A Guide to Baby Sleep

Did the title pull you in?

It’s actually a little bit of a joke.

I have hesitated to write on this topic because I’ve had a good dose of what it’s like to try everything and your baby sleeps terribly.

Hearing that sleep deprivation is a true warfare tactic really resonated with me in that time.

I never cussed so much in my life, didn’t recognize myself and was a mess wrapped in a normal-seeming self. Only God knows the depths certain moments felt like while healing from birth, caring for a newborn, learning breastfeeding and having broken sleep with no guarantee anything would ever change.

I did, however, end up with a child who learned how to sleep through his nights within one week at 6.5 months old and has slept well and taken good naps ever since then. I think it was everything we keep trying for and had in place since he was born, not just that one week, however.

(He is almost 17 months and just woke up at 2:30a.m. and 6:30a.m. this week during a fever/teething episode for the first time since 6.5 months old! We are so blessed.)

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When my son was 5 months old and I just got a sassy haircut and was just feeling a bit like myself again.

It’s part of the reason why finding out that I was expecting at 10 months postpartum with my firstborn turned into unspeakable, full joy instead of freaking me out. (Well, I was definitely shaking!)

Just now, I’m finally starting to look at her birth and think through and start positive affirmations. Just now, I’m able to think about giving birth again and look at the work of labor without fear, like with my first.

Before this point, I was ready to formula feed and have an epidural before going into labor. (Just kidding!)

I’m still leaving myself open to both relieving the burden of breastfeeding, even supplementing and having medication during labor, but I think that the same Ailene who was able to breastfeed and go through natural labor is still here. I just wasn’t sure until now.

I’m sure there are ladies out there who don’t have such a struggle with lack of sleep, or with healing from a difficult part of birth or don’t worry about their body being unrecognizable, or who aren’t bothered by hormonal swirls taking their emotions on a ride…but when you add all of these things together and more, I think most of us normal mamas feel like we are succumbing. Like, underneath it all and drowning.

Anyway, this post isn’t here to mostly talk about the deep, real struggles that can come along after having a baby. I need to write another post about this. But when you touch on baby sleep, you kinda gotta mention it. 😉

My ideas going into the newborn stage were that those friends who had babies who awoke every 2 hours to feed were unfortunate, that if I had faith and got my baby on a schedule, we’d go right back to normal sleep and just add a baby to our life together.

Um. I was wrong.

I quickly realized that each baby actually needs to eat every 2 to 3 hours because their stomach is so small and they digest breastmilk in tiny doses, so you have to keep it coming.

And I remember at the end of my son’s 5th week of life, my cousin asking how the scheduling was going that I was implementing that week.

Her question made me face the facts; he was sleeping worse than before and I was pushing too hard. Things were falling apart! I laughed at myself and told her the truth. She was so kind. We had our sons a little less than a month apart and it was such a joy to walk through pregnancy & postpartum with her support and understanding.

So we threw out the schedule that night. Instead of forcing him to have a “normal” baby bed time of 7p.m., we went with his rhythms. He wasn’t ready for sleep until 10p.m. and then he shocked me by sleeping 5 whole hours in a row. I let go of trying too hard and expectations of normalcy, and the thing just happened.

At 5 weeks, thus, he slept 5 hours in a row, 10 to 3a.m. (or 10 to 2a.m.). At 6 weeks, 6 hours in a row.

At 4 months, we took him on his first airplane ride to my family in PA and at my parents house, he slept 8-10 hours a night! It was crazy. It was what I had been hoping and praying for! It was possible!

However, we returned home to the next 2.5 months of absolutely terrible, worse than ever sleep. I had been hoping that 4 month sleep regression would bypass us, but my chiropractor explained that at this age they are just realizing their world in a new way and when they wake up, they are noticing their surroundings. She said it would pass and I held onto that!

We continued our normal routine, because what else do you do? I didn’t have much time to research and figure it out; I’d started back to work full time when he was 2 months old. Take away good sleep and I was barely making it in every way.

I mean, he’d go to sleep at 11p.m., wake up at 12a.m., 2, 2:30, 3, 4, 5, 6. It was so insane and there were times I was trying to protect Carl’s sleep and not involve him. And especially since I was breastfeeding, I felt like I was the only answer. I finally shared that I was literally going insane and since we were both working full time, I needed his help!

(I’m not sure he really was getting great sleep, either, but he was so willing to help when I explained what was really going on as he slept in the other room).

My son finally began to get into a good stretch around 5.5 months. He would go to sleep about 10p.m., wake up at 2:30a.m. for a feeding and then 6:30a.m. I would feed him whether he woke up or not at 6:30a.m. because I realized he would then sleep in until 9a.m. I wouldn’t settle for him waking at 6:30 or 7a.m. because I knew that I needed to start catching up on sleep. It also immensely helped me to get some work from home in before he awakened for the day. In a previous season without sleep my health took a serious downturn and I was praying to avoid this happening again with the responsibility of being a mother now.

At 6.5 months, we decided it was time our son got his own room. We aren’t the co-sleeping type of parents. After 3 days of skin to skin in the very beginning, I was done with the co-sleeping thing. It’s so precious, the stories I hear, for those of you who are!

A typical night routine looked like this:

  1. Bath time in this inflatable duck tub. We had a $50 one with a waterfall from our registry, but this inflatable tub was nice because we could submerge his body in the water while holding him and as he got older, he could lean his head back and rest it on the tail. Best $11 spent ever! We bought a swan one for our daughter! ❤

  2. Dry him off on his massage pad. Then dress him in a cloth diaper that had amazing absorbency for all night long (later we found out disposables worked fine, too).

  3. Dress him in pajamas and then a Halo sleep sack over top- warmer the baby, the deeper the sleep for us at least (of course, not too warm we used cotton sleep sacks in summer and fleece ones in winter). Greatly noticed a difference after deciding to use it one night instead of tucking a blanket around him like a swaddle. I think he felt held in and comforted.

  4. One night my husband noticed that our son fell asleep when his hand was resting near his face. After that we put our son’s Wubbanub (uh, don’t pay $18.95 for one of these- we paid much less) stuffed animal touching his forehead. It was a difference of him sleeping for a short stretch versus a long one. So wild! Our son didn’t use the paci part of the Wubbanub much. He has always preferred soft things. He mostly sucked on the giraffe’s legs, actually. Haha! I wanted him to be addicted to a paci but he only used it when teething or for sleeping in the car or stroller for a time.

  5. After he was dressed, I nursed him to sleep. No putting him down awake but drowsy. That would result in hours of screaming 🙂 Nursing him to sleep was a really good de-stress time for me each night. A time to just listen to his white noise machine and feel relaxed that my baby was now headed toward dreamland.

  6. We used a white noise machine each night. As he grew older & on vacations, I noticed that he really needed this healthy sleep association for both nighttime sleep and naps. It sent him the message it was time to sleep.

  7. If he cried hard, we always answered his cry. It’s just in both of our hearts. We only ended up doing “cry it out” when we realized that at certain times, he was so over-stimulated that any shushing or comforting prolonged the crying and he needed to get those emotions out and fall asleep on his own without help. This came at 6.5 months when we transitioned to his own room. Within a week, this not only worked to fall asleep at night, but also to go back to sleep without us on the occasion that he would awaken in the night. It took me a bit to realize that when he did wake during the night and whimper, he wasn’t actually awake and I couldn’t comfort him back to sleep and he didn’t need to nurse, he just needed to get back into his deep sleep on his own.

  8. When we decided co-sleeping wasn’t for us (and there wasn’t room in our bed, like for real hahaha, we both were clinging to the sides trying not to fall off!), we kept him in his Dockatot and put it into his crib. I’ve heard warnings about this, but if you have felt the material of the dock and put your own face up to it; it’s breathable. Also, there’s no way for a baby who can’t move to push it onto themselves like people warn about. And thank God for video monitors, I even used one when he was in the same room so I could keep an eye on him. Having him safe and secure in his Dockatot brought me such peace of mind. I couldn’t settle down and feel at peace when he wasn’t securely in it.

  9. Our Dockatot experience was another example of learning our boy. He truly loves soft things, to cuddle into them (but not mama; we both never stayed asleep or got into the deepest sleep except for an hour or 2 sometimes for a nap). Watching him sleep in it, he looks like the most relaxed little person in the world. We transitioned to the larger size when he was old enough and it’s been such a blessing in him sleeping no matter where we’ve traveled. It’s another thing that sends the message, it’s time to sleep.

  10. Last thing. Just before I weaned him at 14 months, Daddy had started exclusively reading him a bedtime story after bath and putting him to sleep. Oh, we have totally rocked and gently bounced with him on the exercise ball to sleep. No shame- those things worked and were unspeakably precious for both of us! Anyway, our son no longer needed to be nursed to sleep and learned to do the whole drowsy but awake thing. I personally felt it was the right age for him to be able to do this. I don’t know, it’s just one of those tips you always hear but never worked for us before this time.

I don’t regret any of this learning with our son and his sleep. It’s helped us to understand him in greater ways than if he’d just been a great sleeper “naturally” if that’s really a thing! Learning how he slept taught us so much about his personality and little things he loves in life. It’s been a journey that was worth it. I mean, the hardest things are usually the most precious things.

That pretty much sums it up- go with your gut, mama and daddy. If you need help, reach out to people you know won’t shame you, research if that helps you. (I’m a huuge researcher, especially when things break down, it’s the first thing I turn to). If you talk to Him, ask the Holy Spirit about every single detail. Be your true, honest, raw self with God and don’t hold anything back. I remember talking to Him about why my son couldn’t go down for a nap without so much crying, which was causing me a lot of stress and anxiety. Then I’d ask, is there anything I can do to make this better? Or do I have to not do anything in this instance and let him cry? I’d just get this feeling on what to do and began to trust those feelings as they worked! Different things at different times, but the Holy Spirit knows.

Something else I’ve had to realize is that each family has their own story. There’s a great story being written that they are living and sometimes it requires them going through things I don’t go through. And other times, I’m going through something that they aren’t. My advice would never work for them where they are at and they are doing 100% the best for their family and making it through the trials presented to them. And same with me.

Just wanted to share my journey,

Much love, especially to you precious sleep-deprived parents who are doing everything and your little one just needs nights with you. It’s maybe something to do with the incredible child they are; perhaps they really and truly need that time with you. I pray for grace for you. That keeps coming and wholeness over your life as you journey through life and parenthood.

Love,

Ailene

p.s. Please message me for resources that helped us and any questions. I’m an open book! I don’t know that I have a ton to offer except a compassionate ear and I’m happy to pass along anything that helped us.

p.p.s. None of the links are sponsored. I just wanted to show you exactly what we used!

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