Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Why My Kids Sleep

When I hear parents talking about their difficulties
in getting their babies & children to go to sleep, stay asleep,
or having their child wake up at the crack of dawn, I can't help but cringe.

I feel, being a parent is difficult enough as it is, but the thought of screaming fits every night as bedtime approaches or waking up super early to a crying child makes ME want to cry.

For me, life has enough stressors.
Sleeping should NOT be one.

But to answer a question I have been asked a time or two,
why do my kids sleep?
It's very simple. 
They sleep for the very same reason that they say please and thank you. The same reason why they do not hit people,
throw things in my house, or jump on furniture.
The same reason they don't run in the house,
say nasty things to people, or throw their food at the dinner table.  We taught them.

A concept I feel many parents overlook in regards to being such an important tool for any child to learn.
A healthy independence if you will.
Something they will have to do the rest of their lives.
Like brushing their teeth or getting dressed.
As a parent, it is your job to teach them these things.
It always puzzles me why parents don't take teaching their children healthy sleep habits more seriously.
To me, it’s one of the most important things you can teach your child!

Steve and I have tried to teach our three girls (and are always in the process of teaching) them correct way to behave, in our opinion, politely, kindly, and lovingly. This goes the same for teaching your child how to sleep.

I always say that your baby comes out of your belly knowing
NOTHING.  So it’s your job as a parent is to teach them how  want them to behave.
If you WANT them to get up at 3:00 am and come in your room and sleep in your bed with you, then bring them in to your bed.  I, however, did not want this.
I wanted the stress free nights of having my girls each go to sleep in their own cozy beds so they could get enough sleep and be healthy.

If you want your children to get up 20 times every night, that’s fine and totally up to you. No judgment.
If you want to get up at 4:00 am to a crying baby, that’s your choice. Again, no judgment.
I, however, wanted none of the above.
So I made it happen.
I'm the parent.
I'm in charge.
And I definitely not claiming to be an expert, by any means.
But I am a Mommy and know what’s best for my children and my sanity.  

When it came to getting my babies to sleep, from the minute I had my first little girl Mia, it all came very easily to me. 
So I want to share with you, a few tips I have learned in the past six years.
I feel that if I can have three sleeping beauties, anyone can!

First of all, I feel I taught my girls that sleep was something everyone does & it's FUN!  From day one, (like first day in the hospital!) sleeping was part of our everyday routine.
Something they anticipated every day for nap and
every night at bedtime.
Something positive.
No drama.

This is just what I created for our home.
I can literally count on one hand the nights I have had any issues with any of my girls not wanting to go to sleep in the past six years.  One hand. 
And almost all of those were when they weren't feeling well or when our Elf on a Shelf was visiting from the North Pole and freaked them out a bit.

I can also count on one hand how many times any of my three girls have gotten up in the middle of the night. Once again, it's mostly been when they weren't feeling well.

And although I am so proud of my mommy accomplishments as it’s made for such a joyous journey, I’m not here to brag.
I am simply here to share a few tips on what I did to make it happen, after several requests from family and friends, in hopes to help even just one other mommy.  I will walk you through our routine from day one.  If you have any questions, please feel free to leave me a comment below.  I’m happy to help in any way!


1. Pacifiers.
I can’t even begin to stress these magical creations.  I care for 6-7 other children in my home during the day and the difference in the sleeping success of babies  with no pacifier to the babies that suck away is night and day.
Babies have a natural instinct to suck.  I compare it to when you have an itch.  You then have the natural urge to scratch it.  Well, imagine the annoyance if you couldn’t scratch it. 
Let 'em suck is my favorite phrase.   Babies that use these time-tested baby soothers cut the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, by 90 percent. 90 percent! That is reason enough to let ‘em suck, in my opinion!

2. Start from day one.
The minute you get home from the hospital, set up their sleep space.  Never put your baby there to just chill or play.  It is only for sleeping.  We put all three of our girls in our bedroom for 12 weeks in a the bassinet of a pack and play.  On their 3 month birthday they permanently moved into their crib in their own rooms.  A simple routine like this makes everything run smoothly.  Have a plan and a goal.  It helps in every aspect.  The more calm and collected you are, the more calm and happy your baby is. 

3.  Swaddle.
Babies come out of your small belly where they felt all cozy and snuggled up.  Such an abrupt change in scenery can be a bit overwhelming to some babies.  Snuggle them up in a swaddler every time for naps and nighttime.  It will trigger a signal that it’s time to sleep.  Remember, it’s a learned process and this helps with the greater picture in my opinion.

Gracie, three days old here with Mia, all swaddled up.

4.  Sound machine.
I lovey, love, love the Sleep Sheep.  If you don’t have it, get it.  Having your baby fall asleep to the sound of rain or the ocean is fantastic.  Plus, I see it as another “signal” that accompanies sleep time.  They will soon learn to incorporate the swaddle and sound machine as triggers that it is sleep time.  It’s all about routine.

Bigger Babies…

5. Do not feed your baby in the middle of the night.
Now, obviously this does not apply to newborns! They NEED the nutrition to grow for the first two months.  But, in my opinion, after around 8 weeks, they do not need to eat in the middle of the night to survive and nourish.   If you teach them that when they cry then get up and get to eat with mom, guess what they will do every night?  Cry for mom.  Boo.
Remember the big picture when it gets tough.  You are teaching them the way you want them to behave.  If you want them go cry at 3 am for food every night, then keep feeding them.  I did not.  I wanted to teach them that we, in this Haus of Girls, sleep until, at least, 7 am.  Harsh, I know.  But guess what? This is just what all three of my girls did.  Around 5/6 weeks, all three of my babies slept through the night.  I did a final midnight feeding usually, because I am a night owl, and they learned to sleep until 6/7 am every morning.  I frequently see a lot of moms putting their children to bed too early, in my opinion.  You can’t expect a child to even be ready for bed at 6:30 pm, much less sleep all the way until 7 am the next morning.   That is most likely too long of a stretch for most young babies.    

6.  Have a sleep and feeding schedule.
This, in my opinions, is so important.  Your baby needs to sleep and eat a certain amount each day.  One day is twenty four hours.  So try to set up a schedule when they will eat and sleep within the twenty four hours.  Don’t just fly by the seat of your pants and randomly lay them down or feed them just because they are crying.  I see so many moms that do this.  No judgment, but if you shove a bottle or boob in their face every time they cry, aren’t you teaching them that if they cry then get food? Yes you are!  Only feed them when they are hungry.  Otherwise they will never get truly full and just snack every hour.  Awful.  Set a goal like every 4 hours.  This was always my time allowance.  So I would know that they would eat when they woke up in the morning around 6/7.  Then again between 10/11.  Then between 2/3.  Then between 6/7.  And then one final time before bed at around 11.  If you can stick to a schedule like this, it makes your day so much more manageable and organized.  At least it did for me!  That way they were definitely hungry when it was time to eat.  They would eat a lot each meal and get full.  Full equals satisfied.  Satisfied equals happy.  Happy baby equals a happy mommy.

 Gracie was the happiest baby in town.


And as they get older…

7.  Stick to your guns.. routine rules.
As your babies get bigger and grow into a more opinionated wanna be rule breaking toddlers, stick to your guns. 
Bedtime is bedtime.  There is no talking their way out of it.  There is no crying their way out of it.  If you give in once, they learn super fast that it worked and will continue to try over and over.  This is no fun for anyone.  It makes my head hurt just thinking about it.  If they scream and cry when you put them to bed, they will stop.  However, if you get them out when they cry, they will not stop.  You have only reinforced their crying power!  After your bedtime routine of bath, brushing teeth and reading a story, it’s time to get into bed.  No ifs, ands, or buts about it.  Ever!  Don’t let them wander around the house and fall asleep where they want to.  This is chaos for their brains. They will learn, as you are clearly teaching them, that getting in their own special bed, is not an option.  Just like it’s not an option whether or not they have to put clothes on to go to school.  They learn the ways of the world, even though they might not always like them, and realize they must abide. 

8. Once you are in bed, you stay there until morning.
This is a fan favorite.  I have used this since the girls transferred into big girl beds.  Once we get into bed, we must never get up, except if we have to go potty.  But since we always go potty right before getting into bed, this should never really occur.  Do not every allow them to get up and wander.  This does not enforce the rules of bedtime and structure needed to have a smooth sailing night.  I have three girls so the thought of putting them all to bed and then having the three of them get up as they please to roam the house, looking for snacks, or playing with their dolls really stresses me out.  It will never happen.

Sophie, at 22 months, loved having a friend to sleep with.

9.  Never ever allow them to get up and get in your bed to sleep. 
I know some parents are into co-sleeping, and that’s fine.  Steve and I, however, are not into that.  We are into everyone sleeps in their own special space called a bed.  I wanted my girls to learn, from day one, that there are boundaries.  I don’t barge in and sleep in their bed whenever I want to, therefore, they should not come into our room and bed whenever they want to.  I don’t take their special new toys and start playing with them without asking, so they should not do the same with our things.  It’s about respect and acknowledging that other people, besides themselves, have feelings that matter.  After dedicating our whole life to caring and loving for our children and allowing them to enjoy anywhere they want in our home, I feel that there has to be ONE space that is just for  Mommy and Daddy.  Our bed is that place.  Plus, once you allow them sleep with you, they will come to rely on you in order to fall asleep.  I believe in teaching children to fall asleep on their own.  Such an important tool! 

10.  Find a system that works best for you!
Most importantly, every family should figure out a plan of what will work best for them.  No two families are alike.   But realize that babies learn everything from you.   If you want them to sleep in or sleep longer, you really must teach them these things by not feeding them every time they cry or getting them up super early in the morning if it’s not time to get up.  Rules and structure give children a higher self esteem and confidence by allowing them to feel comfortable having a sense of what to expect next!


Have a happy sleep-filled Thursday! 


Jennifer said...

Thanks for sharing this! I don't have kids yet, but I sure did print this out for the future! :)

Four Fit Sisters said...

Baby Whisperer...or sleep whisperer. You are a rock star mom. Your advice worked wonders on my kids too. I was so lucky to have you :)
What I really want to shout to some people are "who are the parents???"
YOU make the rules, and the kids follow them.
Nice work momma!!!

Jessi Gianino said...

I could not agree more! I've got a sleeping baby right now...and I can totally relate to so much of what you just said. He has always been such a good night, and naptime, too. I do feel pretty lucky, but after reading this, I'm thinking maybe it is me that's doing something right;) Thanks for sharing!

ragamuffinbeauties said...

I have two kiddos, nine and eleven and I still LOVED this post. I totally feel like your first couple of paragraphs can totally apply to parenting in general. I am not a perfect far, but I have always felt like being firm with my expectations always proved successful and will help my littles become successful adults. Keep bring the wisdom, so needed, so helpful! Great post!!

Katie said...

Wow. I don't have kids yet either, but this totally makes so much sense. If and/or when I have kids, I am so using this! Too bad every parent can't see these helpful hints!

Wendy said...

Wonderfully said! I did the same with my first and plan on doing it with our second. I like to sleep too!

April said...

Hi Marta,

Love your blog! And love this post!
I am not a mommy yet either but have bookmarked this post :)

Just curious on what your nap schedules were like for your girls? How long/ how often etc.?

Mariah said...

I have learned the hard way, that you are correct. But now what? How do I fix it? I've got two little boys that end up in my bed every night. Two boys who can't fall asleep on their own. Help???

Mariah said...

... and yes, what do your nap schedules look like? and while we're at it - discipline? how do you handle it?
signed, desperate mom with no guidance

Mariah said...

... and yes, what do your nap schedules look like? and while we're at it - discipline? how do you handle it?
signed, desperate mom with no guidance

Bridget said...

I love your blog. One of the few I like to keep up with. My kids are killing me with the sleep thing. They are 2 & 5. We are ttc #3. I will be implementing your rules with my two and following to the letter for #3 (someday).

I have odd kids who did crazy stuff as babies and somewhere along the way I seemed to forget that I make the rules. Novel concept. I will be fixing that real quick.

penny lane designs said...

Just found your blog- and I LOVED this post. Thanks for sharing the great info!

Anonymous said...

Great post- great blog. My 14 month old daughter is also a great sleeper, but she would always wake up for a middle-of-the-night feeding. Around 10 months I figured out this was totally out of habit and slowly weened her off of it and now she sleeps 11 hours, no problem. There were many nights when she'd wake up and we'd just let her cry it out, though- is that what you all would do when your children would wake? Do you go in and comfort them then leave them to go to sleep on their own?

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.

Two Little Tots said...

I could not agree more with you. I have always said I have really good sleeper, because I taught them how to sleep. Now, I will not lie, we have had our fair share of getting out of bed from one little girl who I think is just a night owl, but then I stuck to my guns, adjusted a few things and got a sticker chart going again...and it has worked, no getting out of bed or talking to each other. I am 100% with you!

Lois said...

This is the best advise I have ever read. Have you ever thought of writing a book -- Momma Marta's guide to Raising Children"? It would be a best seller. You have such a wonderful family.

Candace said...

I wish someone would have given me this advice before our first little one was born! This is 100% what u believe now and just didn't know what I was doing in my sleep deprived state! Thank you for this!!


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