Max is slowly but surely falling into a sleep routine. By typing that sentence I am sure I just jinxed it. Oh well. Max is averaging only two wakings a night which is WAY better than the 8-10 we used to get. I feel vaguely human!
During the last 4 months, I've gotten all kinds of advice on how to get him to sleep. Some of it has been helpful and some of it has been ignored. The best advice though, was simple:
Baby's change. Develop a arsenal of techniques so you can always have a back-up plan when something stops working.
That little advice has saved me from many sleepless hours of desperately trying to get the same techniques to work. Every baby is totally different and what worked for Max might not work for another baby. However, if you are desperate, here are a few things we did that you can add to your bag of tricks.
1) Routine, Routine, Routine- Once we started a simple routine bedtime got so much easier. It's nothing special. Bath with song, baby massage with song, feeding and then putting him down half asleep. 98% of the time goes down without protest. This is a far cry from the days where bedtime involved screaming and gnashing of teeth from both baby and parents.
2) Use a bottle- Okay, this isn't for everyone and it's totally controversial. I wasn't planning to ever give Max a bottle until I went back to work. That dream crashed and burned by his 3rd day of his life. All the experts say giving your child a bottle (expressed milk or formula) at bed time does not help them sleep longer. However, from my experience and experience of a few dozen other moms, it works. Max tends to get distracted when nursing and regularly unlatches even when he isn't done. I can't get him re-latch either. With a bottle, he's no nonsense and he'll suck down every last ounce and won't look for more an hour later. There was a major difference in sleep length once he got a breast milk bottle at his pre-bedtime feeding instead of eating straight from the source. And when we started supplementing with formula out of necessity (which is another post for another day), he slept even longer.
3) Don't react to every fuss- I'm not a fan of the cry it out method. I don't let Max scream him little head off unless I'm starting to get overly frustrated and need a few minutes to clear my head. At night, when Max started even the tiniest little fuss, Brett or I would immediately get out of bed and scoop him up to calm him down. We were actually waking him up even more! Over the course of two weeks I stopped getting up at every noise. I'd let him fuss a little longer each day and wouldn't grab him until I could tell all hell was about to break loose. Eventually he started to calm himself and now he can self-soothe instead of needing cuddles or a snack to fall back asleep.
4) White Noise-Box fan, machine, iPod, animal that makes noise, whatever. Max can't do without it and honestly, I've grown pretty dependent too!
5) Darkness- When his nightlight is on, Max reacts as if he's missing something. He's so curious that when a light is on = something's going on... and he wants to be part of it. Once we cut out the nightlight he focused more on sleeping then on figuring out what might or might not be going on around him.
Those five tricks are what works now and laid the foundation for a better sleep pattern. But soon, those may change and Brett and I will need to try something new. If you are a stressed out, over tired, stumbling through life parent, please know you aren't alone. I've been there and I know the wrath you feel when someone tell you "My precious baby started sleeping 12 hours straight when they were 3 weeks old". Hell, I'm still there. But it does get better. I promise. I can't say that stops you from wanting to slap those people. That won't even die.
Since my tricks might one day fail me what do you do to help get your little one to sleep or more importantly, keep them asleep? I need to expand my arsenal.