Sleep, or lack thereof, is such a big topic for new moms. Everyone is wondering when will baby start sleeping through the night, i.e. when can I start sleeping again. I wanted to share how we got our girls into a good sleep routine from the start that resulted in the sleeping through the night at a very young age and good bedtime routines that continue to this day at three.
Before the girls were born we had this grand scheme that to survive the newborn stage Brad and I would take shifts during the night. Within several hours of birthing them my hubby was snoring away on the pull-out couch (we had the girls at practically midnight), while I was thrust into a cycle of feed, feed, sleep for bit, feed, feed, sleep for a bit. I say this not to throw my hubby under the bus (maybe a little bit 😂 ), but it illustrates that we can all have the perfect plans, but reality is a little different. While our sleep routine has largely been successful, there were times when that was not the case. For instance, we had a hard four-month sleep regression with the twins. We had gone lax on some of our practices and struggled through a couple tough weeks. And we’ve had other bad nights too. I think every time my dad comes to visit we have a terrible night, so I am not sure he believes us about the girls being good sleepers at all. But for the most part our girls have been sleeping through the night since about two months old (one at eight weeks and the other eleven weeks; at exactly 12 pounds each). Update: Our girls are 3 and we have never had trouble with bedtime, and they still sleep 12 hours to this day and one 2-3 hour nap. We have since added Heidi to the mix, and while her first few months were spent in a boppy in Mama’s bed in a camper van, we followed the same principles (minus the separate room), and she also started sleeping through the night at 12 pounds, which was 17 weeks old for her.
There are three books that I read prior to having the girls that directed our course on how to handle sleeping with the girls: Bringing Up Bebe, The Natural Baby Sleep Solution and my favorite, Twelve Hours Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old. The first two books really only contributed perspective, while Twelve Hours Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old was our bible. I wanted to touch on those books first and then I’ll share our strategies.
Bringing Up Bebe isn’t really a parenting book. It’s more of a fun read. I actually read it long before we were pregnant, while bored in a hotel on a business trip. In it, an expat American talks about raising her children in Paris and discusses French alternative parenting wisdom. One of the chapters focuses on sleep and sleeping through the night or as the French say, “doing their nights,” which the author argues happens a lot sooner than in America. What I gleaned from this book was the concept of the observant pause practiced from birth. Because baby are such restless sleepers, driven by sleep cycles that they have not learned to string together, the concept is that instead of responding to a baby right away, you quietly observe to see if they truly need something or are just working through the end of a sleep cycle. Following this practice helps parents to learn their baby’s sleep rhythm and helps babies learn to string together sleep cycles better without help from mom or dad. Not groundbreaking, but was a good perspective to have.
The second book I read that guided our sleeping routine was The Natural Baby Sleep Solution. I found this book insightful to the overall sleep process and more helpful with the newborn stage. The book goes into detail about sleep cycles, how they work and the importance of sleep. One of the main takeaways from this book that I remember is that sleep cycles repeat in a ninety-minute window of wakefulness to sleepiness. The book stresses the importance of following the baby’s rhythm to maximize sleep success. To do so, the book suggests timing from baby’s wake up to ninety minutes later to watch for signs of sleepiness and then encourage the baby to nap. The book also discusses how as babies grew they would be able to string these sleep cycles together to have longer periods of both wakefulness and sleepiness. Even adults go through these ninety-minute cycles, but we have learned how to string them altogether for full days awake and full nights asleep. I will say that I felt like our girls didn’t follow a precise ninety-minute cycle, so in the early days I took the same concept of encouraging sleep at observed sleepiness times and modified to the girls’ rhythm. I used this concept mainly during daytime following a rhythm of eat, play, sleep that typically repeated in three to four-hour increments to guide our daytime schedule through four months, when we set a daytime schedule, which was the final step in establishing our sleep routine from the Twelve Hours by Twelve Weeks book.
The main book I followed was Twelve Hours Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old by Lisa Abidin and Suzy Giordano. I cannot recommend this book enough to new moms. While the other books provided insights and perspective, this book provided tools, schedules and a step by step approach to encouraging sleeping through the night. The main premise of the book is giving the parent the tools and steps to teach your child to eliminate night feedings and sleep through the night in a way that isn’t abrasive. There are several stages that you follow sequentially to do so. The first is newborn to eight weeks and involves following and tracking your baby’s rhythm (see how these books tied together nicely). The second phase is starting at eight weeks introducing your baby to a schedule. The third phase is slowly eliminating night feedings. The fourth phase is keeping baby in the crib for twelve hour stretches. The fifth phase is establishing the daytime nap schedule. Throughout the phases, the book offers soothing strategies, example schedules and advice to help you achieve these goals.
So, with these books as resources, Brad and I embarked into parenthood with one of our main goals being getting the girls into a good sleep routine as early as possible.We chose to have the girls sleep in their own room in their cribs from birth (this is suggested in Twelve Hours by Twelve Weeks). Our reasoning was that this would help instill the routine/habit from the beginning with no need for a transition later. We also thought this would help with observing the pause because we would be less likely to hear and respond to the girls every movements from another room. And we also selfishly wanted our room to remain our private escape. But we figured by being selfish and making our sleep a priority too, we could be better parents for our girls during the day because we would be refreshed. I know that the thought of leaving your newborn alone to sleep in another room may seem daunting. Trust me, we had those fears too. To combat our worrying, we had video monitors and breathing monitors (Owlets). They worked out well for us, and the green glow from the Owlet monitors always gave us the reassurance that we needed.
Another strategy that Brad and I practiced from the beginning was to create a bedtime routine and a wake time routine to help the girls associate night as sleep time and day as awake time. From day one, we set a bedtime (original bedtime was midnight) and wake time twelve hours later. So even though the girls woke multiple times during the night, anything that happened between midnight and noon (yes, these hours are wonky because we are night owls) was done in their room following a nighttime mindset and anything that happened between noon and midnight was done downstairs in the light following a daytime mindset. Our bedtime routine was/is to go upstairs to the darkened nursery (bath beforehand if it’s a bath night) and change into pajamas. We have a humidifier/diffuser, a white noise machine and a night light (only on when we are getting them ready). Then we would feed the girls (now we brush teeth and read books), lay them in their crib (or floor bed) and pray and give kisses goodnight. Any wake ups during nighttime for feeds and diaper changes were handled quickly in the dark. Then at wake time, we opened the curtains to let in the light and started the day with a cheerful and loud “Good morning!” We changed them into daytime clothes and brought them downstairs where they spent all day in our well-lit living room.
Brad and I were also very cognizant of creating habits that would need to be broken later. This is why we didn’t use swings, rockers, etc. at nighttime and only sparingly during the day (actually not at all with Heidi). We never really rocked the girls to sleep either. Whenever we were done feeding and burping, we would give a little extra squeeze or maybe a minute pause to soak up some final baby snuggles, but it was almost immediate that we laid them in their crib to fall asleep on their own. We also followed strategies in Twelve Hours by Twelve Weeks to soothe from the crib if needed (especially around four months). So instead of picking up the girls to hold if they wouldn’t stop crying, I would stand over the crib and pat their head and shush them until they calmed down and went back to sleep. I will say that I can tell by their cry if something is wrong and will get them out of the crib then. Two crutches we do use are swaddles and pacifiers. We keep the swaddles through five months or rolling and switch then switch to wearable blankets after. And we keep the pacifier for the first year.
The final and most important strategy we used to establish our sleep routine was sticking to a schedule. I think a schedule is so important. It not only gives order to your life but an order to your baby’s life that they can come to rely on. Even other non-sleep child-rearing books, such as Montessori philosophy books, stress the importance of creating a pattern in your child’s life that they can use a foundation for growth. So basically, starting at eight weeks (phase two in Twelve Hours by Twelve Weeks) we started directing our girls toward a schedule.
I am not going to go into all the details of how we started eliminating night feeds (phase three in Twelve Hours by Twelve Weeks). It’s pages and pages from the book, but it’s all related to scheduling. If you want to know more just message me. I will say that one of the things we found helpful with this step was that I pumped so that we could give bottles at night. Using bottles better allowed us to ensure adequate nutrition to keep the girls on schedule. It also allowed me to sleep longer stretches, which was amazing! I also want to add that eliminating bottles just happened naturally sticking to the schedule. It wasn’t forced by any means. Brooklyn started sleeping through the night at eight weeks and Blakely was eleven weeks. I think the key was that these were the weeks when they each reached twelve pounds (Blakely was a lot smaller at birth). So I think reaching twelve pounds is key, and the book talks about that as well.
Contrary to what you may think, the daytime routine establishment doesn’t come until after the nighttime routine. Establishing the daytime routine is where we got off track. Once we accomplished phase three, I put the book away and counted it as a victory. We continued eat, play sleep during the day. If I could do it again, I’d make sure that we started establishing the daytime schedule then like the book suggests. We didn’t do this until the four-month sleep regression hit, and we realized we missed an important step. Another thing we got lax on at the four-month mark was leaving the babies to work through the sleep cycles on their own. I think around four months is when baby becomes more aware of their wakefulness and must really learn to string those sleep cycles together, even they may have been doing it with ease before. If you stick to the strategies this should be a mild bump in the road. We were worried that the noise (because they were louder now) would wake their sister, so we would rush the offender to our room and they’d inevitably be sleeping in the Boppy Lounger in our bed come morning. This went on for a couple weeks before we pulled the book back out and put our foot down. We had to deal with a few hard days of cry it out (since we had started to form that bad habit) but it wasn’t long before we were back on track (and the girls can now sleep through each other, which is great). This is also when we finally established the daytime schedule, which we still stick to today: wake at ten, east, play, nap for two hours at noon, eat, play, nap for two hours at four, eat, play and bedtime at ten.Like I said, it hasn’t always been perfect, but I’d say for the most part we fared very well.
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