Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Getting my 3 Month Old Baby Sleeping through the Night

Sleeping through the night means no waking periods. I have heard that sleeping through the night for an infant means six hours. For my little girl, she is sleeping nine hours without waking at three months old, whereas some babies don't do that until they are a year or more old. So how did this happen?

First I have to say all babies are different. For my baby, her sleep schedule started in the womb; she would wake me between 3 or 4 am and then again at 6 am. When we brought her home from the hospital we would go to bed between 10 and 11 pm and she would wake up at 3 or 4 am, so that was four or five hour stretches of sleep time. As a new mom, I was told by my doctor that for my brain to rest I needed to get at least 4 hours of sleep in one period. While this first tip is not anything that you can do to influence your baby, it is important to note that your baby may just be programmed with his or her own sleep schedule.

The key to creating a bedtime for your infant is creating a repeatable and consistent process. For example, we say to our daughter "We change the baby, then we swaddle the baby (also read "6 Tips to a Tight Swaddle"), and then we feed the baby." This is something that we do (not necessarily always say) at all nighttime feedings ie. putting the baby back to bed. When she was younger she would cry when waking up in the middle of the night, as her way to tell us that she needed food. We understood that this was her way of communicating and ours was to complete the process of change, swaddle and feed. Then, as she got older she now does not fuss when she wakes up for food and the only time she cries (usually bloody murder) is when we break the routine - for example, my husband thought the swaddle job needed to fixed, so he removed her from the feeding position and back into the swaddle position, boy was she disappointed and confused.

The feeding position and environment is also consistent during the nighttime. The feeding position always is in the semi-upright position, regardless of the time of day, but where we feed her is the same. The environment itself should be calming and dim-lit. For us, we have a 30w bulb that powers our changing station, which is bright enough to see what you are doing. Then, we shut that off to turn on a dimmer light, that is by where we feed her, which is lit just enough to see her feeding. All the while we are doing the process we are keeping talking to a minimum and talk to her in a soft and soothing voice.

After every feeding regardless of the time of day, we give her a pacifier as this helps her to not spit-up after a feeding. Also giving this to her at the nighttime feedings, allows her to soothe herself back to sleep.

All of the tips so far have been how to put your baby to sleep consistently at night and you may be wondering, how do I now take this to help me, er I mean the baby, sleep longer at night? The answer is keeping with this routine until your baby consistently knows that it is time to go to bed, does it and then sleeps for longer periods of time. Plus, you can influence when  he or she goes to sleep. For example, I believe you have heard of the witching hour, in the evening when babies are generally fussy, well this time is when our baby needed to be put down to bed. Most babies cannot just go to sleep, rather they fuss to "ask" to be put to sleep. We would swaddle her, pacify her, and hold her in a rocking chair or bounce on a yoga ball (OMG the yoga ball should be on every new mom's baby registry, it really works!). This would be good, but this nap would happen at 7 pm. And then we would let her sleep with fingers crossed that the nap did not ruin her stretch of 4 to 5 hours once she woke up and was out to bed. It was not until just recently that we realized that we could keep her consoled until 8 or 9 pm, skip the nap, and just put her to bed, then she would sleep through the prior 10 or 11 pm sleep time.

Another key point here is that for a baby to sleep you need to let the baby sleep - do not wake the baby up because you think you should, let the baby sleep and trust that your baby will wake when he or she is hungry. In the very first few weeks they say to wake the baby if they sleep for longer a certain amount of hours, which you should follow if your pediatrician advises. Generally though, if you baby is gaining weight then you don't need to be concerned with tracking sleeping and eating patterns. Of course, knowing the eating pattern helps with knowing so you can sooth your baby, I just mean don't set weight to both combined - don't wake the baby. The first night she slept for 8 hours, I walked into the baby's room to check on her she reacted to the hallway light and I knew that my baby was still alive (my reaction in response to my fear of SIDS).

The final key to setting a bedtime schedule is getting the feeding schedule aligned with bedtime. Naturally your baby will be on a schedule. Mine feeds every two and a half to three hours. I know she eats at 6 am, 9 am, 12 noon, 3 pm, 6 pm, and 9 pm give or take. With that being said there is a range too and that can either be too close or after her 8 pm bedtime. So, we feed her as schedule and then when it comes time for bed, we feed her the allocated amount of food she needs since her last feeding. One note here is we are exclusively bottle feeding her breast milk (see here for information on how much breast milk to express a baby), so you would offer the breast and let the baby eats until they get full.

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