Updated: Aug 2, 2021
You've read all the stories, sang all the lullabies and crossed your fingers tightly for a peaceful night; but your little one has other plans...
As a new or even veteran parent, you can guarantee the number one question you will be asked by family and strangers alike will be: "are they sleeping through the night yet"?
When my little ones were tiny and doing everything but sleep through, I used to lie. I would smile and nod "oh yes, sleeping through, mm-hmm", anything to avoid sitting through rounds of unsolicited advice when the truth was, I had tried everything and still would find myself eyes half shut crawling across the landing to tend to the 8th waking of the night, quietly whimpering so as to not wake the other little one. (Unless of course they were tandem screaming, my personal favourite..)
Though many components effect our little ones ability to sleep through the night, we first need to ask, how old are they?
Newborn babies do not yet have an established body clock and their sleep cycles are very light and short. Consolidating sleep cycles is an ability that comes once babies reach the 4 month mark and until this point, multiple night wakings are totally normal
Night feedings - Newborns of course have high nutritional needs and night feedings are vital in the early weeks. Once baby reaches a healthy and progressing weight and your pediatrician tells you they're ready, night feedings can usually be phased out around 4 months plus. This in turn will help reduce night wakings when transitioned gradually and by using a method that suits you and your baby.
Allow yourself and your baby time to find your rhythm when it comes to a soothing bedtime routine and remember, there is no deadline for sleeping through the night; they will get there!
Like most of us, I would sit in my nursing chair at 3 in the morning, desperately searching for quick tips to get some extra sleep and one phrase I came across time and time again was "put baby to bed drowsy, but awake"...awake? But, how...?? The moment my babies latched, that was it, Ko'd and out for the count, only to wake again shortly after putting them down and throughout the night. I would stroke their cheek, keep the light on, sing, bounce, they could never stay awake; it felt impossible!
What I didn't know at the time, was how absolutely vital an early bedtime was for my babies (8 weeks and onward) and by early bedtime, I mean laying in their bed ready for sleep at 6:30pm. By feeding them too close to their bedtime, they were inevitably falling asleep because let's face it, is there anything more cozy than Mum's warm body and milk??
Beyond the newborn stage, moving baby's bedtime feed earlier by as much as 30 minutes will help baby wind down and relax with warm snuggles and milk and by separating the feed from bedtime itself, they will be able to stay awake yet relaxed throughout. Once finished, you can wrap up their bedtime routine with dressing ready for bed in their sleep sack or swaddle, story-time, soothing songs and cuddles; then place baby in their bed ready for sleep drowsy, but still awake.
There is no need to reduce your snuggle time or connection with your baby, we're simply being a little more strategic with our timings to enable as much restorative sleep as possible for baby and the whole family!
The same can be applied to most tricks that help baby fall asleep; if baby loves to be rocked to sleep in your arms, that's ok! You can still rock and snuggle them just as much, let's just move the timing slightly earlier so that you can enjoy the snuggle and still put them down drowsy, before sleep.
The logic behind this strategy is simple; we all wake briefly at night, between sleep cycles, to make sure our environment has not changed since we fell asleep. This primal habit lingers from our early days of evolution and the challenge is, if baby fell asleep being fed in your arms, they're going to startle during this brief waking and cry out for you to re-instate their fall to sleep environment. If they fell asleep being rocked, guess what they're going to cry out for between sleep cycles at 2am...
By allowing baby to fall asleep while laying drowsy in their crib, you're allowing them to develop the vital skill of falling asleep independently which will enable them to return to sleep during these brief phases of wakefulness. This wonderful developmental skill will also help them sleep through the night!
Allow yourself and your baby time to find your rhythm when it comes to a soothing bedtime routine and remember, there is no deadline for sleeping through the night! Some babies are able to consolidate their sleep as early as 8 weeks, some babies 6 months plus; but, the way in which you put baby to sleep and keeping their bedtime nice and early will be your greatest ally; they will get there!