A Big Post on Baby Sleep + 6 Questions with a Pediatric Sleep Consultant

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When we were first expecting our baby, I knew that there were going to be a few months of sleep deprivation. As a child I was a terrible sleeper, but as an adult I can fall asleep in like 2 minutes, and I usually don't wake up until morning. I always knew I needed a good 8 hours to feel normal so I went to bed early and woke up early and never really thought twice about it. 

I've always been a morning person and Rob has always been a night owl, so we decided to use our differences to our advantage and for a while it really did help--I'd go to bed early, Rob would feed Sophie a bottle later, then put her down and go to bed himself, and when she woke up I'd get up to feed her again. We were sleeping in 2-3 hour chunks for a while and we were tired, but it was working. There was no reason for us both to get up when she needed something, so for those first few weeks Rob would change diapers and I'd feed her and we'd sleep whenever we could. 

Obviously that newborn haze doesn't last forever, so I wanted to share our experience getting Sophie to sleep through the night and get on a nap schedule because for months I wasn't really sure how to start and it felt really overwhelming. If I could go back and do anything differently, I think I'd start a little earlier with some good sleep habits and hopefully be less nervous to try to get her to sleep well from the start.

I'm going to go at this list style below because I feel like these baby/parenting posts can get a little text heavy. I also enlisted the help of Becca of Little Z Sleep (thank you Colleen for the recommendation!), whose Instagram and podcast have been incredibly helpful! I haven't even hired her to work with us personally, but she's a wealth of information and she was nice enough to answer some questions I crowdsourced on Instagram stories a few months ago (keep reading for those at the end of this post). I was starting to feel really lost when it came to sleep and naps, and all the information she shares online helped me gain the confidence to just start trying things out and eventually getting into a schedule of our own. 

Here are a few notes about our experience:

  • When Sophie was a newborn we had her in a few different swaddles: these were good for a while (and so cute!) but we ended up exclusively using these ones. Once she started showing signs that she was outgrowing the swaddles, we switched to using a Baby Merlin's Magic Sleep Suit about half of the time and this transition swaddle the other half. She really seemed to like having her arms out so both of them worked pretty well.
  • I think I've mentioned before that after the first month or so, Sophie stopped sleeping in the crib. She was such a sleepy little newborn but after a few weeks she would get really fussy if we put her down, so we'd basically have to take turns holding her. Rob would hold her on the couch from like 9:00 PM-3:00 AM (with a bottle around midnight), then I'd get up and nurse her on and off until 6:00ish. We both watched so much TV during those few months and pretty much didn't sleep next to each other until Christmas when my brother and his girlfriend came to visit and watched Sophie while we took a nap.
  • After a while the 9-3, 3-6 shift thing started getting really hard to keep up with physically and emotionally--sometimes one of us would come into the bedroom and basically say "I can't do this anymore can you please take her for a while?" In those moments I felt so incredibly lucky to have a partner like Rob who I could really lean on, and I always tried so hard to make sure he felt the same way about me.
  • In January we started using a Rock N Play to let Sophie get used to sleeping somewhere other than on us (we'd put her down if she fell asleep and watch her--she never slept overnight in it).
    • We also got this bassinet with the newborn insert and she slept there a lot better than she did in her crib. We kept her in the bassinet until she was about 5 months old (she started rolling so she needed to transition out of the sleep suit and into the crib at the same time, which took a few nights). Now she sleeps in her crib (this one, still in our room) and wears one of these.
  • After finding Becca, I finally realized I could put Sophie down and it'd be okay. I know that sounds so silly, but for some reason I used to be afraid to put her down for fear that she'd cry--I think in my sleep-deprived haze I figured a quiet sleeping baby in my arms was better than a fussy one in her crib, even if it meant that I wasn't sleeping. The first few days after we decided to start a bedtime routine and let her cry it out a tiny bit (we kind of do the Ferber method) were a little rough (I'll never forget the first night), but after two or three nights, she really got the hang of it. I made myself a pretty serious cocktail and we took turns going in to soothe her periodically until she finally fell asleep (spoiler alert: it took 2 full hours).
    • Now I put her right down and she almost always goes right to sleep! (It made me feel so much better the next morning when she woke up with a big smile on her face--sometimes I really do think it's harder for us than it is for them.) Our bedtime routine consists of a bath, bottle or nursing, books, and then down for the night. We usually start at 6:30.
  • At this point, she goes to bed by 7:00 PM and usually sleeps until 5:00 AM. I change her diaper and nurse her in bed before putting her back in the crib and cross my fingers that she'll sleep for a few more hours. My goal right now is to get her to sleep until 7:30 or 8:00 AM, so that's what we've been trying to figure out lately! (I might just need to go to bed earlier. This morning she woke up at 6:00 which felt like a normal time to start the day.)
  • During the day she usually takes 3 naps, one about an hour and a half after she wakes up, then another one 2 hours after she wakes from the first nap, and most of the time a final one two hours after she wakes up from the second nap. They range in time from 1 hour to 2, and one time she actually took a 3 hour nap! I used the chart in this article to figure out when her naps should be, and it made a lot more sense to me than trying to have a set schedule with naps at the same time every day. I like the idea of 2-3 hours of wake time between naps--it's a lot more flexible and I need that sometimes. Sometimes her last nap is only 30 minutes because I wake her up at 5:00 so she's ready for bed at 7:00.

And now, without further ado, here are the most frequent questions I got from you guys on Instagram when I was planning this post, answered by Becca of Little Z Sleep!

6 Questions with a Pediatric Sleep Consultant | Freckled Italian

Do you have any tips for not nursing to sleep? I know I shouldn’t be doing it, but I’m scared to stop! 

The ultimate goal is for your child to use nursing for nourishment, not for sleep. To help, nurse in a well lit area and keep engaged by poking, tickling, and speaking to him. Be encouraged that once your child knows they don’t have to have food in order to sleep, they will become a better eater during the day. The connection between eating and sleep is the hardest habit to break. Be consistent and know that breaking this habit is not going to happen over night! The end goal is to have a better eater, and when we break this habit of nursing to sleep, your child will become a better and more efficient eater!

What’s a good way to get a toddler to stop sleeping with their pacifier? 

The goal is to encourage your child to use her self-soothing skills. Using a pacifier will take the place of any skill your child could develop independently. After 4 months of age I ask parents to pull the pacifier outright. While you may think this is easy for an outsider to come in and say “just throw it away”, please know that I understand YOU are the most nervous about this change, and not your little one. Read how one of my recent clients ditched the pacifier for her two toddlers.

My baby is not napping long enough! How do I get him to sleep longer during the day and also how long should a nap be, anyway? 

The very first thing you should always check is the darkness of the room. It must be 100% dark for naps and night sleep. Nap length completely depends on your child’s age! Check out my podcast on naps or download this free guide on nap expectations.

When do you recommend a baby start sleeping in their own room? I’ve read 6 months and 12 months, but a lot of people seem to do it sooner. Thoughts on that? 

This is a totally personal decision, and not one you should make on what other people do. The AAP has suggested 12 months, 6 months, or even 4 months could be appropriate. There really is no set research that proves a certain age is the ticket. When you are ready to make the change, go for it. With a newborn especially you should be very safety conscious and make sure your baby is only sleeping on firm flat surfaces. If sleeping in a swing or positioner [dock-a-tot, rock-n-play, etc] they must be closely monitored. Believe it or not, these are not meant for independent unsupervised sleep! In my newborn sleep course I walk through how to set up a nursery as well as safe sleep practices. I also explain how to get your baby to sleep independently. You can check out a free preview here

My baby is “old enough” to be sleeping through the night, but when she does wake up she always has a wet diaper and/or will nurse for 20-30 minutes. Am I really supposed to leave them in the crib if it seems like they usually need something? 

If your baby has consistently wet diapers, I suggest going up a size in nighttime diapers. If he has blowouts or is soaking into the sheets, definitely change them. A wet diaper is not a reason to wake him up to change. I always look into feeding as a habit or necessity. Nursing from 20-30 minutes at nighttime is actually a pretty substantial length. I’m willing to bet your baby sees nursing as snacking or a means to fall back asleep on. I want to note that as your baby understands food is for nourishment, not sleep, they will become more efficient and fill up well during the day. 

How do I get my baby to sleep in later? 

Depending on child’s age, 10-11 hours is great. But if we are speaking about a baby between 4 months and a child up to 3 years old, then I want more like 11-12 hours. You don’t want to push a child’s bedtime later as kids just don’t sleep in. In fact, I often ask my clients to put a child to bed 15 minutes sooner to see how that affects the morning wake time. You also want to make sure your child’s room is 100% dark with no sunlight entering at that sunrise hour. 

I hope something in this post has been helpful to you! If you're a parent, I'd love to hear your experience with your child's naps and sleep schedule--I'm kind of fascinated with it all. Thanks again to Becca of Little Z Sleep for taking the time to answer some reader questions!

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