10 ways we tried to establish good sleep habits.
I am getting a lot of questions about how I got my babies to sleep through the night. I am going to tackle this in a 3 part series - before 12 weeks, after 12 weeks and transitioning out of the Magic Suit. Before I start, I just want to state that I am not a sleep training expert. I am a big believer in doing what works for you and that what works for one baby might not work for another. Also, just because we did it one way and you did it another doesn't make either of us wrong. Every parent has the right to make decisions about what is best for your baby. I am a supporter of a parent's right to choose what is best, so you will find no mom shaming here and negative comments will not be allowed on my posts. I am simply sharing what has worked for us. Take it or leave it. I know when I was in the middle of my sleepless nights, I was willing to try anything that might help. I hope these tips will help get you a little more sleep at night.
Neither of my babies slept through the night early on. I remember getting on the Moms on Call Facebook group and seeing all these posts about babies that just slept through the night on their own super early. I didn't get one of those babies. So my boys' good sleep habits have been taught and formed out of consistency. Here the thing... Decide what you are going to do when you are coherent and not tired. Then stick to it. That means putting in the extra work and not allowing yourself to get lazy. This is a marathon, not a sprint and you have to keep your eye on the prize: a baby that knows how to put himself to sleep and sleeps 10-12 hours at night.
I remember the sleepless days all too well and it's so easy just do whatever will make them go back to sleep. But looking back, I am so glad I put in the work when I did. I remember some friends telling me that getting up in the night for them wasn't that bad because their baby slept right next to them and they would just roll over, nurse and everyone would go back to sleep. My nights were nothing like this. When I was up, I was up. I was heating bottles, bringing babies into the living room, unswaddling, changing, feeding and then pumping. I pumped after every feed for a very long time to keep my supply up and to produce enough for two. It was about a 2 hour process from start to finish. Because of this, I was committed to doing what I needed to do to help them stretch it out as long as possible. LONGER STRETCHES PLEASE OH PLEASE! Can I get an amen?
Here are 10 things Blake and I did to help establish good sleep habits:
1. We focused on full feeds and a consistent schedule. I have never really let my babies snack. From the beginning, we stuck to a 3ish hour feeding schedule and tried to focus on getting the boys to take full feeds. This was quite a challenge with Stisher who has been a terrible eater since he came out of the womb. But thank you Jesus for my patient mother who spent so much time with him in his first month of life getting him to finish bottles. Sometimes it would take her an hour to get him to finish 4 ounces. But she did it! Obviously, if my baby was hungry, I would feed him even if the clock didn't say it was time. But, that was the exception to the rule. We learned that full feeds lead to good sleep.
2. We would have wake time after eating. I tried to never nurse/feed my babies to sleep. After they would eat, we would have wake time. This is really hard early on because newborns sleep so much. So if Eli fell asleep while nursing, I would wake him up and then put him down. I didn't want them to associate eating with sleeping and I wanted them to learn to fall asleep on their own.
3. Through trial and lots of error, we learned that good daytime sleep leads to good nighttime sleep. This sounds crazy, but the whole "keep them up during the day so they will sleep at night" thing doesn't work. At least it didn't for us. I learned quickly that the better the boys napped during the day, the longer they would stretch it out at night.
4. We laid them down awake. From the very beginning, we tried to consistently lay the boys down somewhat awake. We would stand over their rock n plays or cribs and rock them until their eyes would start rolling back in their head and then lay them down. This taught them to fall asleep on their own and also to not depend on being rocked to sleep. Don't get me wrong, I love rocking my babies to sleep. It is such sweet time. But I have twins and there is just no way I could do this for every nap and bedtime. So I had to create habits that allowed them to fall asleep apart from me and let rocking them to sleep be the exception to the rule.
5. I followed the Moms on Call 3 rounds of soothing before feeding. For more on this, I definitely recommend ordering the book. But, when my boys would cry out in the night, I would go in and soothe first. I tried patting or a paci first, but would pick them up and rock them if that didn't work. Then I laid them back down and walked out of the room. I repeated this process three times before I fed them. This is really hard in the night when you are exhausted because it's easier to just feed them and go back to sleep. But I feel like this process helped teach them to stretch it out and ensure that they were actually hungry when they woke up.
6. The boys slept in their room away from me. From day one, the boys slept in their own room. I know that the recommendation is for babies to sleep in the same room with their parents for a decent amount of time, but this just didn't work for us. I am such a light sleeper and Eli was a very noisy sleeper. I was already getting such little sleep and having them in my room would have made that harder. Also, if you are nursing, I don't think you can expect your baby to sleep through the night if they are in the room or the bed with you. I am not anti co sleeping - if that's what you choose to do, go for it. Just manage your expectations if that is the route you want to go. Moms on call says that co sleeping with a nursing baby is like trying to sleep in the kitchen when your favorite meal is being cooked. Apparently, they can smell you and it will wake them up. Again, if this is what you want to do, go for it, but I just don't think you can expect them to sleep through the night in the same room or bed with you.
7. We established a good bedtime routine. We started a bedtime routine very early on and still do it very consistently. It has changed over time to include dinner and books as the boys have gotten older. But we have always done bath (every night) and then bottle and then a little bit of play time (maybe 15-30 minutes) and then bed. Every. Single. Night. I think this has taught the boys that once we start bath it is time to start winding down and getting ready for bed. It's mind-blowing to me that somehow the boys know that after the 7pm bottle they are supposed to sleep for 12 hours. They never get confused and try to sleep that long for a nap. I have no idea how they know, but they just do. Consistency with our bedtime routine has really worked for us.
8. Swaddle right, swaddle tight. A good and tight swaddle was key to longer stretches of sleep for us. I didn't know about the Ollie swaddle when my boys were little, but my sister in law has had a great experience with it. We double swaddled our boys. First with the SwaddleMe and then with the Woombie on top. Links below.
9. We bought a sound machine and turned it on loud. We have always used a sound machine and have turned it on pretty loud. Again this is one of those things with mixed opinions, so do what works for you. I've linked the one we use below.
10. After the first few months, we did bottles only at night. Eli loves to nurse and would nurse all day every day if I let him, but not because he is hungry. After about two months, I started doing bottles only in the middle of the night. Yes, it is more work. Yes, it's not easy. But this helped me know how many ounces they were getting and that they were actually hungry when they woke up. As the boys got closer to that hallowed 12 pound mark, this became more and more important to know when they were ready to drop the middle of the night feedings. If they were actually hungry, they would take the bottle. Also, I am a big fan of babies taking bottles so mama can get a break.
Here are my must haves equipment wise for this stage:
- Rock n Plays (twin moms, you need two): My boys slept in rock n plays in their room until they were 6 weeks. We started to transition them by turning off the rocking motion first so they got used to sleeping without it. Then moved them to the Dock a tot in their crib.
- Dock a tot (twin moms, you need two): The boys slept in their Dock a tots in their crib until they were 12 pounds.
- Crib (twin moms, you need two): This is the crib that we chose. We needed two so it was one of those things that we didn't think we needed to splurge on. It's basic, gender neutral, sturdy and has been great. Highly recommend it!
- Sound Machine: This is the one we used and turned it up most of the way and put it across the room from the boys.
I hope this helps!! Next up, getting them to sleep through the night. What questions do you have for me? Is this helpful? What can I expand on more? What am I missing? Leave any questions or comments below!