I am a mom of three. My older two kiddos are 8 and 10 years old, so I, like, totally have this mom thing down. Well…okay, if we’re being honest, I’m still learning daily, by the minute. But, with two older kids who NAILED sleeping as infants (I’m talking sleeping straight through the night by three months and taking two STELLAR consistent naps daily), figuring out sleep with my newborn was the farthest concern from my mind. I never imagined I’d have to pay attention to tips to help your baby sleep, and I naively assumed she’d just fall right into the same routine the older kids did. So imagine my surprise when my littlest princess made it very clear that she is not interested in napping. At all. Ever.
Now, I take full responsibility for some of her poor sleeping habits. Getting pregnant with her took a few years and we suffered two losses along the way, so when she was finally in my arms, I did all of those things that aren’t recommended, the “no’s” to help your baby sleep and encourage independent sleep. I let her nap in my arms. I nursed her to sleep. I let her sleep in my bed. I napped with her. Don’t get me wrong–there is, in my opinion, NOTHING wrong with these things. It just that, for my girl, these things combined with her VERY strong-willed personality to create some serious nap challenges.
I should clarify that my baby’s nighttime sleep is and always has been phenomenal. I know, I know. I shouldn’t be complaining about naps when I’m getting twelve (seriously, she’s a rockstar nighttime sleeper!) solid hours of sleep out of her every night (Learn more HERE about how much sleep babies need each night). But here’s the thing–babies need sleep breaks throughout the day. They really do. They need the time to recharge those busy, growing bodies. And you? You need that time, too. Whether you use that time to catch up on a show, throw in some laundry, get dinner prepped, or sleep (please, oh please choose sleep!), you NEED that time.
I tried to get her to nap, I really did. I sought advice from friends, family, and of course, Google. I tried things I thought might work. I tried things I was pretty confident wouldn’t work. I tried and I tried. And then I cried and threw in the towel. Forget naps! And then…I came across the idea of Sleep Consultants.
I had NO idea there even was such a thing before I heard about one who had worked wonders with babies who wouldn’t nap. As a compulsive researcher, I began looking up consultants in the area that help your baby sleep. I stalked their webpages (and, primarily, the testimonies from happy clients). And then, one Saturday morning, at the end of my nap rope, I gave a Sleep Consultant a call. I was admittedly a pessimist to the whole idea going in, but at the end of our conversation, I found myself recharged and hopeful and ready to tackle this sleep thing head on.
So what did I learn in working with a Sleep Consultant? I learned that there is no quick fix. (I’m sorry. You may want to stop reading right now, but please don’t–I promise I can help!) But, I also learned that babies CAN learn to nap. It took a few weeks, a lot of patience, and some wine for Mommy in following these tips to help your baby sleep, but in the end, my girl naps.
What are the top six tips to help your baby sleep?
- Do what works for YOU. There are SO many schools of thoughts on sleep training (many even hesitate to use the word “training” as it pairs with a negative connotation). There are books and books and theory after theory of what works and what doesn’t. Before picking a strategy to implement, take some time to think about what will work for you, your baby, and your family. Are you okay with letting the baby cry or are you looking for a more tear-free strategy as you help your baby sleep? Do you want to be in the room or out of the room while you work on nap attempts? It’s important to process your thoughts on questions such as these before you begin. Just because your neighbor swears by a strategy that worked wonders for her, doesn’t mean it will work for you…especially if it just doesn’t feel right for you. Make sure your plan is something that you feel good about.
- Nighttime sleep impacts naps. This one threw me for a loop. One of the first things the sleep consultant told me was that we’d have to change up my daughter’s nighttime sleep before we could really get into naps. What?!? She was sleeping twelve straight hours; why in the world would we mess with that? Turns out that nighttime sleep directly impacts naps. So, in our case, a few bad bedtime habits needed to be corrected. One thing I’m not willing to give up is nursing the baby before bed. While I wasn’t nursing her all the way to sleep, I was nursing her immediately before placing her in the crib. This had become a sleep association for her: milk = sleep. Since she won’t always have milk before bed as she grows, we wanted to correct this. Now, she still nurses at night but instead of nursing being the last thing in our bedtime routine, it is the first. She adapted to that change beautifully and it did not impact her night at all. Take a look at your bedtime routine. Is there anything happening that is a sleep crutch? Rocking to sleep? Lullabies in the background? A mobile over the crib? Start by eliminating any sleep crutches so that the baby will learn to truly fall asleep on his or her own.
- Set the mood. Just like you probably prefer to sleep with your room/lights/etc. a certain way, so does baby! A dark (very dark) room is a great start. If you have room darkening blinds or curtains, super. If not, think outside the box. The sleep consultant I worked with recommends black garbage bags or even cardboard over the windows. You want the room nice and dark in order for your babe to get into a nice, deep sleep. (NOTE: Any room-darkening devices you use can be removed once the baby gets sleep down. We have darkening curtains, but we also opted to temporarily put black trash bags over the windows to make the room as close to nighttime dark as possible. We now only use the room darkening curtains.) White noise also comes highly recommended. It is important to note that pure white noise works best. Lullabies, rainforest melodies, and even rain can all actually disrupt sleep, as the change in tones and rhythms can startle a baby (especially when transitioning between sleep cycles).
- Routine, Routine, Routine, A solid bedtime routine seems to be at the heart of nearly any sleep plan. But, did you know a nap routine is equally as important? The routine doesn’t need to be anything fancy – just something that you (and other family members, babysitters, etc.) can stick to. We use the same routine for both naps and bedtime. As the baby gets used to the routine, he or she knows what to expect. It’s comforting and, when it’s time to get into bed, there are no surprises. In our house, the bedtime routine starts with nursing. We then brush her teeth (at bedtime), read her a book, turn on her sound machine, and sing her a song as we put her into her crib. She enjoys it and expects each step. As soon as her book is done, she reaches for the sound machine. The whole process only takes a few minutes and, for lots of babies, this consistency makes a world of difference. It is absolutely vital to do things the same way each day. Remember that the change in schedule/routine/etc. is all new for the baby, too, so doing things the exact same way at each nap and bedtime will make the transition much easier on both of you.
- Give it time. Give the plan time to work. In fact, when you start a new nap plan, it’s not a bad idea to take a quick look at the calendar and be sure that for the next 2-3 weeks you can really commit to the plan. In other words…it’s not a great idea to start a nap plan before a holiday or big family vacation. Once you do start, don’t be surprised if you don’t see much, if any, progress for the first few days. Looking back, I realize that I “quit” too early on things I was trying on my own. I’d start something new and then the stress and anxiety of it not working would cause me to throw in the towel. It’s likely not that the plan wasn’t ever going to work, but that not giving it enough time led to it failing. Only after several days if nothing at all is changing, go ahead and tweak the plan. “Patience is a virtue” is the name of this game. Have patience and be consistent.
- Give yourself a nap break. Sometimes you just need a break. About a week and a half into my time with my Sleep Consultant, she could tell I was at my breaking point. What she said shocked (and delighted!) me, and it’s something I’ve passed on to friends who are working on sleep with their babies. “Take a nap break. For the next two days, drive the baby at nap times. Get yourself coffee. Clear your head. No at-home nap attempts.” It was incredible. I drove and sipped my coffee and then, two days later, I was ready to work on naps again. Also, don’t hesitate to get your partner, parents, siblings, etc., involved. Sometimes you just need a break and you do not need to do it all alone! What’s more? Sometimes, babies get the message when someone else tries the same routine. The first nap my daughter ever laid down and took with no tears or resistance was when my husband did the routine and put her down. I was speechless. I truly think as he did all of those same things Mommy was doing every day, she was like, “Well, shoot. He’s doing it, too. I might as well just lie down and go to sleep.”
You do not need to be supermom. Ask for the assistance to help your baby sleep when you need it. And when all else fails? Get in that car, hit up the nearest coffee shop, and clear your mind. While these tips to help your baby sleep aren’t going to transform your little one overnight, they are tips that, with time and practice, will make day and nighttime sleep easier. See more about sleeping with baby as you sort your game plan.
Every day won’t be perfect. We still have days when the baby resists sleeping. The day or two before a tooth comes in, my daughter’s sleep gets out of whack. Being off of her schedule messes with her naps. But for the most part, she happily lies down twice a day and gets that much-needed sleep. Not only does your babe (and you!) need sleep, but it’s important to remember that sleep is a life-long skill. Establishing a routine to help your baby sleep and that allows your little one to put him or herself to sleep is a priceless gift. Take a deep breath, make a plan, stick to it, and know that you are not alone, mama!
You’ve got this, friends. Now that you have these tips to help your baby sleep, go get ’em! Happy napping!
First image credit: depositphotos.com, Image ID:4719793, Copyright:nazarenko
Second image credit: depositphotos.com, Image ID:126508478, Copyright:SvetlanaFedoseeva
Third image credit: depositphotos.com, Image ID:23924079, Copyright:oksun70
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