Caroline Snider

Thoughts on Nighttime Sleep from the Mother of a Less Than Perfect Sleeper

Caroline Snider
Thoughts on Nighttime Sleep from the Mother of a Less Than Perfect Sleeper

I want to start this little chat on sleep by saying these are some thoughts about what has and hasn’t worked for my family. Your family will undoubtedly be different so if anything we discuss doesn’t ring true for you COOL! That doesn’t mean it’s wrong for others. That is to say I consider this space to be a space of respect. If any of the methods mentioned here don’t suit you or your child or you have chosen to parent your child in a different way I say GREAT! You are without a doubt the best and only parent your child needs, as I am to mine. I fully respect your right to parent as you see fit whilst I do the same. We’re all peace, love and sleeping babies here.

So with that out of the way, lets jump in.. If I was a marketing genius I would have titled this post, how I taught my baby to sleep through the night in less than a week and whilst that would have been technically true it also would have been only half the story and quite frankly there’s already enough of that to be found on many bookshelves and corners of the internet. Personally I have found the journey towards good sleep for all to be a gradual one, experience has taught me that sleep, of all kinds is as developmental as sitting, crawling, eating foods any other milestone that our child hits within the first year.

If you’re reading this and your babe is under 6 months then GREAT! You’re in the perfect spot to start good habits from the very beginning and work towards better sleep. I’ll outline all the steps we took well in advance of night weaning that made the process quick and pain free not just for Casper but for us as parents too. If your babe is 6 months plus and everybody is thriving but nobody is sleeping well then it’s time to get serious and acknowledge what’s working and what’s just survival. In the space of a few weeks will have you cutting down nighttime wake-ups if not losing them all together.

Night weaning is a divisive issue and certainly not the only step towards the goal of sleeping through the night. It varies largely from child to child and is undoubtedly tied to whether the child is fed from the breast or bottle (#fedisbest) but in this series we’ll discuss some signs that your babe is ready to cut down on feedings and the steps to take towards stopping them completely when the time is right.

One quick note before we get started: My personal ethos on sleep is some crying is inevitable. I’m just going to get that out in the open, as it has to be THE issue that divides parents on sleep. And I get it, on both sides. Truly. I hate to hear my child cry. It makes my bones ache and my gut twist into the very tightest of knots but alas my child had colic so I have heard him cry A LOT. In fact it’s pretty much all he did for the first three months of his life, NO MATTER WHAT I DID. So as you can imagine I find the idea that crying ruins a child emotionally for life somewhat challenging.

That being said I would NOT categorize the many steps I undertook to teach my child to sleep through the night to be CIO. There was however some crying during what I will refer to as boundary setting. But it was incredibly short-lived thanks to consistency and the fact the goals we were trying to achieve were developmentally appropriate. Everybody came out happier at the other end of it, after all my child lives in a house full of abundant love as yours does too. 

I’m excited aren’t you? We’re closer to sleep already. I got you. Let's jump in..


0-4 Months

-Establishing a bedtime routine. Casper has had a bedtime routine since he was a few weeks old. I do not believe it to be a coincidence that bedtime is also one of his favourite times of day and our most successful sleep achievement to date. He knows exactly what’s going to happen and when and in my experience babies are pretty into that. We established a fixed bedtime of 7PM but his routine begins half an hour beforehand and includes a play on his changing mat, bath, massage, pajamas, swaddle (we dropped this at 4 months), story, feed (this moved to before bath after 4 months but we'll cover that later) and into bed. We are incredibly consistent with this routine and as such he has missed it only a handful of times in his life. I know some parents of infants chose to make bedtime much later in the evening as most infants will offer at least one stretch of longer sleep. Casper would take this long stretch of sleep WHILST I was awake (5 hours at a push) which is tough when your eyes are being held open by matchsticks BUT it meant Brett and I got to eat dinner, I could take a shower and you know mostly just do all the housework I couldn't do all day. I also believe it was short term pain for long term gain when it came to getting him to sleep that 12 hour stretch in the long run. 

- Establishing Nighttime is not Day Time. I have NEVER spoken to Casper at nighttime. I have picked him up, I’ve held him close, I have stroked his hair or kissed his little pudgy hand but I never looked at him in the eyes, talked to him or turned on a light wherever possible. Nighttime is for sleeping even when we’re not.

-Back down straight after a feed. Immediately after Casper finished feeding I would burp him whilst walking gently around the Nursery for a minute or two before putting him down in his DockaTot to go back to sleep. Again it was night, it was dark, all was quiet and the pull for him to sleep was much greater than during the day. We were establishing what was expected at this time of night.

- Establish when Morning is. Decide what time constitutes wake up time in your house. This undoubtably differs for every family and is dictated by schedule and responsibilities but in our house 7AM is morning. I tried wherever possible to NOT take Casper out of his room before this time. This included not opening the blackout blinds, not talking, not turning off the white noise. It also included him snacking on my boob or occasionally walloping me in the face whilst I was passed out. But he got it, 7AM was wakeup time. The curtains open, the sun streams in, voices are happy and cheerful (even if they feel less than cheerful), games are played, you get the picture. This is morning kid, wake up before then and it's going to be pretty dull.

Use your Voice and other Audio Clues. Some people might think this is a little hokey but I have always explained to Casper what is happening and what's about to happen next. 'Ok darling, we're going upstairs now and Mummy's going to change your Nappy and then it'll be time to lay down for a sleep' (all said in insufferable parent voice). 'Casper it's time for bed now, Mummy and Daddy expect you to lay down and get your body some good rest. We love you very much and are right downstairs but we expect you to sleep now'. I have also used music as a way to signal to him what is about to happen. Ever since he's had a bedtime he's also had a playlist that accompanies his bath. I also play the same song before Nap time and Bed time. Goodnight Sweetheart. We dance and i hold him super close for a minute and then lay him down.  

Other things I did at this stage:

-Co-slept – Casper slept between Brett and I in his DockaTot for the first 6 weeks.

-Room Shared – He then moved to his crib in his DockaTot and we continued to sleep in the same room*.

-Fed on demand – whenever Casper woke I would change his diaper/nappy and then nurse him and return him to his crib.

-Fed to sleep – In my experience this is pretty much an inevitability at this stage if the room is dark, you’re not engaging them and their belly is full.

- White Noise – We used white noise right from the beginning and it was magically helpful, especially for his colic.

- Swaddled – Casper was swaddled from birth at night it was imperative to him adjusting to life outside of my belly.  

-Black Out Blinds - In my experience, Darkness is your friend when it comes to avoiding that EARLY morning wake up. 

* To be very clear this is not recommended by DockaTot but we remain incredibly comfortable with the decision. In the UK the Sleepyhead, which is the identical product and manufactured by the same company is cleared for sleeping in cribs. Cribs are big, babies are small. They want to feel secure and we chose this happily over him learning to sleep on us, for example, as it took us closer to our end goal of independent sleep. But you do you. 


4-6 Months

-Separate rooms. Before his arrival I hadn’t any fixed ideas of how long we would share a room with Casper but I loosely imagined it might last until 6 months. But at 3 months I was ready, I was over sleeping in a pitch-black room with a roaring white noise machine in the corner trying to whisper to my husband and stubbing my toe on the bedframe every night. It took me until 4 months to pull the trigger however. And that’s Motherhood for you. I was worried; what if I didn’t hear him cry (LOL I could hear this child squeak from two towns over, no monitor necessary). It was however a revelation when it happened, I could read before bed! Brett and I could cuddle up and watch a show before turning out the lights! We could have a conversation! I could sneeze without the fear of God running through my veins. You get the picture. Lots of families’ co-sleep or room share and if it’s working for your family then I think it’s a perfectly beautiful option. It has however been my personal experience that my child will wake up at least twice as much if I am in the room (over the holiday's when we had a house full of guests Brett and I slept in Casper's too for a handful of nights, despite us being as quiet as church mouses he went from waking up 1-2 times a night to 4-5 in the space of a night).

- Breaking Feeding to Sleep at Bedtime. This was a gradual process that evolved over the space of a month. In the beginning when Casper would begin to slow down his Nursing to that sleepy non productive sucking I would pop him off the breast and gently move him to his crib. Kiss goodnight and walk out of the room. As he got more and more used to this I then introduced a story before putting him down and then after a few weeks moved his feed completely to before bath-time.   

- Weaning from Swaddling. In preparation for Casper rolling over (LOL he’s almost 8 months and he still cant) I decided to wean him from the swaddle. He wasn’t showing signs of the startle reflex anymore and he seemed to be trying to get a hand to his mouth at night to comfort himself. I just stopped swaddling him one night and he slept the same. I was nervous about it and he didn't care at all. This is the perfect example of breaking a habit at the right moment. Developmentally he was ready to be done with the swaddle and it hadn't gone on so long that he'd got unnecessarily attached to the idea. 

- No Diaper/Nappy Changes. Casper never pooped at night and was never fussed by a wet diaper so as soon as he fit into the overnight style (we used the Up&Up from Target) we stopped changing him at night. We used a nice layer of cream before changing him at bedtime and he has never once suffered from diaper rash. This helped keep nighttime visits dark, quiet and the least wakeful as possible.

Other things I did at this stage:

- Adhered strictly to his bedtime routine which now looked more like: a play in his room, feed, bath, massage, pajamas, story, feed and into bed 

- Kept to Night time is not Day time, the wakeup time for the house and using my voice to clue him on what was happening next. 

- Fed on demand – whenever Casper woke I would nurse him and return him to his crib.

- White Noise – We used white noise right from the beginning and it was magically helpful, especially for his colic.

-Black Out Blinds - In my experience, Darkness is your friend when it comes to avoiding that EARLY morning wake up. 

So there we have it. This is everything I had accomplished by the time Casper reached six months. I could put him down fully awake and he would put himself off to sleep after a few minutes. He was however still waking anywhere from 2 - 4 times at night.

So before we move onto our next stage we want to be able to check off the things on our list below. It's worth noting that if your baby is over 6 months or indeed much less of a baby and much more of a toddler then some of the methods coming next in the series will be of use in changing habits. For the time being I will say COMMIT. You're in charge. You love your child endlessly and that's why you're leading the way for good sleep for all. Also do not mistake whimpering for crying. Casper would often whimper when I popped him back in his crib after a feeding. This was not a shrill noise, it was the kind of lazy noise I make when I have to eat a plateful of Kale instead of cookies. If I kept walking it would tail off almost immediately. If I questioned myself and hung around it would always break into a full on cry. But almost all of these steps can be integrated without tears. 

Establishing a Bedtime Routine : Pick a time that is achievable and stick to it. Don't break it. Enlist an Aunt or your Mom or a trusted friend to babysit if you need to be out past this time. And if not you're about to get reeeeeaaaal acquainted with your Netflix account. 

Establishing Nighttime is not Day Time : No more chats, no more eye contact, no more lights.

Establishing When Morning Is : We're going to show babe that waking up before this time is preeeeeeetyy boring.

Back down straight after a Feed : No more dillydallying (that's totally a word) in general. Time for bed? Do your routine and then it's down into bed. Say your piece and walk out of the room. Lead with confidence ad trust that your babe will follow after. Middle of the night your babe should be at their most drawn to sleep, try and decrease any rocking, patting or whatever else.

Separate Rooms : Seriously I think co-sleeping is wonderful. I have NO experience on how to do this and everybody get sleep. 

Breaking Feeding to Sleep at Bedtime : Remember this is gradual and once you are out of that Newborn haze. 

In the next part of the series we're going to GET SERIOUS, we're going to be focusing on babies 6 months and over and potentially breaking any bad habits that are lingering in the house so we can make the final push to better sleep. We all have roadblocks that are stopping us from attaining this goal so we're going to have to commit to things getting a little harder before they get A LOT easier. We'll be discussing crying, night weaning, the fact that your baby is way smarter than you're giving them credit for, sleep regressions, teething and tantrums. I'm going to share the handful of items that have proven invaluable to sleep in our house and all the details on how we got Casper sleeping through the night in less than a week. Then after that maybe we'll conquer the world? Cool.