Brielle slept through the night (8 solid hours) at three months old. With her, the sleep came naturally and her sleep patterns were great from the start. My twins on the other hand were still waking every three hours at 6 months old. I decided it was time for sleep training and my doctor was the one who actually encouraged us to do “sleep training”. Now keep in mind, “sleep training” does not necessary mean crying. There is much more involved in making sure the child is set up for successful sleep. I will further explain.
We had a sleep training specialist come and speak at our Moms of Multiples group. I wish I had heard her speak while the twins were in their first year. It could have saved me a lot of time, sleepless nights, trial and error efforts, and sleepless nights for months on end. Everything she said was true for all the babies I have ever cared for and she has cared for far more than me.
The sleep specialist was Ms. Gibson of Gibson Newborn Services. http://gibsonnewbornservices.com She travels all around the country to provide her services. She has also appeared on Fox News as an expert on newborn care. She knows what she is talking about, not only from research, but proven experience. She talked to our group about the “Pillars of Healthy Sleep”. These pillars are what our babies and children need in order to sleep well. We need these things as well, as adults! Here are the pillars I noted as she spoke:
- Emotional Wellbeing: babies sleep well when they know they are loved and are attached to someone. It is imperative that they attach to a caregiver within the first 12 weeks of their life in order to develop into well adjusted adults. This is not the same as “attachment parenting” which is often characterized by co-sleeping, etc.. Rather attachment is characterized by the baby having a bond with the caregiver. When the baby is having a discomfort that caregiver’s presence helps to soothe the baby, simply because they are there and the baby is “attached”.
- Nutrition: in order for a baby to sleep through the night that baby needs enough calories throughout the day, so that they don’t wake up hungry in the middle of the night. Ms. Gibson believes that this does not mean tanking them up right before bed with solids. Rather, the calories must be eaten throughout the day, not just at bedtime. She also stated that the optimal time to begin solid foods is 6 months. However, the baby should show interest in wanting to eat. The foods she recommended to begin solids should be bananas, then maybe avocado or sweet potatoes (since they are considered super foods). Rice cereal and other forms of baby cereal lack nutritional value, so they should be avoided.
- Environment: the temperature of the room should be cool- 68-72 degrees. Babies should be appropriately swaddled, especially for the first three months. Sleep sacks are useful for the phase following swaddling. Many children are too hot in their sleep. Feel the back of the child’s neck. If it feels hot or sweaty, then the environment is too warm. The hands and feet of a baby are always cold, as they have poor circulation, so this is not a good indicator or whether the baby is warm enough.
- Darkness: The room needs to be dark. She emphasized this point quite a bit. Most electronics emit a blue light. This light needs to be removed from their room. If it is on their monitor, then use black electrical tape to cover the light on the device (this is what we did on ours). Blue lights from electronics keep the brain waves active, thus interrupting sleep. They are harmful to our sleep as well, so get your phone lights away from you at night. I place mine on the floor next to my bed face down. That way I don’t see the light. I actually wear an eye mask every night because the light bothers me so much. Use shades on Windows that completely eliminates light from entering the room.
- Quiet: The environment needs to be quiet in order for the baby to get restful sleep. Now, it may be impossible for most homes to be completely quiet, so she suggests using a sound machine. A sound machine will drown out or disminish sounds in the background. The sound from the machine that works best is the wooshing sound, as that is what a baby hears in the womb. They don’t hear our heartbeat (so don’t bother with a sound machine that emits a heartbeat sound), instead what they hear is the whooshing sound we hear when we have an ultrasound done. I too sleep with a sound machine in my room. Just the sound of it reminds me of sleep and makes me drowsy. The same happens to babies. They become trained to the sound that lulls them to sleep. If it is consistently heard while they fall asleep it will help them fall to sleep more quickly.
- Predictable Routine: Babies need routine and a sleep schedule. They need to go to bed for the night at the same time every night. The same goes for nap times. There should be a pattern of sleep, that goes along with the babies natural sleep rhythms. For example one 4 month old may take a 1.5 hour morning nap and then a 2.5 hour afternoon nap. Another 4 month old may naturally want to take a 2 hour nap in the morning and then another 2 hour nap in the afternoon. This does vary by child, but once you establish their natural sleep patterns you stick to that schedule. It will obviously change as they age. The most sleep is required when they are newly born.
- Self Soothe: Babies have the ability to self smooth at 12 weeks of age. Parents often don’t allow self soothing, as they become anxious or nervous when the baby cries. If all the pillars of sleep are in tact, and the baby is at least 12 weeks old, then you can allow for self soothing methods. From my personal experience our doctor told us to only allow the baby to cry up to a half hour. I had one twin that cried 7-9 minutes every three hours for the first few nights and then a few days later he was sleeping through the night- a full 12 hours at 6 months old. The other twin cried a little longer, but again, it only took a few nights of allowing self soothing and then he was sleeping through the night. To this day, at 2 years of age, they are good sleepers. They still sleep a full 12 hours at night. They are happy, energetic, rambunctious boys who were not scarred for life by allowing them to cry for 10 minutes every 3 hours for a few nights in a row. The key to making this method work, as Ms. Gibson shared, and I agree, is that you have to be consistent. You can’t do this method one night and the next night cave in and go in and get the child. You have to do the same thing every night until the sleep pattern is established. (FYI we initially tried to do the soothe method of rubbing their backs over the cribside. We did this for weeks on end. In the end it made things worse, as they wanted me to soothe them all night long, rather than just a few minutes every three hours. One twin was waking every 10-20 minutes because of the soothe method. He became dependent on me soothing him all night long rather than self soothing.)
Every child and baby is different, but one thing is true of all humans…we need sleep to function. Starting good sleeping habits in our children early in life is for their benefit as well as ours.