How I Got My Kid to Sleep

People without kids are always acting like they shouldn’t say they’re tired around me, but I say tired is tired; we don’t need to compare. And truth be told, most sleep deprivation I’m having these days, unless he’s sick, is 100% my own bad decisions. We did some work early on to make this a possiblity.

Okay, maybe I shouldn’t take all of the credit; some of it is probably him. There’s a good sleeper in there. I mean, he has slept through two fire alarms in our apartment and I’m not talking about smoke detectors. We live in an apartment building with a fire alarm that sounds like the ones in hotels. He also doesn’t wake up super early, which is immensely helpful. Anyway, I’m sure he helped in some way, but to suggest it’s all him is sort of a slap in our faces. Our wrinkled-from-sleep-deprivation FACES. He didn’t do it all himself; we made some steps from day one that we feel made a huge difference in his sleeping habits.

The thing is, babies are inexperienced, at best, at the whole sleep thing. They can’t even tell day from night most of the time. So, we definitely can’t let them drive the sleep train for an entire household anymore than we’d give a newly permitted driver the keys to a 15 passenger van full of kindergartners. They have no idea what they’re doing. So, if we just followed their lead on all of it, we’d be in trouble. Because of this, we used some of his cues, but also made sure to guide him into better sleep for everyone.

Just for reference: L sleeps 8pm-8am most days, some days he sleeps in until 9, and has done so for a while now. He hasn’t woken up in the middle in night since he was about 10 months old (I’ll eventually get to how we ended up there, but that wasn’t natural by any means). We started off with him in a Snuggle Nest Traveler between us. Then, we moved him into a bassinet next to our bed after a couple of months. Finally, he went to his own crib in his own room at 6 months old.

We Started Day One

As I mentioned, our work started from the beginning. While there were indeed times when he fell asleep in our arms, we rarely let it that happen. Yes, it’s so freakin precious, baby-smell is amazing, and honestly you just never want to put them down. But, whenever we got the inkling to cuddle him every time he slept, we imagined how amazing our own sleep is going to be one day. There’s a huge debate about this all over the social media world. It usually says something about it being impossible to spoil a baby, etc, etc. That’s not a debate I’m entering right now. What I’m saying is, if you start off holding your baby when they sleep, you will have to keep holding your baby when they sleep. It doesn’t make someone less of a parent because they would also like to sleep, especially since sleep will help a person be better able to care of their baby. It’s also just kind of important to actually get some for overall health. Anyway, we made the decison ahead of having him that we didn’t want him to get accustomed to only sleeping if someone was holding him, so as soon as he started to drift off to sleep, we put him down. This also means there was no rocking, swaying, singing, etc to get him to sleep. That is an important step in all of this. He learned to sleep on his own.

Bedtime Routine

We also started doing a bedtime routine pretty early on in the process. I go through our entire routine in a separate post, but we started doing it when he was around two months old. This signals to him, no matter where he is and what is going on, that it’s about TO GO DOWN.

We Didn’t Stay Quiet

This one is probably counterintuitive, since people are constantly saying “SHHHHH! YOU’LL WAKE THE BABY!!” But we’ve never quieted our house up when he was asleep or expecting it to be quiet for him to fall asleep. He would sleep anywhere for a minute there: loud restaurants, breweries, Dave & Buster’s, etc. Now he’s too nosy to fall asleep in random places, but the point is, we continued to live our lives when he was asleep, especially for naps, so that he didn’t end up waking up from the slightest of noises. However, the one thing that has always wakened him is the dogs barking, so we put them in the other bedroom when he’s napping.

Use Their Habits

The other pretense here is that he was pretty much ready for bed at 8p from birth. I know it seems improbable that you’d know when a newborn would be ready for bed for the night, since they wake up every 10 minutes anyway (that’s an exaggeration), but he certainly had a pattern. Look for your baby’s sleeping pattern and, if you can, try to use it that as your starting point.

Swaddle It Up!

We also used the HELL out of a swaddle. Initially, we really tried to swaddle him like they did at the hospital, but they are SO good at it and we couldn’t figure it out. Luckily, we had some of those swaddler blankets with velcro and they were amazing! One time, we were at my cousin’s house and he was on the couch babbling after she put her kids to sleep and she was like, “Oh, he’s still up huh?” I said, “Not for long,” and swaddled him. He was out cold 5 minutes later right there. We were so sad, when he learned to turn over and couldn’t be swaddled anymore. There were a couple of rough nights after that, but we all got through it.

When They Wake Up

Then, comes what to do when they wake up. Initially, most babies wake up about every 2-3 hours and even when they don’t wake up, they shouldn’t sleep longer than that initially. However, that doesn’t mean they need to stay awake. We kept the lights off (we had a battery powered nightlight over his changing table), and stayed quiet, it was not time to do the First 5-talk-to-your-baby thing. We just fed him, changed him, and put him back to bed. They’re not up for the day. I don’t even know if we were fully waking up during some of those nighly feedings. Haha! I think this is important to remember, especially when they get out of the newborn phase. When he got older, L would go to bed at 8, and wake up at 11p to eat and then again at 4am. We never assumed he was up for the day at 4am; we treated it just like the middle of the night. Even now, at 20 months, if he wakes up at 6am on a Saturday and isn’t crying, we just wait it out and he almost always goes back to sleep.

Pacifiers Are Friends

Finally, we were lucky enough that L used a pacifier. It was a complete game-changer once he was able to get his pacifier himself and put it back in his mouth. We used to keep his pacifiers on a little bookshelf next to his crib so we could easily find one to give to him when we went into his room, and then one night, we saw him getting one himself on the monitor. This was well before he was a year old–don’t underestimate your kids. Once that happened, we littered his crib with about 5 or 6 pacifiers every night (imagine us throwing pacifiers in slow motion like money in music videos). Then, if he woke up disoriented, one of us would go in and just help him find one. It was self-soothing at its finest. If you’re wondering if he’s over-reliant on pacifiers, no. We stopped letting him have a pacifier outside of bedtime (and long car rides) when he turned 12 months and he takes it out on his own and drops it in his crib when we take him out. He also definitely doesn’t always nap with one at school.

White Noise

We sleep with white noise on, so by default, so did he while he was in the room with us. When he graduated to his own room, we started using the Skip Hop Moonlight & Melodies Owl Nightlight Soother. We travel with it and even bought a smaller one to send to preschool with him when they asked what we use to help him nap. I think people might avoid using a sound machine because they’re afraid their baby will be reliant on the sound to fall asleep, but it’s really to help drown out some of the random noises that might wake them up.

When They Still Keep Waking Up

Okay, so at some point, every parent has a break. Parent isn’t sleeping, they’re sick of dozing off at random times, they keep finding their keys in the freezer, and the pediatrician has told them that the baby doesn’t need to eat in the middle of the night anymore. In fact, your doctor has said “You know he doesn’t need night feedings anymore, right?” But Baby does not care. Baby is still waking up. What does one do? Well, here’s what I did.

Let me start off by saying, to get good sleep in the long run, we had to have to have a couple of shitty nights in the immediate time. And this is at any point in the process. Yes, it is 100% easier to just hurry up, get the baby, and soothe them before they fully wake up. But in doing so, it set a precedence, an expectation so to speak, for everyone involved. We did this initially. But, Baby fully expected someone every single time he so much as whimpered and our bodies started to just jolt up without even thinking about it. Now, if you want that for yourself, by all means go for it, but most of us need sleep in order to function at our full potential. So we had to go against our instinct to run to him and just wait it out. If this probably sounds a lot like the cry it out method, then I guess it kind of is. But, I’d say that we had a limit to how long it went on and would go in there with him, but not pick him up.

How I Ended The Middle of the Night Feedings

As promised, here’s how I got him to stop expecting a snack in the middle of the night. Okay, so as I mentioned, he was waking up for two bottles in the middle of the night: at 11pm and 4am. I got rid of the first one simply by refusing to give it to him. Literally that easy. I just went in one night and gave him his pacifier instead and walked back out. I didn’t pick him up, I didn’t rock him back to sleep. I just walked in, handed him his pacifier, and walked out. I did this a few times and he was like aight, I get it. He went back to sleep and didn’t care that much because he didn’t really need it. The second one….not so easy.

That time he was asleep in the car, but I still needed to do a Target run

I started by slowly giving him less in the bottle, hoping he’d eventually just give up. He didn’t. At nearly 11 months old, he kept demanding those 3 little ounces even though he was drinking upwards of 7 at the time during the day and eating meals. He wouldn’t demand more…he’d just drink those 3 and go back to sleep. So, one night I told B that that night was the last night we were doing it. She kind of shrugged me off like, okay lady. But I was serious. I wasn’t going to work the next day, which was critical since I had been waking up at 5:30 for work (imagine having to wake up and hour and half earlier to give a kid a bottle when he doesn’t need it!!!). I’m not sure that I would have sacrificed my sleep otherwise. So, if you are going to plan similarly, I recommend picking a day when you don’t have much going on the following day.

Anyhow, I went in there for that 4am, tiny little bottle and gave him a pacifier instead. He knew what this meant because I had done it before with the 11pm bottle and was immediately livid. He threw it and started crying. I put it back on the ledge of his crib. He cried. He hit the ledge with his hand, threw the pacifier. Cried. Sat down, stood up. The entire time, I was just sitting there. I’d put the pacifier back on the ledge if he threw it, but that was all. I was letting him know I was there if he truly needed me, but he wasn’t getting a bottle. He was stubborn, but so was I. Eventually, he gave up and went back to sleep. And honestly, he never cried for a middle-of-the-night bottle again after that.

This was the time I got him from car to stroller to crib without him waking up. I felt like a superhero.

This isn’t to say it’ll work for everyone and with every kid, but this is what we did and we’re happy with the outcome. The only time it has backfired is when we have flown with him on our laps. He isn’t used to being held when he sleeps, so he struggles to sleep like that. But, we fly twice a year and have 363 of days of wanting an independent sleeper, so the trade-off makes sense to us.

And now, we treat him like a rotisserie chicken: set it and forget it! (Jk, we totally go in there and check on him every night before we get in bed.)