Once those first two crazy, hazy months have passed, it is a great time to start helping your family get more sleep. While these techniques may not have your baby sleeping through the night by three months (that is a rarity!), if done consistently they can help your baby establish healthy sleep habits and even prevent the need for sleep training.
#1 Use a consistent sleeping space.
This means no more naps on the go. This will create both a positive association with your baby’s sleeping space and a strong cue to sleep.
#2 Create a sleep sanctuary for your baby.
There is a reason why bears go into a cave to hibernate! Think cool, dark, and quiet. This will both protect and promote sleep.
#3 Help your baby learn day from night.
Newborns are born with a circadian rhythm, or biological clock, but it is not fully developed. We can help speed the process by keeping night time feedings dark, quiet, and boring and exposing them to natural light first thing in the morning.
#4 Create an age appropriate yet, flexible sleeping schedule.
Daytime sleep doesn’t begin to organize until at least the 4th month. This means naps are inconsistent in length, timing, and frequency. Focus on helping your baby fall asleep for naps within two hours, or less depending on his age, of when he last woke. Don’t focus on the time on the clock but instead follow his or her cues.
#5 Create a rhythm or pattern to your days.
You have a long time before your baby will be able to stick to a set schedule but you can help your baby feel a sense of consistency by creating a pattern or order of events. To help protect your baby from a strong nurse or bottle to sleep association, try a version of Tracy Hogg’s “Eat, Activity, Sleep, Your Time”. Even waiting 10 minutes after feeding to put your baby to sleep will help him learn to fall asleep in other ways, not just by suckling.
#6 Create a consistent, soothing bedtime routine.
A bedtime routine gets your baby ready, both physical and emotionally, for the transition from awake and social to asleep. The routine can start anywhere in the house, but should end in the room your baby will sleep in. A good model is the 5 Bs: Bath, Breast/Bottle, Brush teeth/gums, Book, Bed.
#7 Expect night feedings, but also build other soothing techniques.
Babies under 2 months old nurse ’round the clock, but eventually they begin to go longer at night. Around 2 months old, your baby will develop one longer chuck of night sleep of about 4 hours and then will likely wake for a feeding every 2 to 3 hours after that. If your baby wakes and is truly hungry, nurse your baby. But if he wakes more frequently during the night, try using other techniques to soothe him back to sleep.
#8 Ensure adequete day feedings.
Your baby is growing, and if you are nursing he needs to nurse 8 to 12 times a day. If he takes a very long mid-day nap, he misses one of those feedings. And guess when he’ll make it up? You got it. Ensure that your baby is getting enough feedings in during the day by gentle waking him from a monster nap so that he does not go longer than 3 hours between feedings during the day. Ypung babies can really only make it one long chunk without feedings per 24 hour period and we REALLY want that chunk to be at night!
#9 Help your baby learn self-soothing skills.
Putting your baby down to sleep drowsy but awake really is a proven technique for helping him learn self-soothing skills. It won’t always go smoothly, and in the beginning you may need to help him out often, but all that practice will pay off. But DO NOT stress. It’s just practice! If he has trouble, pick him up and try again next time.
#10 Don’t rush in.
If your baby (older than 2 months old) fusses for a minute in the early morning hours, in the middle of the night, or after a short nap, give him a minute or two….or ten. He may simply be transitioning through sleep cycles and not even fully awake. Rushing in would only fully wake him and you’d have to start all over again. But even if he has woken, if you always run in, he’ll never have the opportunity to practice falling back to sleep independently.
Now, I can’t promise you that these will eliminate the need for any sleep training at all, but I know from personal experience that by focusing on healthy sleep habits early on you really can pave the way for a much more rested family.
If only I had known these techniques with my first…..