My son is 6 months old and sleeps through the night in his own bed. Well, 7 hours straight, but that’s a full night for me! I put him to bed around 7pm and he’s up for the day at 7am, with a short night feeding around midnight. I cannot complain about that!
I’ve been a nanny for 14 years and sleep-trained other people’s kids at their request. But it’s always different when you have your own. Some people think I have some secret magic trick, but the key is simply consistency.
This is what worked for us…
He slept in our bed for the first 5 months
During pregnancy I was curious about co-sleeping but really nervous and confused about how it would work. I just didn’t understand how we could keep our baby in our bed safely and all sleep well at the same time. Well, I gave birth at home and we climbed into bed and didn’t get up for a week. So it just happened kind of naturally. And it turns out, my baby slept really well. And I slept well because night feedings were as easy as turning onto my side and plopping my boob into the little one’s mouth.
The White Noise Machine
Starting when our son slept in our bed, while we were traveling, and still now that he’s in his own room, we use the white noise machine. It’s super basic and the sound is oddly boring but it works! Not only does our son sleep better with it, but so do we! We use the Marpac Dohm at home and the Marpac Rohm when traveling.
We put him down drowsy but awake
During the day, when my son was sleepy, we put him down to fall asleep on his own. As a newborn, he could barely stay awake while nursing, but we never rocked or bounced him to sleep. I would cuddle him and love him up. But a few times a day I would just put him down and let him fall asleep on his own. We used a velcro swaddle and wrapped him up with his arms on his chest instead of pinned at his sides. He wasn’t thrilled about being wrapped but once the burrito was secure he calmed right down. Sometimes he would need a little extra calming, so we’d use the techniques from Harvey Karp (the 5 S’s). But we always tried to put him down before he was fully asleep.
We didn't treat every cry as an emergency
When our son cried, and that was inevitable because he's a baby, we didn't freak panic. If he woke up crying, it usually meant he didn't get enough sleep. We'd wait 2-5 minutes to give him a chance to practice calming down on his own. And often times he'd go back to sleep. When he really needed soothing, we held a calm and grounded presence so he would know he is safe. When he was upset, we didn't react immediately. Instead of saying "poor baby" or making a face of terror if he bumped his head, we'd observe and be there for support. My voice is confident and calm and I assure him that he’s very strong and brave and it’s okay to fall. Most of the time he is totally fine and sometimes cuddles are in order. But I really think this taught him not to react to everything as an emergency, and to know that he's ok even if he gets hurt in life.
At 1 month old, we introduced a pacifier
Pacifiers are great for soothing because sucking ignites the calming reflex. But we were careful about it! We only offered it during car rides and for sleep. And when we eventually moved our son into his own bed, we did not go in to replace it every time it fell out of his mouth. (That’s probably why he learned to suck his thumb!) He was picky about which pacifier he liked. We tried a bunch of different kinds but he only opened up to the other ones at about 5 months old. The Gumdrop worked best for us.
We let him adjust to our lifestyle, not the other way around
Don't believe that you have to sacrifice everything to have kids. We believe it's important for kids to see us enjoying life and socializing with other adults. We always brought our son to run errands, out to dinner, or over to friends houses. We let friends and family take care of him when we wanted some parnter time together. (Thank goodness for their support!) People would sometimes whisper around my son when they saw he was sleeping, but we would remind them to use their normal voices so he would be used to sleeping with noise in the background. We didn’t make the room dark when he needed to sleep (unless of course it was naturally dark at night). We traveled to 3 countries when he was 2-3 months old and he basically just learned to sleep anywhere and hang out with anyone.
Early on, we introduced a lovey
Lovies come in all shapes and sizes. We happened to have this gray elephant head connected to a tiny blanket. Every time my son was sleepy and ready for a nap or bedtime, I’d put the lovey either in his arms or near his head. He learned very quickly that this was his cuddle buddy and it meant sleep time. Now he adores it, snuggles it, kisses it, and will sleep anywhere if he has it with him. It made sleep transitions much easier having this tool.
Swaddle to Sleep Sack
Around 3 months, we transferred our son from a swaddle to a sleep sack so his arms were free. It’s safer than using a blanket and actually works better because those active legs can’t kick it off. I’ve noticed with other babies who took crappy naps that when we introduced the sleep sack they fell asleep faster and stayed asleep longer. My guess is that they feel more cozy. We use a thin muslin sleep sack for warm weather and a thicker fleece one when it’s cold. My absolute favorite bamboo brand for sleep sacks is Kyte Baby.
Around 5 months old, we moved our son to his own bed. He had already been doing naps there on and off from the beginning so he felt safe there. After we put him in his bed drowsy but awake, we would leave the room and wait. The rule we followed was, if he cried for 45 minutes, we would come in quietly, put a hand on his belly, and whisper "it's ok" or do some shushing. Then leave again and repeat. Honestly he only cried for 30 minutes the first night and has been happy ever since then. He would wake up to nurse around 11pm and again around 3am for the first month and soon he dropped the 3am feeding. After a couple more months, he dropped both night feedings. Occasionally he wakes up once in the night and I go in and nurse him for a couple minutes but I always put him down in bed before he falls back asleep. It was not easy hearing him cry that first time, but he sleeps so well and seeing how happy he is when he wakes up reassures me that this method works for our family.
This is our bedtime routine:
Turn the sound machine on
Wipe hands, face, and feet with warm wet washcloth
Breastfeed until almost asleep
Sleep sack on
Kiss and place in bed, give pacifier and elephant lovey
Leave the room
We follow wake times
Sleep patterns can become an issue when babies become overtired. I always followed wake times by age. (More info here.) This meant, we'd always put him down for a nap about 2-3 hours after he last woke up. In addition, once he was about 5 months old, we would not get him out of bed any earlier than 6:30am. This was never really an issue because his 6:30/7pm bedtime assured that he was not overtired and he naturally started waking up around 7am.
Bottom line is, find out whatever works for your family! Every kid is different and every family has different needs and preferences.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out!
Please share what worked and didn’t work for you below!