If you know me, it’s no secret that my babies were not the best sleepers. At each of my daughters’ well-check visits, our pediatrician would say “How many hours is she sleeping at night – 6 hours? 8 hours?” I would laugh and say, “You know, it varies…sometimes she’ll go as long as 2 hours.” My pediatrician would give me a disapproving look, making me feel like I had just failed a test, and would then inform me that “most” babies her age were sleeping through the night. Who WERE these babies, I would wonder??
But apparently, babies who sleep do exist – it’s just that I didn’t get one. Research indicates that most babies can sleep through the night by 3 months old (definition: 8 hours of continuous sleep), and by 4-6 months old, most babies will begin sleeping anywhere from 10-12 hours a night.
Our babies were so far from the “norm” that it seemed laughable. With Mae in particular, both Nate and I were desperate for more sleep after the first 6 months of her life, as we had (painfully) learned to survive on 3-4 hours of piecemeal sleep at night. I captured our typical schedule one day in the Notes section on my phone while I was nursing Mae; check it out…
This was a typical night for Mae around 4-5 months old:
--9:00 pm: Put Mae to bed
--11:00 pm: Dreamfeed and go to bed myself
--11:00 pm – 12:30 am: KATIE AND NATE SLEEP (1.5 hours)
--12:30 – 2:00 am: 1st wake-up; breastfeed Mae for 30 minutes, hold her upright on my chest for another 30 minutes (to reduce her reflux). Try to put her in her crib; she screams; I pick her up and hold her again, etc, until I can successfully Navy-Seal my way into laying her in her crib without her waking up.
--2:00 – 3:00 am: KATIE AND NATE SLEEP (1 hour – although the first 30 minutes are spent worrying about how quickly I need to fall asleep before she’s up again)
--3:00 – 4:00 am: 2nd wake-up: Rinse and repeat. Usually a little faster the second time around.
--4:00 – 5:30 am: KATIE AND NATE SLEEP (1.5 hours)
--5:30 am: Up for the day
And there you have it! We were counting our blessings for minutes of continuous sleep, not hours. Needless to say, we were walking zombies.
So, when we showed up for Mae’s 6-month well-check appointment, our pediatrician told us something that I had never heard before and that started to lay the groundwork for better sleep. I’m not saying this is the right plan of action for everyone, but in the spirit of sharing tips, here’s what worked for us.
Trick #1: At 6 months old, I stopped breastfeeding in the middle of the night.
This was the bomb that our pediatrician dropped at Mae’s 6-month well visit. “Now that she’s 6 months old, you should stop breastfeeding her in the night.” Awkward pause on my end while this sank in. “Wait…what do you mean? Like, I shouldn’t breastfeed her at all when she wakes up in the night?”
She explained that at Mae’s age and weight (she was about 14 lbs at 6 months old), there was no longer any physiological need for her to eat in the middle of the night. She went on to explain that at this point, waking up to eat a meal in the middle of the night had become a habit for her; much like we have trained our bodies to be hungry at breakfast, lunch, and dinner time, Mae had trained her body to be hungry in the middle of the night. So, to break this cycle and re-train her to get more calories during the day, I needed to stop feeding her in the middle of the night.
At first, I dismissed her advice, thinking it would be too difficult for me to not feed her. But after a few more nights of terrible sleep, I decided to try it. I made sure she ate plenty during the day. Mae started on solids at 6 months old, so in addition to breastfeeding, she was getting baby food a few times a day. Those first few nights were very long. I couldn’t bear the thought of letting her cry it out, so instead, I got up and held her, but I just didn’t breastfeed her (as you might imagine, she was pretty pissed about that).
After a few days, her sleep had definitely improved. I can’t say she immediately started sleeping 8 hours straight – that didn’t happen for Mae until closer to 15 months old – but we did get longer stretches. However, this was MUCH more effective with Dylan. I did the same thing and stopped breastfeeding Dylan in the night at 6 months old, and she did start sleeping for real…like 8-10 hour stretches. To be fair, I gave Dylan a few more minutes to settle herself down before jumping up to soothe her every time she cried, so that probably helped.
If you’re wondering how this affected my milk supply – it really didn’t affect it much. I was super full and a bit uncomfortable by the time the morning rolled around for the first 2-3 days, but my body adjusted to the new schedule quickly, and my milk supply wasn’t adversely affected.
Trick #2: Better naps.
I know, I know. You already know this. But it was true for our babies…the better they napped during the day, the better they would sleep at night. Once we started on an eat-play-sleep routine that resulted in 2-3 good naps a day, Mae started to fall asleep faster at night and stay asleep longer.
The other game-changer with Mae’s naps was putting her in her crib to nap. For the first few months, we let her take naps in a bassinet or nap chair during the day, and she would only sleep for a few minutes before waking up. Once we started putting her in her room, in her crib, in the same sleeping conditions as she got at night (sleep machine, all blinds pulled, etc), she started napping a lot longer.
I’m not going to lie: It was a CHORE to get her down for her naps, especially once I started trying to follow the eat-play-sleep routine and not let her nurse to sleep. I would go through this ritual of singing and dancing all around her room while clutching her tightly against my chest, getting softer and less jerky as she would settle down. Apparently the Snoo does this very thing now, but it wasn’t around when Mae was a baby, so I had to “snoo” her to sleep myself.
Trick #3: The Magic Sleepsuit
This suit is a bit controversial in some circles due to the risk of overheating, but it worked miracles for us, especially with Mae. Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit looks like a snowsuit; check it out in this pic of me and Dylan.
It works similar to how a weighted blanket works for adults – the weight of the suit is soothing for babies and helps to muffle their twitches and startle-type movements so they can stay asleep longer. Once your baby can roll over, you should stop using the suit (but Mae took a super long time to roll over, so she was able to wear it for a while).
Mae liked the magic sleepsuit better than Dylan, I think because Dylan was too hot in it. To this day, Dylan doesn’t need hardly any covers at night, while Mae will be huddled under three blankets, so it makes sense that Mae liked the sleepsuit better than Dylan.
There you have it! As most parents know, figuring out how to get your baby to sleep through the night is more of an art than a science, and it often takes a lot of trial and error to get it right. Sleep was one of my biggest challenges when my girls were babies. I've been curious what other moms consider to be their #1 biggest challenge in life right now, so I'm conducting a survey. If you have TWO minutes, would you take this survey and help me out big time?? https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/BHVCPT9
Best of luck as you look for the right tricks to get your baby to sleep, and I hope you start catching more zzz’s in no time!
About Katie Stansberry
Katie Stansberry is a work-from-home mom of two sweet girls and the creator of Breastfeeding Bliss. After struggling at the beginning of her breastfeeding journey, she wanted to create a happy place where breastfeeding moms could find practical tips, positive inspiration, and the newest and best breastfeeding products. On her "Back to Bliss" breastfeeding blog, she shares her personal stories and tips for making breastfeeding an easier and more enjoyable experience.