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Baby Sleep Tips (What Worked for Us For the First 3 Months)

I haven’t talked a lot about Finley’s sleep on Instagram. With Miles, I shared A LOT, from the good to the bad. I just haven’t shared quite as frequently with Finley and this is mainly because of time. Anytime I share anything baby sleep-related I get SO MANY DMs. It’s hard to keep up and I want to be able to answer the questions thoughtfully and helpfully. So, I’ve strayed from sharing a lot because I knew I didn’t want to until I could share something more in-depth to answer all your questions.

Now, first things first. Let’s be clear. I am NOT a baby sleep expert. I’m not even a pro or even an amateur. I’ve gone through baby sleep with Miles (see my post on our experience with him from 0-12 months of baby sleep, what worked, and what didn’t.) And, now I’m in the midst of it with Finley. That is the extent of my knowledge.

But, I know most of you ask questions about my babies’ sleep not because you think I’m a baby sleep expert (clearly), but because you are curious. You’re fellow moms trying to navigate mom life and hearing what other moms do is sometimes more helpful and comforting than always relying just on professionals. Baby sleep pros are amazing (I use them and strongly recommend them and will talk about that more to come), but sometimes it’s nice to just hear what someone else is doing when they are in the thick of it. And, to see a real-life example.

So, let this post act like that. It’s going to be a real-life account of the first 3 months of sleep with Finley. I’ll share what we did, what worked, what didn’t, and the resources we used. Again, check out Miles’ sleep post for 12 weeks to 12 months, for what I did to officially “sleep train,” as I’ll likely take a somewhat similar approach with Finley.

Finley’s Sleep The First Two Weeks

Let’s start this post at the beginning: in the hospital the FIRST night with Finley. I remember very specifically noticing that Finley did not sleep well in her bassinet and worrying that we might have some sleepless nights ahead. Miles, in contrast, had slept in his bassinet with no complaints from day one. I often had to wake him to feed his first weeks of life. Finley wanted NOTHING to do with being put down at night. She only would sleep if you were holding her. And so the first (and only) night we spent in the hospital, Michael and I took turns sleeping for 1 hour and then holding her for 1 hour.

The next few days, finally at home, looked exactly the same. By the 4th or 5th day we had a little routine down where Michael would hold her from about 9pm-1am so I could get 3-4 hours of solid sleep. Then I took over from 1am on so Michael could sleep. Typically from about 1am-4am I’d attempt bassinet sleeping. I tried endlessly to place her in the bassinet, but she was always awake within 15-20 minutes. A few times she slept for 60 minutes because I laid next to the bassinet with my hand on her chest.

It’s safe to say by about a week in we were exhausted. I’ll be honest, I’ve never felt the level of exhaustion I felt the first 2 weeks Finley was here. I often was running on 3 or fewer hours of sleep for an entire day while caring for a newborn and toddler (and mind you we had NO help during this time due to the pandemic). I knew we needed to figure something out.

I reached out to Kate from @bumble.baby and rewatched the newborn sleep class from Taking Cara Babies that we used with Miles (both resources I highly recommend). Kate gave me some amazing advice, giving me some pointers to adjust her daytime to help with nights.

Swapping Nights and Days

During the day, Finley seemed to sleep much better, often snoozing for 2 hours or more in her Dock a Tot and waking only to eat then falling immediately back asleep. Kate suggested capping all naps at 2 hours and trying to push her to 30-45 minute wake windows. It was hard at first. Finley did NOT want to be awake for 45 minutes during the day. But we pushed through, focused on good sunlight and daytime wake windows. And, after 4-5 days, and around the time she turned 3 weeks, I started to notice a shift. She was finally sleeping 2-3 hour stretches in the bassinet (OMG YAY!) And, she would willingly stay awake a little longer during the day.

So, let me explain why this worked. As humans, we have something called Circadian rhythms, which is the cycle of physical, mental, and behavioral changes that our body goes through in a 24-hour period. It’s like our master internal clock. It’s why we tire at night. Babies have this circadian rhythm and Finley’s was just backward. There’s no night and day in the womb so her nights and days were reversed when she was born. She had naturally long stretches of sleep, they were just happening during the day. So, I had to help reset her circadian rhythm to get her night aligned with night and day aligned with the day.

How we reset her Circadian rhythm:

  • Capped naps at 2 hours. No daytime sleep should last longer than 2 hours to help prevent them from being too awake at night. Cara, in the Taking Cara Babies class, has a rule that if your child takes 2 or more naps a day to cap them at 2 hours or less.
  • Feed every 2-3 hours. This makes sure their bellies are getting full during the day so they can achieve longer stretches at night.
  • Watched wake windows. The key is having enough wake time during the day so they understand daytime is for being awake and they are tired for bedtime. But, it’s also a balancing act of not letting them be awake TOO long. When our bodies become overtired we produce cortisol to help keep us awake. Babies + cortisol = fuzzy, cranky babies that can’t sleep.
    So, for the first 4 weeks wake windows were around 30-45 minutes and we aimed to keep her awake that long (walked her around, changed her diaper, did a bath, sang, whatever would wake her up.) After she turned a month we started looking for 60-90 minute wake windows (Finley did 60-minute wake windows mostly until about 2 months then started doing a few 90-minute ones). You can find ideal wake windows for your baby’s age by Googling them.
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So, doing the things above have really helped a lot with Finley’s night sleep. She currently sleeps 7-10 hours (8 is her average) at night. Wakes to eat, and goes back down for 3-4 more hours. To give you an idea of how that progressed, around 4 weeks she was going about 2-3 hour stretches. At 6 weeks we started getting some 4 hours stretches, maybe a 5 hours stretch once or twice. Then right around 8 weeks, she started doing 7 hours more consistently and since then between 7-10 is normal for her. I know this will likely hit some hiccups when we go through a sleep regression, but we have a good foundation to build on.

And keep in mind, this is just a snapshot of where she is at 3 months. We’ll go through other sleep struggles as she gets older.

Daytime Sleep and Napping

Lastly, I want to touch on naps for Finley. Developmentally, they say babies develop their night sleep before day sleep. This means when night sleeping starts to get consistent, naps can still be a hot mess. This has been very true for both my babies. Finley’s naps are pretty unpredictable. Sometimes 30 minutes, sometimes 2 hours. In general, she typically naps 45-50 minutes (which is a normal sleep cycle) and then wakes. This can feel frustrating and make planning life very hard (extra hard if you’re an over-planner like me.) But just remember it’s temporary. Stay consistent and eventually daytime naps get a little more predictable as they start to connect sleep cycles more frequently.

With Finley, I just follow a very consistent approach of watching wake windows, swaddling and using white noise, and putting her in her crib for a nap. Sometimes it’s a long nap, sometimes it’s short. I remind myself this is totally normal, and don’t let myself stress over it because it would just leave me feeling totally defeated.

I also am all about offering her support to get back to sleep for naps at this age. While I always offer independent crib naps, if it’s not working, I’m not worried about sleep crutches at this age. So, if she needs to be rocked back down, needs her pacifier, or even needs to be held or worn in her carrier for a nap or two a day, that works great, too. In general, if she wakes from a nap under 60 minutes, I’ll try to rock her or give her a pacifier to see if she goes back down. If her morning nap(s) weren’t good, I may offer a contact nap (a nap where I hold her) in the afternoon when Miles is napping, to ensure she gets one good nap that day.

Your FAQs About Baby Sleep

What swaddles do you recommend?

Find all my newborn must-haves here. But, my two go-to swaddles for newborns have been the same with both babies and that’s the Happiest Baby Sleepea and the SwaddleMe swaddles. I really love both these swaddles for their ease and effectiveness. I’d say the Sleepea is my favorite and the one we tend to use 99% of the time.

I have found with Finley I prefer to use the Super Swaddle method to swaddle her (Google it). She doesn’t love things tight across her chest/belly if she’s gassy, and this allows me to swaddle her arms down, without having to make the swaddle too snug across the belly. I can do this “super swaddle” method easily with both these swaddles.

Click here for all my best baby sleep products.

Tips for getting them to sleep in their crib?!

Just keep trying. I find consistency is the answer to most things. I just continued to try crib naps over and over and over. Sometimes they sucked, eventually, she started to get the hang of it. Don’t expect it to happen right away just keep offering. Don’t get frustrated, it’s not abnormal for them not to like it at first. Just keep with it.

Do you think baby-led is better or a set schedule?

I find baby-led works best for me in this newborn phase. I can’t remember exactly when we went to more of a schedule with Miles, but I don’t think it was until we dropped to about 3 naps, so at around 5-6 months. Like I’ve said, developmentally their naps are just pretty inconsistent at this age. And I think trying to follow some set schedule would give me way too much anxiety when she didn’t take a long nap or woke early or had a longer or shorter wake window, etc. I find it easier to just follow my basic rules (no naps longer than 2 hours, no longer than 3 hours between eating, watching wake windows, and looking for her sleepy cues) to be best at this stage.

Tips for longer naps?

So definitely the basics work for me: super dark room (these are my favorite product for room darkening), using white noise (nice and loud), and swaddling. These things definitely help.

But, again, at this age, I’m not against using a crutch to get in a longer nap. I do not do it at every nap, but I don’t find doing it at this age to be detrimental in the long run. I will baby wear for the last nap of the day very often since it’s the hardest for her. Often I’ll hold her in the rocking chair during her afternoon nap (while Miles naps) if her morning naps weren’t good. In my opinion, these things are just helping her getting longer periods of day sleep right now. As she gets older, I can wean them out more.

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Tips for staying calm when she gets over tired?

OMG this is a good one. I literally JUST walked down the stairs from this exact situation. When Finley gets overtired she gets SOOOO upset. If Miles was a level 5 upset when he got tired as a newborn, Finley goes to level 25. My best tricks right now:

  • Breath. A crying/fussy baby can be so stressful so I try to stay as neutral as possible.
  • White noise, make it loud, it needs to be louder than her crying (I lower it some once she settles)
  • Swaddle her (she might fuss about it at first, but it helps in the long run)
  • Make it dark, again here’s my favorite product for room darkening
  • Use a pacifier
  • Put in my headphones and put some Lizzo on Pandora (I know this sounds ridiculous but it is THE BEST HACK ever. Upbeat music is the best beat to rock a baby. Plus, it’ll help amp you up if you’re feeling stressed. I pretty much put Finley to sleep this way every night, works like a charm.)
  • If all else fails, I’ll nurse her. I personally don’t want nursing to sleep to be a habit for either of us, but I also know it’s totally normal for nursing to calm a baby and make them sleepy. During breastfeeding, oxytocin is released and helps relax them. So, if she’s really upset or worked up, I’m never against using it to help her settle down.

Have you ever co-slept?

We haven’t. I’m not one to pass any judgment on what families choose. I know people personally who co-slept and it worked for them. Parenting is hard and sleep is crucial. When Finley had those first few hard weeks I definitely considered putting the Dock-a-Tot in our bed for many nights to get a few extra moments of sleep. But, Michael and I both agreed we wanted to follow the recommended rules for safe sleep, so we just worked together taking turns holding her awake, and powered through. We agreed to wake the other one if we got too tired, and made it a team effort.

Tips for early waking?

We struggled with early wakings with Miles. (I personally say anything earlier than 6:30 is an early wakeup). Miles went through a phase where he woke at 5am and nothing (nothing nothing nothing) made him go back to sleep. This was around 8 months. I tried every trick in the book. I tried adjusting bedtime, I tried adjusting nap schedules, we tried wake-to-sleep. I had a one-on-one call with a sleep coach. WE TRIED IT ALL. After about 3 months of trying everything, I finally just accepted he was an early waker. I just got myself to bed early and stopped trying to fight the early wake-up and it was honestly easier. He was getting plenty of sleep in a 24 hour period and I was done fighting something I couldn’t change about him. We had a lot of early mornings together.

Eventually, he started sleeping a little later. I’d say around 12 months he woke closer to 6am. Then after going through a brief 18-month sleep regression, he settled into a 6:30-7:30 normal wake-up time.

Do you rock to sleep, or put down drowsy?

I do both. I try to put Finley down not totally awake for at least 1 nap a day. And often at bedtime, I try to put her down slightly awake. Sometimes it works fine, sometimes she wakes right back up. For me, it’s just about trying it and offering it. If she’s super overtired and fussy, I usually know she won’t go down and will rock her to sleep. But, if we hit a good wake window and she’s nice and drowsy, I usually try it. Again, if it doesn’t work I don’t stress. I’ll go back in, offer a pacifier, maybe rock her a bit longer.

When do you transition to the crib?

So, currently Finley takes all her naps in her crib and her night sleep is in the Snoo next to us in our room.

At 4 months I plan to move the Snoo into her room, and I’ll probably keep her in the Snoo for a month or so at night. Miles went through a bad 4-month sleep regression, so I’ll wait and see how she does there. If all looks good around 5 to 6 months I’ll transition her to the crib full-time.

Do you do formal sleep training?

We did a “gentle” sleep training with Miles, read about it here. Time will tell if we need or decide to do it with Finley. Miles turned out to be a great sleeper (he sleeps all night and takes a 2-3 hour nap every day), and I’m happy with and comfortable with the method we chose for him. We invested time and resources into his sleep and I believe it’s paid off for all of us.

Tips for ditching the swaddle?

We’re going to have to ditch it for naps fairly soon (with the Snoo you don’t need to transition right when they roll since it’s clipped in, and like I said we’ll stick with Snoo until 5-6 months). But since I’m not using the Snoo for naps, we’ll start with transitioning for naps. With Miles, we used the Merlin Magic Sleep Suit and it worked great, read about his transition from swaddle journey here.