4 Tips to Building Your Baby's Sleep Foundation

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 Hack #57: Build Your Child's Sleep Foundation Early On

Do not even whisper the words “baby” and “sleep” in a bookstore or around  other  moms.  You’ll be inundated with so many tips, advice, and promises that your head will spin, and you’ll realize— like Ava Neyer did in her blog excerpted  below, “I Read All the Baby Sleep Books”—that there’s absolutely no consensus.

Don’t let your baby sleep  too long,  except  when  they’ve been napping  too much,  then  you should  wake them.  Never wake a sleeping baby. Any baby problem can be solved by putting  them to bed earlier, even if they are waking up too early. If your baby wakes up too early, put them to bed later or cut out a nap. Don’t let them  nap after  5 p.m. Sleep begets sleep, so try to get your child to sleep as much  as possible.  Put  the baby to bed awake but drowsy. Don’t wake the baby if it fell asleep while nursing.

You’d think  that  children  haven’t been  sleeping  for millions of years. You’d think that  there’s some magic unicorn trick that makes a baby a “good sleeper.” Nah.  It’s time to simplify baby sleep.

Have  you ever bought  an  appliance  or electronic  device— such  as a TV—that  came  with both  a Quick  Start  Guide  and also the  more  detailed  instruction manual  (in five languages)? You open  the  quick guide—and  it gets you going quickly. You can go to the detailed manual  afterward if you need, but 80 per- cent of the time you get what you need with the quick guide.

That’s the way baby sleep is. Jumping straight  in with all the sleep  philosophies  and  training   practices   and  miracle-sleep- fairy-nap-tips is like jumping  straight  to the detailed  manual  in German—before you’ve even figured out how to plug in the TV. Put  down the  detailed  manual.  Let’s start  with sleep’s equiva- lent  of the  Quick  Start  Guide,  which  is building  your child’s sleep foundation.

Once  you’ve instituted a  sleep  foundation, many  children will sleep well and not need any more guidance.  For those who do, it’s still much easier to troubleshoot or sleep train,  once the sleep foundation is in place.

As LA-based  certified  child  and  family sleep  consultant— and author  of the upcoming  4 Pillars of Sleep Hygiene—Jenni June  told  me,   “Without   a  sleep  foundation,  none  of  the sleep-training methods  will work. And even  if it does,  it will come  undone  when  real-life  circumstances come  your way— such as travel and illness.” Because the easiest way to minimize bedtime tears has nothing to do with “cry-it-out” or “no-cry” philosophies but everything to do with building a sleep foundation from day 1.

The  sleep   foundation components  that  work  for  you also  work for your child.  Incorporate components of a sleep  foundation as early as possible:  a consistent schedule, stable wake-up and bedtime  routines, a relaxing sleep environment, and  plenty  of physical  activity and  outdoor time. The exact components will change  as a child grows, but the groundwork  is the same.

  • Aim for a flexible routine, not  a strict  schedule. Some baby books come with such  strict  schedules, you’d think they’re for the Supreme  Court,  not a four-week-old.  Every- one loses their mind a little trying to adhere to these. Forget it. Instead, adopt  a flexible routine  where  you still have a consistent general  timing  and  order  of activities  but  aren’t fixated on the clock. Along those lines, once you have a good routine  in place, the 80/20 rule is okay for the kiddos, too: if you’re staying consistent 80–90  percent  of the time, missing a nap or a late bedtime  here or there is fine.
  •  Limit their device   time,  especially two  hours  before bed.  As soon  as  your  child  uses  a  device,  make  a  firm power-off time. Devices in the bedroom at night are linked with later  bedtimes,  less sleep,  and  poor sleep  quality,  so keep them out.
  • Thou shalt not listen  to nonexpert  “experts.” Do not—I repeat,  do not—automatically internalize  advice from your mother-in-law/neighbor/lady in the grocery line. They’ll tell you how their child slept through the night at three  weeks. “I  wonder  why  yours isn’t doing  that? Hmmmm.”  Ignore 

    that  judgy vibe. At three weeks postpartum,  we’re all such an exhausted,  hormonal  mess, we wouldn’t know  our baby from the Dalai Lama. We don’t remember baby’s schedule twenty minutes  ago; there’s no way they accurately  remember twenty years ago. Don’t let them get into your head.

  • Good  sleep  takes  a sleep  foundation . . . and  a little luck. I say this because  we moms internalize  how well our children  sleep (and eat, and poop, and burp, and . . . ), as a critique  of our  mommy-ness.  Keep  doing  your  best,  but know that  some babies just sleep more easily than  others. It doesn’t make a baby a “good baby” or a “bad baby,” or you a “bad mommy,” it just . . . is. And, no matter  what you do, it will change  by next Thursday  because baby likes to keep you guessing.

Want more hacks in your life? Mom Hacks is filled with hundreds of tiny ways to corral your to-do’s and make nutrition, exercise, sleep, and - yes - even stress and resilience - do-able.  Find your “I’ve GOT this!”, today. 

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About Dr Darria Long:
Dr. Darria Long is a Yale- and Harvard-trained emergency physician, author of nationally bestselling book Mom Hacks (Hachette), and a TV host and expert on HLN, CNN, The Dr. Oz Show, and other networks. A mom of two herself, Dr. Darria has become the national "make-life-better-for-women doctor”. She is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee School of Medicine. She received her MBA from Harvard Business School and residency training from Yale School of Medicine. Mom Hacks is available on Amazon or at many other retailers.