If I've become an expert on any subject in these short 11 months of becoming 'Mom' (and to be clear, the longer I've been 'Mom,' the less expert I feel on most subjects), it's baby sleeping. There are hundreds of programs, thousands of websites, and a seemingly endless number of resources for new and sleep-starved mom zombies to pursue.
If you're like me, and madly googling solutions at 3 a.m. after a tear-ridden battle with baby to go back to sleep (my tears, not hers), don't worry Mama, you're not alone. Some days it feels like sifting for a non-existent needling in a never-ending digital haystack. Even right now, when I search "baby sleeping help," Google offered me almost 600 million results.
In short, it seems like everyone has an answer, but no one has the answer to the baby sleep conundrum.
So what do I do?
I'm sorry to report that I don't have the answer either. But these are a few things I found insightful in my ongoing quest for the coveted "sleep through the night" status.
Set up a bedtime routine
One of the most useful pieces of advice that I received from the internet, my mom, and other mom friends was establish a bedtime routine. It can be whatever works for you family, but the goal is to calm your baby and signal that it's time to sleep soon. For our family, it's a bath, a baby massage with lotion, read a few stories, and nurse and rock to sleep.
Make it dark
Babies find darkness comforting and it helps signal their brain that it's time to sleep. When baby was still sleeping in our bedroom and having a hard time going down, I remember rocking her to sleep in our window-less closet. Like clockwork, she would yawn and start to close her eyes. Blackout curtains are definitely worth investing in, or if you're looking for a cheaper solution, putting tin foil over the windows also keeps out the light (we use both in our baby's bat cave).
Dress for success
The basic rule of thumb when it comes to dressing baby for sleep is to dress them in one more layer than you would wear. This makes sense because babies shouldn't be sleeping with loose blankets as they increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Our usual go-to is a footed zippered sleeper over a sleep sack. LUX Apparel in FSJ carries some beautiful muslin sleep sacks and I've seen some cozy ones at Winners too. If you find sleepers that zip both from top and the bottom, it makes those midnight diaper changes way easier.
Be aware of wake windows
As mentioned, there are a lot of different sleep programs out there, but one of the most useful pieces I found in the early days was getting to know your babies "wake windows" from Taking Cara Babies website. By better understanding baby's age-appropriate time between naps, it made it less of a guessing game on when to start getting baby ready to go down. One of the reasons your baby may not be sleeping well is that she's been awake too long, is overtired, and now has elevated levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) that is keeping her from sleeping.
Do what you need to get those naps
Hold to sleep, nurse to sleep, rock to sleep, carry to sleep, drive around the block to sleep – do what works for you and your baby. Day sleep, no matter how you get it, is essential for building toward better sleep at night. Eventually, you want baby napping in her crib, but for some babies that can take a while to master. Once your nights start getting better, you can work on establishing better sleep habits during the day.
Do what works for you & don't sweat the small stuff
Living in the trenches, I've learned pretty quickly that this supposed maternal instinct is a load of malarkey – parenting is a learned and practiced skill. It took me too long to realize that there is no 'right' way for baby sleep, rather the 'right way is what feels right for you and baby.' Be patient and go with your gut feeling. If sleep training feels right for your family, go for it. If nursing baby back to sleep every time feels right, that's okay too.
The road to "sleeping through the night" status is not a happy upward curve plotted on a linear graph (as I naively assumed it would be), but rather it's a chaotic general incline with various pitfalls along the way (thank you teething, travel, sickness, weather, growth spurts, etc.)
Finally, keep in mind that even despite reading all those resources out there, every baby is different. Our baby is still up twice a night on a good night. And on those crazy nights where it feels like were up every hour, it helps to remind myself that we've come a long way from where we were in the beginning. Before you know it, they'll be a teenager and getting them up out of bed will be a whole new challenge.
A.M. Cullen lives and writes in Fort St. John.