If you are reading baby sleep books (everybody has one and if you’re searching for help online I’m guessing you probably have three) at some point I guarantee you will find this line:
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Put your baby down while they are still awake.
[/pullquote] Sounds so simple doesn’t it? I mean why are all these monkeys struggling with this whole baby sleep thing. Why would you rock, nurse, etc. your baby to sleep for months (years?) when there is a much simpler alternative to the whole baby sleep slave routine. Just put them down in their crib where they will smile and coo at you for a moment before they gratefully drift off to sleep comforted in the knowledge that their parents are wondrously talented and caring individuals.
But what happens if “put them down awake” isn’t working for you?
This is the start of a 3-part series focused on how to get your newborn baby to sleep. Although the techniques discussed here are targeted mainly to newborns (0-3 months) they can also be used for older babies up to 6 months.
Everybody Sleeps Great in the Womb
Babies sleep just fine in there. The problems start when they come out. So lets start looking at what is going on in your belly.
The womb is LOUD
Like Black Eyed Peas concert loud. Your bedroom, even with that stuffed sheep that makes whale noises at your baby, is library quiet compared to the rock concert they’ve been listening to for their whole lives.
Think back to your third trimester (if you’re the Mom, otherwise just play along). You were so full you went to the bathroom 5X an hour. You got heartburn if you ate a raisin. They were stuffed in there tighter than a Thanksgiving turkey.
They’re on the Move
Did the baby kick around that much during the day when you were out and about? No. But as soon as you went to bed it was like your peanut was throwing a rush-week frat party in there.
Babies move around quite a bit in your stomach but towards check-out time they tend to be head down. Throughout the 9 months they can be spotted in any different position when you peek in at them during ultrasounds.
So our peanuts pop out after spending their whole lives smushed into a ball, hanging upside down, at a rock concert, being constantly swayed to sleep. Two days later we place them flat on their backs, in a giant crib (giant from their point of view anyway), in a deathly silent room, and hope for the best.
Invariably that doesn’t work well (for us, meaning people with troublesome tots, if your newborn slept just fine like that then go gloat elsewhere) and we start sliding down the slope of desperation.
It starts with the growing realization that our newborn baby isn’t sleeping enough and that getting them to fall asleep is not quite as easy as promised in the brochure. The nights are rough, naps are short, and everybody is starting to get scared that nobody will ever really sleep again. And then the real fun begins – we start to do whatever we possibly can to get baby to sleep. I’ve worked with wonderful smart talented families who have been reduced to:
- Bouncing continuously on an exercise ball while holding the baby
- Driving in the car for 3 hours a day while baby sleeps (only while the car is moving because of course being able to park and nap, read, talk on the phone means baby wakes up instantly)
- Letting baby park on the breast the entire time she sleeps*
- Wearing baby in sling, wrap, bjorn, etc. for hours at a time to encourage sleep*
- Baby only sleeps ON you (what, you wanted to eat? shower?)
- Wearing baby in sling while carrying a blow dryer and sticking fingers in baby’s mouth because said baby refuses a pacifier (yes this is me, no it was not a proud moment, but I wanted to make it clear that I’m not laughing AT you I’m laughing WITH you, well not laughing exactly but maybe shuddering a bit and reaching for a glass of whiskey while I try to block out the memory of this photo)
* Please no haters – I am neither anti-nursing nor anti-baby wearing. I am however anti-I’m-doing-this-cuz-nothing-else-works. If you want to take a nice spring day and wear your baby while you go for a hike and he gets a nap, great! However if this is the ONLY way to help your baby sleep and your (insert: back, nipples, etc.) is killing you and you would like an alternative to help baby sleep while you catch a break than read on.
Want your baby to sleep? Then you need to tactically recreate what we know already helps them to sleep because they used to sleep, just fine, without you.
How to Get Baby to Sleep
Don’t let them get over tired.
You may get a few days or even a few weeks of “babymoon” where your baby will literally fall asleep CONSTANTLY. You may even need to wake them up for scheduled feedings for a while (your pediatrician will let you know). You may wonder what all the fuss about “babies being so much work” comes from. But invariably the babymoon ends and suddenly sleep – theirs and yours – becomes a major issue. If your newborn baby is staying awake too long, its going to make it harder for everybody to get the sleep they need.
Swaddle Swaddle Swaddle
It helps A LOT. Especially for the first few months, swaddling your baby will vastly improve your efforts to help baby sleep and reduce crying. They were squished in the tummy. They’re used to it. They like it. Even if you think they don’t. Everything else works better when you start with a good tight swaddle.
Drowning in Silence
White noise is the #1 sleep tactic that parents aren’t using. Its also the best and easiest way to help babies fall asleep and stay asleep longer. Dr. Karp uses shushing as a way to get the white noise rolling, which is great. But you can also outsource the job to loud static played on a old radio (radios are electronic devices that people used to listen to music carried over the airwaves in the olden days). But here there are two keys to utilizing white noise – its got to be loud and continuous. We are aiming for 50 dB which is roughly the volume of somebody taking a shower. This is why I hate the baby white noise generators which barely hum louder than an old refrigerator. Also the sound shouldn’t stop so your timed baby sleep sheep or whale noise CD isn’t going to work (unless it’s on continuous replay). But seriously, don’t waste your money on fancy devices. Go get that old boom box you hid in the basement and plug it into the room where your newborn baby primarily sleeps. Set it to static and dial up the volume.
So we’ll start improving baby sleep by swaddling them whenever they sleep and using loud white noise. And we’ll keep an eye on the watch so that we don’t let too much time pass between naps. These steps alone should help substantially but we aren’t even close to being done.