Want to help you baby sleep through the night? 4 steps to getting your baby to nap & sleep consistently for 14-15 hours in a day. What we learned from our mistakes, plus additional tips, tricks and wisdom.
During the first weeks, I enjoyed rocking our newborn to sleep, and it seemed perfectly natural to allow him to fall asleep on my breast while feeding. Sometimes I’d manage to put him in his cot asleep, other times he’d wake and I’d then do the whole supporting him to sleep routine again.
So there were times when I let him nap on me, and times when I co-slept because it just seemed easier at the time.
We tried various ways of supporting him to nap through the day, but damn! this baby just didn’t seem to want to sleep!
Except if he was on us.
If I did manage to get him down for a nap he would often wake after 15-30 minutes 😕
He was often fussy in those early days, partly due to gas & reflux, but in hindsight, I realize that he was overtired much of the time and just not wired for sleep!
We found that his patterns changed all the time so it was difficult to establish a routine.
Learning from our mistakes
So of course, as a result of all this, by the time he was around 12 weeks, Zyah was waking all hours, up to 8 times in a single night (!!) and dependant on us to get back to sleep. Exhausting!
It was around this time that I realized we’d been disabling our son. We had been teaching him that he wasn’t able to go to sleep on his own, which was most definitely not true.
I knew it had to stop and that it was time to place some firm loving boundaries around naptime and get more serious about a routine.
I knew that if we could teach him to get to sleep on his own for naps, that he’d be able to put himself back to sleep when he woke during the night.
And so nap-training began …
The result was miraculous, but we sure did learn the hard way. if I did it again I would start this from the very beginning and save us many a sleepless night …
The 4 steps
So here are my suggestions, based on my research, instincts and what worked for us:
First, we began a very consistent nap routine to signal to him that it was nap time.
Our routine has changed organically as he’s grown of course but back then, we had a lovely simple routine.
We’d read a few pages of a book, close blinds & curtains, put a gentle song on to slowly dance to, cuddles, humming and prayers, put white noise on, put him in his cot awake, give him his dummy, eye contact & a reassuring smile, then leave the room.
2. Security in the schedule
I never thought I’d be a ‘schedule mum’! lol. But you know, it just felt like we needed it so we experimented & it felt right. As if it was holding Zyah in a nice firm support system, and he felt safe.
I created a schedule and we began to have consistent nap times (which naturally were flexible and adjusted as we went along) so that his body clock began to set for naps.
This was a big key!!
3. Eat, play, sleep
The new routine also involved separating eating and sleeping, except for what we call the ‘dream feed’ in the evening before I put him down for the night.
Throughout the day repeated ‘eat, play, sleep’ cycles became the foundation, removing the crutch of having to have a nipple in his mouth to fall asleep.
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4. Essential emotional support
In the early days, he’d cry as soon as we walked away from his cot.
The cry-it-out method didn’t feel right for us. We didn’t want him to feel that we’d abandoned him. However, we knew that some crying was necessary to work it out on his own and to release some of his anxiety.
So initially we’d let him cry for 1 – 3 minutes depending on how upset he was.
If he was just fussing we let him work through it longer. If he was really getting upset one of us would go in, give him his dummy, reassure him then leave again.
I didn’t pick him up, like I did in the earlier days, as I’d realized this was sending him the wrong message.
We wanted to send him the message that it was okay for him to feel what he was feeling and that he was okay to do it on his own but that we were always going to come back. We wanted to be present for him emotionally through the whole process rather than just walk out and leave him to it.
The first couple of days we held his hand a lot and gave him lots of reassurance before he’d finally surrender into sleep.
By day 3-4 he was going to sleep on his own after minimal fussing & mild ‘working it out’ crying.
After about a week he just seemed relaxed & comfortable with our routine. It was like he had released whatever it was that was bothering him & creating his anxiety.
We’d put him down, he’d pop his dummy in and drift off easily on his own, sometimes napping up to 1 ½ hours, generally at least 1 hour 3 times daily.
But the biggest miracle is that around this time he started sleeping right through the night most nights, usually 11 or 12 hours right through!
The rare time he’d wake us was if he has lost his dummy and just wanted us to find it and pop it back in and off he’ll drift again.
Bliss! For both him and us!
We started noticing better night sleeps almost straight away after starting the nap training.
This is because he’d learned that he doesn’t need us to get himself back to sleep, which we had to teach him through the nap training.
Sleep begets sleep
The old adage is most certainly true, we have found. Don’t think that if you tire your baby out they will be more likely to fall asleep and sleep longer.
We have found the opposite to be true!
Once he misses that wave and is in the overtired region it becomes more difficult for him to settle. And also, the better his sleep has been, the better it will be.
So once he’s been awake for almost 2 hours (this will increase from around 7-8 months usually, although babies can be quite individual) we start to look out for that first yawn. We then start the nap routine just about straight away so as not to miss the wave.
Comfort in the cot
This is important, without layers of sheets or blankets which can also be a potential hazard. So I recommend swaddle sleep sacks like this Miracle Blanket Swaddle from birth up until your baby can roll.
From then this beautiful 100% Cotton Halo SleepSack is wonderful, right up until around age 2.
Always try to go for the pure cotton or bamboo/cotton fabrics as babies are so sensitive and some won’t settle in synthetic polyester, which also doesn’t allow their skin to breathe, and can cause over-heating.
Stocking up & the ‘Dream Feed’
Consider cluster feeding in the evening if you’re breastfeeding to make sure your baby has the opportunity to stock up for the night..
I’ve allowed our ‘dream feed’ to continue even after I realized separating eating and sleeping was important because it allows Zyah to really stock up and get all the milk he needs before sleep and reduces the chance of him waking hungry through the night.
Of course newborns need to eat every 3 to 4 hours until they gain good weight, then they’ll usually need a feed during the night up until around 2 or 3 months, however every baby is a little different on this, some aren’t ready to sleep right through until later – up to 6 months old.
But it helps to give your baby the best chance possible to sleep right through when they’re ready for this.
The Emotional Connection
And lastly, for now, something else we noticed played a significant part was how we, ourselves felt about him sleeping – we noticed that if we were anxious about Zyah going to sleep and felt really attached to it, that he wouldn’t settle as easily.
For example, if I felt like ‘Oh I really need a break now, so I can do …..’ whatever I might be attached to doing at the time, or on those long car trips where you just want the trip to be easier.
As soon as we had no attachment to him sleeping, he’d drift off easily. If we had an emotional attachment he’d resist it more.
Baby’s are so so sensitive to their emotional environment. They experience that feeling in us as a demand and it feels really uncomfortable to them.
Think of a time when someone really wanted you to do something and pressured or tried to control you somehow. You ended up wanting to do the opposite, didn’t you?
Babies have a similar response. It’s not conscious of course, but automatic.
And finally, be consistent, persistent and confident in whatever approach you have chosen!
Over to You!
I hope this helped you in some way, and I welcome any feedback.
What has worked for you and your baby? Please comment below!
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