This post has been a long time coming! I have so much to say on the topic that it took a while to write. As you read it, please remember that I’m not a baby expert, just a mom who is learning as I go and sharing what I learn along the way. Before you make any decisions about how to sleep train or not sleep train your baby, talk to your pediatrician.
I’m writing it because at 7 weeks Amalia slept through the night for the first time, and has consistently done so since then (she’s 10 weeks now). She’s a good napper, and we’ve had so much success with the work we’ve put in that I just had to share the love!
I divided this post into a few sections, so feel free to skip to the ones that are relevant to you:
1. Our nighttime routine
2. Our philosophies
3. Our feeding/nap schedule
4. My baby nurse’s 8 tips for sleep training (she’s been doing it for over 10 years!)
5. Products we use for a better sleep
1. Our Nighttime Routine
It took a few weeks to get this down pat but now it’s my favorite part of the day, and Amalia loves it too. At 6pm we start her routine with “bathies”. We use this bathtub which we love because of the infant sling that holds her up comfortably. I’m sure there are a ton of great baby baths, I didn’t actually do a ton of research on it.
I give her a bath (If Anel is home, he loves to do it, but most nights he’s still at work) and wash her from head to toe. When she’s nice and warm from it, I wrap her in a towel, dry her off completely, then give her a massage with this baby oil. It smells amazing and feels so soft on her skin. When Anel does the massage, he has her get on her tummy and does her back as well. She absolutely loves it!
After bathies, I put on her PJs, swaddle her, comb her hair, and give her the biggest kiss because freshly washed babies are the cutest thing in the universe!
We then move to her bedroom where we dim the lights, close the curtains, and create a dark, cozy space for sleep. I play a lullaby playlist while I feed her for the last time of the day. When she’s done eating, I make sure she gives me at least one good burp. At this point she’s asleep already half the time, and the other half she’s drowsy. Either way, I’ll put her down, telling her goodnight and the sweet thing I say to her before bed each night. It’s a special moment between us and I just love it.
I turn on the white noise machine, dim the lights even more, and walk out of the room quietly. If she’s still awake, I watch the monitor for a few minutes to make sure she falls asleep. Sometimes she wakes back up and cries for more milk, sometimes she has gas and I have to go back in to burp her, but most of the time she’s out cold for the night.
While this routine may sound serene and calm (and it is!), it wasn’t.
2. Our Philosophies
I’ve mentioned it numerous times, but we read Babywise and implemented some of it’s concepts from day one. We didn’t stick to 100% of what it said to do, but took many of it’s philosophies and mixed them with what we learned from the baby nurse. Here are the main sleep philosophies that we followed with Amalia.
Listen to Your Baby: No matter what else you do, watch and learn your baby. Take her cues and go from there. You can read a million books, but every baby is different and will tell you what they need.
PDF (Parent Directed Feeding: I liked Babywise better than some of the other books I read because they stress that you should always feed your baby when she’s hungry and the clock can’t rule your life. That being said, you work hard to establish an routine (every 2.5-3 hours), but it’s ok if it goes off course. If your baby is hungry, feed her.
Full Feeds: From day one, we tried to make sure that she had full feeds, meaning that she didn’t fall asleep before she was done eating. If you breastfeed, the baby first gets foremilk first which has a lower fat content, and then hindmilk, which she needs for optimal growth and nutrition. If the baby falls asleep before getting enough hindmilk, she is more likely to wake up hungry from her nap earlier.
We noticed that when Amalia got a full feed, she slept better and longer for naps and at night. Our lactation consultant showed us some tricks for keeping her awake which you can read more about in this post.
Sleep-Eat-Wake Schedule: This one was tough for me at first because I couldn’t figure out when the wake time would be. As a tiny newborn, she would fall asleep as soon as she finished eating. Eventually, week after week, her wake time got longer. At first it was 5 minutes, then 10, and is now almost an hour.
Start & End Each Day at the Same Time: I like knowing when she’s going to wake up and go down each day and according to Babywise, setting those two times is one of the most important things you can do for your baby in the first few months. It makes your life easier which makes you calmer as a mom, and it gets them used to routine for when they start daycare or eventually school.
Falling Asleep on Her Own: If she was still awake but calm, we would put her down to fall asleep on her own. Babywise says to use no props (like a swing or even white noise) but we used the SNOO and sometimes the Rock ‘n Play when she needed to be elevated because of bad gas. But no matter what, we’d put her to bed awake and calm so she could learn how to fall asleep on her own. This was toughest at the beginning because my mom wanted to rock her to sleep for 20-30 minutes each time. When she left, we had an easier time implementing this.
Were there many many many times when she couldn’t fall asleep on her own? Yes of course! And we would always help her out when she needed it, but we tried and tried and now I put her down for all of her naps awake, and it takes her (9 times out of 10), under 5 minutes to fall asleep. She’ll coo and grunt until she does.
Sleeping Heirarchy: This ties into the point above but the most important thing is that the baby sleeps when she should sleep. So if she can’t put herself down, do whatever it takes whether that means holding her, giving her a binky, or rocking her. The second most important thing is that she falls asleep on her own per above. The third most important thing in the heirarchy is that she sleeps in her own bed in her own room.
Le Pause: Bringing up Baby was hands-down my favorite parenting book, and one of the concepts in it, “Le Pause”, has helped us in a big way. The idea is that babies have sleep cycles just like adults, but they don’t know how to put themselves to sleep if they wake up between cycles in the middle of the night. If you run into the room to pick them up as soon as they wake up, it will take a lot longer for them to learn that skill.
The pause is not about crying it out. It’s about giving your baby 5 minutes to try and self-soothe (Or however long you choose, but we went with 5 minutes). By the time you start Le Pause (we started at around 4 weeks), you’ll know your baby’s cries, so if she’s hungry, go feed her of course. But sometimes you can tell it’s just fussiness, and that is ok.
The first night that we did this, I had a really hard time. The thought of my baby being unhappy and me not helping her feel better was torture. But within a day or two, it got much easier. Within a week, she was able to put herself back to sleep when she woke up in the night (unless she was hungry) and that was incredible.
Swaddle Swaddle Swaddle: If you’ve read the Happiest Baby on the Block, you know how important swaddling is for infants. They’re used to being curled up in a tight space, so it makes them feel safe and secure. It also prevents them from waking up because of the moro reflex (or startle reflex) which is when their arms and legs flail out of nowhere. We’ve swaddled her for every nap and night sleep except in the car or on the go. We’re going to start moving her away from swaddling next week because she’s starting to roll over.
Nighttime Routine: I talked about it above, but we fully believed that a nighttime routine would help her distinguish been night sleep and daytime naps. We’ve found that to be very true!
Explaining to Baby: I hate when people say that newborns are just blobs. They’re far from it, and I fully believe that they can understand a lot more than we give them credit for. Because of that, we explain everything we’re doing to Amalia in an adult voice. When we moved her to the crib, we explained why we did it and what would be different. When we changed her bedtime, we told her it was so that mommy and daddy could have a better night and it would make us so happy if she’d go down earlier. Before bed every night we tell her that it’s time for her night sleep, she’s safe, and that we’ll be in the other room if she needs us.
Flexibility: This is the philosophy that I’ve had the most trouble with. Amalia thrives on her schedules (see below) and when she’s off of them, she’s off as well. Over the last week, we’ve tried to take her out more, move her around the house for naps, and just change things up so she (and I) can learn to be more flexible. It’s going a lot better than I thought it would! Babywise stresses that you should do your best to stick to your routines, but having flexibility is a necessity.
3. Our Schedule
Week 1: The first week was all over the place, but she was generally eating every two hours day and night. During the day, if she wasn’t up, I’d wake her for feeds to ensure that she was gaining enough weight. At night, Anel would bring her to me when she woke up, and I’d feed her and then put her back down. Those were some rough nights!
Week 2: By the middle of week two, she started eating every three hours with naps in between. At this point, she was still taking almost an hour for each feed so she’d be tired by the end and we’d usually have to put her right back down for a 1.5-2 hour nap. We didn’t do much to stretch her, but wouldn’t wake her until it had been three hours since the beginning of her last feed as opposed to two hours the week before.
Week 3: This is when we started implementing a wake up time in the morning and bedtime at night. Because we were following the Babywise suggested schedule, bedtime was at 9pm. This was also the week when her gas started to kick in which was crazy hard. We had major gas issues and she’d wake up screaming or fussy during her naps and at night. We used gas drops and gripe water, and I fed her at an incline to try to avoid it. That all helped, but didn’t eliminate the problem completely. We basically had to ride it out until week 5 or so. Those two weeks were probably the hardest ones we’ve had so far.
Weeks 4 & 5: Honestly I think I have amnesia because I can’t remember her exact schedules but I know it was between weeks 3 and 4 when we implemented the dream feed. As soon as we did that, she would only wake up one time in the night. The first few nights it was between 2am and 3am, then between 3am and 4am, etc… Every five nights or so she’d make a jump. We didn’t do anything to stretch her out, it just happened naturally.
Week 6: The nighttime routine was becoming stressful for the whole family because Anel and I felt like we couldn’t have a dinner together ever, so we decided to try and move her bedtime from 8pm to 7pm. We weren’t sure if it would work or if she’d wake up earlier in the mornings, but it ended up actually helping her sleep for longer weirdly. The way we did this was to basically remove a nap which was totally terrifying. If she was tired and needed it, we’d put her down for a 20-30 minute power nap around 5. She would still wake up once a night, sometime between 4am and 6am.
What was hard was when she’d wake up at 6am and then we had to start the day at 7am or 7:30am. In those cases, I’d push the start of the day until 7:30am and give her a quick feed instead of a full feed just to get her in the habit of eating at that time.
Week 6 schedule:
7am- Wake up + eat
6pm- Start bath time
7pm- Sleep for the night
10:30pm- Dream feed
Week 7: This was our last week with the baby nurse and the week that she first slept from 7-7! Since then she’s only had one night where she woke up before 7am and it was when we were traveling. In Babywise, they call it a “merge” when babies drop a feeding. Because she dropped her night feeding once and for all this week, she sometimes needed to eat more during the day to make up for it which felt like a step back, but makes sense if you think about it.
Week 7 schedule:
7:30am- Wake up + eat
6pm- Start bath time
7pm- Sleep for the night
10:30pm- Dream feed
4. Nicola’s 8 Tips for Sleep Training
We hired Nicola who started when Amalia was two weeks. While it was an expense we weren’t expecting, we moved things around to make it work. It was, hands down, the best money we’ve spent in a long time. Having her teach us her ways (and give us some extra sleep in those early days) was priceless. I asked her to share some of her best tips for sleep training with you guys! If anyone lives in the tri-state area (she’s based in NYC) and wants her info, just let me know.
1. If you are concerned for any reason whatsoever before you start, speak with your child’s pediatrician. Make sure to rule out any health concerns.
2. After over a decade in newborn care and specializing in sleep training, the one thing I always tell my parents is that no two babies are the same, so modification is a must in sleep training. What works for one baby won’t necessarily work for another. You have to “learn” your baby first.
3. It is imperative that everyone is on board with the plan. Both parents (and siblings!) need to be aligned and committed.
4. It is never too early to start implementing healthy sleep habits. In fact, I always say the earlier the better. I started helping Julia and Anel when Amalia was two weeks old. Within only a few weeks she was sleeping through the night. From day one, I started healthy sleep habits.
5. Implement a good eat and sleep routine in the daytime, what you do in day impacts your night time routine. Babies aren’t robots, so they won’t always stick to a rigid schedule, but get them as close to that schedule as possible.
6. Create a nighttime routine and set the scene. Remember that the environment plays a big role! Dim the lights and make the room cozy and comfortable for the baby.
7. Put the baby down while he/she is still awake as often as possible. This will not only teach her how to put herself to sleep (eventually), but it will help develop your child’s independence.
8. The most important tip of all? Stay consistent! Some days will get hard and the baby won’t want to be on your schedule. Do your best and stick to the plan. It can take time but it will work in the end
5. Products we use for a better night’s sleep
Swaddles: When we first came home from the hospital, we were swaddling her in blankets and she escaped more than half of the time. My mom showed up and immediately ordered a bunch of these SummerInfant SwaddleMe swaddles that velcro closed. Most babies start with the zippered stage 1 swaddles but Amalia wasn’t into that so we jumped right to stage two (preemie size at first and then small/medium which which still wears). We swaddle her for every nap and overnight. After our trip this week, we’re going to start moving her out of the swaddle.
PJs: When it was still hot at night, she slept in a onesie and then her swaddle, but now that it’s cooler, she sleeps in footie pajamas. We got a bunch of pairs from Baby Gap for our shower and she loves them. Her favorites are these striped ones. We also love the Roberta Roller Rabbit snap up PJs for easier diaper access
Dock-a-Tot: When Nicola started, she put Amalia in her crib on the first first night! Luckily we had inherited a Dock-a-Tot from a friend who didn’t need it anymore, but I had it stuffed in the closet, not really sure what it was for. Since that night, she’s slept in it every single night, and a few weeks later started using it for naps as well.
We have the deluxe plus (smaller size) but she’s growing out of it, so I’m debating either getting the Grand so she can continue in it, or just moving her to the crib without it. No matter which one you buy, get at least one extra cover for spit up/pee/poop situations.
Sheep Sleep: I remember Jackson using this cute sheep shusher when he was a baby so I registered for it. We use it for most naps and for all nighttime sleeps. I like it because it creates white noise to lull her to sleep but turns off after an hour so that she also gets used to sleeping without it. It’s also soft and cute and a good price.
Binkies: When I first had her, I was totally against binkies because I was so nervous that she would get addicted to one and never sleep without it. I didn’t want to have to wean her from it in a year or two. After a few nights, I caved and am so happy I did. When she was really tiny, the binky helped soothe her to sleep, but she’d let it fall out after that and be just fine. Now, she uses one only when she gets really fussy or overtired and it’s nice to have on hand for those moments. I’m writing a whole post about this because I get a lot of questions about it! Stay tuned.
Dimmer: I keep the overhead light in her nursery dimmed for nighttime sleep instead of off. Babies look at lights as a way to soothe themselves, and I’ve found that having it really low helps her stay calm. Installing a dimmer on the light switch was easy and so worth it! We got ours at Home Depot. It’s nothing fancy, but it does the trick.
Spotify: I play this lullaby playlist for her every night during her last feed. I swear the second it comes on, her eyes start to close and she yawns. It’s very calming and sweet.
Blackout Shades: We keep the shades up during daytime naps so she can distinguish between day and night sleep, but we close them at night so street lights and cars passing by don’t wake her.
Questions? Ask below and I’ll answer or have Nicola do it if I don’t know the answer!