I recently reconnected with a friend from my childhood, who is currently pregnant with her second child. It was so fantastic to see her after all these years, but it was a little bit surreal to be discussing things like picky eaters, potty training, and temper tantrums with my childhood BFF, you know?
As the afternoon moved forward, and her son fell into a peaceful slumber in his stroller while my 3 y/o ran in circles around us (she’s a perpetual motion machine like me), my friend confided in me that she’s terrified her second child will be a nightmare in the sleep department. I guess her son was a complete angel when he was a baby, which makes her about 300% confident she won’t be as lucky a second time, and since she remembers my daughter was not the easiest baby in the world when it came to sleep, she asked me for some pointers.
Of course, I’ve blocked that part of motherhood out of my head, so I drew a complete blank when she asked me, but as soon as my daughter was in bed that night, I poured myself some wine (surprise!) and let the memories come flooding back so I could put a list of 10 simple tips to help her baby (and your baby!) sleep better, which I couldn’t wait to share with you…
1. Visit your pediatrician
Before I get into all of my tips and tricks, I just want to take a moment to point out the obvious because, well, when you’re running on next to no sleep, obvious stuff isn’t always so obvious…
If your baby is extremely fussy and/or not sleeping, the first thing you should do is bookmark this page for another day and take your baby to your pediatrician’s office for a checkup. Chances are your child is just being a typical, fussy, colicky newborn, but it’s always better to err on the side of caution, right?
2. Educate yourself
If I could turn back the clock, I would’ve done a ton of research BEFORE I had my daughter, rather than in the wee hours of the morning during the dreaded 4-month sleep regression, and I would’ve focused on these fantastic resources:
THE HAPPIEST BABY ON THE BLOCK by Harvey Karp
This book gave me LOADS of tips and tricks to help me deal with colic and how to soothe my fussy baby, and it comes in DVD format for tired parents who are too busy walking and rocking and bouncing their colicky newborns to find the time to read.
HEALTHY SLEEP HABITS, HAPPY CHILD by Marc Weissbluth
I may not agree with everything Weissbluth says in this book, but he taught me some fundamental principles about daytime and nighttime sleep that were so valuable in helping me understand why my daughter and I were having so many challenges at bedtime, and he also helped me understand the importance of a solid nap schedule, so I highly recommend this book to new parents!
THE BABY SLEEP SITE® by Nicole Johnson
I stumbled upon The Baby Sleep Site® during a particularly bad patch with the 4-month sleep regression, and I instantly fell in love. It is filled with all kinds of resources, including articles, e-books, and parent stories that not only gave me the support and information I needed to help me get through that difficult time in my life, but also made me feel less alone. And for those who are really struggling in the sleep department, there are affordable personalized sleep consultations to choose from to help you and your family find your way back to a good night of sleep!
3. Order yourself a Miracle Blanket
I enrolled my daughter and myself in a mom-and-me class when she was about 6-weeks-old, where I connected with other new moms and learned a lot of great things about breastfeeding, introducing new foods, and keeping our home safe, but the most important takeaway, for me anyway, was this fabulous product called the Miracle Blanket. My daughter had only been sleeping a few hours in a row by this point (if I was lucky), and we were all tired and cranky, but the first night I wrapped her into that magical thing, she slept for over 6 hours without waking up. It helped with her colic, it made it easier to feed her in the night with minimal upset, and she consistently slept for longer stretches from that point forward (which is probably why it’s called a ‘Miracle Blanket’).
4. Invest in a vacuum and hair dryer
While I didn’t do a lot of research about sleep when my daughter was born, I did read a lot of material about colic. Call it mother’s intuition or whatever you want, but something deep in my soul knew there would be times my child would cry inconsolably in the middle of the night and I wouldn’t know what to do.
And I was right.
The good news is that I was prepared, and with the help of 2 of the most amazing household inventions known to mankind, I was often able to calm my daughter down quite quickly.
OUR VACUUM helped on those colicky nights when I just couldn’t calm my daughter down enough to sleep. All I had to do was plug the vacuum in, hold her close to me, and sway her from side to side, and she would eventually fall into a nice, peaceful sleep. It took a while, but it worked like a charm every single time.
And during that 2+ month period when my daughter insisted on screaming at the top of her lungs every time I tried to feed her and her pediatrician insisted there was nothing wrong with her (and suggested I start drinking beer in the evenings), I found MY HAIRDRYER was all it took to get her to calm down enough to nurse (and eventually sleep).
Pretty genius, right??!
5. Cocyntal, Cocyntal, Cocyntal!
When my daughter reached the 6-week mark, one of my girlfriends took it upon herself to call me at 10 pm and INSIST I get acquainted with my breast pump ASAP or my child would never (ever!) take a bottle from anyone. And, being the naive person I was back then, I did exactly as she said (hindsight is always 20/20, right?), and gave my already colicky daughter 4-ounces of milk using the bottle that came with my breast pump. This ended up being the biggest mistake of my life as I spent the next TWENTY FOUR HOURS trying to get my child to pass gas until another (much nicer) friend of mine dropped off a box of cocyntal at our condo. It totally did the trick and, with the blessing of our pediatrician, I gave my daughter a dose before every feed from that point forward and was amazed at how much happier she was.
6. Make sure your baby is getting enough sleep
For a long time, I was under the impression that the more I kept my daughter awake, the more she would sleep, but every sleep book, article, e-book, and coach I’ve ever spoken to has told me the exact opposite is true: sleep really does beget sleep. And experience confirms they are correct. So make sure your little one is getting enough sleep, and if you have no idea what the sleep requirements are for his or her age, this is a good place to start.
7. Establish a good bedtime routine
If you’ve read anything about babies and sleep, you have probably heard about the importance of establishing a good bedtime routine over and over (and over!) again, so I won’t dwell on this, but my daughter is living proof that kids really do thrive on routine. And if you make it fun, they may actually learn to love bedtime like my daughter does.
8. Blackout blinds
We waited far too long to buy blackout blinds for my daughter’s room, and I remember kicking myself for not doing it sooner. It made such a difference in helping with early morning wakings, and it continues to save my life during daylight savings each year! Oh, and if you can’t afford to have fancy blinds made especially for your child’s room, give Blackout Buddy a try. I haven’t tried them personally, but I’ve heard great things and they are portable for traveling!
9. Teach your baby to soothe himself to sleep sooner than later
During the mom-and-me class that taught me about the Miracle Blanket, the instructor warned all of us not to get into the habit of nursing (or rocking or bouncing) our babies to sleep, but to start teaching them how to soothe themselves by about the 6- or 8-week mark. Naturally, I thought she was crazy, but once the 4-month sleep regression took its hold and I was spending 10+ hours a day trying to get my child into her crib, I realized I should have listened to her and put my child down when she was drowsy but awake, rather than waiting until she was in a deep (deep) sleep before transferring her from my arms to her crib.
10. Give the dream feed a try
Since I was spending 10+ hours trying to get my daughter into her crib by the time she reached the 4-month mark, the idea of removing her from her crib to feed her in her sleep so she could sleep for longer stretches made me want to pee my pants in fear. So I never tried it, but a couple of my girlfriends SWORE this tip really helped them when their kids were babies. You can read more about dream feeds, and whether-or-not you should give it a try, right here.
11. Bonus tip
Whether you just brought your newborn home from the hospital, are navigating your way through the 4-month sleep regression, or have been up multiple times a night with your toddler for the last 3+ years, it’s hard to believe you’ll ever get a good night of sleep again, but I promise you will. It may not be tonight, or tomorrow night, or the night after that, but it will happen. In the meantime, make sure to keep a lot of ice cream in your freezer, and wine in your fridge, and remember to breathe, because the calmer you are, the calmer your baby will be.
At least that’s what I’ve heard.
(I am never calm.)
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