You’re probably reading this post at 3:00 am. You’re scrolling through your phone, frantically trying to find the reason for why your child won’t sleep. Your eyes are heavy and you’re working hard to convince yourself that you’re completely okay with never sleeping again until you’re 50. Bags under the eyes are in now, right?
Sleep is one of the areas moms tend to exaggerate the most. Everyone thinks other babies are sleeping more than their own. Why? Because everyone’s definition of sleeping through the night is different. For some moms, this means three hours at a time and for others it means eight hours (those kids are unicorns though). Some moms will claim their child is sleeping through the night, but neglect to mention where their child is sleeping (in their arms, a swing, a bassinet, etc.).
The point is: other babies aren’t as far along as you think they are.
Sleep deprivation is one of the areas I struggled with the most since becoming a mom. It sounds kind of funny doesn’t it – what did I think was going to happen? That we’d bring the baby home from the hospital and he would say, “I’m tired. Good night Mommy and Daddy” then roll over and go to sleep? (Please feel free to go ahead and laugh now).
I think sleep deprivation was so challenging because it’s so all encompassing. Without sleep, you turn into an alternate version of yourself. One with messy hair and squinty eyes who goes around yelling at the people she loves the most. It’s not a pretty sight. I don’t like the person I become when I don’t sleep.
So how does a mom manage the sleep deprivation that inevitably accompanies her bundle of joy? Here are five techniques to get yourself (and your entire household) a little more rest at night:
Choose your method.
Until a baby reaches three months, a sleep routine is nonexistent. Things are all over the place and trust me, there’s really no way to fix that except to just endure it for a time. But if you’re hitting three months and your baby is starting to roll over (or get close) and you want to move him or her out of your room and to a crib, then you need to start planning. Choose the method you want to use to make said transition. I chose the Ferber method and it worked really well for my son. Yes, three months is young to sleep train, but I wanted to do it sooner rather than later – before sleep habits begin to form.
There are a lot of methods out there, so it can be confusing to know which one is best. The truth is that there’s no one size fits all approach when getting your baby to sleep at night. The key with any method is to teach your child how to self soothe – meaning when they wake at night, they can put themselves back to sleep without your intervention. Until your child learns how to do that, they will be up at all hours and their nighttime sleep (and naps) won’t be as restful. So do whatever you need to do to get your child to self-soothe. How you get there is not as important.
Like I said earlier, sleep training probably won’t get you anywhere if your baby is less than three months old. Be realistic about what your baby (and you) can handle. Don’t try to push them before they’re really ready. And if you’re not sure they’re ready, then talk to your pediatrician so you can come up with a plan that’s tailored to your baby.
I can’t say this enough: consistency is key to making this work. Without it, your sleep training methods will fall apart. You can’t put your baby to bed at 7 pm one night and then 9 pm the next and not expect them to protest. Put your child to bed at the same time every night. Don’t worry too much about naps if your baby is under six months – those are a whole other ball game and can be super iffy for awhile (that’s a whole post in itself). The first nap of the day usually gets established first, and if you’re putting your child to bed at the same every night that might happen sooner rather than later.
But how do I make sure my spouse or partner is consistent too, you might ask? Simple. Whoever crumbles the easiest needs to leave the house for the evening while sleep training is taking place. If that’s you, then go out to the movies or grab a coffee. If it’s your husband, then send him out with friends or tell him to go golf or something. If it’s both of you, then you’ll need to give yourselves pep talks before tackling the sleep issue. The point is – whoever is handling the sleep training needs to stay the course and provide a consistent pattern that your child can pick up on and adjust to.
Which brings me to my next point…
Don’t give up.
Even if you’re the strong one, there will be times where you want to give in to your child’s crying. The first few nights of sleep training are the worst and you’ll find yourself ready to do anything to make the crying stop – whether it’s nursing your baby to sleep, rocking him until he stops crying, etc. It’s completely normal to experience those feelings but do not – I repeat do not – give in to them. Remember – you’re the parent and you know what’s best for your child, not the other way around. Crying is simply their way of protesting against what you’re doing.
Think of it this way: you wouldn’t give your child drugs if he or she were crying for them, would you?
Sleep training is not for the faint of heart. It can be very stressful, especially for new moms. That’s why you need a strong support system to help you through this difficult time. Lean on your spouse/partner, family or friends – and allow them to give you comfort. You can also find support online. I joined the Precious Little Sleep Facebook page and am I glad I did! The women on there are total rock stars and give amazing advice and tips. It’s also nice to have other moms to commiserate with when you’re up at 2:00 am questioning every life choice you’ve ever made.
Go with the flow.
Babies are unpredictable (isn’t that the understatement of the year?). As a result, there will be days where your child doesn’t nap or only sleeps two hours before they’re up crying again. Don’t beat yourself up when those days happen. Stick with your plan and allow room for unpredictability. I beat myself up whenever my son would only nap for 45 minutes at a time (45 minute intruder, anyone?). In retrospect, I should have been less rigid and focused on the progress he had made. There’s always room for improvement, but don’t let yourself get caught up in what you wish your baby would or should do. Instead, focus on what makes them unique and enjoy every moment you spend with them (yes, even the tearful ones).
In case you think I’m some expert at sleep training, let me assure you, I am not. It’s taken a lot of patience to get to where we’re at – and we’re still working on it. Some days are good, others are not. In fact, last night my son was up all night crying. Go figure. To stay updated on my ongoing battle for more sleep, follow me on Snapchat (michellelvroom)!
Moms: how did you get your babies to sleep better? Share your tips below so we can all benefit!