Very pregnant with our second child, I was surprised how often people asked: “are you ready?”
It was a hard question to answer.
We already went through that whole newborn baby thing once and the lack of sleep turned our world upside down. As we compared baby size to progressively larger vegetables, I fearfully felt like we were caught in some sort of apocalyptic countdown to epic sleep deprivation.
That time is HARD. Not to say infants aren’t beautiful bundles of joy. I saw little babies and just oozed with excitement, but the memory of sleepless, exhausted existence gave me the serious chills.
And then that fateful day finally arrived: labor day. We brought our precious little fresh human home to meet our toddler. It was kismet. Cue the lack of sleep we had tried so hard to forget (and had mostly succeeded). Except this time, it was NOTHING like I’d ever dreamed (not that I had time for that anymore).
Having a toddler AND a newborn to care for all night and day was a WHOLE new level of exhaustion.
Having one newborn was a CAKEWALK compared and I don’t say that lightly. Bringing home a newborn the first time felt like hell on earth…at the time. It was the biggest shock I’d ever experienced.
(RELATED: I wrote a post ALL about What I WISH I Had Known Before Bringing Baby Home when bringing home our FIRST baby because I was terrified of labor and delivery as well as bringing home a little baby human I had to care for!)
But this topped that experience by far. I was now in perpetual sleep deprived hell.
I researched, experimented, spoke with a crap ton of other mommies and now I have some SOLID ‘sleep through the night’ tips for you, mommy who would trade her next-born for an hour of precious, precious sleep (well not literally but sometimes it seriously feels like it…).
If we can do it, you surely can. These sacred tips made a night and day difference…literally and solved EVERYTHING. Now, even with a newborn, we are FINALLY sleeping through the night.
What To Do When Your Baby Or Toddler Isn’t Sleeping Through The Night!
1. First, agree upon a game plan with your significant other
This is one of the most fundamental aspects of getting sleep and keeping your sanity. If you and your significant other are not one the same page about responsibilities, parenting strategies and what to do when the children awaken, it’s going to be STRESSFUL. And no one wants stress and disagreements when you are sleep deprived in the middle of the night!
I’m going to be honest with you, this has led to some serious 3 am, sleep deprived yelling. Not fun.
If you are breastfeeding at night, have your significant other change the diaper. If you have a newborn, after four weeks, you can also start pumping 15 minutes after the first feeding of the morning and 15 minutes after the last feeding of the night for 15 minutes. This will start a supply and praise-all-that-is-holy, you can sleep through one or more of those night awakenings while your significant other does the bottle feeding. It’s good to introduce the bottle at this age anyway, so your baby doesn’t refuse it in the future.
If your toddler is awakening at night, agree upon a game plan with your spouse. Know who is going to go get your little one and what parenting style you will agree upon to teach bedtime rules (if you decide to implement any – I have some tips for you!)
Be there for one another and exchange “sleeping in” days on the weekend. Your toddler may get up at 7 am sharp and your baby may be wailing, but have one take the children and let the other sleep to their heart’s content. The next day, switch. It’s better for at least one of you to be rested at a time instead of two exhausted parents!
2. Know that newborns are IMPOSSIBLE to sleep train, but babies and toddlers can be taught!
There is light at the end of that dark, sleepless tunnel. After a couple weeks, a newborn can begin to develop longer stretches of night sleep time. At eight weeks of age, our little one now sleeps for a six-hour stretch between 10:00 pm and 4:00 am.
If you are at this stage, make sure you read these two posts that will seriously help you survive that exhausting neborn sleep stage:
Note that if you are bringing home a newborn, day 2 is Doomsday. This is the infamous night newborns DO NOT sleep. Mommy’s milk is coming in and your little one has a bit more energy from labor and delivery. Also, brand new babies don’t have the biology to be sleep trained yet.
If you are looking for solid tips on sleep training your baby, make sure to check this COMPLETE guide out:
2. Make SURE you implement sleep during the day
This is key! Day and night sleep patterns are connected. A phrase has stuck with me from reading all those sleep books: “sleep begets sleep“. If your baby or toddler is getting the healthy sleep they need during the day, this will ultimately lead to a great night of sleep.
For a toddler, you will want to make sure there is a noon-time nap. Ours starts at 12:30 pm and she sleeps till 2/2:30 pm. Babies need to be sleeping within 2 hours of awakening and gradually move into routine naptimes.
Another key and fundamental tip: make sure your babies are getting quality sleep during the day. This means not falling asleep in front of the television or in the car. Planned, timed and consistent naps are essential along with a proper sleep environment: shades drawn, noise to a minimum and as few distractions as possible.
3. Arm yourself with sleep tools that WORK
We learned very quickly that there are some SOLID sleep products that make a night and day difference…pun intended.
For example, the Shusher. Weird product name. And yet there’s a reason it has raving Amazing reviews. I first experienced the awesomeness of the Shusher while watching our newborn photographer work her magic by keeping our child comatose. I was in complete shock and had that sucker in our Amazon cart before even leaving the building. It’s AH-mazing and magical.
So, here’s a list of those WONDERFUL products that we could not live without and have helped our little ones sleep so YOU can get sleep too!
A solid swaddle. aden + anais. Nuff said. These swaddle blankets are seriously the absolute BEST and one of the greatest baby items we’ve ever purchased. Before our first, I wasn’t sure how many swaddle blankets to have or what brand, so I bought too many. I have a wonderful aunt who sent us these telling us her family and sister used this brand and raved about them. They are more expensive than your average department store baby isle swaddle blanket but the cost is worth it. Buy a pack of these and you are set! We are using them again for baby number two. The key is the quality of the material and the stretchiness. You can get a really good swaddle wrap around your little one and do so for the entirety of their swaddling age (due to the size of the wrap). And the colors are just insta-worthy.
Sleep machine. A quality “white noise” machine that isn’t too loud but is loud enough: a solid sleeping must-have. We have Marpac Dohm Classic White Noise Sound Machine. It’s Amazon’s choice for sound machines and boasts 13,000 reviews with close to five stars. At first, I thought it was silly to have such a pricey little fan machine, but the sound is great and we’ve had it for three years! It’s still going strong with every night usage. I’ve run into these little things everywhere – even a workplace to help with echo.
Sleep sack. Once your little one starts breaking out of the swaddle and seems to want his or her arms free, switch to a Halo sleep sack. Or if your child is not yet a year old and not ready for blankets. Opt for the Halo sleep sacks that allow your child’s arms to be free for safety reasons. Our little one slept like a DREAM with these. We bought the micro-fleece in a medium and a gray in XL.
Shusher. Like I said: magic. The Baby Shusher Sleep Miracle Soother is just a small little portable sound machine that makes amazing shushing noises but when that thing is on, eyelids droop. We turn it on when our baby is having trouble sleeping to lull her back down and when we are out and about during those fussy occasions. I seriously swear by this thing and it’s Amazon’s best seller in baby sleep products.
Pacifier. You’re supposed to wait four weeks at least before giving a newborn their very first pacifier. This supposedly avoids nipple confusion and we always followed this rule just in case. BUT that day you can finally use it…nothing else is better. I’ve read and spoke to moms who had problems with their little one accepting different types of pacifiers but we never had any problem with NUK pacifiers. The one we always received at the hospital seemed to just pop right out of our little one’s mouth. We’ve always had success with NUK.
Glider. LIFE SAVOR. As I type this right now, our eight-week-old baby is SOUND asleep in our Graco glider. When I first “researched” gliders, swings, bouncers etc. for babies, I spent hours reading up on all the different types. I spoke to all the moms I knew about the different brands. This one topped the list. The problems with those little baby docks: some don’t have enough movement to actually lull a baby, a baby may outgrow it quickly if it’s too small (like the 4moms brand) and it can be obnoxious in the living room where you’ll likely be using it.
The Graco glider has fantastic speeds, it is the perfect size and it looks cute in our space. You can also pick up the bassinet out of the glider and carry it (which was fantastic when I wanted to shower and keep our little one sleeping). I remember the DAY we put this together and used it. My husband called at lunch and I was almost in tears because our little one was FINALLY sleeping somewhere else during the day besides my arms. Get one. We have the Graco Elite Glider but the LX and the Abbington are the same.
Hatch light. I really only have one miracle sleep product that has worked wonders for us and our toddler: the Hatch Baby Rest Night Light, Sound Machine (and Time-to-Rise). Our toddler was an AMAZING sleeper but then began waking up at all hours after our newborn arrived. It HAD to stop. I found the Hatch light. You can set it up through an app on your phone so that light turns on when it’s time to wake up. You can customize many different types of lights and sounds.
It also duels as a sound machine so we transferred the Marpac Dohm (mentioned above) to our newborn’s space. I had our toddler pick what light she wanted to wake up to and then told her until the light turns on, it’s not time to get up yet. Now when 7 am strikes and that light goes on, we hear “Mommy, Daddy, light on! Time to get up!” from the baby monitor. No more nighttime awakenings. YES! It’s an Amazon bestseller in Nursery Night Lights AND an Amazon choice item with almost five solid stars.
4. Make sure your little one is taken care of before sleeping
For babies, make sure they have a fresh diaper and have been fed. We have moved to “on demand” feeding, which is usually approved by your baby’s two-week appointment (if they are back to their birth weight, at least). So, at eight weeks we are feeding every 2 hours but last night she slept for eight hours straight! PRAISE ALL THAT IS GOOD. That’s a milestone.
The secret is making sure your little one is PRIMED, locked, loaded and ready to sleep. For toddlers that means a good bedtime routine (it helps so much!), a pee before bed and solid blackout curtains.
Babies should be changed, fed, and swaddled (or placed in a good sleep sack) then put down for the night.
THEN HURRY and jump in bed. Get everything you need done for the night (if at all possible) before putting the baby to bed. When her head touches that bassinet pad, make like a bread truck and haul your sweet little buns!
5. Decide on the parenting *sleep training method* that is right for your family
This way you can have a game plan which is your ultimate help in this difficult time, especially when you are SUPER sleep deprived. The best book I’ve read is Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. There are short little mini-chapters in the book that describe the BEST way to get your little one to sleep biologically and according to your own personal sleep preference method, whether that be “cry-it-out”, “attachment parenting” or in-between.
Make the decision if you are a parent who can make it through a method like “gradual extinction”.
I go over various sleep training methods in 10 Baby Sleep Secrets You Must Know, The ULTIMATE Overnight Sleep Guide.
6. Cut out the things that will keep your little one awake!
Less screen time
Screen time has been proven to mess with little brains. Before two years of age, zero screen time is recommended and after that, less than an hour. Even one hour of screen time every day for a two-year-old has proven to have negative effects. But everyone has their own view on screen time.
I know during those first days bringing a newborn home AND having a toddler…it was survival mode and we had MUCH more screen time.
The bottom line: less screen time before bed and overall will help your little one with quality sleep. This will allow you to sleep more too!
Cut back on the sweets when it’s close to bedtime. Little bodies are much more affected by sugar than ours. When your little one has a rush of sugar, she will also have a crash. This leads to hypersensitivity and fussiness, a state that is hard for quality sleep.
Lesson the sugar before bedtime and during the day overall. This will allow for a good night of sleep, behavior and overall will be better for everyone!
Zero liquids two hours before bed and one hour before naptime (for toddlers)
I studied the book: Oh Crap! Potty Training, Everything Modern Parents Need to Know To Do Once And Do It Right and in it, the author (Jamie Glowacki) compared liquid intake to an upside-down pyramid. This has been vital to us getting more sleep and not waking up to “I’VE GOT TO PEE!”
Basically, when your little one wakes up in the morning, give them ALL THE LIQUIDS. And as the clock ticks closer and closer to that God-given, precious midday nap then tapper that liquid, momma. Zero liquid one hour before naptime (that’s 11:30 am for us) and two hours before bedtime (4:30 pm in our case). Do the same when waking up from naptime.
If you’ve forgotten to load on the liquid upon waking, and your little one is sweetly begging for water (which is entirely impossible to turn down), then give her some in a teeny tiny cup. This can be a medicine measuring cup or a shot glass. Whatever works. Our little one actually has this adorable tea set she loves and we put water or milk in one of those tiny precious cups for her before bed.
Remove “soothing” dependencies & distractions in the crib
We used to put little books or toys in the crib for our little one to play with if she woke up early and it wasn’t time for us to go get her. We don’t do this anymore. Removing extra distractions and things not associated with the goal of sleep in your child’s sleep space will assure quality sleep for your child.
In addition, remove any soothing dependencies gradually. A nightly rocking routine, bottles, breastfeeding AND pacifiers can all be unhealthy dependencies. This means, your little one is soothed routinely to sleep by these things and when they wake up, they NEED it again to go back to sleep!
For us, this was the pacifier. Which sounds harmless but not if you wake up all night long to put it back in your two-month-olds’ mouth (beside your bed in a bassinet) and then try to switch them to a crib in their own room. That was rough.
The end goal is to try to have your little one go to sleep without you or any other unhealthy prop or routine. That means laying your child down when tired (eyelids beginning to close or have closed!) and not quite asleep. A pillow, blankie and stuffed animal are all fine. If you’re stuck here, try to lessen the dependency more and more.
With the pacifier, I took it out whenever she was asleep. I also did not give it to her upon waking and we did some consistent “gradual extinction” with short timed “cry it out” sessions. It wasn’t easy but by day three, she was off the pacifier at night. Most importantly, we finally had a happy, MUCH less fussy baby.
7. Don’t reward your child for waking up & decide on a consequence
If your little one has to pee or has a nightmare, help her out. Guide her back to bed reassuringly. Don’t turn on lights, have a conversation or prolong bedtime.
In addition, if you let your little one crawl into bed with you consistently, this will become a habit which will interrupt not only your child’s sleep but yours!
If your baby is falling asleep at the breast a few minutes after feeding, sorry momma but you’ve officially become a sleep prop. Try calming your baby down with shushing (or use a Shusher – it’s MAGIC) instead of breastfeeding if this has become a routine. Gently rub a thumb over her eyebrows.
Try not to pick her up and take her out of the bassinet or crib. You can also try the gradual extinction method that worked wonders for us. You can find more about this in 10 Baby Sleep Secrets You Must Know, The ULTIMATE Overnight Sleep Guide. I go over gradual extinction in point number 9.
For older children, you also may want to decide on a consequence. I heard this on a phenomenal parenting podcast: take away your child’s “lovie” if they get up from bed. Now, this may sound harsh but IT WORKS. Our toddler (who is 2 1/2) was saying “PEE! PEE!” and screaming, so we’d rush into her room and help her but then…there was no pee. This started happening up to FIVE times a night. It had to stop.
I tried everything! But one thing worked. I told her, “Next time you say ‘pee!’ and you don’t need to pee – so there’s no pee in the potty- then I take away Bob (this is her stuffed penguin she adores). It happened that night and I only had to do it one other time. This suddenly brought all those night awakens to a screaming halt (pun intended). The key is to give the least amount of attention possible.
As a last resort (if you are getting up all night long to a screaming toddler), let your little one cry it out. This can be HARD, but he or she needs quality sleep in order to develop properly. Studies have found improper sleep habits in early childhood lead to sleep disorders, attention problems (like ADHD), anxiety and depression in adulthood. (Source).
8. Create a bedtime routine
Just before bedtime, dim the lights, draw the curtains and start your bedtime routine at a certain time. With a toddler, you can do a nightly bath before bed (which some parents swear helps their little one sleep better!), reading on the couch or whatever suits your family.
Out toddler’s Hatch Light/Sound Machine goes on at 6:15 pm and she knows that means it’s time to start the bedtime routine. We usually change her into her pajamas, have her pick out 3 books, read on the couch with some yogurt and save the last one for the potty. Then its brush the teeth and a short song as we tuck her in.
Try to be consistent, make sure your little one doesn’t go to bed hungry and rock him or her to sleep. Remember, it’s okay to soothe your child. Just don’t sooth them ALL the way to sleep. Let those eyes droop a little and set them down.
You may have landed here tired and seeking ANY help you can get for another hour at least of more sleep! Quality sleep for you and your littles takes patience, consistency, and some serious parental guidelines. If you don’t set boundaries and work towards a “more sleep!” goal consistently, then it’s likely you won’t get any more sleep.
Agree on a gameplan with your significant other, make sure your little one is getting quality day sleep, have sleep products that HELP, prime your child for OPTIMAL sleep, cut the prolonged soothing, decide on your sleep parenting strategies and have a bedtime routine. If you try at least some of these things, you WILL get better sleep, momma! Most importantly, your quality of life will begin to get SO much better. Good sleep is a total game changer. Especially when caring for little ones.