Real Parent’s Guide To Baby Sleep: In Four Simple Steps

This is not a story about controlled crying. It’s a story about how I found a combination of gentle methods to teach my daughter to self-settle. You would think sleep is something humans would do naturally because it’s so essential to our development.

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My daughter is an awesome sleeper. Don’t hate me! It hasn’t always been that way.

I’ll never forget that night. My husband stood between me and the doorway, while our four-month-old daughter wailed and my heart shattered.

This is not a story about controlled crying. It’s a story about how I found a combination of gentle methods to teach my daughter to self-settle. You would think sleep is something humans would do naturally because it’s so essential to our development. Nope, it’s a learned skill that we can help our kids to master (or try to anyway!) in the First Thousand Days.

“If you go in there,” he said, “it will be to make yourself feel better. If you stay out here, you’ll help her long term.”

That was night number one of our sleep-training routine. She had been crying for about eight minutes, and I had already been in the room twice. I knew my husband was right. He suggested I go outside for a walk, but I couldn’t, I had to suffer with her, even if she didn’t know it.

In hindsight, I probably should have taken his advice and gave myself that break – but as a first-time mum, it was hard to walk away.

It took four nights of protesting and tears (hers and mine) until she went down happily on the fifth. Fast forward to age seven-months, she slept 12 hours each night, and napped like clockwork during the day.

Our daughter is almost four-years-old now, she still sleeps 12-13 hours per night, never protests, and occasionally nominates herself for bedtime (which totally blows my mind. As a child, I never once admitted to being tired let alone asked to go to bed.)

DISCLAIMER: I’m not trying to sound smug here, just trying to show you that I found something that works for us. Don’t get me wrong, getting to this point was difficult, but worth it, so I’m sharing how we did it, in the hope it might work for you. But don’t worry if it doesn’t, there’s lots of options to try if you’re having issues with sleeping. Check out some of the resources below.

Set Yourself Up for Success with These Tips:

  • My first piece of advice would be to come up with a plan that works for your family and find something you are comfortable trying or testing. It should be within your comfort zone, but still seem challenging.
  • It’s all about finding the magic combination that works for you and your child- so be patient. I know patience can be in short supply when you’re sleep-deprived. Hang in there, and make sure you’re doing things to help you top up your resilience.
  • Stick to your plan religiously for a good amount of time, and remember that it can get worse before it gets better.
  • If possible see if your partner (or a helper) can take a few days off work to support you because there will be a few bumpy nights and you’ll likely need the reinforcement.
  • Oh, and expect setbacks in the form of illnesses, travel, or human nature: bad habits tend to creep back in. Sometimes you might need to start from scratch to reset the routine.

The good news is, there are lots of different techniques you can try until you find something that works for your family. It might take patience and diligence, but it’s worth it in the long run. Not only do I love a good night’s sleep, I NEED it for my mental and physical health.

You probably have heard the theory that some kids sleep and others don’t. I have one child so I’m not an expert, but I know that my ‘sleeper’ was not heading in that direction innately and needed some additional help to make it happen.

There are instances where some babies different or special needs, and parents do try everything with limited or no success. But, I truly believe that for many kids, through trial and error, and with the right support, you’ll eventually find an approach that works.

Note: if you find that nothing works to settle your bub, or you’re just exhausted and need some additional support, don’t be afraid to check in with your doctor or health care team.

If you haven’t already closed this post, tuned me out, or given me the mental middle finger; I’ll tell you what steps we undertook to get my stubborn, intense, and dramatic little infant to sleep like a pro. She still has the same personality. #karma

Real Parents Guide To Baby Sleep

1. Nighttime Routine

Apparently, a good nighttime routine starts in the morning. The first change we made was wake that baby at the same time every day (even if we’d been up through the night and the baby was still asleep). There’s nothing I hate more than waking a sleeping baby, but I got over it.

An hour before bedtime we dim the lights, bath bub, give her a gentle massage, read a story and play some white noise. These are all her signals that it’s time for bed. I’ve done our routine at the in-law’s, on airplanes, and in hotel rooms, so it’s portable and we can do it anywhere.

2. Sleeping, Feeding and Napping Schedule

I love a schedule but appreciate that it’s not something everyone digs. The thing is, our bodies love routine, especially baby bodies. They like to be able to predict what’s coming next.

I followed a very strict routine with naps and feeds. My daughter would nap at the same time every day whether we were home, out in the pram or in the car. Being able to sleep in different environments is a bonus if you want some semblance of a life.

I followed a schedule I found in a book but you can get one from your Maternal and Child Health Nurse, sleep school, doctor or a sleep nanny.

3. Gentle Sleep Training

Teaching a baby to self-settle to sleep can help them at bed-time and nap-time, and encourages them to drift back to sleep if they are startled awake.

There are a million ways to teach a baby to self-settle that don’t involve ‘crying it out.’ Do a bit of research and test out different methods on your bub (make sure to try each one for at least one week because it will take several nights and often get worse before it gets better).

We ended up combining a few different methods, including ‘longer and longer, fading, and pick up/ put down.’

4. Persistence and Flexibility

Know that developing good sleep habits for your baby will probably take hard work, dedication and occasionally you’ll slip and you’ll need to start from scratch all over again. Don’t stress if that happens – in a few nights we found that she would slip back into routine, and it was never as hard as that first time.

Good luck, keep an open mind, try and surround yourself with support, and don’t forget that if you need help, you can always reach out to your medical team for extra advice and guidance.

There’s also a bunch of advice and tips over on Bupa’s First Thousand Days site; covering not only sleep, but pretty much any aspect of raising small humans in the period from conception through to the age they are two.

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3 comments on “Real Parent’s Guide To Baby Sleep: In Four Simple Steps”

  1. I think it comes down to the type of baby you've got, what's going on in your house and how their mama is feeling. My youngest was a good sleeper (only at night - never during the day, but I think that's about being the third baby and getting woken up for school and kinder pick up). But after my Mum died (she was 4 and half months) and I was navigating the depths of grief, her sleep just got worse and worse. We were in Masada when she was nine months old. By that stage we were up to her between 7 - 10 times a night, every night. Ironically, she sleep all night every night we were in the Mother and Baby unit. She probably picked up on my relief that we were finally getting some help. She's five in January and still doesn't consistently sleep all night (maybe 5 out of 7, which I can live with). I truly believe it is the luck of the draw. All I can say is that sleep deprivation is absolute torture and I wish for sleeping babies for all Mamas. xx

    1. I agree is absolutely does have to do with the child and with your lifestyle. Sounds like things were pretty tough at times for your fam. The scheduling we implemented was FULL ON. It took heaps of my time and energy. I know my kiddo was not going to be an inherently good sleeper but luck would have it that I broke her in like a horsey. Not sure if I'll even have that same time and energy with the next one. All we can do is work with what we've got and at some point live with it as you said. For me, sleep is the holy grail- I fall apart without it. I'm glad what I tried worked. Fingers crossed for similar success. I'm scared that all kids are so different!! Keep ya posted. ?

      1. Keep the faith Dawn! You'll be even more committed knowing the success you've had already. Might be worth sending some sort of ultrasonic hyno-therapuetic vibes while she's in utero - just so she can't claim that she didn't get the memo!! ? ?

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