Over the past 20 years, more sleep manuals have come and gone than any other type of parenting book. Yet some of these guides actually misguide parents and can make things even more confusing. My hope is to replace the many mistaken ideas about sleep with new insights. Here's my promise: Your child's sleep problems can be prevented or solved, quickly and lovingly, probably without "crying it out." thousands of parents have gotten more sleep with the methods you're about to learn, and I'm confident you will too.
Try This Crazy But Smart Technique
I'll start with one key suggestion. It may make you think I've lost my marbles, but humor me. This method is key to improving the sleep of everyone in the family. It's called "wake-and-sleep."
Many sleep experts warn that moms who lull their baby to sleep in their arms or while nursing are setting themselves up for misery. They caution that these babies won't learn to self-soothe and will scream for Mama's help every time they pop awake. The advice may sound logical, but it puts parents in a terrible bind because it's totally impossible to keep a baby from zonking out when she's in a cozy cuddle with a stomach full of milk. And it's just wrong to tell parents and caregivers not to cuddle their baby to sleep. You're not spoiling your baby when you do this -- you're teaching her that you love her and that she can depend on you.
But rocking and nursing your baby to sleep can sometimes create a problem; she won't learn to self-soothe to sleep. To solve this, turn on a track of white noise when you're ready to settle your baby for the night (rumbly sound is better than hissy sound). Then feed her, with lots of rocking. After the feeding, swaddle and rock her some more.
As you place your munchkin in the crib, swaddled and with the sound playing, jiggle her or lightly scratch her feet to wake her up a tiny bit. After a good feed, babies act kind of drunk from the milk. So when you rouse your child, her eyes will open -- maybe even roll around in a blurry stare -- but then she'll probably fall right back asleep.
If she starts crying when you wake her, pat her back (like a tom-tom drum) before putting her down, or place her in the crib and give it a fast jiggle for 30 seconds. If she keeps fussing, pick her up to calm her ... but be sure to wake her again when you put her back down.
You're probably thinking, "There's no way I'm going to wake my sleeping baby!" But this is one of the most important tips I can teach you. These few seconds of drowsy rousing are the essential first step in teaching your baby to self-soothe. Practice this now, and I promise you that within a few weeks you'll get a huge reward: Your little one will become much better at getting herself back to sleep (as long as she's not hungry or uncomfortable).
Help Breastfed Babies to Sleep a Bit Longer
It's a fact that infants who nurse wake up their mom more often. And as the months pass, they continue to wake a couple of times at night, unlike formula-fed babies, who sleep for increasingly longer stretches. It's not that your nursing baby can't go longer -- he can, but only if you make an effort to teach him how.
This point was underscored by a fascinating study from the University of Illinois. The researchers told 13 first-time moms to wake their baby between 10 p.m. and midnight and offer him a feeding (a so-called "dream feed"). Then they were also told to respond to their baby's nighttime cries with one minute of loving care (re-swaddling, diapering, a quick walk-and-pat) before offering him the breast. The results were striking: The infants ate less at night but more during the day. Plus, they soon began sleeping longer -- and by eight weeks, all of them were sleeping from 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. (compared with only 23 percent of the babies whose mom nursed them as usual).
So if you're nursing, here's what I recommend for the first month:
- Swaddle your baby and play the right type of white noise all night long.
- Have him sleep next to your bed.
- Practice the wake-and-sleep method every time you put your baby to sleep (see "Try This Crazy but Smart Technique," above).
- Nurse him every 1 1/2 hours or so during the day. (If he's napping, try not to let him go longer than two hours.)
- Feed five minutes on one side and then finish on the other side. This may run counter to what you have been told to do, but it'll stimulate both breasts and still make sure your baby gets plenty of your rich hindmilk.
- Wake him for a dream feed around 11 p.m. to fill up his tummy.
During the first weeks, don't let your breastfeeding baby sleep more than five hours straight, counting from the end of one feeding to the beginning of the next. (Most won't go any longer than three to four hours anyway, but some babies get so comfy they forget to wake and don't get enough milk.)
For Months 2 and 3, follow the same steps, but at night let your baby sleep longer (he'll probably go at least six hours). If he continues to wake at, say, 3:30 a.m. in spite of the dream feed and strong, rumbly white noise, try setting your alarm to give one more dream feed at 3 a.m. You want to wake him before he wakes you so you're giving him the nourishment he needs but you're not rewarding him for waking and crying.
You'll know that your baby is getting enough to eat when your breasts feel full at feeding time and much softer at the end; your baby is happy after a feeding and not hungry again for one or two hours; he has five to eight heavy, wet diapers each day; and his stools are runny, seedy, and yellow or green. (By 6 to 12 weeks, his poops may become thicker and golden brown.)