How to Get Your Newborn to Sleep Through the Night in 7 Weeks Flat
It's August 16th, 2013. My firstborn has just arrived three weeks early. We spend some time with her and then they whisk her off to the nursery. We walk into the nursery and watch as nurses attend to her every need. My husband decides he is going to go home and get all of the necessary items we need (ya know, since she decided to show up early and I did not have any of my hospital gear with me.) I stood there watching her every breath as a doctor walks over and gives me an update: "Breelyn has an infection and needs to go to the NICU for the next three days."
After having just given birth to her unmedicated, I was mostly in a daze and just knew the doctors were going to take good care of her. It didn't worry me or alarm me that they needed to take to her NICU. They said they had to, and off we went. It was as simple as that. Now... I would never rejoice in a baby being sick, but our time spent in the NICU was the most incredible learning experience. I'm not sure I would have known how to take care of my baby so well if it hadn't had been for those wonderful NICU nurses. Bree ended up getting sicker by day two, so they kept her in the NICU for a week total, and it was the week I learned how to be a mom. Besides all of the medical care, and nursing my baby back to perfect health of course, one of the greatest things the NICU nurses did was put my baby on a schedule. I mean, how could they not? There are several babies in the NICU that all need very specific care. If the babies weren't on a schedule, the nurses would go INSANE. I took much wisdom in this approach. A schedule was necessary! I would nurse Bree (at first, it took about an hour to get her food), and then she would spend the next two hours sleeping. Then, I'd nurse her again, and she'd spend the next two hours sleeping. And this didn't stop. It continued on and on like this until we left the NICU. When we got home, we kept up this same schedule but made some modifications knowing full well that she needed a schedule. Babies thrive off of it. They crave it. They like to know exactly when they will get their next meal, their next nap, etc. It is important for a baby to eat, be awake, then sleep. Now, some of you may have just read that and thought, why does that even matter? Let me tell you, and listen carefully now. If a baby eats right before they go to sleep... they will not get a full feeding. Did you hear me? A baby can not physically take in a full meal if they are tired. Think about that. Does your baby fall asleep easily after eating, but then take the shortest nap known to man, and you have no idea how that happened? And what? They are hungry again?! HOW?!?! This is why. Feed your baby RIGHT after they wake up. Don't wait. Don't play. FEED THEM. Also, babies need their sleep. They must take naps during the day to get enough sleep. Do not think for one second that if you keep up a baby longer, they will sleep more at one time. Nope, not true. You will have just made that baby so overtired that they won't be able to go to sleep now because they can't function well enough to figure out how to put themselves to sleep. And then you decide to nurse them to sleep because that's what you know how to do...and they fall asleep nursing and wake up a half hour later. This is where my biggest advice to you comes in. Little newborn babies need to eat every 2.5-4 hours (says Bree's pediatrician.) I will call this time slot a "cycle." From the time the baby eats to the time the baby eats again should be 2.5-4 hours. Eat. Awake time/Change Diaper. Sleep. Eat. Awake time/Change Diaper. Sleep. Repeat over and over. For newborns, awake time is generally very short. Sometimes they are just awake to eat, and then they are right back to sleep. This shows just how important it is to feed your baby the moment they wake up. Then change their diaper, and put them back to sleep. Also, choosing a time frame instead of the same time every day gives your baby the flexibility to adapt to the schedule while keeping their needs in mind. If you go ahead and say, you will wake up your baby at 9, 12, and 3 every day no matter what, then your baby will never be able to merge their cycles together, making it so your baby never sleeps in long stretches, or never stays awake longer during awake time. A schedule for a newborn would look like this. 7 a.m.: Eat 7:30 a.m.: Diaper Change 7:45 a.m. (or a little sooner): Sleep 2.5 to 4 hours later... if 2.5 hours later, we'd be at 9:30 a.m. and if 4 hours later, we'd be at 11 a.m. At 11 a.m., you wake that baby up and feed that baby. Are you thinking, "did you just say wake a sleeping baby????" If you are... then I'll repeat myself, WAKE THE BABY UP. Your baby needs to eat. Your baby also needs to change their sleep habits to being awake during the day, instead of at night. Most of their life to now has been spent sleeping during our day, and awake during our night while in the womb. Well now, it's time to make their day YOUR day, and their night YOUR night. You'll thank me for this - I promise you. Now here's the other side of the coin... if it's not quite 9:30 a.m., help your baby go back to sleep. Babies have a sleep cycle of 45 minutes. Eventually, a baby learns how to put their cycles together. Just as we do when we sleep. If you think really hard about it, you probably would notice that you do wake up several times during the night but the difference between you and a baby? You know how to go back to sleep. You learned to connect your sleep cycles at some point in your life. Hopefully, for your mother's sake, it was when you were very, very young. So, if it's not quite 9:30 a.m., get that baby back to sleep... with a binky, re-swaddle, rock the baby back to sleep... but get that baby back to sleep. And then do it all over again. And now you must be thinking, do I still wake up my baby during the night? Until about three weeks of age, yes, the doctor says wake up your baby. The concern here is your baby keeping his or her blood sugar levels up. He said that if their levels drop too low, they won't be able to wake themselves up. However, a little secret for you folks who love their sleep, get a breathing monitor. I can not tell you how many times this has kept my sanity, and lets me sleep soundly (like a baby? Well yes, like YOUR baby now after implementing these great pieces of advice) without worrying about the baby breathing or not. I let my babies sleep as long as they want to during the night. As you continue to keep these cycles going, your baby will eventually extend their nighttime sleep through the night. Around 4 weeks of age, instead of waking up twice at night, they will wake up once. Around 7 -10 weeks of age, a baby is fully capable of sleeping about 8 hours, and on this schedule, will. :) You're welcome.
If you've read to the end of this article, and are still skeptical or are thinking, this won't work for my baby...digest this: I have twins. Twins that I put on a cycle schedule like this. Twins that slept through the night - one at 6.5 weeks old and one at 7-weeks-old. Two completely different babies, same cycle schedule. It works for any baby. ANY baby. Preemies may need a different type of cycle - maybe a shorter one according to doctor's orders - but I'm telling you, babies benefit from this kind of schedule. And really, so do you... can you say hellooooo 8-hours of sleep!!?