Two years ago, when my toddler was four months old, I described in my journal how frustrating it was trying to get him to sleep and how much our lives had changed. You would think that after reading all those baby books, I would know how difficult caring for a baby would be, how much I wasn’t going to sleep, and just how different my life would be… I knew all that, but nothing compares to being slapped with a big fat reality check once the kiddo was born.
Up until we sleep-trained LO, I struggled with sleep deprivation, sleeping in one-hour increments. I felt robbed of my time because I was constantly breastfeeding, and frustrated when I couldn’t figure out why my newborn was crying and how to get him to calm down. It didn’t help that he was a crier. As in, frequent and loud—no soft mew-mewing here. I found myself wanting to speed up time just to get to the point when it would finally get easier.
I realize now that I felt that way because of the extremity of new babies (they don’t kid you when they say your life turns upside down), my baby’s temperament, and my own expectations of motherhood and what I could handle. There are certainly things I wish I knew then that I know now. For instance:
My baby could only stay awake at most one to one and a half hours at a time
I wish I realized that babies can’t stay up for very long. There were probably many times when my baby was over-tired. I probably could have established a better schedule knowing that babies sleep way more than we think.
Feed the baby after he wakes up
I used to nurse LO to sleep because it was almost guaranteed that he would knock out. While it almost always worked, I also created a little guy who relied too much on nursing to fall asleep. Only down the line did I start feeding him after he woke up. This way, he doesn’t rely on milk to sleep, and he’ll have energy from milk once he woke up.
Establish a routine
Establishing a routine is a must. We sort of did this, what with bathing him at night and reading books and singing, but we really needed a daily routine. I don’t suggest sticking strictly to the clock, but there are certain rhythms that babies have: they sleep, they drink milk, are awake for an hour or an hour and a half, then go back to sleep again.
I couldn’t believe it when people told us not to rock him to sleep. “How cruel! They don’t know what they’re talking about!” Never mind that they were mothers of several children, but I still couldn’t wrap my thoughts around the idea that you shouldn’t rock your baby to sleep. But I think I had the wrong impression—I thought they were saying not to hold them often, or to let them cry it out (too early at this age), but what they were really saying was to let your baby fall asleep on his own.
Give him a chance to fall asleep on his own
Then I heard the old adage of putting him down drowsy but awake. I would hold him (er, probably rock him) until his eyes would start to slowly close, and then lay him down into his crib in slow motion. The minute his body hit contact with the mattress… BAM! Those eyes flew open, and drowsy was out the door. I thought, “Oh no! He’s not drowsy anymore! Let me pick him up and rock him some more,” and the cycle would repeat over and over. I didn’t realize my mistake: I was picking him up right away. Yes, his eyes will open wide when he hits the mattress; but that doesn’t mean he can’t get drowsy and eventually fall asleep.
All in hindsight
I wish I could give myself advice back then, but at that moment I could only trust people when they said it would get better. And it absolutely did.
What advice would you give first-time moms?
- Ask the readers: When is parenting hard?
- Flashback Friday: Overcoming other people’s judgment
- Weekend links and 3 essential lessons I learned from my mom