“Does she/he sleep through the night yet?”
I think many parents will agree this is one of the most common questions we, as moms and dads, get asked. And I’ll be honest. This questions some times drives me bonkers. If you’re one of the rare ones whose baby slept through the night very early on, then you are lucky. But chances are, you’re in the sleepless camp with the rest of us and looking for anything and everything that will help get your little one to sleep for longer than 20 minute stretches.
My first born didn’t sleep, like at all, until he was almost one year old. And so far, sleeping, at least nap time, has been tricky with my two month old daughter. I’ve learned A LOT since my son was born 4 years ago though. We’ve tried just about every single thing possible when it came to helping him sleep and learn to fall (and stay) asleep on his own. From books to articles to even having an experienced doula and sleep expert come to our home (we were at our wits ends and functioning as zombies), we’ve done it all.
We’ve found that every baby/child is completely different and while each will sleep through the night or learn to sleep well on their own time, there are some gentle sleep tips and things you can do to help encourage positive sleep habits.
Helping a Baby Sleep – Gentle Sleep Tips
- Find a Routine and Stick to It. This has to be one of the most important points. By far. Once we implemented a routine and ensured we were home for nap times, or at least in a situation that enabled him to sleep, we noticed a huge difference in K’s sleeping habits. Babies thrive on the familiar and routine, so making sure your daily rhythm is more or less the same each day will help them learn healthy sleep associations. When you’re first trying to implement a good rhythm, try to keep the day’s activities very simple and the same each day. For example, wake up around the same time, have breakfast, go for a walk or do your morning chores, etc. then put baby down for a nap. After they wake up from their nap, have some good play time or go out if you need to, then make sure they’re able to get their afternoon nap in. If you’re onto just one nap, adjust your schedule accordingly. Interestingly, babies sleep better at night if they’ve gotten enough sleep during the day. Dealing with an over-tired baby who hasn’t had an opportunity to nap properly just makes everything more difficult. If you’re having trouble with nap times, try to stick around the home for naps until your little on is into a good schedule. Also, consistently being in the same sleeping place (whether it’s a crib, bassinet or other bed) makes it easier for them to fall asleep each day.
- Minimize Stimulation, Especially Later in the Day. What I didn’t realize prior to talking to sleep experts, is that stimulation for babies can be even the tiniest of things. We used to have music on all the time and I thought that if it was mellow or geared toward kids specifically, that was perfect. However, it turns out this can be too much stimulation for little ears. We cut out music for a while and tried to create a really calm environment, especially later in the day, to allow K to decompress and to minimize the amount of action and noise.
- Get Blackout Curtains. If your baby is having a hard time sleeping or going down during the day, blackout curtains can make a HUGE difference. We found that ours weren’t dark enough either, so we taped black bristol board to the windows. We might have looked funny to our neighbours, but we were desperate! This helped a lot in the summer months especially, when you’re putting the kids to bed while it’s still light out.
- Fill Up on Healthy Grains at Dinner. If your baby is eating solids, try filling them up at night with healthy grains like a quinoa, millet or rice dish. We started giving K a bowl of quinoa before his bedtime feeding every night to ensure he had a full tummy. If the baby is less than 6 months and not eating solid foods yet, just make sure they have a good feeding before bed and their little tummy is full.
- Implement a Bedtime Ritual – Keeping the bedtime routine the same each night will allow your little one to anticipate what comes next. Some parents like to give a small nightly bath, while others find this can actually stimulate the baby. Like I mentioned before, every baby is totally different. We start by dimming the lights, giving our little girl a massage with baby oil or cream, a gentle hum or song and then winding down with a good feeding in a dark room.
- Keep the Nighttime Calm and Dark – Try to minimize excitement, loud noises and bright lights right before bed. Creating a peaceful, calm atmosphere can be trickier with other little kids around, but if you have a partner who can help, then one of you can focus on the baby.
- Sleepy, but not Asleep – If possible, try putting your babe down sleepy, but not completely asleep. I find this is much more do-able as they get a bit older. Those first few months, they are still very dependent on mom and dad’s touch and presence and it can be harder to put them down before they are asleep. Again, every baby is different though! As they get older, putting them down sleepy but not quite asleep can help them learn how to put themselves to sleep and will minimize any stress they feel when they naturally wake up, making it easier for them to put themselves back to sleep.
- Humming or Touch – If your little one is having trouble getting him or herself back to sleep after waking up (but is not hungry, doesn’t need changing, etc), remember not to stimulate them too much. Try to keep him or her in their bed and either hum to them or rub their back gently to help them fall back asleep. We used to always pick K up the second he made noise when waking up, but this actually made it harder for all of us as the act of picking him up out of his bed actually woke him up further and just made the cycle worse. We found that by either lightly humming or gently rubbing his back, he was able to fall back asleep on his own much easier.
- Use White Noise – If necessary, get a good sound machine. A simple sound machine with nature noises can be a lifesaver for many parents. I know it was for us. We preferred a sound machine over the sleep sheep as it stays on continuously and you can continue using it after for yourself if you want as well.
- Talk to Someone – When you’re in the throes of sleep deprivation, it makes daily functioning tough. Know that SO many other parents have also struggled with sleep issues. Seek out other parents, your friends or family to talk to. Ask someone to come help you, even if it means watching the baby for a bit while you take a nap. While we worked on implementing a good rhythm and our son learned how to sleep on his own, this was the mantra we went by, and it helped: This too shall pass.
If you’re looking for some more in-depth gentle sleep techniques, I highly recommend these books and articles:
No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley
Sleeping Like a Baby by Pinky McKay
Sleeping With Your Baby for co-sleepers, by Dr. James McKenna
The Subtleties of Sleep by Janet Lansbury
8 Infant Sleep Facts Every Parent Should Know by Dr. Sears
Get Your Baby to Sleep by Dr. Sears