Editor’s Note: We know that sleep training is a personal decision and this is just one way that worked for a fellow milspouse mama – ultimately, mama knows best, trust your instincts, and do what’s best for you and your babe!
Baby sleep is one hot topic and for good reason. You quickly discover after becoming a parent that sleep (or the lack thereof) is often all you can think about. Sleep might just be the key to happiness, not just for you but for the whole family. Getting a good night’s sleep feels even more vital as a military spouse, as you’re often solo parenting and need all the energy you can get.
–Rent Your SNOO for a Few Dollars a Day
To a certain extent, how well your child sleeps might just be a luck of the draw at birth, but here are a few tips to help establish healthy sleep habits for the first year for both good sleepers and those that need a little extra help.
Newborn (1-3 Months)
The first few months of a baby’s sleep life is all about survival. You’re in the trenches and likely feeling (and looking!) like something that crawled out of the Walking Dead during. There’s not a lot you can do at this time other than endure and know that this phase will not last forever. Your baby may not be sleeping through the night for awhile, but there are a few things you can do to establish healthy sleep habits at this time:
- Create a peaceful sleep environment. Your baby’s sleep environment should be dark and free of distractions. The first few weeks of your child’s life, they could sleep soundly in the middle of a rock concert without making a peep, but by two or three months they start to become aware of their surroundings. Put up black out curtains to block any sunlight during the day and keep your baby’s crib or bassinet clear of any toys. Also make sure to read up on safe sleeping habits to lower the risk of SIDS, such as making sure to put your baby on their back to go to sleep.
- Create a bedtime ritual. Although “bedtime” is a fluid thing during the first few months of your baby’s life, it’s never too early to start a calming bedtime routine. A bedtime routine doesn’t need to be long, just something relaxing and predictable to let your baby know it’s time to sleep. An example of a short and simple bedtime routing is reading a book, changing your baby’s diaper and then turning on a sound machine.
- Don’t tiptoe around nap time. As tempting as it may be to be quiet as a mouse when your baby is sleeping, now is the time to get your baby used to any loud noises they may hear on a regular basis so they learn to sleep through any future distractions. Vacuum, play the television, and continue to talk at a normal volume when your baby is sleeping and they will learn to sleep through the racket as they get older.
- Try swaddling. Most babies are born with some degree of a startle reflex that can cause their limbs to flail at the sound of a fork dropping. Swaddling your baby can help control the startle reflex while they are sleeping, as well as simulate the comforting and restricted space in the womb they’ve been snoozing in for the last nine plus months.
By three to six months, your baby’s sleep will start to settle into a rhythm and if you’re lucky, your baby may even be sleeping through the night or at least down to only one or two wake-ups. Now is the time to start a solid sleep schedule and possibly incorporate the following:
- Set a consistent wake time and bedtime. Pick a wake time and bedtime that works for your schedule that is about 12 hours apart. For example, bedtime at 7:00 p.m. and wake-up time between 6:30-7:30. Plan to wake them within thirty minutes of the same time every day and start your bedtime routine at least a half hour before bedtime.
- Feed upon waking up from a nap, instead of before going to sleep. This tip is controversial, but feeding your baby when they wake up from a nap as opposed to right before nap time and bedtime can help them learn to go to sleep without a bottle or being breastfed, which helps establish healthy self-soothing habits for the future.
- Here are some example sleep schedules!
By six to twelve months, your baby is likely (although not always!) sleeping through the night or only waking up once and is taking two to three consistent naps every day. A few things you can do to further healthy sleep habits during this time are:
- Don’t rush in. As tempting as it is to respond to your child’s every cry, try giving them 10-15 minutes before you rush in and you may be surprised to find they put themselves back to sleep. This is especially helpful to remember if your baby is only sleeping for 45-50 minutes during naps. A sleep cycle lasts about 45 minutes long at this age but their naps should be longer than just one sleep cycle. Babies enter lighter sleep at the end of a 45 minute cycle, which can cause them to stir or even cry, but doesn’t necessarily mean they are done sleeping.
- Consistent sleep location. Try to keep naps at home at this age in the same place, at the same time every day. Gone are the newborn days of your baby sleeping easily on the go. Most babies at this age sleep best in a consistent environment, such as their own nursery. Napping at home for every nap is not always possible, especially if your baby has siblings with busy schedules, but try to have at least one solid nap at home every day.
Most importantly, remember during the sleep regressions and the hard days that this too shall pass and they won’t be this little forever. Someday you’ll have a teenager that sleeps until noon and be looking wistfully back on the days of midnight cuddles.
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