Today, I’m linking up with my friends Julia from Lemon Stripes, Danielle from Danielle Moss, Liz from Hello Adams Family, Emily from Isn’t That Charming, Liz from Pure Joy Home, and Eva from Happily Eva After for our monthly series we call “Mom Talk.” ☺️ Last time, we talked about screen time. And this time, we’re obviously talking about sleep. Don’t forget to check their blogs to read about their experiences, strategies and perspectives! I admire these mothers so much.
Sleep. With any hope, we spend somewhere around a third of our lives doing it, but it’s something that can both relieve and cause stress. Research shows that sleep helps repair damaged DNA in neurons, thus restoring the body and mind to get you ready for the following day. But a lack of it is associated with cancer, cognitive decline and even early death. It’s no wonder why we’re all so focused on whether we’re getting enough of it; its effects–immediate and long-term–have a significant impact on our lives.
When I look back at my life, the only time I really got enough sleep was during true childhood, before middle school. After that, the demands of life took over and I sacrificed shuteye in order to get it all done. And I feel like most people can identify with this. Sure, everyone has that friend who’s always made sleep a priority, but the vast majority of us go through periods during which we’re just trying to get by… and then make up for the lost hours over the weekend. (Which doesn’t work. Loved this article that came out in Time this past week; it was a great reminder of the damage I do to my body by not prioritizing sleep.)
I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s not just parents who are deprived.
Sleep deprivation, on whatever level, affects so many, whether you’re in middle and high school and juggling classes and extra curriculars and college applications; in college and struggling through the demands of midterms or finals week; in your 20s and balancing your first job, a social life and a relationship; or in your 30s and trying to keep up with the demands of work, a house that always seems to be in disarray, and a child (with another on the way). Clearly pulling examples from my personal timeline here. 😜
Today, though, I’d love to chat a little bit about how we’ve handled Emma’s sleep schedule over these last two and a half years. Because while establishing one is obviously incredibly important for the baby or child, there’s also a direct correlation between it and the health and happiness of the entire family. If the kid isn’t sleeping, neither are you, and then life starts to fall apart. It’s as simple as that. ;)
It goes without saying that what has worked for us might not work for you, and that you also might not agree with the decisions we’ve made. I know I sound like a broken record, but in today’s world, I think it’s important to always step back and remind myself that we’re all different, kids included, and that I shouldn’t call into question my own parenting choices just because my friends or acquaintances (or random people from the internet 🙋) are using other strategies. The goal here is to get our kids to sleep through the night. And there are lots of ways to get there! That said, please tell me what’s worked for you! We have another baby on the way, and chances are this one will be different from the last. ;)
Before Emma arrived, the whole sleep thing was one of our biggest concerns. Frankly, we were freaked out about it. Something that calmed our nerves was reading The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, which was recommended to us by my brother-in-law. (Admittedly, it’s the only baby book we read, and we didn’t actually finish it. NO TIME. 😂). We followed Karp’s “Five S’s” method for baby sleep and soothing, and it worked pretty well. Of course, infants are fussy, and there’s no method that’ll work every time without fail. But it was good having this in our back pocket; we kind of always had another trick to try.
Daytime sleeping arrangement:
In the beginning, Emma slept all the time! While we tried to swaddle her and put her down for short naps in her crib, she mostly snoozed in a bouncy seat in the living room during the day because we wanted her to become accustomed to sleeping with noise. (City baby probs!) We opted for a very, very simple bouncy seat–I think it was $30?!–because we didn’t want her to become dependent on swinging or vibrating or whatever else, and it totally got the job done. (Ours is no longer available, but here are some basic ones.)
One thing that was very challenging was transitioning her if she fell asleep in our arms first, which she’d do almost every time I fed her. We just tried our best to keep her awake while she was in our arms, and then put her in the bouncy chair when it was clear that she was becoming sleepy.
Nighttime sleeping arrangement:
For the first three months, Emma slept in a pack ‘n play next to our bed in our master bedroom. We did this because the nursery and master bedroom are on two different floors in our home, and I could neither handle being so far from her (what if the baby monitor failed?!) or fall back asleep myself after nursing her various times throughout the night. (I suppose going up and down the stairs so many times woke me up too much.)
For us, having her at an arm’s length worked really well. While I sometimes fed her in a chair in our master, I usually did it in bed, and Mitch served as my “spotter” just in case I fell asleep. (It somehow never happened, but better safe than sorry!). In terms of products we used, we swaddled her with a very simple swaddle blanket as recommended by Karp. She slept for much longer stretches this way. That said, the minute she kicked her way out of it, she woke up. I don’t think we knew that better swaddling options existed, but for Baby #2, we’re definitely going to invest in ones that are more like straight jackets, haha. Any suggestions?! We also used a basic white noise machine, which lulled everyone to sleep. Also, these pacifiers. (Just for Emma. 😉)
How pumping helped:
Every night was different. Sometimes, Emma would sleep for multiple hours in a row, and we all woke up feeling like humans. Other times, though, she was seemingly up all night. They don’t call these months the “Fourth Trimester” for nothing; it’s hard being so tiny! For tough nights, we relied on pumped breastmilk so that Mitch and I could switch on and off with feeding her. (In the chair, to be safe.) That was a lifesaver. I personally hated pumping because I felt like when I did it, the only thing I was doing all day was either pumping or nursing. But it really saved me from going crazy a few nights a week. I don’t think I could have made it through without being able to pass Emma off to Mitch every once in a while!
3 months – 1 year
Once Emma was three months, we transitioned her to sleeping in her crib at night. I’d say that this was more challenging for me than it was for her; again, I struggled with being on separate floors. But slowly, over time (and with the purchase of a couple of backup baby monitors), I became more comfortable with it. ;)
When Emma hit 12 pounds, we immediately put her into the the Baby Merlin Magic Sleepsuit, which came highly recommended by our friends Emily and Doug. GAME-CHANGER. Without a doubt, this is our absolute favorite baby product of all time, as it had such a huge impact on both Emma and us. The first night we put her in it, she slept for nine hours straight. Not exaggerating! Of course, we didn’t sleep at all that night, because we kept running into the nursery to check on her. 😂 But she was totally fine! Simply developing good sleeping habits and patterns.
Because we were all well-rested, Mitch and I actually enjoyed infancy, and I credit the Magic Sleepsuit for that. (Note: we took Emma out of the Sleepsuit the minute she learned how to roll over in it. There was a transition period then, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought as the sleeping habits and patterns were already instilled in her. Again, can’t recommend it more!)
The gut bomb:
I know I’m opening myself up to criticism right now, but another game-changer was giving Emma a bottle of formula right before we put her down for the night. Emma was a big baby, and she unfortunately wasn’t getting all the calories she needed from my breastmilk. Giving her formula before bed came recommended by both my mom (a NICU nurse) and our pediatrician. They said it would essentially fill her belly and allow her sleep through the night… thus establishing those good sleeping habits and patterns. The “Gut Bomb,” as we called it, worked SO well for us, and I’m really glad I was able to move past my guilt and embrace it. While Emma slept for way longer when we gave it to her, she also gained a lot of weight and hit her milestones as a result.
The white noise machine was moved into her bedroom because our house is on an alley, and there’s a fair amount of traffic and beeping throughout the night and during the early morning. To this day, she still sleeps with it! It’s fantastic. And only $20. :)
Actual bed time:
While lots of parents opt to put their babies down between 6 and 8 p.m., we chose to put Emma down on the later side, around 10 p.m. So we all went to bed together and therefore Mitch and I got enough sleep. Our pediatrician actually floated this idea by us first, explaining that earlier bedtimes really don’t need to be enforced unless both parents and the baby need to be out the door early in the morning. She said it’s not necessarily important when the baby sleeps; it’s just important that the baby is getting enough. Because I was at home, this worked really well for us… though if I had been working a more traditional job, we would have enforced a 7 p.m. bedtime.
Cry-it-out method + naps:
Around this time, we started to implement scheduled naps. I’ll be honest: it was really tough at first to transition her from sleeping whenever to actual set times. In the beginning, Emma received three naps per day, and as she got older, she moved down to two. (One morning and one late afternoon.) We used the cry-it-out method, where you let the baby cry for 15 minutes at a time, in the hope that he or she self-soothes and falls asleep. HEART-BREAKING. All I wanted to do was run into the nursery and comfort her. And there were a few occasions when her cries actually brought me to tears. But I’m so glad that we stuck with it. After several weeks, Emma grew accustomed to her new nap schedule. Also, she was such a happier baby throughout the day because of it. The sleepsuit and pacifier were helpful here.
Toddler Sleep Routine
When Emma became a toddler, everything changed. And one of the most significant changes was the amount of sleep she needed during the day. Over time, it became apparent that she no longer required two naps, and we slowly moved from two to one. (We just went back and forth every other day until she got used to it. Two naps on Monday and then one on Tuesday, for example.) I know, I know. If you’re a new parent, this sounds awful. How could you possibly get by on one nap per day?! But the one nap, at least for us, was a lot longer… and it provided us with more flexibility. Before, we were kind of like prisoners in our home because of the nap schedule. But once we went to one, there was SO much more time to get out and about! Pretty wonderful. :)
Actual bed time:
Because Emma started going to a peewee program, her bedtime was shifted to a more normal one: sometime between 7:30 an 8:30 p.m., so she’s able to get 12 hours before leaving in the morning. We transitioned her over the course of a few weeks, slowly moving the time back, and it worked well. These days, Emma usually hits the hay around 8:30 p.m. and wakes up around 7 or 7:30 a.m. so she’s regularly clocking between 10.5 and 11 hours.
This routine is essential. When we adhere to it every day, Emma happily goes off to bed and falls asleep on her own. When we don’t, we’re lookin’ at meltdowns and rough nights. We’ve learned, over time, that it’s just all all about consistency! We’re not perfect. But this is what we aim for every night:
- 6:30/7 p.m.: Dinner
- 7:30 p.m.: Bath, put PJs on and brush teeth
- 8:00 p.m.: Story time
- 8:30 p.m.: Lights out
If you’ve been following along with the Larkin Family for a while now, you know that Mitch and I lead less-than-traditional lives. We both work from home, which is awesome. But it is difficult to get everything done since we don’t go into offices every day. Currently, we work for four hours in the morning while Emma’s at peewee, two hours in the afternoon while she naps, and then two hours at night after she goes to bed. It’s just barely enough, as the time is disjointed and therefore productivity sometimes suffers. Still, we’re making it work!
At the moment, we aim for a midnight bedtime so we can accomplish chores and spend a little quality time together. Also, we get up around 7, right before Emma wakes up. I obviously wish we were getting eight or nine hours of sleep, but for the time being, it’s just not possible during the workweek. Also, I’m honestly really thankful for the seven. (So many parents get by on less!)
Baby #2 and looking for advice
With Baby #2 on the way, I’ll be honest and say that I’m once again a little freaked out by the whole sleep thing. Honestly, with one baby, it was tough but manageable. With two, though, I kind of can’t imagine how we’ll be able to get enough sleep while caring for children, maintaining the household and fulfilling our work obligations. We’re planning on using the same strategies we used with Emma, but as it is, we’re lucky if we get those seven hours. I’m just trying to remind myself that we will, in fact, survive… and that with Emma, at least, things dramatically improved around three months. If you have any tips or advice on not dying from sleep deprivation during the early months with baby #2, though, I’d LOVE to hear. Calm me down, guys. 😂 Many thanks!
The rest of us
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it’s not just parents who are struggling to get enough sleep. Regardless of whether you have children, life is BUSY, and there’s always a “reason” to stay up in favor of turning in. While I’d obviously love to hear from other parents about how they handle sleep for the whole family, I’d also love to hear from non-parents. How many hours do you usually get? What impacts that number? Have you found any strategies that help you get the rest you need? Parent or not, we can all learn from each other!