Going back to work after your maternity leave for any mama is a time filled with mixed emotions. The thought of talking to adults again (the joy!) coupled with the worry of missing your precious little bundle (the agony). It’s a big transition and one that benefits from a little prep before the big moment arrives.
As a sleep consultant with 8 years of health education training and over 5 years of experience helping hundreds of families get their babies and toddlers to sleep, I’ve developed some tried and true techniques for helping your little one get the best sleep possible. Putting these theories into place will create a strong foundation of healthy sleep habits to help you and your child pass through the dreaded 4 month sleep regression which includes more night waking and shorter naps. Read on…
1. Start as you plan to continue.
During the first 3 months of life most of us are unknowingly training our children how to fall asleep. Try and use a tool or method that helps soothe your child but that is not a total burden to you. If your child must sleep on you, that can be adorable at first but hard to maintain as the weeks go by. Swaddling, pacifiers, DocATots are all helpful tools that are easier to sustain.
2. Get your baby gaining weight and maintaining a weight curve.
You can implement all the sleep strategies you want, but if you have any doubt that your child isn’t feeding well or gaining weight well, you’ll always have self doubt that the reason she isn’t settling or wakes up frequently isn’t due to hunger. If you are breastfeeding, there is nothing better than feeding on demand frequently through the day and night those first 4 weeks to get your supply up.
Also, I recommend you keep your middle of the night feeds if you can. Your milk supply is the greatest between 12 am and 2 am due to prolactin. When you start sleeping through this feed your milk supply takes a hit and then you fall into a downward spiral of self doubt over whether your child is eating enough at each sitting and if fussing is due to hunger or something else.
3. Learn the Dunstan Baby Language to meet your child’s true needs.
An Australia Opera singer deciphered that certain baby cries are similar and each cry represents a specific need. There are 5 sounds: hunger, gas, burp, discomfort and fatigue. If you can learn even 3 of these it will help you immensely to figure out why your child is crying or fussing. A very common parenting pitfall is mistaking fatigue signs for hunger signs.
4. Watch the clock.
It’s your job to decide when it is bedtime or nap time. Use the clock. Babies don’t just fall asleep when they are tired. You have to set the stage for sleep and give them a little help at the beginning. You’re training them how and when sleep happens. Babies can get overtired very easily, and once they are in this overtired zone, they become increasingly fussy, they cry and it becomes harder to get them to sleep and to stay asleep and our desperation can lead to bad sleeping habits. From birth to 2 months, newborns can be comfortably awake between 45 minutes to 1 hour. After that time frame, they become overtired and harder to settle. Yes, that means sleep, eat, poop, then repeat.
Once your baby is 2-3 months, they should be back asleep between 1-1.5 hours. If you miss those windows, they get harder to put to sleep and it is harder for them to stay asleep. Timing is important.
5. Create a bedtime routine.
Start implementing a short sequence of events that indicates it is sleep time for all naps and bedtime. Bedtime routine at this age can be as short as 10 minutes. At night time, even changing their pjs to differentiate between day and night is enough of a signal.
6. Use “Le Pause”.
When your baby wakes at night, wait 3 minutes before you go to her. All humans wake up in the night and often kids aren’t even awake when they cry out. Before you rush over make sure she’s actually awake and give her a brief chance to self settle before helping out.
7. Swaddling is the BOMB!!
Many new parents tell me that their babies don’t like being swaddled. Through years of discussing this topic, what I’ve discovered is that usually when parents try the swaddling, their baby is already overtired and probably doesn’t like ANYTHING at this point, and it’s not about the swaddle. You can read about why we swaddle and how to wean the swaddle here.
8. Get in the habit of feeding your baby on wake up, rather than on put down.
Follow a Wake, Eat, Play, Sleep routine. Feed on wake up so that you don’t have to work on breaking a feeding to sleep association. Then keep trying to put your baby down in the crib calm, but awake. Get her used to falling asleep in the crib. You can help by ssshhhing her, having your hand resting on her body and gently rocking her a little bit. Offering verbal and physical reassurance while in the crib can help get her used to falling asleep in the crib.
9. Be an observer.
There is a lot of anxiety that comes with being a first-time parent and fussing can totally derail our confidence that we are doing the right thing. I have found that most of us don’t give something new a chance to be successful. Give something new at least 5 minutes to work and don’t be afraid to try the new thing again another time.
10. Don’t be too hard on yourself!
As you travel through this crazy parenthood journey you will realize that nothing is ever perfect. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on parenting something will change and keep you off balance yet again. The art becomes trusting your instincts, maintaining your boundaries and managing the challenges as they come.
Sarah Mitchell is the founder of Helping Babies Sleep and empowers tired parents to get their babies and toddlers to sleep by educating parents on age appropriate sleep needs and sleep training options. She’s a Canadian girl living in Mountain View, California with her husband and two kids.