I frequently get asked how I run a small business and have little children; one of my most common responses is that we sleep train. By that I mean, early on we help our children learn how to fall asleep in their own beds at specific times of day.
The two books I have used to help me learn are Baby Wise & Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. I've referenced them time and time again with all three of our boys! If you don't have them, I highly recommend. I also hear Taking Cara Babies is an excellent resource.
Here are things we do:
1. Right away, we begin helping our child learn to eat every three hours. At the beginning, they may need to eat every 2-2.5 hours. That's okay! But slowly, we begin to implement a 3 hour feeding schedule.
For us, it's 7:00am, 10:00am, 1:00pm, 4:00pm, 7:00pm, 10:00pm (and the nighttime feedings as they wake up).
This is important for two reasons. First, it helps them get enough food in during the day. We know they're getting x amount of ounces every three hours; eventually their full bellies allow them to drop nighttime feedings. Second, it keeps them from sleeping longer than 3 hours at a time. This helps them learn that days are for naps, nights are for longer stretches of sleep.
2. We work on an eat-play-sleep routine. This helps them learn to fall asleep on their own instead of by being fed every time. When they're itty bitty, this is hard! Sometimes they fall asleep and there's nothing you can do. But day by day, we feed them, "play" (change their diaper, bath, tummy time, quality time with mama, etc), and then lay them down for a nap as soon as they begin to yawn.
It's also helpful because it takes the guess work out of what they need. If they ate three hours ago and are crying, they're hungry. If they've been awake over an hour and start to fuss, it's probably because they're tired.
3. We prioritize good naps. Most babies need 1.5-2 hour naps between feedings (until 3-4 months of age when they begin to establish a morning nap and an afternoon nap or two). This is important because sleep begets sleep with little ones- if they're overly tired, they won't nap well during the day or sleep well at night.
Between 4-6 weeks of age, we begin helping them learn to fall asleep in their own bed. So they eat, "play", and then get swaddled for a nap around an hour after they last woke up.
At the beginning, some babies have a hard time falling asleep without you nearby. If this is the case (and it has been to some extent for all three of our boys) we use a mild "cry it out" method. We lay them down drowsy but awake. If they cry, we let them do so for 10 minutes and then come in to rub their back, burp them, and try again. At the beginning, you may spend a whole nap time block doing this but don't worry- they'll get it soon!
They also may fall asleep quickly but wake up after a 45 minute nap- especially when the morning and afternoon nap is established (which can be longer than a 6 week old's nap). This is common because babies have 45 minute sleep cycles. They have to put themselves back to sleep for a full nap! We use the same 10 minute technique here, too.
Our oldest son was particularly stubborn here, but I knew he needed more sleep because he was waking up crying instead of happy. At 4 months, we let him cry for 30 minutes to learn to put himself back to sleep. It felt like the longest three days as I listened to him cry, but he learned quickly and begin sleeping for 2 hours + waking up so happy!
4. We establish a consistent wake up time. For us, it's 7:00am. This is important because is sets up the rest of your day's schedule. If you start your day differently every day, you're constantly doing the math to see when they need to eat next. That's chaotic and stressful! The goal is less work, not more. It also helps their biological clocks learn when your family wakes up in the morning.
Sometimes you have to do a little finagling when they're still waking up in the night. For example, if our 6 week old wakes up to eat at 5:00am, technically he wouldn't be ready to eat again until 8:00am. Instead, I wake him up at 7:00am; if he doesn't take a full feeding that's okay. We're still back on schedule and ready to begin our day.
Alternatively, if he wakes up at 6:15am and seems wide awake, I may count that as our first feeding of the day and see if he can wait until 9:30 to eat again (instead of 9:15 or 10:00). At the next feeding, he may make it to 1:00, which puts us back on schedule, too.
We decided to try The Snoo, normally $1,300, when I learned you could rent it for about $3.50 a day. It's basically a smart swing + sound machine with a built in swaddle, doing 3 of the 5 "S's" for you. While it isn't a miracle worker, I do think it has been worth every penny this third time around. It has served as an extra set of hands, I think, essentially being the one to check in on him every ten minutes as he learns to nap or fall back asleep after a nighttime feeding.
If we were at the beginning stages of having children, I'd find the money to buy one. We've been really pleased! You use it for around 6 months and then use the weaning feature (if necessary) to help them transition to a crib.