In the early weeks after bringing my son home one of the things that drove me crazy was the suggestion to start “reading baby’s cues” in order to get him to sleep. Seriously, what freaking “cues” were those people talking about?! I simultaneously felt like I couldn’t imagine life without him and also totally and completely clueless as to who he was and how the heck to “read” him. Quite frankly, at the time I felt like “reading my baby’s sleep cues” to get him to sleep well was the least helpful advice I received. Even less helpful than the suggestion I got 3 weeks post-partum to get more sleep because I “looked tired” – that’s right random lady at the grocery store, I’m talking about you.
Anyway, I digress.
Cut yourself some slack
One of the biggest things is, honestly, just cutting yourself some slack. I know a lot of parents want to force their kids to be on a schedule that works for them. And frankly, that does actually work for some children, but not many. Your baby will likely give you some indication of when they need to sleep and if you can learn to read those sleep cues, you’ll find that he or she will sleep better, but also putting them to sleep will be a MUCH calmer experience. How does that relate to cutting yourself some slack? Well, it takes time to get to know your baby and to learn what it is that they’re trying to tell you.
Get Comfortable “Reading Baby’s Sleep Cues” Wrong at First
One of the reasons it takes time is because there is a lot of trial and error when first learning what your baby’s sleep cues are, and that can be stressful. For example, I ultimately learned that Little Man needed to nap an hour and a half to two hours after waking up.
How did I learn that? Well, I wait until he was yawning or fussing to put him down and he would scream and cry. At first I thought I was doing something wrong, but I gradually began to learn that if he was yawning or fussing he was already overdue for that nap. For me, the trick was recording when he woke up as well as when he started fussing/yawning.
Learn Your Baby’s Patterns
Once I could see a pattern (and learned that the fussing and yawning were cue’s that he was already overtired), I was able to start using that pattern to my advantage. I started putting him down earlier (before the fussing and yawning) and worked toward getting to the point where I found the sweet spot – putting him down while he was calm and showing NO signs of sleepiness, but not so early that he was fussy about being put down too early. Like I said, there’s a lot of trial and error. But there is a method for learning your baby’s sleep cues. I just wish someone had told me that instead of acting like I would just “know” because I birthed the little guy.
How Long Do Babies Normally Stay Awake?
Well, this goes back to learning your baby! Each little person is different, but I would suggest preparing yourself for very short “awake” windows when you’re looking out for your kiddos sleep cues. At least at first. This could be as little as every half hour. So don’t be surprised by that.