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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Helping Baby Sleep

With my return to school, there have been a surprising number of new blog post ideas popping into my head. It has been a little frustrating to be stuck doing school work when I have so much I want to be writing about and sharing!

My post about homemade organic baby food has quickly become more popular than any other post on my little blog, and that says a lot to me. Realizing how much people have been reading that post (or at least clicking on it) has made me want to do some more baby posts. I have learned so much from friends, family, research, and my own experiences, and I feel a little bad for not sharing more of it with the world!

Today's post is about something every parent will want to do at some point: help baby sleep. Granted, some babies are always really good sleepers. But I dare say most are not. Anyway, today's post is all about ways to help baby (and you) get more sleep. Win-win.



0-3 Months Old

At this age, baby is probably going to be sleeping a lot during the day, but that might not always be the case at night. Her tiny tummy gets hungry every 2-3 hours during the early days, and nighttime feedings are usually frequent. Tips that helped us at this stage:

  • Keep baby close. 
    • We used the Arm's Reach Co-Sleeper for quite a while, and we loved it. It keeps baby close, but you don't have to worry about rolling over on her. It also has nifty storage pockets for diapers, wipes, nursing pads, and all the other things you need in the middle of the night. The short side attaches to the side of the bed. It's very secure, and it's fine to use until baby starts rolling over a lot. We used it for about 4 months and off and on for another month or two after that.
    • When Baby Z went through a stage of wanting to eat more often, we would let her sleep in the bed with us. We liked having her in bed with us, and it worked for quite a while. 
  • Feed baby to sleep. Enjoy the relaxing time you can spend with baby. Nurse or bottle-feed her to sleep at this age. Nursing coma is a great way to get babies to fall asleep when they are still tiny (and even when they're older).
  • Swaddle. Since baby is so used to the warm, all-encompassing surroundings of the womb, the outside world can seem a bit cold and...loose? What I mean is, baby feels comfortable when she is wrapped up. 
    • Swaddling blankets come in many different styles. The tiny flannel ones are most common, but they don't work well if you gave birth to Baby Houdini like I did. If you don't mind spending a little bit, we have loved  the larger Aden and Anais swaddling blankets. You can also make some of your own using this tutorial. I made some that way and liked them almost as much as the Aden and Anais ones. The fabric isn't quite as soft, but they are SO much cheaper that way.
      From day one, the hospital staff swaddles your little one. They know what they're doing! Zia loved being all snug--though she did like to have one arm out a lot of the time. :)
    • Swaddlers are perfect for the rest of you who have a Baby Houdini in the family. We loved and religiously used SwaddleMe wraps until Baby Z was around 4 months old.
       For a DIY approach, you can make your very own swaddlers from a large t-shirt! Just use this tutorial. I kind of wish that tutorial had stumbled across my path before Z was weaned from swaddling, but that's okay. At least I can make some for next time! I have also heard very good things about the Woombie, but we never tried it. I found this tutorial for a peanut swaddler that looks very similar. I will definitely try it out next time! It has a two-way zipper, so you can open just the bottom half of the swaddle for diaper changes! Brilliant!
  • During the day, let them sleep wherever and whenever works. Most babies aren't picky at first. When Z was new, I loved to let her sleep on my chest for at least some of her naps. There is nothing quite as yummy as a newborn sleeping on your chest. If you need to get things done, let baby spend some time in a swing, bouncer, or even in a baby carrier. Zia loved to sleep in our Moby wrap while I ran errands or did chores.
  • As baby gets older, start to implement a few naps in the crib. Making sure she gets at least a few naps in the crib here and there will help ease the transition from your bed (or play pen or whatever) to her own crib.
  • Don't wake baby up for feedings. There is an exception to this--DO wake her up if she struggles with low blood sugar or weight gain. Zia did at first, so we made sure to wake her every three hours or so for the first few weeks. When her blood sugar was staying up and her weight was on the rise, our pediatrician told us that we didn't need to wake her anymore. After that, she slept pretty well at night! Honestly, those first few months of nighttime sleep were better for Little Z than the 3-6 month stage. Some doctors will recommend that you keep waking baby to eat, but it has been a common consensus among me and my other mommy friends that it isn't necessary in most cases.
3-6 Months Old 

This stage holds a big sleep transition for babies. Around 4 months, you can start sleep training (if that is part of your plan for baby). Babies are also usually weaned from swaddling during this stage to make sure that they don't accidentally roll onto their tummies while in the swaddle and get stuck face down. Near the end of this stage, baby will stop startling herself awake (thank goodness). That's another reason you don't need to swaddle anymore. Tips for this stage:
  • Find a good swaddle transition tool. The Zipadeezip is a wonderful tool that helps baby feel safe and enclosed without keeping her arms stuck against her sides (remember that rolling thing I was talking about?). If you want to make your own, I posted a tutorial for my own version a while back.
    That thing was a lifesaver! You can read about why I decided to make my own in that post. I highly recommend them. I have seen many other swaddle transition helpers, like sleep sacks, a Woombie with arm holes that can zip open or shut, and many other name-brand items. We have used sleep sacks (like these ones) for Little Z, and we like them. They are nice for when baby wants her hands free to put her binky back in. That is a wonderful day, by the way. Moving on!
  • Put baby in a place where everyone will get the most sleep. Z slept well for a couple months, but this stage brought about nighttime struggles that we hadn't experienced before. Moving Z to the co-sleeper then to the crib was the right thing for us, but only because she didn't sleep well in bed with us anymore. That meant I didn't sleep, so something had to change. We missed cuddling with our little cutie, but I was a much happier mama with a few hours of good sleep under my belt.
  • Co-sleeping is a good choice for many families. We loved having Zia sleep with us, and we let her stay in our bed for a few months until it became apparent that it wasn't the best choice for us anymore. Some babies sleep very well next to mom and dad, and I think that's wonderful! Now that Zia is older, she tends to do better when we occasionally let her sleep with us. But we decided to move her to the crib to help us all get more sleep. Your baby will give you clues showing you how she will sleep best.
  • Sleep Training may be a good idea. That is totally up to you, but it worked for us. If you decide to go this route, keep in mind:
    • It will not be easy. The first few days, maybe even weeks, will probably make you cry. Hearing your baby cry is possibly the worst thing ever as a mom. Once you and your spouse have committed to doing it, stand strong. It will be worth it!
    • No two babies are the same. Just because Z went through sleep training around 5 months and did very well doesn't mean your baby will be the same. If it seems like it's not working, stop and try again in a few weeks.
    • We did sleep training for naps before we tried to do sleep training at night. Naps were a real struggle for Z for a while, and she slept alright at night, so we decided to work on her problem area first. We did nap sleep training around 4 months and the rest around 5 months, if I remember correctly.
    • Start a routine. Pick activities that baby enjoys that will help soothe and relax her. Some parents bathe their child before bed each night, others read or tell stories, rock baby in a rocking chair, snuggle, nurse, sing lullabies--whatever works for you. Keeping a consistent routine helps baby recognize that it is bedtime, and that seems to make a world of difference. Helping her wind down for a while before she goes to sleep is very beneficial.
    • When I say "sleep training," I mean the cry-it-out method. From everything I have ever read, and from our pediatrician's own research, babies do not suffer negative side-effects from being allowed to cry themselves to sleep. They may, however, suffer long-term negative side-effects if they are never able to establish a healthy sleep schedule. Learning to self-soothe at an early age pays off in the long run, in my opinion. As I said above, though, it's totally up to you. I am not judging, just sharing my own experiences. :)
    • When you first try the cry-it-out method between 4 and 6 months, make sure no major changes have happened recently, like new teeth, rolling over, learning to sit up, etc. From what I have heard, it is not a good idea to try to sleep train a baby who has recently gone through what is, for her, a major change.
    • Tough it out. Once you start, don't look back. Z cried for at least an hour or two the first few nights that we let her cry herself to sleep. A few days into the process, my husband turned to me and asked if we could just bring her back into bed with us. Since Zia and I were the ones who weren't sleeping with that arrangement (Austin didn't wake when she wanted to nurse a million times a night), I had to stand my ground for the sake of both of our sleep schedules. We both deserved to be well-rested and happy. I would say it took two weeks for Zia to finally realize that she was okay and understand that her nighttime routine meant that it was time for bed. Mommy and Daddy were not going to go in and comfort her, pick her up, or play with her. It was just time to sleep. And what do you know? She loves sleep now. So don't give up. It does work!
    • Give baby something to love. A soft stuffed animal or cozy blanket can help baby soothe herself back to sleep during naps and at night. We didn't try this trick until more recently, but it has really helped! I think it is fine to let baby have them once she can roll over both ways on her own, but some parents don't feel safe about putting things in the crib with baby because of the risk of suffocation. That is entirely up to you, but this trick has helped us. I love watching Z nuzzle her favorite blankie (a gift from her great-grandma), and her elephant stuffed animals as she falls asleep. She loves to be cuddled up in the middle of them, and it is so cute. She never wakes up that way (she is a BUSY sleeper!), but it helps her fall asleep and stay asleep if she has her buddies and blankies in the crib with her. (These pictures were taken around 10 months old, but the idea is the same! :) )



6 Months to 1 Year

We are almost to one year, so this is the last stage I am going to write about for now. This is just a continuation of the previous stage. Baby becomes more active and will learn to sit, scoot, crawl, stand, and maybe even walk. It is such a fun, busy age! It does come with some new challenges, though.
  • When baby first starts sitting and standing up on her own, she may get stuck in an upright position. 
    That has been a very common problem for Zia over the past few months. She is often still half-asleep, just sitting or standing in the crib, crying for us to help her. She would love to be picked up, I'm sure, and it is tempting sometimes, but it is important to respect her need for sleep and simply lay her back down and let her go back to sleep. Now that Z is getting better at getting back down on her own, we are slowly going back to the cry-it-out method. 
  • Babies might start having nightmares around this age. Thought it's impossible to know what babies are thinking, we have noticed that Zia sometimes wakes up very traumatized lately and will not be comforted. Sometimes we rock her until she calms down, but usually we bring her into bed with us to nurse and cuddle. It's okay to let baby sleep in bed with you. Even though we usually let Zia spend the whole night in her crib, we let her sleep with us once in a while. We like having her in bed with us sometimes, and she is such a sweet little cuddle bug. I don't think there is a right or wrong answer when it comes to where baby sleeps, so just follow your gut. You're not going to ruin anyone's sleep schedules by having baby co-sleep off and on, in my opinion.
  • Remember, milestones and sickness might mess up your routine. This has definitely been a struggle for us, though I have heard it isn't for all babies. When Zia is sick or teething, she has a very hard time sleeping. When we know she isn't feeling good, we often let her sleep with us, nurse for comfort, etc. At that point, we feel like it is more important to make sure she is comfortable and happy than that we stick by our sleep-training guns.
And when all is said and done, just follow your gut. Mom instincts are usually pretty good, so I think doing what you feel best about is going to be the best option. :)

I think that wraps it up! Keep in mind, this is just one mom's opinion. I am not a doctor or sleep expert--just a mom! :) I hope some of my experiences can help you and your baby get more sleep! 

Thanks for reading!

-Malia

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