The first three months of parenting our first child, we experienced major sleep drama. He was a colicky little guy and we were rethinking our ability to parent nearly every second of every night. Then, one night around his three month birthday, he switched his nightly tantrum button off. Just.like.that. The reminder we experienced once this three month period was over: sleep can and will coexist in this house with a baby.
Since then, we've had four additional babies. Either we're completely insane to you, or we figured out how to make each evening predictable, peaceful, and positive.
Here are some key points to our success with avoiding nighttime battles with so many little ones each night.
Aside from the colicky stages we experienced with both our oldest child and our fourth child, we made sure we established a predictable nighttime routine from the start.
I feed my babies on demand
I have never breastfed my babies on a schedule. Throughout the day, night, whenever, I offer my babies comfort and nourishment at first sign. This also encourages me to pick up on my babies cues from the beginning. Usually, within a few days after birth, I've established which noise or cry is hunger and which is discomfort. This is important because it develops the earliest trust between myself and the baby. I believe establishing trust first, encourages a good, independent sleeper later on. Notice I said, "later on".
We are strict on bedTIME
We have given all of our children early bedtimes. The MOST important reason why is so my husband and I can enjoy one another, sans children, before we get too tired to even care about enjoying each other. New babies and toddler aged children always go to bed between 7-7:30pm. We don't schedule things that bump into this time. If we're out, we almost 100% of the time make sure we are home with time to spare to complete the short nighttime routine and get the children in bed. If you're older than preschool age, which our boys are, we usually allow them an extra hour of awake time from the time we put our tiny ones down. They are always in bed before 9pm, but it's typically 8-8:30 when they get to bed.
We don't let the children sleep with us
Sometime between when our babies start sleeping all the way thru the night (which is around their first birthday) we stop bringing them back into our room to nurse and cuddle. We always respond to our children, no matter what. No matter what age. The key is we go to them. If (older) baby or toddler cries in the middle of the night, we go to them, assess their need, possibly pick them up and cuddle right next to the crib and if they are fine and just needed a hug or two with mommy or daddy, we gently put them back in bed. Same for bad dreams with the toddlers and olders. We go to them and comfort or pray, etc. But we've not made it an option to come and cuddle and stay in mommy and daddy's bed. (And, these "cry outs" are very few and far between.) Guess what? Our children don't come in and wake us up in the middle of the night, they don't hop in between us and settle in and wet the bed for us in the middle of the night, etc. We co-sleep and tend immediately to every new baby, but at a certain, older age, we make sure that the child knows that mommy and daddy will always quickly respond to them, but our bed is ours and your bed is yours and thats where we sleep and this is where you sleep.
We don't do cry it out
This one is a given considering the above information. I was told to do this with my oldest at nine months by my pediatrician and I ended up hating her for it. It was a horrible idea and wrecked me to the core. I know some swear by it, but I will never do it again. Never. And now, that's all I will say about it for fear of planting my feet on that proverbial soap box.
Jammies, brush teeth, books, prayer, bed
We follow a very strict and predictable sequence of events for our little ones. This is key too so that the child isn't caught off guard by the bedtime hour. We choose our jammies, we tagteam (if he's home in time) the teeth brushing, we read a book or two (depends on how tired we are at this point), we always pray holding hands, and say the same little song: "Mommy loves you, Daddy loves you, and Jesus loves you". This comes right before smothering each child with lots of hugs and kisses and a "see you in the morning, I love you". We always stand at the door and say "Happy Easter" to the little girls. You'll find a good explanation here. Our boys are almost 8 and 6 years old, so we've modified our routine with them over the years. It generally follows the same pattern as the girls, but with more independence on their part. We always pray with them after reading to them out of the Bible and a chapter book we're working on. We make rare exceptions for the boys bedtimes to be altered. Some examples are fireworks on July 4th, special fishing trips or camping trips, and maybe some other random event.
Because we've been so consistent, we don't have bedtime meltdowns, we don't have arguing from the boys, and we don't have children coming into our room. I can't imagine if that were the case seeing as how we now have five children to work bedtime around.
I hope you can take something from this post and hopefully make your nights more peaceful and conducive to the ultimate goal: sleep.