***Warning: if you are not a mom yet or don't plan on dealing with babies anytime soon, this is probably going to be an extremely painful and tedious read. Don't say I didn't warn you!
I am a firm believer that the number one way to have a happy baby is to make sure that they have plenty of sleep. I've been wanting to write about this for a while, but there are so many different views on this topic and I have so many thoughts running around in my head that I wasn't sure I could organize them into practical tips for any other moms. But a sweet reader emailed me about this, specifically asking for clarification about a sleep schedule for her baby boy, so hopefully this will help her in some way! Actually, I'm still not sure I will be completely clear, but PLEASE just let me know if anyone needs clarification about something. First of all, I am definitely not an expert on this by any means. I only have one baby, and I know all babies are different. Second, your views may be completely different than mine and I'm okay with that. I in no way believe choosing a parent-led vs. a baby-led approach makes a better parent or a more well-behaved baby. This is what works for me and for our family, and I can only speak for our little unit.
That being said, I basically only read one baby book while I was pregnant (besides "What to Expect While You're Expecting). My copy of "On Becoming Baby Wise" was underlined and had writing in the margins long before Jonah was ever born. I knew from several friends of mine who were already mothers that this approach would be best for my personality. "Baby Wise" takes a parent-led approach to parenting, meaning that the parents try to establish patterns of eating, playing, and sleeping for their baby every day, instead of the baby directing the parents and the parents going with the flow, so to speak. I AM A PLANNER. I have never been, nor will I ever be, a spontaneous person. It sounds like a very romantic way to live life, but I don't think I'll ever get there. This quality about myself was actually difficult for me to get past when Jonah was first born.
Just days after we were home from the hospital, I was stressing out about getting Jonah on a schedule the way BW talks about. I wanted to give myself an imaginary A+ for being the best mom ever. I wanted Jonah to be an over-achieving BW baby, all the way. After a couple of weeks of defeat, I finally picked BW up off of the coffee table and put it in the closet, realizing that it didn't matter if I memorized every chapter... Jonah had never read it! He didn't know he was "supposed to be" on a sleeping schedule! From then on, I decided to cut myself some slack and embrace that this was a gradual process. I tried to change my mindset enough to see the information as goals to work toward, instead of laws that I had to follow.
In the first 6 weeks, the only achievable goal is to get your baby on a routine of eating, playing, and then sleeping. That means that starting when Jonah woke up in the morning, I would nurse him, then he would stay awake for a certain time, and then he would take a nap (then wake up and do it all over again- sounds thrilling, right???). For us, this was a 3-hour cycle from beginning to end. Jonah is now 9 months old and we still follow the eat/play/sleep cycle, it is just a longer (4-hour) cycle now. I believe sleeping is the most important part of any child's day. Jonah is completely and utterly dependent on his naps, even now.
Don't worry about what time it is during the first 6 weeks of the baby's life. Your baby may wake up at different times each morning, but you just assess what time it is and start your day from there. I don't think any baby should be awake longer than an hour at a time during this newborn stage. I recently had a friend call me asking for help with her 8-week-old baby being fussy (wailing and wailing) for hours at a time. I went to her house around 1:00, and asked when he had his last nap. She told me that he hadn't had any nap yet that day. I immediately said that I was sure he was exhausted! She finally said, "We don't have any sort of schedule and I feel helpless to help him." I didn't want to force anything on her, but she asked for help. Later that night, I brought over BW and sat down to help her establish some sort of schedule to work toward. I told her it would take a few days, but it would get better. Sure enough, a couple of days later, I called her and she said laughingly, "I thought we had a bad baby but it turns out he just had bad parents!" She said he was sleeping wonderfully during the day and had stopped fussing almost completely. She was rested and calm.
When Jonah was about 6 weeks old, I wrote down on a notepad what I would LIKE our day to look like. It said something like this:
8:00 Wake up, nurse
9:00 Nap time
11:00 Wake up, nurse
12:00 Nap time
2:00 Wake up, nurse
3:00 Nap time
5:00 Wake up, nurse
6:00 Nap time
7:00 Wake up, play
8:00 Nurse, go to bed for the night (and then wake up to nurse once or twice during the night)
Now keep in mind, these were GOALS. It's not like I posted this on the fridge and then it just happened (as much as I hoped and prayed it would). Here are some things to keep in mind:
-This had to be adjusted over and over again as Jonah got older. His play times gradually lengthened to an hour, and then an hour and a half, and now he stays awake for two hours at a time. At around 6 months, he started nursing every four hours and only taking a morning nap and an afternoon nap. But regardless of his age, by about 12 weeks old, I could schedule my day around his naps with no problem. I love knowing that yes, I can meet you for lunch at 12:30 (or whenever) because I know that Jonah will be awake. Or knowing that even if we have to be out during a nap time, Jonah will be okay because he's so used to that nap time that he will fall asleep just like he would at home.
-Don't feel guilty about putting them in their crib for their naps. I had this irrational guilt complex at the beginning that if I put Jonah down for a nap in his room (instead of the swing or on top of me, etc.), that I was somehow not being a good mom. Now, I think it's actually the opposite. Being put in his crib has taught Jonah that this is where he sleeps. When I lay him down now in his crib, he looks up at me and smiles, then immediately closes his eyes and begins sucking on his fingers. He associates his crib with sleep.
-Babies need to sleep longer than half an hour at a time. If they wake up early, LEAVE THEM THERE. They will go back to sleep. A long nap (at least an hour) will help them be rested. When he was a few months old, it was so hard to leave Jonah in his crib when he was crying. But if I had gone in to get him every time he cried, he would realize, "Oh I get it. Just cry and Mommy will come and then I don't have to sleep." And if he didn't sleep, he would be a very unhappy baby. BE STRONG! The only way for them to learn to nap is for you to teach them.
-In the first few months, swaddle, swaddle, SWADDLE. And swaddle tightly. Jonah slept so much longer once we started putting him in his swaddle.
-I don't think Jonah would have somehow figured out a schedule on his own. And like I said before, that may be perfectly fine for some people, but not for this Type-A girl. MUST. HAVE. ROUTINE.
Some of you may have read this and now think I am neurotic psycho. And that is fine. I might be, but I am a crazy person with a happy, well-rested baby. Ha ha- just kidding! (Sort of.) Please let me know if I need to clarify something or if there's any way I could help with anything else. We're all on this crazy ride together!