A Sleep Sampler: Infancy through 12 Months Sleep Tips
Sleep. Babies. The first question people ask. Does your baby sleep through the night? No? Here are my suggestions as to how to achieve that! Okay, maybe it’s not phrased that way, but that’s their point. Followed by How much does she weight? Oh, she’s tiny. Oh, she’s huge. I got news for the askers of the world: my thirteen month old does not sleep through the night, nor does she weigh very much. *gasp* I must be a lousy parent.
Despite my lousy parenting status, I’m going to share my sleep tips and transitions with you. Despite my poor tiny sleeper’s trajectory, I think I’ve got a few things that may help the sleep derangedly deprived parent. Why? How? Because I’ve been that person (am that person still?).
I’ve written a lot about sleep. Starting with my unbearable smugness that SuperBoy slept through the night at 12 weeks, simply due to the fact he didn’t want to night nurse anymore. Clearly it was superior parenting skillz. Ending with the fact that SweetPea, although night weaned at 12 months (nota bene, months, not weeks), still awakens at least once a night to be comforted back to sleep. I must be awful at this gig.
1) Birth to 6 months.
Shockingly, me and a bunch of other moms and a few experts feel that the first six months of life are to be led primarily by the baby’s needs. Keeping that infant on you, close to you, within smell-shot of your milk means you’re going to have a better chance at meeting whatever your nursing goal is. Why? Because she nurses more often at first, and that makes more milk storage for later. How does this relate to sleep? Because your breastmilk has relaxing go-to-sleep hormones in it.
My babies nap all over the place for the first six months. Literally. On my stomach, my chest, in the carrier, in the crib, in our bed, etc. We co-sleep for the first six months. A routine evolves over time–morning naps around 9 am and 1 pm the closer they get to 6 months old. But I don’t sweat it because I know baby will pass out anywhere and sleep through most noise and commotion. I’m not worried about supine, darkened room sleep. I’m certainly not worried about self-soothing as that means baby’s sucking reflex isn’t doing its job: making my milk come in and stay in.
At night time, baby can go down around 9pm, then awaken at 12, then three or four am, and then get up again around 7 or 8–maybe with a nice monster nap after the early morning feeding. It’s all across the board. When you have two, this can be tricky because the baby may pass out right when the toddler/preschooler is up & at ’em. This makes for a lot of extracting your nipple from the sleeping babe’s mouth and ensuring she’s safely stashed somewhere she won’t be hurt if she awakens when you’re in an epic take-off-the-night-diaper-battle. (Which NEVER happens with my precious angel of a boy.)
2) 6-12 months.
Help baby transition to sleep in their crib or floor bed (for the Montessorians among us) with a special object. For us, it’s been this half bunny-half blankie. Like a centaur for kids, right? Healthy naps led to better night sleep–or so they say. We aim for two naps, 1.5 hours – 2 hours each, around 9:30am and 2pm. We night weaned her at a year, so middle-night-wake ups are for my husband at this point.
I’d wrap the baby in a muslin swaddle blanket–the big 45×45 kind, not the velcro ones. Loosely. This is to keep limps together when softening for sleep and when lowering into the crib. I rock in a 40 year old rocking chair, nurse, burp over my shoulder, nurse on the other side, then walk around the room gently burping because SweetPea ALWAYS has a double burp no matter what, shhhhhhhhing in her ear. The older she got, the more I’d say Now we’ll see bunny and cuddle and sleep with bunny. Sleep. Bunny. Sleep. Bunny. I’d lay her down in the crib oh-so-gently-cursing-why-the-bottom-is-so-far-down and lay her on her side usually. The thin blanket keeps the body parts from flinging out and awakening your angel-devil. Lay the head down last and most quietly. She is usually semi-conscious. If she’s SCREAMING it means she’s not sleepy enough yet. Redo. If she awakens 45 minutes in, redo because that’s not long enough.
I gently drape her arm over the bunny centaur blankie, and wrap a heavier afghan over her body, tucking it against her back so it feels like someone is there. Then I sneak out of the room that has a VERY loud box fan going to cut the noise from the rest of the house. We laid down extra oriental rugs in her room because the hardwood floors, though beautiful, are terribly creaky.
Sometimes she startles awake and I lean over the crib with a hand on her hip or bum, shhhhhhhing and slowly rubbing (not to stimulate and awaken her! this isn’t a sports massage). Sometimes I abandon her and she is sleepy enough she’ll go back down after 4-6 minutes of protesting.
If she is awake and screaming, you may have to just leave her to deal with your own sanity, or your older child. Sometimes protest naps happen. Don’t beat yourself up about it. But when they happen closer to age one, it’s easier on the baby’s system. Baby’s are tough but delicate. Abandon them too often and they’re a hot mess. Stay with them every single second and they’re stinkers.
At night, she has the same bedtime as her older brother–prepping around 7:30 and lights out by 8pm. She has gone through cycles of awakening every hour. She’s in a phase right now of awakening at 11pm with no ability to go back down on her own–shrieking bloody murder for hours if left unattended. (Yes, we tried.) But then even if I hear her at 4am, she’ll settle herself back down until 7 or 7:30, when her brother wakes up. If your little one awakens at night too, even if you’ve night weaned them, sometimes it’s easiest to do a shortie-put-back-down and slip out (and gradually make it shorter and shorter, reminding the child aloud it’s sleep time with BUNNNNYYYY) than go through the cry-it-out for hours on end.
I’m not convinced cry-it-out works to teach the child self-soothing at a young age. It teaches them to pass out from exhaustion. And then you have to retrain them every time a new tooth, new anything happens in their life. Certainly not appropriate for the developmental baby mind under 6 months, it may have its place for your sanity as the baby gets closer to one year old. Maybe.
All in all, the child whose needs are met when she’s small is a more independent, happier, and better adjusted one. I’ve seen that time and time again with my own kiddos, with friends’ children, and in the literature. Nursing frequently, carrying or wearing your baby, and sharing sleep make little infancy easier, in my opinion. Setting your child up for a smooth transition to sleep by laying her down when she’s groggy but not completely passed out makes for a longer, better day nap as she ages.