In the beginning, bedtime wasn't an issue. I thought I won the baby bedtime lottery because my newborn came home from the hospital and slept through the night. He was such a good sleeper that I actually had to set my alarm to wake him up for feedings. Once I was comfortable with his weight gain and nutritional needs, I stopped our scheduled late night feedings and let him sleep through the night. I felt like the luckiest mom in the world. I often felt guilty when other new moms would complain about their baby's sleep habits--and then, it happened...my perfect sleeper turned into a tiny terror.
I'll admit that it's partially my fault...but I'm not taking all of the blame. The week my son turned 9-months old he came down with a terrible virus. It was our scariest night as new parents. He went to bed that evening with a mild fever. He was also teething at the time, so a low-grade fever wasn't alarming to us. By midnight, he woke up screaming with a 104 degree fever. My husband and I immediately gave him infant Tylenol and rushed him to the ER.
He was quickly admitted, administered more fever reducing medication and an IV. He received several pokes and pricks, chest x-rays and a urinary catheterization. Although the medical staff was wonderful and did an amazing job helping our baby get better, it was a traumatizing experience for our whole family. Once we returned home, we didn't want to let the little guy out of our sight and moved him into our bed to sleep the rest of the night. He obviously loved sleeping with us and decided he was going to do everything in his power to keep his new sleeping arrangements...and I was a total sucker. I'm embarrassed to admit that this lasted for two weeks. I quickly realized that all of the 'baby boss' jokes are no joke. My baby was officially the bedtime boss. He was dictating what time we all went to bed and where he slept. Some nights he would stay up until midnight. How did our bedtime routine turn terribly wrong so fast?!
Our bedtime situation began to make me extremely anxious. My husband was about to leave for a month for work and I knew if I didn't get bedtime under control I was going to lose my mind. Our family doesn't live nearby and I work full-time. The evenings are always my time to prep for our next morning and have a little 'me time.' I believe all moms need alone time in the evenings to recharge and keep their sanity.
The Sunday night before my husband left town, I started my own bedtime boot camp. Do you really think I was going to let him miss out on this fun? I decided to set a bedtime, developed a routine and actually let my baby cry. It wasn't an easy process at first, but our son responded in a positive way, I regained control of my evenings and my son is sleeping better than ever. I understand that every baby is different and my method might now work for everyone...but if it helps just one mom, it's worth sharing.
Here is how I became the Baby Bedtime Boss:
Disclaimer: I am not a sleep expert or a medical professional. I'm just a mom who desperately wanted her time in the evenings back.
Make the Commitment
Once I decided to start our sleep training process, I was committed. I cleared my schedule in the evenings for a week and set a bedtime that worked for our baby and family. My son’s bedtime is 8p.m.
Develop a Routine
Once I developed a routine, my baby understood that going to sleep was just part of the routine. I create a relaxing environment for him. I usually give him a bath, feed him a bottle and end our evenings with a bedtime story.
Put on your big girl pants and repeat after me, "I am the Boss." I knew my baby was healthy and only crying for me because he knew I was a sucker always giving into his bossy ways.
Let Them Cry
Trust your instincts. If you know your baby is healthy and only crying because they are not getting their way, let them cry. I never thought I would be the mom to let my child 'cry it out.' I quickly learned my baby gives up quicker than I do. I don't like to admit he's a quitter, but as soon as he figured out that he wouldn't get his way by crying, he quickly learned how to put himself to sleep.
It only took one week for my baby to adjust to his new bedtime routine and become a great sleeper. The first night, he cried for 20 minutes. The next couple of nights, he cried less than five minutes. By night seven, he stopped crying when I put him in his crib and was asleep within five minutes.
I didn't buy a book and I didn't hire a sleep consultant. I just toughened up and trusted my mom instincts...and it worked! I'm not saying it was easy. It was very hard to let my baby cry and not console him...but overall, it was a positive experience for both of us. Not only did our evenings get better, my baby's overall behavior improved.
I learned throughout this process that I was being an enabler. My son was tired and needed his rest...but why would he want to go to sleep if he knew he could stay up with mom and dad. My baby definitely had FOMO (fear of missing out). Once we established a consistent bedtime routine, we all felt better. My baby wakes up happier because he is getting the sleep he needs and I am happier because I now have time for myself in the evenings and am getting the sleep I need too. It's a win for everyone.