Before I get started, note that I am not a baby whisperer! I believe that whether your baby will sleep through the night or not is as much down to nature as it is to nurture so whilst Mush‘s sleeping can in part be credited to our routine, ultimately she’s probably a baby who likes her sleep. That being said, I know how much I’d have liked to have read a blog about a bedtime routine before we had Mush (mainly because I am nosy!) so here it is. Feel free to ignore it or steal bits that suit.
Mush is breastfed and we’d read everywhere that this meant that she would not sleep through the night for various reasons so we steeled ourselves for this eventuality but still imposed a routine from day dot. The routine seems to be working as Mush is now nearly 5 months old and has slept a solid 12 hours through the night since she was 11 weeks old.
Hopefully, these tips will be useful to those parents who are expecting or to long suffering parents (one of my Mummy friends is just imposing a routine with her 5 month old baby and after a few difficult days it seems to be working). I know when we were expecting, we looked into establishing a routine and the advice seemed to either support extended crying out or sleeping in a bed with your baby until they go to school. We just pinched ideas a little from here and a little from there and it hasn’t felt too harsh or too relaxed as a result.
Tip 1: differentiate between night and day.
We kept the lights on and didn’t quiten daily activities through the day but at the start of the bedtime routine lights were dimmed and it was hushed noises all round.
Mush is one of those babies who does not want to miss out so she is not really a day napper (unless the hoover’s on! You’ve got to love a bit of white noise!). If she does nap it tends to be on us (or an ever eager family member!) or for a short cat nap but take away all that stimulus at night and she sleeps a solid 12 hours most nights.
Lights out at night therefore means lights out at night meaning that all nappy changes and night feeds were done by the light of a night light only and we were careful not to stimulate Mush by talking to her or cuddling excessively. This means that Mush knows that it is night-time now and so night-time rules apply. We did this for every time she woke up before 7 am. Yes, it can be tedious feeding a baby in the dark or not switching the TV on to entertain you but I believe it’s paid dividends!
And as soon as morning time arrived (7 am in our household) if she woke after that; lights would go on and we’d engage with her thus telling her that it’s daytime so day-time rules apply.
Tip 2: cluster feed.
I’ve no idea how this relates to formula feeding but in respect of my breastfeeding, I feed on demand. During growth spurts this can be every hour through the day and come the 2 hours before bedtime I try to squeeze an extra feed or two in (cluster feeding). This quite simply seems to keep her fuller for longer allowing her to sleep that extended stretch at night.
Tip 3: have a routine and stick to it
For the first 3 weeks of Mush’s wonderful existence, she fed round the clock so we didn’t start bedtime routine until 9 ish so that we could go to bed with her after that. Indeed, she would normally do her longest period of sleep in that first stint and believe you me – we wanted to reap the full benefit of it. Then when we realised that hours 7-9 were Mush’s crankiest we brought bedtime routine back to a 7 o’clock start with the view of putting her down separately to when we went to bed. In each eventuality the routine was the same:
– cluster feed 2 hours before bed
– baby massage
A big believer of routine as I am, I still think that you should keep it flexible meaning if you need to pick a later bedtime or skip bath because you’re out and about late – do that (although try and have an uninterrupted routine for a few weeks to really get it to stick) and let your routine evolve to suit your family’s needs. For instance Mush is now out of her baby bath (cue mummy whimper) so we’ve made bath time more of a play time as opposed to the zen-like soak it once was. But the rest of the routine remains unchanged meaning that this one change has not upset the routine.
Don’t get me wrong – imposing a routine with a reluctant baby is not easy. The first week we tried the 7 o’clock bedtime Mush didn’t settle until 1 am! But we persevered and we’re consistent throughout. It’s also so much easier if you have a partner you can tag in who will take the exact same approach so that there’s consistency and you get a rest.
Tip 4: encourage baby to self sooth.
Before Mush was born, I was convinced that I would be able to let my baby ‘cry it out’ to establish a bedtime routine. Then I had Mush and can’t bear to hear her crying especially not upstairs all alone. In fact the first time we managed to put her to bed and we come downstairs I cried because I missed her! But I think it’s so important to allow your baby to learn to self sooth as let’s face it you can’t always be there to comfort your little one (for instance Mush screams the entire trip whenever we drive anywhere and I can’t pick her up and cuddle her whilst I’m driving).
Lucky for us – no crying out has been required for Mush as she developed thumb sucking as a means of comfort and this is how she sooths herself to sleep. What ever their poison (dummy, a specific blanket or head tossing etc) if they can get themselves to sleep by themselves then that’s better for everyone.
I think this can be encouraged by trying to put your baby down in the basket/cot/bed awake. We struggled with this at first as Mush would often fall asleep during feeding or during the 20 mins post feeding where we had to keep her upright because of her reflux. That being said – quite often she’d wake up when placed in her basket but then nod off quickly.
Another way is to not become a slave to your baby’s cry. We know the difference between Mush’s grumbling and her crying and we’d only seek to comfort her for the latter and would usually give it a minute or 2 before going in to her. Once in the dark quiet room we’d offer comfort in her basket first – head strokes/hand holding or shushing and if the crying continued we’d pick her up until she calmed down and then place her back down. In the early days we’d sometimes need to feed her again.
Tip 5: don’t lose heart.
We’ve managed to employ this routine away from home or after out of whack days and it’s worked but sometimes your baby just doesn’t want to play ball. The night before Mush slept through she was up every 2 hours and then the next night it just happened but having that routine already in place has hopefully created an environment where Mush can sleep through if able. She still has bad nights – I write this on the back of such a night where she was up 5 hours due to teething. But whilst it’s tempting to start bedtime earlier tonight or try and go back to bed now, we know that it’s better for us all to plough on with the routine. Mush knows what to expect and so do we and that is less stressful all round.
This is just one mother’s experience but hopefully you’ve gained one or 2 helpful hints or at least the reassurance that there is light at the end of the tunnel, even for a breastfed baby.