If you can master one skill as a dad, it should be getting your baby to go to sleep.
Nothing else will have your wife sing your praises like a warrior returning from the heat of battle. You'll put that baby down to sleep and walk away from the nursery like you just dropped the mic on fatherhood.
A dad who can regularly find ways to get a crying or fussy or vengeful* newborn baby to sleep is one who is going to skip a lot of frustration and anxiety and also not look like a hobo.
* At some point in the middle of the night, the phrase, "I know she's doing this on purpose!" will come out of your lips.
I have fought the battle of baby sleep and lost. I have lost so hard that I've fallen asleep standing up after 40 hours without seeing my bed. I have lost so hard that I have babbled nonsense in the middle of the night because I was so exhausted that when I did fall asleep and woke up five minutes later, I thought hours had passed and that I had lost the baby who was, in fact, in his bassinet. I have lost so hard that I've seen the sun come up and thought, well, if I can go to bed within the next hour, I can still get 30 minutes in. Hell, I have lost that battle in the past week, because some days, it's just not gonna happen.
Don't be like me. Learn from my mistakes. I want you to know what has worked best for me getting my kids to sleep so that you may know the warmth of your sheets and not the cold of a rocking chair at 3 in the morning.
I'm going to give you the tricks I've learned that seem to work more often than not - there is no bulletproof method, despite what you've been led to believe.
BUT FIRST, WE NEED TO COME TO AN UNDERSTANDING ABOUT NEWBORNS AND SLEEP.
Hey there, new dad. Or new mom who is reading this in hopes her husband will someday read it because you are so freaking tired.
We need to get something straight. Something that you don't see in articles about how to get your baby to sleep elsewhere on the Internet, maybe because they are afraid to say it or worried you won't trust their judgment if you say this one thing.
Here it is:
IF YOU ARE A PARENT OF A NEWBORN BABY, YOU ARE GOING TO BE EXHAUSTED.
Please take a second and nod with that statement, because it's a fact.
This does not mean being a new parent has to be awful - it isn't.
This does not mean being a new parent means you're going to be miserable - you'll have some bad moments, but for the most part you'll love it.
This doesn't mean you won't have nights that go great and you wake up in the morning and rush to the crib saying "Wait is the baby breathing? Why did he not wake up?"
It just means that for a month or four or 12, you are going to sleep a fraction of what you did pre-baby. Please stop assuming otherwise. Your baby is not going to be the exception who sleeps through the night after two weeks. Your baby is not a great sleeper. Nobody's baby is. Your friend who says their baby is a great sleeper is a damn liar.
The lack of sleep you're going to experience is going to lead you to frantic online searches for "baby sleep methods" and "Why won't my baby sleep?" You'll go to Babies 'r' Us in vain trying to find some miracle product that guarantees your baby will sleep. You're going to watch a lot of Netflix while you rock for hours.
Straight talk? It's really tough. Sometimes, my eyes have burned because I'm so tired. I've had to pull over a few times to take a five minute nap so I wouldn't fall asleep while driving. I've taken a few 5 Hour Energy drinks even though in general I think it's terrible for you - but better than falling asleep holding a baby (Seriously. Do everything you can not to do that, even though you will a few times. It's super dangerous!).
But here's the good news.
Despite what you may think, your baby will sleep through the night at some point. It will happen when it happens, and there can be little tricks to help it happen a little faster, but for the most part, you just have to wait. And when it does, it's going to be awesome. You are going to feel like 5 hours of sleep in a row is a night at a 5-star hotel on 2000 thread count sheets. You may start singing.
And you'll wonder how you ever got through it. But you did - and you will. For as much as it's certain that there's an extended period of sleeplessness when it comes to a newborn, it's also certain that at some point, it ends. After all, you weren't crying all night when you were 5 or 12 or 22 years old, were you?
But if you go into fatherhood thinking your kid is going to sleep through the night relatively quickly, you are setting yourself up to be very frustrated. Instead, go into it knowing you will do what you can to maximize the long stretches of sleep and minimize the bad nights.
HERE'S WHAT YOU DON'T WANT TO DO WHEN TRYING TO GET YOUR BABY TO SLEEP:
DON'T COMPARE YOUR BABY TO YOUR FRIEND'S BABY.
Your friend's baby is perfect. He fell asleep through the night at a month old. He takes 2 naps a day that last 3 hours each. He speaks French. That is not your baby. And also? I truly believe it all balances out. The baby that sleeps great now may be terrible at potty training down the road, or maybe eats a lot of glue or some shit. You need a long-term view. Just because your baby is 4 months old and hasn't slept doesn't mean the next four months will play out the same!
DON'T KEEP CHANGING BABY SLEEP METHODS.
If you want to try co-sleeping (and are being really safe about it), awesome. If you want to try the method where you let your baby fall this close to sleep and put them in their crib and then back away, awesome. If you want to let your baby cry it out, cool, although I gotta say that's my least favorite method (newborn babies can't calm themselves so you're asking them to do the impossible). But whatever you try, don't give up after one night or 5. Give it a couple weeks. Let a routine develop. If it doesn't work, try something else.
DON'T ASSUME YOU ARE GOING TO SLEEP SEVERAL HOURS IN A ROW FOR THE FIRST FEW MONTHS.
If it happens, that is really great! Go buy yourself some fro-yo, you earned it! But expecting it to happen means when it doesn't - and dude, it probably won't - you are going to be so frustrated! You are going to be mad at a situation that wasn't realistic to begin with. If you assume that you'll just get as much sleep as the night allows and that it won't always be like this, you won't snap when the baby wakes up 3 minutes after you put her down.
Without getting too scientific on you, newborn babies aren't designed to sleep through the night. They are, essentially, still supposed to be in the womb, which is why the first three months are sometimes called the fourth trimester. They want to be held, cuddled, swaddled, warm, secure - you know, like inside a belly. What they don't want is to be in a cold room by themselves in a strange crib for 8 hours in a row. Make sense?
My experience with newborn sleep
I've got a 2-year-old boy and twin newborn girls. As recently as the past week, I slept less than 20 minutes in a night. Some nights are fantastic. Some are a fun game where one twin wakes up and then the other twin wakes up as soon as the first twin goes to sleep and then that twin goes to bed and my toddler burst into the room needing water and then he goes to sleep and then the first twin is like wassup? and the second twin is like wait are we supposed to be up now? Cool.
When my son was a newborn, he was really colicy. Colic is this strange medical term for when the baby is super fussy and nobody really knows why. No joke. He would scream all night and was inconsolable some days. We tried all the methods, and nothing really did a great job of calming him down. And then one day? He calmed down. It took him the better part of a year, but he started sleeping in 4-6 hour chunks, maybe just needing rocked once in the night.
Our daughters were premature, so they spent more than a month in the NICU. Not great. Silver lining? We got to skip the first 6 weeks of newborn nights at home. Also, NICU babies in general are known for being a little bit better at sleeping because they get on a sleep schedule in the hospital and are also used to lots of lights and sounds. Still, it's not foolproof. Trust me, they've had many a long night.
Andy's Tips for Getting a Baby to Sleep
You don't think I'd write all that gloom and doom without some beacon of hope, do you? C'mon, dude. I've got your back.
There ARE some things I've found through much research - i.e., tried it on my kids like little lab experiments - that will improve your chances of getting your baby to sleep.
Baby Sleep Tip #1:
The 5 S's. Made popular by Happiest Baby on the Block, I've found that if I swaddle the shit out of my baby, shhh in their ear, hold them on their side (only while holding, not while in a crib), gentle swing them, and give them a pacifier to suck on, well, you can do miracles. Secret tip: The shhhing part can work wonders but you have to do it really loud. Don't be afraid; you won't hurt the baby. And guess what? This can help in the car, too! Sometimes, I'd sit in the back with my son while my wife drove and lean over to shh in his ear and keep him calm. Great dad stuff.
Baby Sleep Tip #2:
Rock n Play: I've found that having the baby sleep with their head elevated can help with gas and colic. But the problem is it is not safe to put anything under the crib mattress. What can you do? The Rock n Play is something most parents I know use all the time. It's great for naps and for things like putting the baby in a safe, portable spot when you take a shower. We've used it for our baby overnight. I'll be frank and say some pediatricians advise against this because of the risk the baby's head isn't in an ideal position for breathing. (As with anything regarding baby safety, you have to figure out what you are comfortable with. I think that compared to a baby that doesn't sleep all night - which means I'm more exhausted and might end up falling asleep holding them and increasing the risk of SIDS - it's a decent tradeoff and we make sure not to have loose blankets in there.)
Baby Sleep Tip #3:
Consistent Routine: Just like not switching up methods, you also don't want to switch up the nightly routine, even if that's a short-term inconvenience. If one night you try to put the baby down at 7 p.m. and the next night it's 9 p.m., and one time it's by rocking and the next night you are in a rush so you just swaddle her and put her down ... well, yeah, of COURSE that's not going to work. When I started consistently doing a bath time/rocking and reading routine with my son, he started doing much better at falling asleep in a reasonable timeframe. When that routine got disrupted by vacation or crazy schedules? Yeah, I'd become 4 a.m.'s bitch.
Want more sleep tips? I've created a special list just for you! Get the 5 'Oh My God It Actually Worked' Tips to Get Your Baby to Sleep. And let me know how they worked for you!