I know some people are going to read the title of this and think, “You lucky asshole.” But seriously – I worked my ass off to get this kid on a sleep schedule! When Everett came home from the NICU after four and a half months, he barely slept. Because the lights were constantly on, alarms were repeatedly beeping and people were always chatting in the NICU – he was used to being awake. Here’s how I got my baby to take two naps a day and sleep through the night.
Once he came home, there were days he literally would be awake for eight hours straight. As a newborn (because he was born four months early, so his adjusted age was newborn). When he did sleep, it was maybe for twenty minutes at a time, randomly.
Nights were a crapshoot. At first he had his days and nights mixed up. I kept everything light in the day and kept lights low starting around 4pm, which helped him sleep better at night. Because he had severe reflux that would often cause his heart rate to drop, I was instructed to keep him upright for at least 30 minutes after each feed and pay attention to any heart rate dips he may have. He was sleeping in our bed, in between my husband and I in a Snuggle Me Organic (which I highly recommend!). It was much easier when he was that young to feed him when he was right with us in bed.
Because I was terrified of his heart rate dropping and not coming back up, I would stay up and hold him for hours every every single feed. This includes the 3-4 night feeds he had. I wasn’t sleeping. I literally was not sleeping more than 2-3 hours a day. I literally started seeing things. One night I was awake and the sun was starting to rise, as I stared toward the edge of the bed, I saw what looked like a black peacock feather shaking. Yeah. That kind of lack of sleep.
Slowly, he started to sleep longer periods. At first, it was two hours at a time. Then it stretched to three, and if we were lucky, he’d sleep for four hours straight overnight, but that was rare. He had no schedule and despite my trying to get him on an eat, play, sleep schedule – it wasn’t working. Nothing was.
I read a ton of books on getting baby to sleep but nothing was straight forward or easy and all of the information was conflicting.
I wasn’t going to let him cry for hours at a time.
I wasn’t going to never let him cry.
I wasn’t going to “just watch his cues” as one book suggested.
I needed a balanced, proactive, gentle approach. Sleeping is a skill most babies aren’t born with, it’s one that is taught.
At around five months and a half adjusted, he was waking up around eight times a night. I knew co-sleeping was no longer working for us. He knew daddy and I were there and any noise or movement would wake him up. It just wasn’t happening any longer.
I consulted my amazing sitter who is an experienced sleep trainer. She told me I needed to transition him to his crib and that our goal would be for him to sleep from 7pm-7am and take an hour and a half nap at 9am and 1pm. She suggested putting him in his crib, going cold turkey and letting him cry but going in to soothe him every 30 minutes.
This was much too rigid for me so I altered this a bit.
Here’s our exact schedule if you’d just like to see that:
7ish: wake up, new diaper, feed, new clothes
7:45ish – take a walk, play
8:30ish – change diaper, sleep sack, bottle, books
9am – nap (or try to get him down for a nap)
10:30 – change diaper, feed
11ish – play, run errands, get out of the house
12:30 – change diaper, sleep sack, feed, read books
1pm – nap
2:30 – change diaper, feed
3-6ish – play, get out of the house again, tummy time, etc
6pm – hang with dad, light play, read books
6:30pm – change diaper, massage, sleep sack, bottle
7pm – lights out, kiddo
Here’s exactly how I got my baby to take two naps a day and sleep through the night
It took me two weeks before I realized I had to be incredibly consistent with this schedule.
CHANGE, DRESS, FEED, READ BOOKS OR PASS OUT
To prepare for naps, I changed him, put him in a sleep sack and fed him. If he wasn’t ready to sleep yet, I’d read a couple of books to him.
At 9am and 1pm every single day for a month straight, I put him in his crib. First, I put him in his Snuggle Me Organic in his crib. He HATED just the crib so I knew I needed to transition.
After about a week to a week and a half, I put him in his crib without the Snuggle Me.
IN THE CRIB, CRY, OUT OF THE CRIB, BACK IN, PAT BUTT, CRY, PASS OUT
For the first two to three weeks, he would cry. He hated his crib. I’d let him cry for about five minutes while I waited outside his door. Sometimes he’d go to sleep after five to ten minutes, sometimes he’d cry for a full hour and a half (with me there to soothe and hold him). If he didn’t go to sleep after five minutes, I’d go in and pat his butt, shush him, rub between his eyes and soothe him. If he was crying too hard and freaking out, I’d take him out of the crib and hold him and kiss him while he cried.
Once he calmed down, I’d put him in the crib. Sometimes he’d cry again and I’d soothe, sometimes his crying would escalate and I’d take him out again. This is key: I kept trying for a straight hour and a half! I never just let him cry for extended periods on his own and I never gave up and decided we should go play instead of try to sleep.
Important: sometimes he’d cry but it wouldn’t be all out, full blown crying. It would be more like whining and making noise. In this case, I left him in his crib for longer, 20-30 minutes and he almost always fell asleep on his own. This is an important distinction I found. If he was seriously crying, I never just let him cry and cry on his own, I’d always go in and soothe. If he was just fussy crying, not freaking out, I’d let him wiggle around in there and get all his energy out.
If Everett would go to sleep and wake up way before an hour and a half, I’d let him hang out in the crib until he started to cry. Once he cried, I’d go in, pat and soothe or pick him up and repeat the process of putting him back in the crib. I did this to encourage him to sleep longer and let him know that it was time to be in the crib, asleep. I always had him in that room from 9-10:30 and 1-2:30. I’d change him and occasionally offer the bottle if he showed hunger signs (which was rare since I always fed him right before nap time).
Use a sound machine! I love THIS one.
Make sure the room is dark. I didn’t want his room to be 100% dark because I want him to know the difference between night and day, but I keep his room dark with these blackout curtains.
HOW TO GET BABY TO SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT
CREATE A ROUTINE
At first, we had a consistent routine (now that he’s older, 9 months adjusted, he doesn’t even need the routine and expects bed time at 7pm or earlier). Scott always puts him to bed. He’d read books to E, massage him with coconut oil, change diaper, dress, sleep sack and then feed him.
Every single night at 7pm, we put him in bed (unless he was clearly tired before this time). This was actually the easiest part of the routine. Because it took so long to get him napping during the day, he was exhausted by 7pm.
WAKING UP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT
When he would wake up in the middle of the night, we’d give him five minutes to go back to sleep. If after five minutes he didn’t go back to sleep, I’d change him and/or offer him a bottle. Before baby sleeps through the night it’s CRUCIAL to make sure he/she is eating enough throughout the day. Check with your pediatrician.
Everett was eating about 30oz during the day and our pediatrician gave us the go ahead to try to get him to sleep through the night. I definitely wouldn’t try this prior to six months because babies just can’t eat that much during the day when they’re younger. It’s important to make sure they’re consuming enough food.
Within a week, Everett was sleeping through the night. If he woke up, we always gave him a chance to settle back down. Babies have sleep cycles they often wake from and need a minute to get back to sleep.
A few notes about sleep schedules:
- If he is clearly exhausted, I try to keep him up as close to the schedule as possible but don’t stress about putting him down early.
- Consistency, especially in the beginning, is crucial!
- Don’t expect it to happen overnight.
- A couple weeks (or a month in our case) of hard work pays off in the long run!
- Of course, check with your pediatrician before enacting any schedule. Baby has to be old enough, weigh enough and eating enough.
Everett was a really bad sleeper when he came home from the NICU. He was a happy baby, but often got fussy because of this. Now, it’s rare that we have a fussy day. He only cries when something is wrong. He is always crawling around, full of energy and excitement with a huge smile on his face and I know that part of this is because he gets great sleep.