Having a new baby is hard. Very hard. There are the sleepless nights, the screams and cries you can't quite seem to calm, the constant nursing, the constant baby bouncing... Shall I go on? When you are deep in the trenches it's so hard to see the other side, but eventually the clouds do part and you come out the other side, relatively unscathed. One of my biggest pieces of advice to new mothers is that you need to let go of the idea that you are going to have any kind of control over the situation (i.e. your baby). This is hard for those type A's out there, like myself, but I swear, once you accept that you have very little control things will start to get so much better. This was particularly true for us with Madeline's sleep.
Sometime around 3 weeks old, we decided Madeline should be going to bed earlier than her normal 11pm bedtime. We were both exhausted, and we wanted some time to ourselves before going to bed. I read about lots of babies who were going to sleep for the night at 8pm, why wasn't our baby doing this?? We started trying to get her to sleep earlier, we tried to establish a bedtime routine of bath, reading, swaddle, nurse, bed. However, it went more like this: bath, reading over her screams, swaddle, nurse, scream, nurse, scream, scream scream, nurse, bounce, scream, nurse, bounce, bounce, unswaddle, watch some tv, nurse, bed at 11pm. It was so awful and stressful. My husband and I hardly ever fight and we were arguing non-stop. No matter what time we started this routine Madeline went to sleep for the night at 11pm. Finally we just said screw it. She will do what she wants, and the stress was just not worth it. We started doing the routine more like this: bath, reading (although she still screamed while we read, she just wasn't into sitting and not moving at this age), go downstairs and take turns bouncing her around, nursing her when she showed signs of hunger, and then, finally, around 10 or 10:30 we swaddled her and put her to bed.
This new routine has caused so much less stress. We are all much happier. My husband and I have both accepted that we have virtually no control over the sleep situation at this point. Over time Madeline's bed time has gotten earlier, at 3 months she's going to bed some time between 9:30-10, with the occasional night at 9:15, or the unfortunate occasional night at 10:30-10:45. I am convinced that she will slowly get down to that coveted 8pm bedtime, so for now we are just following her lead.
I am definitely not a baby sleep expert, and I am sure there are lots of people out there who think I am doing it wrong. Maybe they think my baby is spoiled because we let her decide our bedtime, whatever. I really don't care because it works for us. Anyway, this is all to say that I certainly would not want to give anyone advice about baby sleep. I don't know how to get a baby to sleep better, longer, earlier, whatever. I have no clue. We have been blessed with a relatively good sleeper. However, I regularly dispense the "go with the flow" advice, because I really do think that can work well for everyone. In my very limited experience, babies don't do what you want them to do, so why spend all of your time trying to make them?
Stay tuned for Part 2, dealing with an overtired baby!