Trying to brainstorm a title for this post was so frustrating! Mainly because I remember googling so many things during Lincoln’s colicky days and just thinking about it really triggered some heavy emotions for me. The process of establishing a healthy, successful sleep pattern for your child is such an immense challenge for any parent, let alone those parents whose kids are struggling with colic or other medical issues. Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” solution for this issue. What works for some babies may not work for others, and what one parent is comfortable with my not be a good fit for another parenting style. I learned all too quickly that the books, strategies, and tactics that my friends used either 1) absolutely did not work for Lincoln or 2) were outside of my parenting comfort zone. That doesn’t mean I judged them for their choice. It just means I learned the hard way (aka: my child didn’t sleep for the first 4.5 months of his life and I felt like it was my fault) that we all have to make our OWN choices when it comes to parenting, and specifically with challenging topics like sleep.
This post is not about sleep training your child. I simply want to share a few supports that helped with our very reluctant sleeper. They may not work for you, but if even one of them provides you some support during a challenging, ‘sleepless’ phase, I will be so glad. Really, there are FOUR specific things that were transformational for helping Lincoln become an incredible sleeper. He literally went from being a non-sleeper (I do not use this term lightly) to sleeping 10-12 hours a night and napping successfully during the day. He started sleeping through the night at about 5-6 months, and is now 2.5 years old and has been an amazing sleeper ever since. Here is what changed for us, and what we believe helped (and helps) him sleep successfully:
- White Noise. Lincoln was notorious for falling asleep and then waking up within 10-20 minutes. Until he was 4.5 months old, 20-30 minutes was truly the longest bout of sleep we were able to get from him, day or night. We didn’t use white noise from the start, but when we did begin to use it we had one of those stuffed animals with the white noise built in that would automatically turn off after 15-20 minutes. Coincidently, that is when Lincoln would often wake up. We decided to try using white noise that would play for the duration of the night. Guess what? He slept. Two years later, he still sleeps with white noise all night, and when we want to wake him up, we just turn the white noise down/off, and he stirs and wakes. Is it a sleep crutch? Maybe, but when your baby doesn’t sleep for five months straight you can talk to me about sleep crutches! If your little one struggles to fall asleep and stay asleep, give it a try! We have this white noise machine and love it.
- Tight Swaddle. When Lincoln was little he would break out of his swaddle no matter what we did. The velcro-type swaddles that you frequently see in the baby aisle didn’t work either; he broke free from those like it was no big deal. We finally found that there are swaddles specifically designed to replicate the womb and secure feisty babies like ours. Two that I recommend and that we use are the Woombie and the Ollie Swaddle. Obviously, Lincoln is no longer swaddled to sleep. But swaddling was so helpful when we first started to establish successful sleep habits and we will definitely swaddle this next little man from the start.
- A consistent bedtime/nap-time routine. Consistency is so, so important for little ones. Making bedtime a predictable situation allows them to relax. They know what to expect and with the right routine, they will quickly understand that it is a positive, happy time of day. Bedtime routines do not need to be excessive or take an hour, and everyone’s routine will look different, depending on your unique family and what works best for you. I shared our routine not too long ago here, if you’re interested in seeing what a consistent sleep-time routine looks like for Lincoln.
- A completely dark room. This doesn’t work for ALL kids, but for our little man, a completely dark room is absolutely imperative. Even if the slightest bit of light peeks through his curtains during nap or in the evening, he absolutely will not settle down. I spent so much time searching for black out curtains (none actually made the room completely dark) and eventually resorted to propping cardboard (and anything else I could find) up in his window, which only worked sometimes and looked like a terrible mess – from the inside and outside. I finally came across these Blackout EZ Window Covers and they CHANGED the sleep game for us. The Blackout EZ Window Cover fabric is made from thick vinyl that is 100% opaque, blocking out the sun in it’s entirety. It comes in several different color options for aesthetic purposes, and attaches to the window frame using heavy-duty velcro. It’s SO easy to install and use these window coverings, I put them up in Lincoln’s room by myself (while pregnant) with a two year old ‘helper’ – which goes to show JUST how easy it is! It’s quick and simple to take them on and off, which is important to me so that Lincoln can have all sorts of beautiful natural light in his room when it’s not time for sleep but we can quickly and easily establish a dark space for him at nap/bed time. These window coverings have been crucial in creating a successful sleep environment for Lincoln. If you have a reluctant sleeper or a child who struggles to fall asleep during daylight hours, I cannot recommend this product more highly! I’ve included some images below to show you how they work, but the steps are simple:1. Attach the velcro to the window frame as well as the window cover. You can see that the white velcro is nearly invisible on the window frame which is one of many reasons I love this product.2. Using the velcro, place the window covers in the window frame and run your finger along the velcro to help it grab tight.
3. When you want to remove them, simply pull the lightweight vinyl down, roll it up, and stow away until you’re ready to use it again!Whether or not you choose to try any of these tips, I sincerely hope that if you (as we were) are in the midst of a sleep crisis, you’re able to identify what will work for your family and take small steps toward creating a successful sleep environment for your child. I know all too well the struggles that stem from sleepless nights (and days) and an uncomfortable baby. It is so much more than a phase, and can negatively impact your life and the relationships you cherish. If you’re struggling, don’t give up! It will get better, and will someday feel like a distant memory in comparison to the joy (and peaceful sleep) you will share with your child.