By my 3rd week of mommyhood, I was a brainless zombie void of emotion and barely had the capacity for basic functioning. I was blessed with a beautiful baby, who NEVER slept.
That may sound dramatic. But is not. I brought my baby home a few hours after he was born. And we never slept again. (Ok, that one was a little dramatic.)
But seriously. The only time he would sleep was if he was curled up in my arms, and then for only 20 minutes if I was lucky. And as lovely as it was to nuzzle my sweet boy, I was desperate for sleep. If I laid him down in his crib, he would wake instantly. No matter how slow and gentle the transfer was, he was a tiny ticking time bomb.
I became obsessed with finding an answer to getting my little one to sleep. Pinterest became my best friend as I searched endlessly for “baby sleep” “help baby sleep better” “Desperate Mom Sleep.”
Well, somethings worked, something’s didn’t. Cry-it-out just wasn’t an option for me. Listening to my baby cry endlessly for me, only to finally give up and realize that I will never come. Just not a thought that sat well for me.
Here are some of the more gentle things you can try to hopefully help your baby (and just as importantly you! sleep.) P.S. This story has a somewhat happy ending. We did find a decent solution after a few months.
1. Try Co-sleeping
I sometimes laugh to myself when I recall the days I said I would never let my kids sleep in my bed. Funny, all the things we’d “never” do as parents. Deciding to co-sleep was hands down the best decision we made. I fought it for two months with my first. Mostly out of fear and anxiety of SIDS. After countless hours of research, I decided co-sleeping could be a good fit for us, and we would give it a try.
I laid down to take a nap while he nursed, and holy cow. We slept 3 whole hours. When we woke up and I realized how long we slept, I nearly cried. The rest even made me feel like a person again. A real person, with thoughts and feelings. It was amazing, and we never turned back.
If you decide you want to try co-sleeping, my best advice is do your research too. There is a ton of great info out there. There is also a lot of very strong opinions. Our first pediatrician told us that I was risking my babies life, and if I was okay with that, then it was fine to co-sleep. (Our relationship didn’t last long.)
Our second pediatrician said it was very common for breastfeeding moms to co-sleep, and recommended that I followed safe co-sleeping guidelines and that everything should be fine.
The thing is, no one really knows what causes SIDS. I felt that we were good candidates to co-sleep safely and was finally able to let my fears go.
If you are interested in co-sleeping, this is a cosleeping must-read article.
2. Try A Calming Baby Bath
Making an herbal “tea” and adding it to your babies bath is a fantastic way to help your baby calm down before bed. This works especially well when you’re trying to get your baby on a nighttime schedule. Chamomile is a nervine, which means it helps to calm and relax the nervous system. It’s often used as a gentle sedative. This study shows you all the ways chamomile is useful.
For babies, adding chamomile tea to their bath, will allow them to absorb it into their skin, and take some in some of the calming properties before bed. It’s great for their skin too. Since I enjoyed chamomile tea after dinner anyway, i would boil up our tea, drink it, then add more hot water to the used herbs to create a “second” brew. I would then simply add it to my babies bath.
3. Get a bedtime soundtrack
At night before bed we play the same CD and it brings a whole calming energy to our house. I absolutely adore this soundtrack. We lost it during a move and i had to buy it again I love it so much. It features beautiful songs each from a different country, and in different languages. You can actually find a lot of the tracks on youtube, but the album is worth every penny.
The important thing is finding a good soundtrack or playlist for your family, and play it every night at the same time. It will help signal to your baby that its time to go to sleep for the night.
4. A Baby Massage
Try giving your baby a relaxing baby massage. There are so many benefits to baby massage! Massage will release the feel-good hormones like serotonin into your babies bloodstream, they’ll love the feeling of mama’s hands on their body, and it will help them calm down for a restful sleep.
To give your baby a great massage, make sure the room is warm, so their naked body doesn’t get cold. Lay them belly down on a folded towel. Make sure to use a small amount of oil, like coconut oil to help your hands run along their delicate skin.
5. It’s never too early to start a bedtime routine
The human body loves a good routine. If you start conditioning your babies body to wind down in the evenings, eventually it will cause them to grow sleepy when you start your routine each night, and they will go to sleep sooner.
If you pair this with the soundtrack idea, and the herbal baby bath and then a baby massage, there’s no way your baby can resist the urge to drift into a deep sleep. The important part is doing the same series of actions so that your babies body gets naturally sleepy as the sequence occurs.
6. Do whatever works
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
Insanity, maybe. Or maybe extreme desperation. I tried all day, every day to get my baby to sleep by using the adage “put the baby asleep, still slightly awake.” I never could grasp this concept and I thought I was doing it wrong, or timing it wrong. Every day, multiple times a day, I would lay my almost baby down and he would instantly cry. All that work to get him sleepy, just to have to start over. I thought this was the only way to teach him.
It never worked, and I became overstressed trying. I should have spent that time trying to find a solution that did work for us, instead of wasting so much of it on something that wasn’t. If somethings not working for you and it’s making your life miserable, please move on! Don’t worry about teaching your baby “bad habits.”
7. Use light well
If you suspect your baby’s internal sleep clock is off, try using light to your advantage. It may be tempting to have them nap in a dark room, but smart use of light will help your babies brain adjust to a natural circadian rhythm.
During the day, have your baby nap in a room lit by daylight if possible. At night, keep the lights off, even if your baby is awake. Keeping the room dark will help signal nighttime hormones like melatonin, and help your baby sleep. If you need light, try using a salt lamp, as the red glow doesn’t disrupt the sleepy time hormones the way that blue light does.
8. Avoid eye contact when it’s time to sleep
Eye contact with mama is a very important part of baby development. However, when your baby starts drifting off to sleep, avoid eye contact at all costs. Otherwise, that sleepy baby may just end up wired again as they smile at you with a nipple hanging out of their mouth, thinking playtime sounds way better.
9. Try blowing gently
This is one of my favorite tricks. When your baby is fighting sleep, very gently (but not obviously) blow into their eyes. The gentle breeze will dry their eyes just enough that they want to close them, making them feel sleepier.
This works on babies of all ages, even toddlers. This has been a very successful technique when done well in our house.
10. Reconsider the wait to see approach
I heard a lot of advice that that talked about waiting for a few minutes to check on your baby when they wake up. The advice is sound, the hopes are that maybe baby will roll over and go back to sleep. However, not all babies will do this. My first would never go back to sleep on his own.
Instead, if he woke up, and I responded quickly, he would often go back to sleep quickly. He just wanted the reassurance that I was still near him. I believe this is a safety instinct in many babies, and I was happy to bring my baby comfort.
Point is, try both. If one is working better for you, don’t fight it. Whatever it takes to get more sleep in those first few months is key!
11. Know that sleep regressions happen
If you find yourself getting into a good sleep pattern with your baby, and then suddenly they aren’t sleeping well anymore, it could be a sleep regression. That means that it may have nothing to do with anything your doing, and they are just going through a normal sleep regression process.
Sleep regressions usually happen when something is going on in your babies world. Teething, learning a new skill or dealing with an outside stressor can all lead to sleep regression. There isn’t much you can do about this other than be more patient, ask for extra help and know that it’s only temporary. Eventually, your baby will sleep more.
12. Baby carriers are kinda like magic
If you have a baby that needs to be touching you while sleeping, invest in a baby carrier. This helped me in so many ways. When I’d put my overly tire little one in a Moby Wrap, he’d suddenly stop fighting the urge to sleep and just let it overtake him.
I would wear him and do whatever I wanted to, while he happily napped close to me. There’s a lot of emotional and mental benefits of babywearing for both mama and baby. You can read more about how a baby carrier will save your sanity as a new mama.