Oh, Mama, You are so tired. I know. I believe you that you only got two hours of sleep in the last 24 hours. Really, I do. If your baby isn't sleeping…you aren't sleeping. That's happening quite a bit lately, isn't it? Well, if you're looking for the answer to how to get baby to sleep and stop fighting it, I'm here. You've made it. Everything is going to be ok.
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New Baby = Sleep Deprived Mama
By far the toughest part of new motherhood for me was the lack of sleep. It's going to happen. Unless your baby is some sort of miracle child, she is likely to have trouble falling or staying asleep at some point in the early months.
My son had the hardest time sleeping as a newborn. My goodness, it was brutal. For a while I thought I would never sleep again. I thought these sleepless nights and miserable days were going to be the story of my life forever. Guess what? They weren't.
- Related Read: 10 Things Every Parent Needs To Know About Their Newborn
I am no expert. I am not a sleep consultant. I'm a mom who's been there and got through it. I know how you're feeling. In my darkest, longest nights and most grueling, overtired days, all I wanted was someone to tell me “Me too. I've been there. I know what you're going through” and then give me any kind of useful advice.
It took a lot of searching, a ton of adjusting, and some serious dedication to learn how to get baby to sleep and turn my over-tired baby into a sleeping angel. But I did it and I want to share with you how. The best part is, you can start today. No matter the age of your baby or what sleep problems you're facing, these positive sleep associations that you can introduce to your baby can help you right now.
Let's Be Real
If you're looking for a post that encourages you to sleep train your newborn or makes you think that this is the solution to all sleep problems of the world, you're in the wrong place.
I don't think you should go into new motherhood thinking that there is a magic button that makes your newborn a fantastic sleeper. If you expect that, you will spend hundreds of dollars trying to find it and then soon be disappointed.
What I AM here to tell you is that learning how to get baby to sleep is very possible right from the start. The secret lies in positive sleep associations.
These methods don't have an age requirement, a certain belief about sleep training, or any specific miracle product. Score!
- Related Read: Understanding The Fourth Trimester Before You Let It Slip Away
- Related Read: Expect The Unexpected: Preparing Moms For The Newborn Stage
What Is A Sleep Association?
Basically, a sleep association is something that someone needs in order to fall asleep (or sleep well). We all have sleep associations. Don't let the internet make you believe that the overarching idea of sleep associations is that they are a bad thing. Yes, there are things that you probably want to avoid as sleep associations for your kids, but most of the time sleep associations are completely appropriate! Especially for newborns.
If you think about it, you can probably come up with many sleep associations that you had as a child (and eventually grew out of) or sleep associations that you currently have. Do you need a pillow? A blanket no matter what the temperature is in the room? Do you have to shower before bed? Take off your makeup? Brush your teeth? Do you need the TV on? I could go on forever. If some of your sleep associations aren't met, it's harder to fall asleep, harder to stay asleep, or you wake up in the morning feeling like you didn't sleep as well.
Your baby is the same way. That's a good thing for you! You can use your baby's sleep associations to your advantage if you do it right.
Remember that you didn't give birth to a robot. You gave birth to a living, breathing, feeling, human baby! Your baby feels comfortable sometimes and uncomfortable other times. Just like you. If you want to learn how to get baby to sleep well, you need to learn what sleep associations she needs in order to fall asleep in the first place. Usually all she needs is to have an environment and conditions that are comfortable for her based on what she is used to.
Are There Negative Sleep Associations?
Yes, of course there are things that you don't want your baby to associate with sleep. It is a negative sleep association if you are unable continue this “thing” for your baby or it is very inconvenient. For example, a swing. Your baby will certainly grow out of a swing pretty quickly and you will have no back up plan if your baby only sleeps in the swing every night and nap. Or worse, having to drive your baby in the car to get them to sleep. These are negative because they just do not work for any significant amount of time. They are way too temporary to be worth the struggle.
That being said, if you have a newborn on your hands, there are very limited “negative” sleep associations in my opinion. Most things can be easily weaned off of, modified, or changed if you do it right. Don't let something become a “negative” sleep association because you have a fear of this child needing this “thing” forever. The “forever” fear will creep into your brain at some point in early motherhood. I promise you. We all wonder at one time or another if this will “ever end”. I'm here to tell you that it will. Pinky promise.
Get Your Baby To Sleep
It's not just about getting your baby to fall asleep. It's about getting restful, restorative sleep for your baby. Every night I prayed to God that my son would give my baby restorative sleep. I wanted so desperately to reverse the endless over-tired cycle that we were stuck in. Don't let your baby become over-tired. Trust me. It's the worst thing that you can do for your baby's sleep.
So how do you avoid it? Here's the secret:
Do Whatever It Takes To Get Your Newborn To Sleep
I mean it. Do whatever it takes to get your newborn to sleep. If that means nursing, rocking, bed-sharing, bouncing, or anything else that works, then do it.
The most important thing, above getting your baby into good sleep habits, is that she sleeps in the first place. Newborns don't know how to fall asleep on their own (and shouldn't be expected to) and they don't know how to get back to sleep once they wake up. It's your job to make sure they are getting the sleep they need in whatever way you can give it to them.
This is step one. If you're missing this step, then the rest is nonsense. An over-tired baby doesn't care about anything other than that she's exhausted and doesn't understand why or how to fix it. Nothing will work if the over-tired cycle continues.
- Related Read: I Thought Co-Sleeping Wasn't For Me…And I Was So Wrong
Teach Your Baby To Enjoy Falling Asleep
I know, that sounds impossible. I thought so too. But now I strongly believe with every part of my being that you can absolutely teach a baby to enjoy falling asleep. Is it a quick fix? Nope. Will your baby become a dream sleeper in a week? Nope. Your baby will still be a baby. She will still wake up to nurse and she will still cry when she needs something. Sleep training is for later. If you do this part right now, sleep training will be 100 times easier when/if the time comes.
The wonderful part of all of this is that your baby will learn how to sleep and that sleep is good right from the start. Here's what you need to do:
1. Start Planning Your Sleep Routine Right Away
Are you still pregnant while reading this? I'm talking to you. Start planning on how to get baby to sleep now. Did you have your baby last week? I'm looking at you too. Start planning now! There is no need to wait and see what happens.
Start a sleep routine at the very first nap when you get home from the hospital or the very first sleep after you read this blog post. There is no need to wait until you start having sleep problems, start feeling desperate, or feel like it's time to start sleep training. Now is the time to introduce positive sleep associations to your baby.
- Related Read: How To Make Life With A Baby E.A.S.Y
2. Make sure your baby is awake for an appropriate amount of time
Depending on how old your baby is, she needs a certain amount of sleep for the day. This number usually seems pretty high since you find yourself sleeping less and less all of the time. But trust me, baby needs a lot more sleep than you might initially realize.
If you are dealing with a brand new newborn, she should only be awake for 45 minutes at a time. This means that when she wakes up in the morning, nurse her, sing a few songs, walk around the house, and after a total of 45 minutes of wake time, put her down to sleep.
As your baby gets older, the awake times get longer but the idea remains the same. Make sure awake times are always appropriate.
3. Do a pre-bedtime wind down
Signal to your baby that bedtime is nearing. If the TV has been on, turn it off. If the older kids have been running around, give them something quiet to do. Make sure that the house is winding down right before you take the baby away for EACH sleep.
If you can't get the house to wind down, head to the bedroom for the last few minutes of play/active time. Allow this time to be less stimulating than the rest of her play time.
4. Do the same bedtime routine every time
With the exception of a few things that are reserved for bedtime at the end of the day (like a bath) your routine should be the same every single time you want your baby to fall asleep.
A perfect baby sleep routine is something that triggers every sense and has a specific order. Once you figure out what you want to include in your bedtime routine, do it every time. It can be anything you want in the beginning and even include things like rocking, singing, patting, bouncing, nursing, etc. Those things are completely appropriate for a newborn. Just make sure you're doing them in the same order every time.
As time goes on, you will take things away gently and better yet – easily- because the routine will have done the work for you.
5. Make it dark
Even during the day, try to create a dark space for your baby to sleep in. Black out curtains over your shades do the trick beautifully. No joke, they were one of the best purchases I ever made for my nursery.
To make this work, you'll have to make sure baby has bright sunlight during the day. Open the windows, go outside, or have the lights on during awake times so that your baby understands the difference between light and dark, day and night.
6. Use white noise
This white noise machine has been my saving grace since the day we bought it. It has a night light, star projection for the ceiling, different white noise options, and a good range of volume. This is another thing that I absolutely could not live without. Babies love white noise. They are used to the noise from inside your belly. It's soothing to them. Plus, any other sounds in the house will be drowned out. Praise the Lord.
7. Make them snug
I always swaddled my son. I absolutely adored this swaddle and I would recommend it to anyone. It was such a comfort to my baby. I swear to you, when my son would start to get tired, I would wrap him in the swaddle and he would instantly settle. Why? Because he got used to it and new that sleep was near. Winning!
If your baby doesn't like swaddling or you aren't a fan of swaddling then there is another option. The Snuggle Me Organic is the best thing ever! It snuggles them close while also keeping them safe. I couldn't say enough good things about it – even with a swaddle.
8. Give them a lovey
Safe sleep means not sleeping with anything in the crib with them. True. So, until it is safe to give them a lovey to hold during sleep, use the lovey to snuggle only at sleep times. As you hold her in your arms, put the lovey by her cheek or in her hands. Eventually, this will be an absolute priceless tool in sleep “training”.
My son has had this lovey since he was about 3 or 4 months old and he absolutely adores it. It lives in his crib and never leaves. He doesn't carry it around, he doesn't need it in the car, etc. He knows that if he is snuggling with lovey, then it is bed time. It puts him in a relaxed mood in no time.
9. Let them suck
Ok, ok, this one I have some disclaimers about. When I was pregnant with my son I was absolutely anti-pacifier. I didn't buy pacifiers because I knew (hahaha) that I wouldn't need them. I planned on breastfeeding long term and I did not want any nipple confusion getting in the way.
Well, the no-pacifier rule went out the window when he was two weeks old (but I was seriously dying for one at around one week) because he wanted to suck CONSTANTLY. This is normal. Newborns have the instinct to suck for survival.
Now, I have enough to say about this subject to write an entire post (so keep an eye out for one) so I am not going to get to deep into it right now. I'm just going to say this: Let your baby suck. Nipple? Pacifier? It's your choice. But if you want your baby to have positive associations with sleep and get them to sleep well without crying it out, don't deprive them of the sucking reflex.
A Huge Tip That You Cannot Pass Up
Please, please, please don't assume that how you get baby to sleep now will have to continue forever. I know that some people warn you of this. I know that some people will tell you that you shouldn't introduce anything that you won't want her to need when she's older. This is ridiculous and causes so much unnecessary stress to you. If you're constantly worrying about if baby will need you to rock him to sleep when he's six, you're mind is going to explode.
Let your baby be a baby.
Babies grow out of things every day. Toddlers grow out of things every day. You just have to do it the right way in order to make your life with a baby as easy as restful as possible.
On A Final Note
My son had every sleep association in the book when he was first learning to sleep. Now? I leave the white noise on for him, he has a night light, he snuggles with his lovey, and that's it. We still have a nightly routine that we follow (that has changed a lot over time) but I put him in his crib wide awake and he falls asleep on his own. Anyone can put my son down for bed (including friends that are babysitting) and he can spend the night in places other than his own room. Sometimes he even falls asleep on the couch before nap time.
What a difference.
It wasn't always this way, as you know. We struggled a lot. Once I got serious about my routine and made sure my son had positive sleep associations, everything started to get so much better. I made sure my son knew what bedtime and nap time meant. I made it clear to this young baby that sleep is good. Sleep isn't scary or bad or stressful. It's what he's used to and it's what he wants.
Hang in there mama, and this will be one of the best things you ever do for you and your baby.
Leave your thoughts in the comments! What helped you get your baby to fall asleep before it was time to sleep train? Did you try this method? How did it work? Let me know!
What To Read Next:
- 9 Simple and Easy Ways To Wean Your Baby: A Guide To More Than Just Breastfeeding
- Expect The Unexpected: Preparing Moms For The Newborn Stage
- Understanding The Fourth Trimester – Before You Let It Slip Away
- 21 Of The Best Breastfeeding Essentials For Nursing Moms
- Breastfeeding 101: How To Feed Your Newborn