The Fussy Baby Site

Baby Not Sleeping? Just Breathe. It Gets Better!

As a sleep coach and postpartum doula, I thought motherhood would be so much easier for me than for the average mom (pausing for your laughter…).

Every day, I supported parents through the transition of having a new baby, teaching them how to soothe their fussy babies.

I knew all there was to know about encouraging healthy sleep habits and had a solid plan to start sleep training my son at 4 months.

Enter my son, and my discovery: you don’t know what you don’t know.

He was a fussy baby.

I tried repeatedly to get him in the crib and to help him learn to fall asleep on his own. He simply wasn’t ready and I simply was too overwhelmed (and overtired!) to help him through the process.

To make a very long and exhausting story short, my son is now a consistently fantastic and independent sleeper. It was a long and winding road, but the moral is this:

No matter what you know, or expect, or however great your intentions, babies do not read the books! And sometimes they are not ready to learn new sleep habits. And sometimes you’re not ready either.

And that’s okay.

In the meantime, we must survive with a measure of sanity and try to keep our babies as rested as possible.

These 5 tips will help;


5 Fussy Baby Tips to Encourage Healthy Sleep Habits

1. Help set your baby’s internal clock to distinguish the difference between day and night.

Exposure to natural sunlight or bright interior lights in the morning and during the day is important, as is avoiding artificial light throughout the night. Turning on a bright light for night wakings interrupts the body’s natural production of melatonin, making it harder to return to sleep.

When you do respond to baby for night feedings or wakings, keep things quiet and mellow.

2. Fill up baby’s daytime “sleep tank.”

Sleep is important for everyone, but even more so for an already fussy baby.

The key is to prevent overtiredness at all costs. Don’t stress about getting him out of the swing, stroller, or car but use these items to your advantage until this fussy period subsides.

There will be plenty of time to change habits, but for now just make sure he gets enough sleep in whatever way works best.

If you wait too long to soothe him to sleep, he will get a second wind and be harder to settle and will pop awake faster. Aim to have baby asleep within 1-2 hours of waking and, if you miss that window, don’t beat yourself up! Just make a mental note and start earlier next time.

3. Throw out the notion that you must get her on a schedule.

There will be time for that too. For now, try to think more in terms of a pattern or flow to your day.

I’m a fan of The Baby Whisperer’s E.A.S.Y plan, a repeating cycle of Eat, Activity, Sleep, You time. It is a great way to add some semblance of structure to your day without the anxiety of a strict schedule.

4. Listen to your baby, and your instincts.

Your best friend says your baby shouldn’t eat until four hours have passed. Your mother in law says you are spoiling her by holding her all the time. An “expert” suggests you are waiting too long and doing everything wrong. Don’t listen!

You are the expert on your baby.

People usually mean well (and sometimes not) but they are not pacing the floors with you at 3 a.m. or bouncing on a birth ball just to get a few moments of peace between screaming.

Don’t ignore what feels right to you or drain what little emotional resources you have trying to follow someone’s advice.

5. As the fussiness subsides, try taking baby steps toward change.

Putting baby down even once a day while awake but drowsy will allow him to get a little practice at self-soothing. Rather than eliminating the swing, try turning it off after he falls asleep.

Gradual changes and drastic changes can bring the same results. The question is, “Which method is gentler on everyone?”

Every time I put my son in the crib wide awake, I remember the path we traveled to get there. He blows me a kiss and says “See you soon, sleep tight!”

You can get there too, but on your own path and in your own time.

In the meantime, all you can do is keep breathing, and a little snoring would be nice too.

Erica Desper is a postpartum doula and sleep consultant in the Philadelphia area. For over ten years she has been supporting families through the choices and challenges that come with parenting.

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