When I had my first baby, I was lying awake in my hospital bed with her cradled next to me. It was the middle of the night. I felt overwhelmed with this new situation. Sure, I had prepared for it for the last nine months or so, but when she was born, I suddenly felt completely overwhelmed and I cried ugly tears - many of them.
Breastfeeding was difficult for me, and it seemed like nothing was going according to my plans. But more than that, I never could have imagined how exhausting caring for a newborn would be. As I looked at her wide awake in her cradle when all I wanted to do was sleep soundly, I began to cry. A wise nurse said to me, "Now mama, this isn't going to go perfectly so just get that idea out of your head."
Now my baby is grown and waking her up for school in the morning is like trying to teach a rhinoceros ballet. I've had three more babies since her, and I've learned a thing or two about sleep training a baby.
I wish I would have listened to my baby more and worried about the charts and milestones much less. Let your pediatrician worry about all of that - that's her job. Your job is to listen to your baby. The most important thing to your infant is food and feeling secure. And your baby will let you know loud and clear when one of these is not being met to her satisfaction.
Here are some more things I wished I would have known with a newborn:
1. Get your baby on a schedule
Even if your baby's schedule is all over the place, stick to it. A ridiculous schedule is better long-term than no schedule.
When our twins were born at 36 weeks, I remember trying to sleep in the same room with them, and it was impossible. They made so much fuss and noise they sounded like two hungry goats! Our nurses were fantastic. They told us, "stick to a schedule."
We charted their schedule for about three weeks on a white board that we set in the kitchen. This helped us predict what time they would want to eat. Even if you think it isn't important, write down when they eat anyway.
Include in the schedule: bath time, tummy time, singing time, etc. Your baby wants to play with you. She wants to hear your voice and feel your touch. The more interaction she has with you when she is awake, the happier she'll be to fall asleep. Remember, it's all about food and feeling secure. She feels secure when she is with you. Tire her out with your company.
2. Let your baby learn how to self-soothe
When the twins would wake, we would change them, talk and sing to them, play by doing tummy time, swaddle them and feed them. By the time we did all this, they'd be ready to fall asleep again. We would burp them and make sure their food had settled and then, rather than rock them to sleep, we'd just place them in their bed with a pacifier and let them fall asleep on their own. Our twins took a pacifier, but as they got older and no longer wanted the pacifier, they'd gently rock back and forth in bed until they fell asleep. If they cried, we'd burp them again and lie them back down again.
We wouldn't give them more milk. We wouldn't take them out and play with them some more. Even as tiny infants, when it was time to sleep, it was time to sleep. We didn't put them in a dark room or turn on a noise machine. We let them get used to sleeping with whatever was going on around them. As they got older, we moved them into a bedroom and now as toddlers, we do use a noise machine to help keep the sound consistent because there are two babies trying to sleep in the same room.
3. Be the boss
You have your entire life for your child to usurp your authority as the boss of their own life and so when it comes to sleep training, you are the boss. Your child's sleep training will have a direct impact on your overall health and well-being and so both your lives depend on its success (no pressure).
I don't like to use the words, "cry it out" because to me, it implies that the parent is abandoning the baby to just lie there and sob. That isn't the case with being the boss; instead, being the boss means you let your baby "work it out."
If you have met your baby's needs and placed her in her bed safely to sleep, and the only thing left to do is for her to sleep, it is all right to have her work it out on her own for a while. You will find that babies who need sleep are sometimes the crankiest. It is not pleasant for a parent to listen to her baby cry, and that is why having a written schedule is so helpful - it is written proof that you have met your baby's needs and that what she needs is time to self-soothe and fall asleep. Plan on doing something during this time that puts you within earshot of your baby but keeps you occupied while your baby sleep trains.
And if you need to cry, go ahead and cry. It doesn't mean you are failing as a mother or that you don't love being a mother. It's natural to cry along with your baby. Its part of that beautiful empathy we parents get to feel for our children. Cry it out - both of you.
4. Talk to your pediatrician about any issues
Keep notes about your baby between visits with your pediatrician and share them with your doctor. You are your child's advocate and so listen to the thoughts and feelings you have about your child. If you feel like your child is fussier than usual, or you have any questions at all about how things are going, speak up! Insist that your voice is heard. This is one of the best services you can do for your child and yourself as her parent.
5. It won't last
It's likely already been said to you a number of times, but I will say it again: this is just a phase. Remember my baby is grown now and waking her up to go to school is like trying to teach a rhinoceros how to dance ballet. Enjoy every moment - even the ones filled with sleep deprived back aches and tears. It won't last. And it will be worth every difficult, beautiful, joyous moment. Here's to a good nights' sleep, mama.
This article was originally published on Northwest Mom Magazine. It has been republished here with permission.