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My oldest son, Q, was a terrible sleeper as a baby. I’ve mentioned this before in my post about swaddling, but he really was just terrible! He would sleep only for short times (less than 45 minutes, usually just half an hour) and only when I was holding him. Getting this baby to sleep in his own bed just wasn’t happening. He would only sleep with me, and I wasn’t sleeping at all.
To say that this was exhausting would be an understatement.
It didn’t just drain me because I wasn’t sleeping. It also drained me because I was mothering 24/7. There was no me-time and there was no time with my husband. I couldn’t even eat dinner properly, because Q would wake up and start bawling.
At first, I would wolf down my food as quickly as I could and the pick him up again. But very quickly it became evident we couldn’t and shouldn’t continue in this way.
Sleep is one of the pillars of a baby’s health as well as for his mom’s sanity. If baby doesn’t sleep well, he won’t grow well. He also won’t eat well, which again leads to not growing well. On little to no sleep, baby gets grumpy, cries more, eats less and drives his parents to desperation.
Food and sleep
One of the important things to understand when handling a newborn baby, in my view, is that sleep and feeding are intimately connected. A baby that’s tired will not eat so well. In turn, a baby that’s hungry will not sleep well. And in this way, a vicious cycle is started.
To break that cycle, you have to make sure that both eating and sleeping are made easy.
If you are not sure that baby is eating properly (a newborn baby should be steadily gaining weight, and you can always consult your doctor if you’re worried), offer some milk again 30-60 minutes later. And I recommend trying to feed him at the same times every day.
To make sure that sleeping goes well, again try to put him in bed or a stroller every day at the same time. Make sure that baby has eaten well when it’s time to sleep; remember that it’s difficult to sleep on an empty stomach, whereas a full stomach makes one drowsy.
Let’s now go through the details of an evening ritual to see how to make sleep likely 🙂
How this will help you, mom, find space and balance
This will help you, the baby and family life in general, because a bed-time ritual supports your babies Health and sleeping habits. This will give you:
- Less worry; why is he crying? Why isn’t he sleeping?;
- More clarity on his needs; he’s well rested, so if he’s crying it’s because he’s hungry;
- More time to yourself.
Getting baby to sleep – the benefits of a bed-time ritual
We did two important things:
- Bed-time ritual
I have a separate post about swaddling, so if you are interested, or if you feel that only the ritual won’t be enough, I recommend you read it.
The other thing we did was install a very thorough bed-time ritual and it has the following benefits.
Benefits for baby, it:
- Makes baby calm and contented;
- Lets him know what is happening, taking the surprise out of being put away;
- Also lets baby know what is expected of him, namely to go to sleep;
- Makes baby rested, ready for more growing, eating and learning the next day.
Benefits for mom:
- Less worry over whether everything is alright;
- Less heartbreak over teaching baby to sleep in his own bed;
- More time and relaxation as after a while you can simply go through the ritual and go downstairs and enjoy your evening.
Long term benefits:
Gives you and your partner time to connect in the evening, supporting your relationship;
Makes it normal for kids to go to bed and to sleep in the evenings; Q is now 5 and bed-time is never an issue at our house.
What you’ll need
Before starting the ritual that will help baby to sleep soundly in his own bed, go through a mental checklist to see if everything you need is actually present. That way, you won’t have to halt the ritual to get the missing items and breaking up the rhythm of bed-time for baby.
Items you’ll need:
- Baby bath;
- Bath oil, preferably something like lavender;
- Clean PJs – for baby, not for you;
- Baby phone with music;
- Swaddle cloth – if you’re using one;
- Milk (in bottle, 2x 3/4 feed);
- How water bottle;
- Baby bed
Oh, and the baby
What you’ll do
The ritual takes about an hour, but that depends a bit on how fast your baby takes his milk. Yes, you read that right, food is involved in the bed-time ritual. Remember that I told you that food and sleep are connected? In order for baby to sleep well, we want to make sure that he is full and drowsy.
On average, a newborn baby needs to sleep about 12 hours per night. So if the day starts at 7 am. (like at our house), we’ll want baby to sleep at 7 pm. Which in turn means the bed-time ritual starts at 6 pm.
If it makes you comfortable, you can follow this schedule down to the last minute. But for baby’s biological clock to pick up on the times, doing this by approximation is, of course, good enough.
Feed – about 3/4 of a regular feed. This is especially important if you’re using formula, because formula is so filling for a baby, and we want to have some space left later in the the ritual to top up some more.
Put baby down where he can play safely.
Make more milk, if you’re using formula 3/4 bottle, and put it by the chair. This means you may need to make it a bit warmer than usual, as it’ll be there for about 20 minutes more.
Fill the baby bath.
Take baby into his room and undress.
Take baby out of the bath and dry him.
Take some lotion and massage him.
Put clothes and PJs on.
If you’re swaddling your baby, then now is the time to put the swaddling cloth on.
Take you baby in your arms and close the door to the bedroom. Say “goodnight door”. (You know the singsong voice you’re supposed to use for this stuff, right?)
Close the curtains at the window and say “goodnight world! See you tomorrow”.
If you’re passing any toys or stuffed animals, say goodnight to them as well.
Turn on the music of the baby phone.
Sit down in the chair and lay baby down with his head resting on your arm.
Top him up with more milk, so that his belly is nice and full.
When he’s done, gently hold him to your shoulder. If he’s already sleeping, let him sleep. They usually don’t need to burp if they were completely relaxed while drinking, so nothing might come.
After a while, gently turn him on his back again, with his head resting on your arm.
If he’s still awake, hold him like that for a bit. But it’s preferable to put him in bed JUST before he falls asleep.
Ideally, baby is still awake when you lay him down. If he’s not, of course don’t wake him up! But it’s great is he’s in the process of nodding off. That means sleep is already coming, but he’s still learning to fall asleep by himself and in his own bed.
You’re not done yet!
Ha! You thought you had the entire evening to yourself, didn’t you? Not in the next two decades
To facilitate sleeping a bit further, my husband and I would give our kids a top up bottle at around 11.30 pm. Usually my husband did this, as he would be still awake anyway, and it gave me a few hours extra.
The way this works is that in the late evening, baby’s belly is empty enough to take another feed. That makes him sleep for the next few hours on an other feed, but it doesn’t disrupt your sleep.
So, if you’ve been struggling with the evenings and getting your newborn baby to sleep, I hope this helps!