many people use binkies for this, but if the baby loses her binky during the night, she often can’t get to sleep until someone finds it for her. The thumb is conveniently attached, and is standard equipment with every baby.
- When babies wake up during the night, we don’t let them “cry it out,” but we do make sure they work up to a *real* cry. We don’t rush to rescue a whimpering baby who may fall right back to sleep on her own. For a newborn, this may mean 30 seconds of real crying. For an older baby who usually sleeps through the night, maybe 5-10 minutes for us. This is not cruel. Babies can learn from the start that Momma will take care of them, but does not have to obey them instantly.
- When feeding a baby during the night, I keep it dark and quiet, and I make it brief. This is not a social engagement or playtime. I do not lie down with the baby, and I often will stop them before they’re quite finished. No lingering about at 2 A.M. Our middle-of-the-night feedings usually take 10 minutes or less, and baby is ready to go right back to sleep. I think this trains their systems to eat more in the morning and evening, so they are less likely to wake up at night due to genuine hunger. Then, when they wake out of habit, they go back to sleep more easily.
Again, this is just how we do it. We like to sleep all night, and we like our children to sleep in their own beds. Follow your husband’s lead.
Also, consider the season in your life and your own parenting style. Some people just don’t see a problem with waking up every hour and a half with a new baby, or waking up once or twice a night with an older baby. If this suits you and your husband, then keep doing it cheerfully.
As our helpers get older and my job gets a little more flexible, I don’t wait quite as long to pick up a crying baby during the night. It’s not such a big deal if I’m a little short on sleep because I can nap during the day now. When we had many Littles and no Bigs or Middles, nighttime sleep was essential for me to hold things together during the day.