Getting your baby to bed (and staying there) can be one of the most challenging parts of parenthood. When you’ve had a particularly hard day the last thing you want is for a disrupted night with very little sleep. It’s going to make you cranky, which will result in a very cranky baby. Not so fun! I’m going to give a little insight into how I have taken action in attempting to create some sort of routine for my baby. I will warn you, these tips won’t work for every child, and probably won’t always work for me, but we can always dream…when we finally go to sleep.
Create a routine…and stick to it!
From around 3 months you can start to introduce a bedtime routine for your baby. I say from about 3 months because the first few months are going to be full of disrupted nights with several bottle feeds and there really isn’t much you can do about it, sorry to break the bad news. As soon as your baby has a little more awareness though it’s time to get into a routine that’s going to save your sleep!
Here’s what my four month old son’s routine looks like…
Story time, nappy change, dressed for bed, into the bedroom, bottle, into cot, sleep.
It may seem like a very simple routine, but we’ve been religiously sticking to it for over a month now and it’s made bedtime so much easier. It differs on some nights as we occasionally bath him before getting him ready for bed. Giving your baby a bath before bed is a great way of settling them, but it’s not something that you really need to do every night.
Whatever you decide to do in your bedtime routine, just make sure you stick to it. I know that sometimes that’s not always possible as babies have a habit of disrupting any sort of plan you make, but try and train them to understand that once the sleepsuit is on and the lights go out it’s sleep time. If you do one routine one night and a completely different one the next night then your baby is going to get confused and I’m afraid that spells disaster for all of you.
Tricks and Tips
There are a few things that you can do to help you along with the bedtime routine to give you the best chance of getting any sleep at all. When I take my boy into the bedroom to feed him his bottle, I have just a small amount of light in the room. We currently have some disgustingly hideous flower shaped fairy lights at the head of the bed that give out just enough light to be able to see what the hell you are doing. Keeping the room dark will let your baby know that it’s calm time and eventually time to go to sleep.
It’s really important that your baby knows the difference between day time (play time) and night time (sleep time). One of the ways that I’ve tackled this is by using a blacked out cardboard sheet in the window. This might seem rather extreme but it really does work. What this basically achieves is confusing your baby into thinking that it’s still the middle of the night even when its 9am, which should result in them sleeping longer. It doesn’t work every night but I have experienced some surprise lie ins in the last few weeks.
Whilst you are feeding your baby in the darkened room, it’s recommended that you don’t make eye contact or speak to your baby. I repeat…AVOID eye contact. It’s a similar situation as to when you are travelling on public transport and you accidentally make eye contact with the person sitting opposite. Once the eye contact is made they then feel that it’s acceptable to start talking to you. It’s the same with your baby. If you are engaging with them they will think that it’s still play time and you will have a hard time trying to get them to settle to sleep. Just be as British as possible…don’t look at them, avoid eye contact, do what you gotta do and then leave. Nobody needs to talk to anybody.
This next trick is one that will not work for everyone so please remember that when shit hits the fan! A method that I’ve used with my four month old son is basically just feeding him, putting him straight into his bed/cot and then getting the hell out of there. A baby will develop the ability to self settle between the 3-6 month stage, so it’s well worth trying. Rather than sitting in the bedroom trying to get him to drop off to sleep, I now just allow him to go to sleep by himself. This hasn’t worked perfectly every time. There’s been nights that he’s been ill or unsettled and I’ve had to hold him for a good 15 minutes before he drifts off. The key with this method is to persist with it. Even if your baby is squirming around like he’s possessed just let them wriggle until they settle themselves. Don’t be too hasty to pick them up. Once they realise that it’s a feed and then straight to bed it will become so much easier to settle them. Hopefully introducing this little trick from an early age will be useful for the carnage that is putting a toddler to sleep in a few years.
There are a few products that you can buy to help you along the way. You can use baby monitors to listen out for your baby waking up. This is a product that I was reluctant to use for a long time. I live in a ground floor apartment so the bedroom is down the corridor from the living room, and yet I still found myself going in and checking on him every 10 minutes just to make sure that the roof hadn’t collapsed in on him or that he hadn’t packed his bags and done a runner!
The MyHummy is a product that I’ve used from when my boy was first born and has helped a lot with settling him during the night. I’ve written a full product review of the MyHummy which you can read here. I would highly recommend buying one as it’s enabled all of us to have a better nights sleep. I always turn on the MyHummy whilst I’m feeding him in the bedroom so that he’s drifting off to sleep as he’s having his bottle, so that when he goes into his cot he’s already half asleep. It’s the little tricks like that which you’ll pick up as you go along.
To summarise, if you want to maximise how much sleep you get you really have to stick to whatever routine you put into place. There will be nights when you want to give up and bash your head against a wall. I still have these nights quite frequently. Be patient with your baby and just persist the best you can. Sticking with it will help you all in the long term.
As parents we will take back our sleep and become more human like again. Maybe.