I won’t sugar coat it for you…nothing can prepare you for the insane levels of sleep deprivation that you will experience during the first few weeks and months of parenthood. It’s no coincidence that sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture, because that’s exactly what it feels like. During those early weeks, you walk around in a zombie-like state, dreaming of the day when you’re baby will sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time, and you’ll do pretty much anything to reach that hallowed milestone.
We were just the same and at around week five, my wife and I jointly had a mini breakdown at 3am one morning and decided, enough is enough…we have to get this baby into some kind of a routine. So there and then we began pouring over Google and the countless books we’d accumulated on the subject…at which point we got even more depressed. While there’s a huge amount of information out there on sleep techniques for new babies, so much of it is conflicting advice. We quickly realised it was going to be up to us to figure out what would work best for our baby, using a process of trial and error. As no two babies are alike, after all…
So we immediately began testing out a few tips, tricks and techniques that we’d read about, trying each one for a week at a time (as apparently it can take around seven days for a baby to get accustomed to a new change in its life). If it worked for us, we kept it. If it didn’t, it was dutifully ditched.
Lo and behold, by week eight, we started to see Teddy’s sleep pattern improve. And by three months old, he was sleeping for around nine hours, uninterrupted, throughout the night. It was a total game changer…both for him and us.
So for any parents out there who are still pulling their hair out, and dreaming of, well, dreaming, here are our top six recommendations to help get your little one to sleep through the night. They worked wonders for us, so fingers crossed they’ll help you too!
The E.A.S.Y. Method
We read about loads of different routines and sleep methods for newborns, but the one we finally settled upon was The E.A.S.Y. Method by Tracy Hogg, otherwise known as The Baby Whisperer.
Unlike some of the super strict routines out there (Gina Ford, I’m looking at you), this one is much more flexible and is all about the order that you do things, rather than getting bogged down into specific timings and restrictive do’s and don’ts.
The E.A.S.Y. Method stands for Eat, Activity, Sleep and You Time. This basically means that you put your baby to sleep, then feed them as soon as they wake up. But then rather than let them fall back to sleep on the boob/bottle (which can be difficult, I know), you keep them awake for a little longer afterwards (the Activity part…which could be playing with them or just changing their nappy) before putting them down to sleep again, so that you can get your well deserved ‘You Time’.
In short, the aim of this is to keep them stimulated at certain points of the day, while training them not to ‘feed to sleep’ during the daylight hours.
In the evening this schedule changes slightly, and you put them down to sleep immediately after their 7pm feed, topping them up for the night with a ‘dream feed’ (putting them on the boob/bottle while they’re still technically asleep) at around 10pm, if needed.
At first it all seemed quite strange and like it wasn’t working but within a few weeks we started to see the time between each feed lengthen, and the amount of times our baby woke up during the night reduce until he completely slept through.
If this sounds appealing, I’d suggest you buy her book which sets it all out properly. It’s quite long, but from our experience you don’t have to read it cover to cover. You can just dip in and out to the bits you need, when you need them.
Swaddling (for longer than you think)
When we got home from hospital, we assumed that our Teddy hated being swaddled as he always ended up wrestling his arms free and sleeping with them up around his ears. But according to our reading, newborns aren’t actually aware yet that their limbs are parts of their bodies. As such, flailing arms are just a distraction – like someone constantly waving in your face – which would prevent even the most accomplished of sleepers from nodding off.
Willing to give anything a try, we stuck with swaddling and found that when Teddy was tightly swaddled (but not too tight, mind), he actually slept better and for longer. What’s more, when we would wrap him up, he also started to understand that this meant it was time for bed, which I think ultimately helped him get into his sleep routine.
It’s worth noting that we swaddled Teddy until he was nearly four months old, at which point we could contain him no longer, and switched to a baby sleeping bag, after which he started to self soothe with a comforter or his thumb.
Repeated sleep cues
At around the six week mark we started putting in place a structured bedtime routine for Teddy, starting from about 5:30pm. This consisted of a series of sleep cues, that were the same every evening, which we hoped would train him to know that it was now time for bed and his looooong sleep.
So from 5:30 we would make sure there was ‘mood’ lighting around the house, without music or anything too distracting for half an hour or so, before giving him a bath at 6pm. After the bath, we would keep our cooing to a minimum, maybe do a bit of baby massage, put on a fresh nappy, vest and baby grow, before swaddling him. Finally we would then press play on the lullaby setting of his Ewan the Dream Sheep and give him a big bottle of formula (it’s apparently more filling than breast milk, which he still had for all his other feeds) before putting him down to sleep by about 7pm.
We repeated this pattern religiously night after night, so that he knew that come 5:30pm, it was time to start winding down. In fact, at eight months old, we’re still doing it (minus the swaddling bit) and I can confirm that these repeated sleep cues worked wonders for us and I believe they played a big part in getting Teddy to sleep through the night.
The infamous shush-pat
(Photo credit: Ariel from the Dreamcatcher Photography Studio)
The shush-pat was recommended to us by a number of friends who had babies before we did. In brief, it’s a magic technique that helps calm a crying baby (only for babes under six months old), by distracting them to the point where they can do nothing but fall straight to sleep. Perfect for getting a fully-fed baby back to sleep after they wake up for no apparent reason during the night…
To do it effectively, you should hold your crying baby to your chest in an upright position, and make long shushing sounds (quite loud and elongated, a bit like a running tap) while firmly and rhythmically patting the baby in the center of their back at the same time as you gently bounce up and down. Apparently the thinking behind it is that little babies’ brains can only process two things at a time, so by shushing, patting and bouncing, you are giving them too many things to think about, and they dutifully fall back to sleep.
According to what we’ve read online, you should actually continue to do the shush-pat for about 7-10 minutes after your baby has calmed down. Once that happens, you can slow down your patting rhythm and eventually stop the shh sound altogether. If they wake up crying soon after, restart the whole shush-pat method once again.
Consistency and perseverance are key with this technique. At the beginning, especially, it can take a bloody long time to have any effect (sometimes up to an hour we found). But gradually your baby will come round to the shush-pat method and it will become a total game changer, during the night most of all.
For the record, you look ridiculous doing it, but it really works (at least it did for us)! Best used after a feed if your baby doesn’t settle right away, or if they start crying long before they are due their next feed. It can also be done when your baby is lying down, by turning them slightly onto their side, while doing the loud, long shushing and gentle back patting. As they get accustomed to it, you should then be able to remove certain elements of the process, so that you get the same sleepy effect by shushing alone…
Maintaining your routine wherever you are
After you’ve put in all the hard work to get your baby into some kind of routine, I’m a firm believer that you should do everything in your power to maintain it, to avoid confusion for your baby and protect your own precious sleep.
So even if you are out and about, on holiday or visiting friends/family for lunch/dinner/the weekend, I highly recommend sticking to your usual routine, especially in the evening.
When we’re out during the day, we don’t let Teddy’s routine ruin our fun (too much). Giving your baby his afternoon nap in the pram is totally doable, especially if you make it as cosy and dark as possible for them in there and bring their usual sleep aids (comforter/Ewan the Dream Sheep etc) along for the ride.
We also have a great travel cot from phil&teds (pictured above) which we chose specifically because it is one of the most lightweight and compact on the market (it folds down smaller than any other and comes with its own carry case), so can easily be carted around when you’re away from home, or erected in no time if you’re at a friend’s house for lunch.
Plus, we can highly recommend these great blackout blinds that we got from JoJo Maman Bébé, which stick onto any window with little suckers or a retractable pole, meaning you can transform almost any room into a makeshift darkened nursery in a matter of minutes. It’s no coincidence that we keep our travel cot and blackout blinds in the car, to ensure we’re never caught short while away from home.
The importance of a good quality mattress
I don’t know about you, but I can’t sleep with a feather pillow – it immediately makes me get all bunged up (give me a foam pillow any day). And my wife Rosie is even more sensitive, getting itchy eyes and sneezing if someone even mentions the word ‘dust’ in her vicinity.
So when we moved Teddy out of his Moses Basket and into his cot we didn’t want to take any risks by scrimping on a cheap mattress that might cause any hidden allergies to flare up and disrupt his sleep. He already developed a weird rash a few months ago that the doctor couldn’t explain, so we weren’t going to chance our luck. Plus, as your baby’s going to use the same mattress for a good few years, it’s worth getting a high quality one that will last.
We have this Organic Cot Bed Mattress from The Little Green Sheep, which we can highly recommend. After doing a lot of research into cot mattresses before getting ours, everyone said it was the best on the market. It’s made from just four natural ingredients (so totally free from any toxins or harmful chemicals), with layers of hypo-allergenic wool, making it suitable for babies with allergies. What’s more, it comes with a 5-year guarantee, so is clearly built to last.
Better yet, if you’re in the market for a cot mattress, I’m pleased to say that readers of the blog can get 10% off any purchase at The Little Green Sheep using my discount code LGSYTDADDY10 at the online checkout!
Don’t forget, while you can get many things second hand for a newborn baby, you should ALWAYS get a brand new mattress (as the risk of SIDS with an old, pre-used mattress is significantly higher). Very important!
I hope you’ve found today’s article useful and it will help get your little one into more of a routine so that you can get some well deserved rest. As someone who has been through it and emerged on the other side (relatively unscathed) just know that it DOES get easier…hang on in there!
And for any parents reading this who have already been through the hell of sleep training, do you have any other top tips that worked for your baby? If so, please do share them with the group via the comments section below!