Because my four kids are such good sleepers, parents are always asking me how I sleep trained my kids. Spoiler alert: I don't know the first thing about sleep training. And (don't get mad), I think that sleep training is only necessary if you need to break bad habits. So, the easiest thing is to not start those habits in the first place. When people ask me how I got all four of my children to sleep through the night at 12 weeks, I tell them, "Because I didn't want to live with my mother-in-law."
Obviously, this makes no sense, but I'll connect the dots for you in a minute.
Soon after our wedding, I was pregnant with our first child. I went into work at 1 a.m. for my job as a news anchor and my husband was in residency for neurosurgery. It wasn't rare for him to still be at work when I was leaving for work. On the nights that he returned home at a normal hour, he needed to get a good night’s sleep. We needed someone to wake up with the crying baby overnight.
My husband decided that the perfect solution was for his mom to move in with us and raise our child. She could take care of the baby while we were at work. It made perfect, rational sense to him.
A few problems: We had a small two-bedroom apartment, his mother (and father) lived out of state, no newlywed wants to live with her mother-in-law, and in our case, the feeling was mutual. At one point during my pregnancy, my husband called his mom and asked her to move in with us to take care of our baby around the clock. She, too, thought he was nuts.
So, I convinced my husband that I had it under control. "I will read every single book there is," I told him. "I will have this child sleeping through the night by the time I have to go back to work." That gave me 12 weeks.
Cue the laughter from every person who has ever had a child before. "Good luck with that," they would laugh.
That made me even more motivated. I Googled. I asked mom friends. I literally read 10 books about infant sleeping. And, guess what? I had that baby sleeping through the night at 12 weeks. And, all of his siblings too. And, no, don't jump down my throat about how harmful it is to have a baby cry it out. That's not what I did.
Here are the few things that I learned:
1. The more breastmilk/formula a baby drinks during the day, the less he or she needs at night. All of my babies were fed every 2.5 hours until they were sleeping through the night. I was so strict; nothing got in the way of the schedule. Every 2.5 hours, down to the minute.
2. Babies wake up overnight, just like you do. You and I may roll over, look at the clock, or grab a drink of water. And, we know how to fall back asleep. A baby who has always been nursed or bottle fed to sleep only knows how to fall asleep by crying for more milk … or more rocking, or whatever crutch worked for you. If you don't ever teach them that crutch, you never have to break the habit (i.e., crying it out). From the day my babies were born, I put them to sleep when they were drowsy, but awake. They learned how to fall asleep on their own.
3. Eat, play, then sleep. I fed my babies as soon as they woke up, so that they would not correlate milk with sleep.
4. Speaking of play, keep your baby active. Just like you get worn out from a workout, so do babies. Along with tummy time, babies need to be moving their limbs. You can move their legs in a bicycle motion. Stretch their arms across their bodies. Increase their range of motion. The easiest way to do this is by putting them in the Otteroo. The buoyancy of the water allows your baby to move his or her arms and legs on their own. It builds strength, muscle tone and control. Parents tell us the Otteroo is their secret weapon to getting baby to sleep. They say their baby always sleeps better after a “workout” in the Otteroo.
And what new parent doesn't want a little extra sleep?
I, too, found that an active routine helped the children sleep better.
5. You're not going to like this, but if you're breastfeeding, the amount of caffeine you are drinking can keep the baby up at night. I am kind of nuts so I kept journals of when the baby woke and how much caffeine I was drinking. There was a direct correlation. For me, the most amount of coffee I could drink while breastfeeding was one weak mugful a day. I know you're saying, "but I'm so tired, I have to drink the coffee!" The sooner you cut it out, the sooner you'll be getting a good night's sleep, and you won't need that coffee.
6. Breastfed babies can smell your breastmilk. If they sleep in the room with you, they're going to smell you and they're going to cry until they get fed. I always kept my babies in their own room with a video monitor so I could hear them when they woke.
7. Teach them to sleep in their bed, and nowhere else. Obviously, you will have plans that will disrupt this every once in a while. But, I'd say, on average, my babies slept (including naps) in their crib 90% of the time.
8. Make sure they nap during the day. It’s a myth that the less sleep you get during the day, the more you’ll sleep at night. In fact, it’s more like the better the babies nap, the better they’ll sleep at night. Yes, this will be disruptive to your schedule and sometimes you’ll have to make do with the car nap, but it’s worth it in the long run (if you value sleep like I do!)
Maybe these tips won’t work for every baby but I hope at least some of them will help! Good luck!