How I got my baby to sleep through the night
Let's start with disclaiming that these are the methods and tricks that we've found work for us. I like to approach parenting with a dash of background information so that I feel equipped, but a whole serving of patience and freedom to figure out what our particular baby is telling us (or not telling us) she needs. Her personality is not timid and guides much of our parenting. This isn't to add to the myriad of "Must-Do" lists you'll find all over the internet that too easily make you feel inadequate, but more of a - talking to your mum circle about things they've tried that work and didn't work. That's what I was searching for when I started out.
On a normal day, we begin bedtime with a routine. This routine has changed as she catches on to us and resists bedtime, so we keep it flexible, but always with lights low, probably the Baby Sleeps playlist on. I feed her and start stroking her head and face. We'll change her into jammies. Sometimes read her a story, but if she resists we forego. We use the same words, like "It's time for bed, the walrus said!" and "Goodnight, Florence the Great." We turn the womb noise on, swaddle her, give her her pacifier, and put her in her Moses basket next to our bed. On the best nights, that's it and she'll self soothe until she falls asleep. If she needs help, I'll lay next to her in bed and either lightly rub her face until her eyes close or sing her "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star", "The Itsy Bitsy Spider", and "Rain, Rain, Go Away" on repeat very slowly while I use my hands to sign very slow, simple movements in a position where her eyes are about half-way closed. My voice soothes her and my hands give her something to focus on so she forgets to resist and eventually her eyes get too heavy.
When she wakes in the middle of the night, we first comfort her while she's laying, which has helped her learn it's okay and to self soothe faster. It starts out light with the shh noise or humming (sometimes she just wants to know I'm near) or we'll gently rub her face. Sometimes she likes to hear me softly sing to her and open and close my hand in front of her to focus on something til her eyes get too heavy. If she cries at a medium, then we need to up our game. Maybe it's a nappy change or I'll put my cheek to hers and hum or talk to her, saying the same things over and over again. Nappy changes are tricky because usually if I pick her up, she smells or feels me and wants to eat.
Justin and I take turns every other night to sleep on her side and be responsible for her so that we can balance out sleep. On his nights, I think it helps that there's no temptation for food, so it breaks that as a habit/routine. If she can't be soothed by anything else, then we feed. In the first weeks, Justin took the night shift and fed her a bottle (thankfully, she took one) so that I could have a break (I was in a lot of pain). I think that was helpful two-fold: it gave them a chance to bond and it cut out the comfort and feed that only the breast can give, so she didn't feel as strong a pull to make nighttime feedings the norm. It was only when she was hungry that she woke up instead of out of habit/routine.
While I was pregnant, we started reading "French Kids Don't Throw Food" or "Bringing up Bébé, depending on if you're in Europe or America. The writer is an American expat living in Paris, surrounded by Parisian mums...so she's speaking our language. When we approach anything regarding Florence, it's nice to have three different cultures to pull from immediately. We were brought up American, so it's second nature to us (although, we're intentionally moving away from it). We live in the UK and went through the pregnancy and birth process with their rules in our face. And, then we sought out the French culture because, in many ways, it's very appealing to us.
The biggest thing we learned when preparing for baby through these cultures is that there is no one right way. Too often, mothers find themselves feeling caught up in pressures and comparisons. And that mom guilt is all too real. Having this knowledge of multiple cultures helps me ward off that tempting guilt. At the end of the day, if I find something that works for us and that makes me feel more comfortable and confident as a mother, then my baby will be all the more better for it. Now, that thing, whatever it is, can change by the hour or the day, but as long as I am doing what I think is right in that time, then baby will feed off of my calm.
never wake a sleeping baby
...with the exception of the last nap of the day! I know. I hate nevers with an exception too. This is mostly to talk about nighttime sleep and I struggled with when I should wake my baby during a nap. I'll touch on nap routines in a little bit. In the French book, she talks about how the French find things quite obvious. Things like letting a baby sleep. Babies are very vocal when they are unsettled. They will tell you when they are hungry. It's one of the main four things (sleep, nappy/diaper, food, comfort) you can count on them to be vocal about.
When Florence was born, we had trouble nursing. We had midwives coming in with their strong opinions and Florence and I hadn't found our groove yet. (It's not as magically natural as I was under the impression.) Some would, quite frankly, make me feel inadequate (though, I am sensitive) about not feeding my baby enough. They had us waking baby up every four hours at night, three during the day, to make sure she ate enough. We even stayed an extra day to get more consultation. There was one midwife that I connected with who told me babies are still living off of all the power nutrients from being inside on the first day and that we'll find our groove. I held onto her words as Florence was doing great. As soon as we got home, things began to click. I felt more myself and, in turn, more confident, which allowed me to focus on Florence. Looking back, I wish I hadn't listened to all of the extra voices and just gone in with the comfort that we had to meet each other first and our groove would follow. And that the healthcare people are only there for support. We stopped waking her up at night and let her tell us what she needed. She woke up at uneven hours during the night, but allowed us to sleep in the meantime. I did wake her up for naps if it was getting close to four hours because those early days were just a blur of sleeping and feeding. Around three weeks in, I started nudging her towards going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time and doing similar things before she goes down (different things for nap vs. nighttime) to set us up for a routine. By four weeks, she was sleeping through the night.
We use an app on our phones that we use for white noise. Some people use stuffed animals or radios. I think whatever is easiest for you, then stick to that. We live in a city, so there are lots of noises outside our flat. I take her out daily, so that she gets used to napping on the go. We use two different manufactured white noises. One is the womb sound from an app, which we eventually purchased the lowest price point to save us some sleep (it's helped). In the early days, the womb was to remind her of the noises inside my belly. It seemed to comfort her, if just to get her used to the noises and environment inside our flat. After a while, it turned into the noise we put on to start getting ready for bed so it would put her in that frame of mind. The second one is a shhh sound. If she's being shifty in her sleep or if I want to loop her naps, I'll turn on the shh sound to help her to focus on something instead of resisting. It's worked wonders in putting us to sleep as well. ha!
I often think of how I personally react to things and break it down to a very basic level. This helps me to assess my expectations of a new little being who doesn't have 30+ years of experience in this world (and I'm still prone to crankiness). When I'm hungry, I get grouchy, but I have a say in how quickly I will eat. If there's a loud noise, I might jump and I will most certainly wake up. I cringe when people come into our home and tell me babies should sleep through anything so I should bang pots to make sure she sleeps through it. Stop it. I would certainly wake up in a bad mood if you did that to me. Her naps look different depending on the day and what we're up to. Every day looks different for us. When we're at home, I turn on the womb noise and she has the street noise outside the window, but I try not to make sudden noises that would wake up any human. When we're out and about, girlfriend sleeps through sirens and yelling and all the bumps we hit in the pram. So, I know she can sleep in any environment. It's not a one size fits all for naps.
Around one month was when a routine started to make sense for us. I used an app to document when she slept, which gave me a visual of her natural patterns. We were putting her down at 9pm with a nappy change around 2a and a wake up time anywhere from 5-8a. Depending on her age, she would nap for 40 minutes and play for an hour and a half in between with a nap for 40 minutes; sometimes she loops naps but the rest of the schedule isn't affected - awake for 1.5 hours > feed 20 minutes after waking > repeat until the last nap of the day, which shouldn't be longer than 40 minutes and we try to have her up for about two hours. This one is tricky I make it a point to not use her as an excuse to not do something. I like having a routine so I can merge it with my social plans, but I wouldn't say I can't do something because of the baby's schedule. This has gotten easier and easier as we practice it. It might just mean that I have to leave the house a little earlier so she starts napping in the pram before we go meet someone, instead of having to pick her up mid-nap to leave. The more we practice, the more adaptable we are both getting.
giving baby grace
Our methods only work when she's having a normal day. Just like we take sick days out of our schedule, I treat her irregular days as just that, irregular. I don't try to force self soothing or her feeding schedule when she's feeling more needy. This is another one where the American culture doesn't work for us - You can't spoil a new baby and don't let anyone guilt you into otherwise! First and foremost, I want my baby to feel loved and heard before I can instill my practices on her. On days she has jabs, we "call in sick". They go in and out of growth spurts, so what works one week might not work the next. This is where my expectations come in. I want to encourage Florence to self soothe, but if what she needs in that moment is to be near me, then I'm not spoiling her, I'm giving her what she needs. As an adult, I need to be comforted. I can't imagine what it's like to be new to all of this. So, with each little blip, it could take a couple days to get back onto our normal routine. I still do all of the same things to keep things consistent and reliable, so she knows what to expect, but less rigid.
We had a month and a half of back-to-back blips. We went down to Louisiana for two weeks and the trip back home took about a week of rough jet lag, mainly because I was so tired that I didn't enforce our routine (so naive!). Then, she was sick for a week. Then, Daylight Savings Time affected us for a couple of days. And then, the four month "regression" hit. Each time, I gave her grace to sleep/feed/cuddle when she needed while nudging her with our normal routine. Now that things have calmed down, she's sleeping through the night again. Now, we have a tooth coming in. ha!
four month "regression"
I use this term in quotes because I don't completely subscribe to the idea that they regress. This is the time when their internal clocks are maturing and her sleep cycles are starting to look a little more like ours. So, treating it as a regression only frustrated all of us. When it first hit, the middle of the night was all over the place. She'd wake up every hour or two. We tried everything and we weren't on the same page with what we should try. We had to update our expectations and tend to her new needs.
For starters, we upped her bedtime to 7:30pm. This helps a lot. It seems counter-intuitive, but more sleep helps them to sleep. The first night was strange for her. She thought it was a nap, so when she woke up 40 minutes later, we treated it like the middle of the night. Kept the lights off. Kept her in her basket. Sang to her and did the things we do to put her to bed. After an hour, she finally fell asleep for the night. The next couple of nights, she'd wake up, but just needed her pacifier and soothed herself back to sleep. Now, 7:30p is our new normal!
The process in the middle of the night is still the same. At first, she'd wake with a hungry cry so we went straight to picking her up and then feeding her. After a couple nights, she would start to stir, which is when we turn on the shhhs and hum til she falls asleep. Feeding started to average twice a night with just being lightly unsettled every few hours. The nights when she's just lightly unsettled and we have to keep comforting her so that her sleep loops, we don't get much sleep, but it sets her up for sleeping all night, so it's worth it. Once she works up to it, we all sleep all night. The goal. After a week, she was sleeping from 7:30p-7:30a-ish.
We are still figuring naps out as she grows. It feels like we're stretching our 1.5 hours in between sleeps. She still gets tired at this point, but she resists naps more. I'm feeling it out. When in doubt, fresh air.
We are currently keeping the womb noise going all night to remind her to self sooth. She'll wean off of it, but we always have it ready as a comforting background noise to reassure her if needed.
Getting in enough food helps us get through the night without getting hungry. On really good nights, she'll let us sleep in til 8-9am and still wake up totally fine and not begging for food. This is where cluster feeding comes in and not just during the newborn days. In fact, as we get older, it gets harder because she's noticing more things and wanting to explore more things. She doesn't eat without wanting to look around, no matter how hard I try. This makes her get a tad less throughout the day. I encourage her to feed as much as she wants during the evening before bed. I offer it until she doesn't want it (which is saying a lot for Florence!). It makes a big difference when she wakes in the night because she isn't hungry. But if we were in the habit of picking her up, then she'd want to be comforted, which would cause us to think we should feed her, which would create a midnight eating routine. It's a cycle we try hard to steer clear of!
I also wanted to point out that I often mention that I listened to what she wanted. This took a lot of troubleshooting the four main things and introducing her to things around the flat and going on walks to see what she liked and didn't. I don't always get it right. It was around month three that things really started to click and she and I learned each other's cues. I make it a point to stay home with her one day a week so that she and I can have undivided attention on each other. I even notice a difference when Justin is home on the weekends because he and I will chat over her and a lot gets lost in the shuffle if we're busy. I know this isn't practical for a lot of people, but if you can schedule it in, it's made a big difference for us.
This is working for us right now. We're all just trying our best. I'm writing out the bits of my best that I remember in case it helps you or at least encourages you when this baby raising thing gets hard. Because, it is. The fact that you want the best for our baby means you're doing an amazing job, mama!