Whether you are expecting a baby or are purchasing for a new family, there are many (too many) choices when it comes to sleep. According to the Safe Sleep guidelines, the safest way for your baby to sleep is on his/her back in a safe sleep environment that is firm and free of extra items: no pillows, comforters, quilts or bumper pads. Now that we’ve had 2 kids, difficult sleep journeys aside, I wanted to share the items that worked best for our family:
Infant Sleep Necessities
- Bassinet – Although not necessary, we found it easier to have baby in our room from the start, allowing for easy access to breastfeed throughout the night. We found it more comforting to have baby close, and studies have shown it to be beneficial to baby as well. We used the bassinet that came with our Uppababy Vista, making it a great all-around purchase that we still use 4 years later!
- Bassinet Sheet – These were hard to find, but make it easier to keep the bassinet clean – babies spit up a lot!
- Rocking Bassinet Stand – We used the Jolly Jumper stand and had it rigged up to a belt to rock more easily without the parent having to sit up. Our boys were both rough sleepers, but it helped in the very early days.
- White Noise – I’d call this absolutely essential, although we didn’t believe it at first. You can buy white noise machines; we used an iPad playing a waterfall track from iTunes in the early days, or an iPhone if we were on the go. In the first few weeks, the sound alone sent Damien to sleep. Now that he’s older, we still play white noise on an old iPod Speaker Dock to minimize the number of times his older brother disrupts his sleep.
- Miracle Blanket – The recommendations on swaddling vs not swaddling keep changing. For our two boys, it was essential, but not long lasting. We tried regular blankets of many sorts and several specialty items. The longest one to last was the Miracle Blanket, since it was the hardest to “escape” from. Our boys both rolled early and were very mobile at night, so we stopped swaddling each before 6 weeks old.
Baby Sleep and Beyond Necessities
Our kids moved to their own rooms at 4 months, for Aiden, and 2 months, for Damien. I wish we had made the move earlier for Aiden, who struggled a great deal with the distractions of our room. For both of our boys, we have found the ideal set-up to be:
- Convertible Crib / Bedroom Set – We made the unconventional decision to buy convertible cribs for both boys, instead of using a crib for both. Our logic is that we are buying not just baby furniture, but furniture for their whole lives. Ideally, you would buy a whole set: crib (with conversion kit to make it a toddler bed and/or double bed), dresser, bookshelf, side table. By buying all items early, we ensured the items will never go out of stock. Tip: when buying a whole set, envision the style that would be appropriate for a teenager, not just an infant!
- Crib Mattress – Choose a mattress that is firm and ideally water resistant, eliminating the need for a waterproof mattress protector. Who wants to do extra laundry? Not me!
- Sleep Sack – A wearable blanket in the appropriate weight and size for the season. Aiden wore these until he was almost 3, when he switched to a blanket. You never have to worry about tucking in with one of these! Tip: choose one with a hidden zipper at the front or side. Avoid ones with snaps at the top, which come loose easily.
- Crib Sheet – Choose a sheet that fits snug and still has some softness to it. We have foundmany too loose. Our favourite crib sheet is from Skip Hop.
- Breathable Bumper – Although bumpers pose a suffocation / SIDS hazard for young babies, and a climbing hazard for older ones, babies have a habit of getting arms and legs stuck in the bars of their cribs! We solved this with a breathable bumper.
- Crib Rail – If your convertible crib doesn’t come with a safety rail for use in the toddler bed setting, a safety rail is essential. My 4-year-old still needs his (he rolls a lot) and we plan at least one more year in the toddler bed setting.
- Video Monitor – Although not essential, it is so helpful to see your baby to know if they are crying in their sleep (totally unaware) or if they maybe need your help. Plus, for older kids, you can spot when they’re not in bed! We personally use wireless cameras we connect to our phones, but if you’re not tech savvy, any baby video monitor should work.
- Toddler Bedding – For older kids, choosing bedding is not easy. Depending on how much your kid tosses and turns and the temperature of your room, you could choose a quilt or a comforter. Since top sheets cause an unnecessary amount of “can you tuck me in?” requests, we use a blanket only. We learned the hard way to ensure that the blanket is larger than the bed area, so it doesn’t come off too easily. We now use a thick quilt from Pottery Barn Kids that mimics a comforter, but without the need to wash a separate cover.
- Toddler Pillow – Pillows are very personal. The recommendation is to wait until age 2-3 before introducing a pillow, and then introducing one that is toddler-sized. Pillow cases can be hard to find (Pottery Barn Kids has them). Aiden at age 4 still doesn’t want a thicker pillow, as he still sometimes sleeps on his tummy.
- Blackout Curtains – You need to block out the light to get babies to sleep a decent night, and particularly for naps. Aiden has blackout curtains behind his nicer curtains, though Damien has a thicker curtain with blackout sewn into the lining (from Pottery Barn Kids).
Those lists seem exhaustive, but if you’ve been to any baby store, you’ll know that you are pitched far more that you don’t need. You don’t need teddy bears that play heartbeats or fancy night lights or mobiles (distracting) or toys for the crib. Bedrooms are for sleeping – keep it simple!
Motivated by the sleep talk I attended with Helen Sands, Justin and I began sleep training Zayden on Wednesday morning. We had two goals: 1) get rid of the soother and 2) put an end to super early morning wake ups. It’s been a challenging journey so far, but we are seeing amazing results after only a short time, so it has been well worth it.
Our plan looked like this:
- Bedtime at 7pm and wake-up at 6am.
- We would go cold turkey with the soother, something we had done before with his swaddle. Given our previous experience, we were a little apprehensive about the amount of sleep we might end up missing for the first few days, but Helen Sands had said that it was pretty much the only way to get rid of the soother for good.
- Our initial plan was to let him cry for 15 minutes before going in to pat and ssh him, but we discovered on day 1 that if we entered the room and refused to pick him up and give him a soother, he was just going to get more upset. This meant we had the difficult task of staying out of the room and letting him cry for as long as it took him to fall asleep (more on just how difficult that was later).
- We maintained our usual bedtime routine with a couple changes: eat dinner, bath time, brush teeth, put on pajamas, D-drops (this time rubbed on the inside of his cheek with a finger instead of given with his soother), story time (now while holding his blankie so he attaches to a lovey to replace the soother), lights off, rock for a brief time in the rocking chair with his blankie, placed into the crib awake while repeating our “sleep mantra”.
- We added a short nap time routine to his day, which is just the last four steps of his bedtime routine.
Day 1 began with a 5am wake up, but we didn’t go to him. Instead we stayed in our room and listened to him cry for 7 minutes before he fell back to sleep. He then woke up shortly after we did at 6 am. We felt buoyed by this early success, but soon discovered that naps were going to be much more difficult. He cried for 30 minutes straight before falling asleep for his morning nap. I didn’t try going in to comfort him because he began to cry intermittently before the 15 minute mark. But after all that crying, he only slept for 40 minutes–a huge change from his usual 1-1.5 hour naps when he had his soother. He fell asleep in the car on the way home from Gymboree, so the afternoon nap began more smoothly than the morning nap. Then he woke up only about 20 minutes after being transfered to his crib. I knew he needed at least an hour’s sleep to make up for the short morning nap, so I thought I would let him cry until he fell back asleep. I sat through an excruciating 45 minutes of crying, and a good 20 minutes of it was a full on raging cry that I could hardly bare to listen to. To make matters worse, he would get even more hysterical and angry if I went into the room to ssh and pat him, so I had to give up on that and just endure it, all while feeling helpless to comfort him. It was probably the longest afternoon of my life exacerbated by the fact that when he finally fell asleep again, he only slept for another 15 minutes. But we persevered and were rewarded at bedtime; he went to sleep after only 10 minutes of crying and slept through until 6am.
Day 2 began with a good night’s sleep for everyone in the house, so we felt committed to continuing. The morning nap was a little better: 13 minutes of crying followed by about 15 minutes of sleep followed by another 18 minutes of crying and then about 40 minutes of sleep. The afternoon nap improved dramatically. He only cried for 5 minutes when he was put down and slept for about 25 minutes before a brief 3 minute awakening and another 30 minutes of sleep. That night he cried for 15 minutes before going to sleep, had two brief awakening of less than 2 minutes each and both before 9pm. Then he slept through until 6:15am.
By Day 3, I was starting to feel pretty good about our decision to sleep train. We were getting more sleep, and Z didn’t seem to be missing the soother as much as I thought he would. Naps were more fractured than they had been with the soother, and he was definitely having a harder time settling down to sleep without it, but I had already seen major improvements in the amount of crying. But on Friday I faced a morning nap dilemma: our cleaning woman was going to be there during morning nap time. I worried what she would think if I just left him crying in his room if he woke up halfway through his nap, and I also worried that he wouldn’t be able to settle himself if he could hear her working in the other room. When he went to sleep after only 5 minutes of crying, I was hopeful he might sleep for a full nap, but he woke up after 30 minutes. At that point, I made the judgement call to let him get up rather than let him cry while there was another person in the house. The decision meant a very early afternoon nap. Zayden fell asleep quickly this time (after 3 minutes) and slept for over an hour. Normally this would be a successful nap, and I would have gone to him feeling like a major sleep training success. The only trouble was he woke up well before 3pm–the minimum wake up time if he’s going to make it to bedtime. I decided to see if he would settle back down; it took 15 minutes, but my gamble paid off. He slept for almost another 40 minutes. But that evening was when our hard work really paid off: he didn’t cry when I put him in the crib! He went to sleep without complaint. He stirred briefly at 5am, but otherwise slept through until his wake-up time.
His first nap today also went smoothly. Only a few little whines before falling asleep. I just hope the success of the last 24 hours continues.
I resisted the “cry it out” methods of sleep training for so long, instead preferring to let him figure things out when he was developmentally ready. For the most part, that approached worked with Zayden, and he was already a pretty decent sleeper when we began this process; we just had a few kinks to work out that didn’t seem to be going away on their own. I am glad we decided to do this now, but don’t really wish we had done it much sooner. Sleep training is like a lot of things in life, you need to wait until you’re ready.
One of the challenges of being a parent is determining your baby’s natural bedtime. Each baby is different and baby himself doesn’t really know when it’s best to go to bed either. Most sleep books hesitate to name a specific time range, though the health nurses here have stated a range from 6-8pm. This is very helpful.
So, how do you know when your baby is ready for bed? You can go on sleepy cues, but naps don’t always nicely line up with bedtime. This was a lesson we had to learn the hard way. Sometimes a too late nap can push bedtime too late, for example, but a new parent is unlikely to know this.
Really, it’s a matter of trial and error. Keep records. Start earlier, rather than later, just to be safe. Our mistake, earlier, was not co-ordinating bedtime with a bed-space. Essentially, we’d go upstairs to bed when we were ready, not when he was ready. We figured he could sleep anywhere. The best thing we could have done would have been to start his ‘night’ in his full night bed.
Originally, we had thought that Aiden wanted a 7:30 bedtime. We learned, through trial and error, that he was better at 6:30, though he wasn’t always making it that far. After sleep training, we figured out that 6:00 was – and continues to be – the best bedtime for Aiden.
If Aiden goes to bed 40 minutes on either side of this bedtime, we have issues. In both cases, he’ll be overtired – either from missing a nap or taking a nap too late, both affecting bedtime. Though in both cases, he’ll still go to sleep ok, he will always have at least one wake-up soon after and that wake up is often a difficult one. It can take one or many visits and nursing sessions to get him to sleep – and to stay asleep. He gets into a stage of over-tiredness where he’s unable to put himself to sleep and, if put to sleep, to stay asleep.
So, the sooner you can find – and stick to – your baby’s bedtime, the better off you’ll be! I hope this helps! You’ll still have unavoidable issues, such as our 2-hour-wake-up-issue tonight, but at least you’ll know why. ;)