The thing about babies is that they're idiots. They can't even sleep right, which is like the easiest thing ever. You have to teach them. You're a parent, that's what you do now.
Let's get one thing straight though. Your baby sleeps plenty. It (yes, your baby is an "it" for the purpose of this post) just doesn't sleep in a way/time/pattern/duration/position that's convenient for you, you special snowflake.
Let's work on changing that. Yes, we're talking about sleep training. This is happening.
Step 0: Realize that you are not special
Everyone who has kids thinks that their kids are especially bad sleepers. (But seriously, mine really were especially bad.)
So don't go acting like you're the first person to be sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation is old news. People have been sleep deprived for like thousands and thousands of years. It's pretty outdated now actually. Where have you been?
Your baby sucks at sleeping like babies in general suck at sleeping. Get past the snowflake syndrome, whiny-pants.
Step 1. Suck it up for the first few months
There's not much you can do when they're tiny. Most books/experts/people-who-know-this-stuff say that you can start sleep training at 4-6 months. So until then, you just kind of have to accept that your life is going to be crap. You will constantly be tired, you'll be grumpy, and you'll generally just have periods where you wonder why having that little ball of cry seemed like a good idea.
Your goal during this period is to avoid becoming an alcoholic, and keep both you and the baby alive.
If you're just feeling too bad for yourself and you're really wanting some tips for this period, then read these, but don't expect any miracles:
- Newborn babies have no trouble going to sleep on their own. Try your hardest to NOT break them of that amazing ability as they get older, and avoid resorting to rocking them or feeding them or walking them to sleep.
- Then realize that that first tip is literally impossible to do when it's 4am and you've only gotten 19 minutes of sleep, so forget that I ever said anything.
- Try swaddling it with those velcro swaddle wrap things make escape tougher.
- If its tiny arm muscles manage to break it free of the velcro swaddle wrap things, or if it starts flipping over, then try this weird space suit thing.
- When your baby has a wide-awake period in the middle of the night, put on some Netflix and make a cup of tea and try to make the best of it instead of hopelessly walking the baby around for hours in a dark room, every step taking you closer to insanity.
- Sleep when they're sleeping. I know everyone says this but really commit to it, even if it's 1pm and your house looks like a giant ate a normal house and spit it back out.
- If you have other kids or a job and can't take random naps during the day, then you're screwed. Drink coffee or something.
Now is also probably a good time to note that there tends to be a big sleep regression at about 4 months, which can and will make you question who you are as a person.
Step 2: Prepare for the crying. Harden your heart.
You know that terrible feeling you get when your baby cries, especially when it's that horrifying shrieking cry, where you want to just jump out of your skin and you'd do anything to make it stop? It's a chemical thing involving Oxytocin and auditory cortexes and synaptic mechanisms and other words that I could copy/paste from the internet. Therefore, it's hard to avoid feeling like that.
But you need to avoid feeling like that. If you're going to teach your baby to sleep, it's going to cry, and you're going to have to just develop a cold, black heart and walk away you creampuff!
"I can't take the crying" has to be the most common reason to not train babies to sleep. What do you think is worse, a few combined hours of crying (if that) spread out over a few days, or another YEAR OR TWO of feeling like you'd literally light your car on fire if it got you an extra nap?
And if you're worried it'll permanently damage your baby's tiny brain, then cut that crap out now.
There are no long term data showing ill effects from these methods, and the practice parameters and guidelines for pediatric associations tend to support the [cry it out] method as an option. Wikipedia
Your baby is fine. Its arms won't fall off from crying. In the morning it'll still be the same baby. Get a grip.
Side note: this also means that all of those "no cry" sleep training methods are not to be trusted. They're like the weight-loss plans where you can eat anything you want and only have to wiggle on a little wiggle-machine for 5 minutes a day. If you have tried and found success with these methods, then congratulations, but I think you're lying.
Step 3: Show your baby how it's done
There are a few methods of sleep training. But ignore those - they'll just confuse your poor sleep deprived brain. The one I'm going to talk about is the Ferber Method, since it's pretty common and seems to work well for lots of people.
Here's what you do.
- Figure out some sort of nighttime ritual (bath, lullaby, whatever) and start doing it
- When your baby is sleepy-ish and it's a good bedtime, put it in bed
- Walk the heck away and hold steady against the onslaught of horrid, screeching cries
- After 3 minutes, go in the room and pat your baby for a second and say something dumb and reassuring that your baby can't understand, then leave again. Don't take the baby out of bed!
- Repeat step 4 again after 5 minutes, then every 10 minutes until the baby falls asleep. Don't take the baby out of bed!
- When your baby wakes up in the middle of the night, repeat steps 4 and 5 as needed until morning. Don't take the freaking baby out of bed until morning! Stay strong!
- The next night, skip the 3 minute step and go straight to 5 minutes.
- From night 3 onward, just do every 10 minutes.
If your baby is like most babies and you are like most parents, then your baby will scream for long enough the first night that you'll cave like a pansy and pick it up and apologize for everything you've ever done to it. But if you're a strong parent then you'll last until your baby passes out, usually after like 20-30 minutes or so.
Each time you do it, it'll take less time for the baby to go to sleep, and then eventually it'll learn that crying is pointless and it'll just lay there silently until it falls asleep. This is the part where your baby has learned to go to sleep on its own.
The next step from there is for it to stop waking up in the middle of the night, because it knows that it's not going to get out of bed anyway, so there's no point in freaking out.
Then you've made it.
Step 4: Sleep
If you are strong enough, brave enough, or just otherwise lack the compassion to care that your helpless baby is screaming, then you have a chance to change your life.