Let me start out by saying that these ‘rules’ are not a one size fits all. However, in my years as a nanny to multiple sets of multiples and now as a mom to 9 (yes, 9!) littles, it’s proven to work for our family! It’s proven itself so well, that when our foster baby was in the hospital for 2 weeks and completely thrown off her daily schedule, she had no issues getting right back into it on the night she came home.
The number one ‘complaint’ I hear from all of my other mommy friends is how their child doesn’t sleep through the night. It’s always been a joke that they should send them to our house for a week of sleep camp, but I’m beginning to think it might not be a bad business idea.
Here are my tried and true methods for all-night sleepers.
1. Schedules are important.
Schedules can be a pain, but kids THRIVE off of it. As soon as your infant is capable of being on a feeding and sleeping schedule, start to implement one, because it will change the entire game. Ideally, this would be before the 4-month sleep regression hits. I promise you that having a schedule in place before that regression will lessen the sleep setbacks you experience.
The schedule we’ve created for our family is loosely based on the eat, play, sleep schedule, but with tweaks that make it fit for us. The same schedule won’t work for everyone, so you’ll need to figure out one that works for you! Also, it is possible to get multiple children of different ages on the same schedule! We’ve had our 3-year-old, 2-year-old, and 7-month-old on the same schedule for a few months now.
2. Don’t use feeding as a sleep trigger.
The only bottle that signals sleep to our little one is her last bottle of the night at 7:30 p.m. All of her bottles throughout the day are given an hour or more before nap time. She knows that when she’s placed into her swaddle sack and we start to sway back and forth that it’s time to close her eyes.
3. Wake your sleeping baby.
An old saying goes, ‘never wake a sleeping baby’ but for the sake of the schedule, please, wake your sleeping baby at the appropriate time. When her nap time is up (unless there is an illness or some other roadblock in another nap time) we go in and gently rouse her from her sleep.
Solid (and controlled) naps are a key ingredient to solid sleep at bedtime. This rule goes for our toddler nappers too! Toddlers should have a bedtime 3-4 hours after afternoon naps, so plan your latest wake time according to what you want their bedtime to be.
4. Routine. Routine. Routine.
Our nightly routine is consistent and our kiddos know that when we start, bedtime is soon to follow. Our nightly routine is dinner, bathtime, put on PJs, brush teeth, climb into mama and dada’s bed for story time, rock for a few minutes and sing songs, and then finally, lay down in bed.
Our older kiddos don’t necessarily have to go to sleep right away, but they know they need to lay quietly and play with the stuffed animals in their bed until they’re ready to fall asleep. As your schedule develops and your kids learn to sleep through the night, you can start to deviate away from the bedtime cues every now and then.
5. Fight the urge to run in and pick up your baby.
Moms are divided on this topic, and I’ll be the first to say that I’m not advocating for you to do something that makes you nervous, anxious, or uncomfortable. Nor am I advocating for you to ignore a real cry for a real need. I am, however, advocating, that if your baby is not screaming like something is wrong or if they’re screaming because they are tired, to give them a few minutes to self soothe back to sleep!
6. Rock your baby until they’re drowsy but not asleep.
There’s nothing I love more than rocking our sweet little girl, but in an effort to help her learn to fall asleep on her own, I try not to rock her all the way to sleep. When her eyes begin to droop, I’ll kiss her on her forehead and lay her down in her crib and she’ll take over from there letting the sounds of the sound machine put her to sleep. Not going to lie on this one, sometimes I can’t help it and I’ll snuggle her until she’s all the way asleep because there’s nothing better than watching her doze in my arms.
7. Have designated wake times in the morning.
It’s easy to feel like you need to get your toddler or child up in the morning immediately after they first wake up, but it can actually be beneficial to them (and to you as a parent!) to let them stay in bed until a designated awake time. We don’t get our kids up before 7:30 a.m., even if they wake up before then. Sometimes, they’ll go back to sleep if they wake up too early. Other times they’ll play quietly in their beds until one of us goes to get them up. This designated rising time allows me enough time to get a shower, make breakfast, make coffee, and feed the baby without having cranky toddlers attached to my leg.
8. Realize there will still be sleeping issues every now and then.
Like every 7-month-old, 2-year-old, and 3-year-old, they have their illnesses, bad dreams, or just general irritability about bedtime/sleeping. When our kiddos are sick, all rules go out the window and we just focus on giving them what they need to get through the night. The rule in our household is that the kids are never allowed to sleep in our bed at night, so, if there’s a bad dream or any sleep disturbance, we’ll take them back to bed and comfort them just enough to get them to fall asleep on their own. Because we try to do as little intervention as possible, we’ll start out with singing songs and rubbing their backs, or giving a pacifier and work up to rocking and cradling, if needed. We never allow our kids (unless there’s an illness) to stay up in the middle of the night and watch tv, have snacks, or play.
I can’t promise that all of my tried and true methods will work for your child or children, but I encourage you to try them out and see what works for you!