When I first thought of writing on this topic, I thought: We really don’t need another thing to divide us as moms, do we? So honestly — hear my heart in this post. This is written in the defense of the crazy sleep schedule mama, but also to encourage anyone who is needing advice in dealing with defeating, discouraging issues when it comes to infant/toddler sleep.
First off, I’m not an expert in this area. Literally, heavens no. So keep that in mind as you read my thoughts — I’m not here to bash anyone who doesn’t follow a sleep schedule. Trust me, I’ve had my share of times when I kind of want to trade lives with the mama that takes her 8-month-old out to fireworks past my kids’ bedtime! Do you hear me? I don’t want to cast judgment on anyone; I just want to share my heart, and how healthy sleep routines have helped to keep order in our family’s life amidst all the chaos that is raising kids.
So, for the first five to six months of my first son’s life, I felt very overwhelmed in the infant sleep department. I basically just went with the flow, took him out and about whenever, assuming he would fall asleep anytime, anywhere — because he’s a baby. Right? I honestly had no clue what his real sleep needs were. During this time, I was — I kid you not — a postpartum mess. Every time he would finally fall asleep, I couldn’t relax, because I feared he would wake up in eight minutes. And he almost always did.
The first several weeks of my son’s life, my husband and I would take turns pacing around the living room at night for a few hours with a wailing and overtired baby, because he had so much difficulty settling himself due to being so overtired from the day, having poor and infrequent naps that he truly needed for his growing body and developing brain. This whole overtired/under-tired thing was so confusing to figure out. Also, holy sleep props. We had some of those. (I’ll go over this near the end of my post, but essentially this is something your infant depends on to fall asleep.) I’ll just say, breast feeding was awful too, because I had trained him to need nursing to be able to fall asleep. (Yes, we totally did all the boob naps.)
But what was so difficult about this time was that I wasn’t getting a break. My mind wasn’t healthy. My body wasn’t getting rest. I was so confused by messages of “feed your baby on demand,” so I was essentially feeding him constantly, and well, that was painful. I know, you’re reading this and probably thinking — where were your mama instincts? Gosh, I don’t really know. I felt super insecure those first several months because it felt like my baby was generally pretty unhappy, and I was just trying to survive the day.
But I have good news. Around 6 months, things got a little easier. I picked up two books, both of which I would highly recommend if you’re struggling in the area of infant sleep, or if you’re expecting and are wanting to get some idea of what it might look like to attempt healthy sleep routines when your child arrives. The first is “On Becoming Babywise: Giving your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep,” by Garry Ezzo & Robert Buckman. The second is “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child,” by Marc Weissbluth. I can honestly tell you, anytime my first son’s sleep was awful after learning the ropes of healthy sleep habits, it was usually just a matter of me needing to tweak his sleep schedule. Figuring out the correct wake times for him (at any given age) has usually been the culprit of our sleep issues. Also keep in mind, this totally excludes any sickness or interruption of sleep due to children trying to master new skills such as rolling over, language development, etc. The schedule totally almost goes out the window then. 😉
Please note, this has just been my experience. It is definitely true that infant and toddler sleep can be complicated for many due to medical reasons, and more.
Fast foward to my second son, and it was the same scenario as my first, only much less intense. He still struggled with the witching hour those first few months and was quite fussy in the evenings. But it did get better with time. I understood that I had to follow his lead for a while. I didn’t expect him to pop out of the womb knowing how to sleep well. That wouldn’t be a fair expectation of an infant who’s completely dependent on his or her mother to thrive. By about 3.5 months of age, my second son was sleeping fairly independently, with consistent and predictable naps, and with about 12 hours of night time sleep. I really believe this is because we followed many of the recommended principles from both books I mentioned earlier.
Both of our children have thrived on sleep routines. Sleep is absolutely crucial for our children’s brains to be able to develop properly. Lack of sleep in infants and toddlers can result in many issues later down the line. I try not to judge moms for the choices they make in the area of their children’s sleep habits, but I also ask that I in return am not judged for choosing to follow a schedule. In defense of the crazy sleep schedule mama, here are some basic tips that have helped us to develop healthy sleep routines:
- Do not even try implementing a schedule while your baby is a newborn. Of course this is dramatic, and I’m saying this loosely. Even at this age, babies need some predictability in routine. I think the goal at this age is to make sure your baby is getting full, adequate feedings, and that they don’t get overtired. Also, baby-wearing often helped us to get good, quality naps in those early weeks. Eventually, both of my kids stopped napping “on the go” well, and preferred sleeping in their cribs.
- If your baby is still in the newborn phase, try swaddling. Because of the Moro reflex, infants can startle themselves awake if their arms aren’t securely (and safely) swaddled. You can also try sleep sacks of various kinds.
- Eat. Play. Sleep. If nothing else, follow this routine! Try to avoid feeding your baby to sleep. This would be a good time to stop using bottles or nursing as a sleep prop, or as an aid to help your baby fall asleep.
- White noise. So much yes. Both of our kids were soothed by white noise. You can get an inexpensive white noise machine at Target or off of Amazon.
- Black out curtains. This is also huge for us. I can’t sleep in the daylight! Neither can my kids, apparently. I’m embarrassed to tell you this, but once, when we were desperate for darkness in the nursery (and at the time couldn’t afford buying black out curtains), we taped foil to the windows. I’m just saying…it worked incredibly well. 😉
- Play with wake times. At different ages, infants and toddlers will need different wake times during the day. Try to figure out what those times are, and stick with them consistently until you see any reason to change what you’re doing. If you’re like I was and have zero clue about wake times, check out the Babywise book! And there are plenty of sample schedules of various ages on www.babywisemom.com. She’s an incredible resource for healthy sleep routines also.
- Pick a consistent daily wake time and bed time. This is unfortunately kind of key. This was sad for me in the beginning. I don’t want to miss that family dinner out, or that one event that starts at 7 p.m. But I’m telling you, this is worth it for your child and your family. Bedtime for infants and toddlers is probably best in the 7 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. range, depending on their age and what works best for your family’s needs and schedule.
- Chat with a certified sleep consultant. This can be expensive, but there’s no price tag on having peace of mind that your child is getting solid rest, and that you can have some time to yourself each evening! Oftentimes, you can schedule a free call for your first session.
I think that covers it. Don’t feel guilty if you are desiring quality rest for your child, yourself, and for your family! There are so many reasons why it’s worth it to create healthy sleep routines.