07/20/2013 11:14 am ET Updated Sep 19, 2013

5 Essential Baby Sleep Tips


By Chaunie Brusie for

Last night, around 1:30 in the morning, I woke up to a full-fledged summer storm. I lay in my bed listening to the thunder clap and watched as the lightening flashed across my bedroom.

My awe at Mother Nature was short-lived, however, as the next clap of thunder was quickly followed by the screaming of my two preschool-aged daughters, so frightened by the storm that they had wet the bed, and then by the wailing of my infant son.

It was just a typical Tuesday night in my household.

If I'm being honest for a second, I have to tell you that one of the hardest parts of parenthood for me is the lack of sleep. I am like a zombie, albeit a well-functioning zombie, in the middle of the night. If I'm being even more honest, more often than not, the girls cry for my husband when they wake up, because they know Mama is just going to march them straight back to their beds.

After three kids and almost five straight years of exclusive breastfeeding, I know that preserving what sleep I can is important to my sanity. That's just the way it is. That is why I have dedicated much of my life to getting my babies to sleep -- and I've picked up a few tips along the way.

1. Go French.

When I was pregnant with my third child, I was determined to make like the French and employ their secret strategy for getting babies to sleep through the night. It basically boils down to always putting a baby to sleep semi-awake. The theory is that you teach the baby to put himself to sleep, thus making it easier for her to go back to sleep when he awakens at natural intervals during the night. I have never been able to make this one work, as I pretty much always nurse my babies to sleep, but I hear good things about it. The one piece that I did pick up from this secret, however, is to give your baby a few minutes before instantly picking him up when he awakens during the night. I was surprised a few times, even when my son was very little, to find he put himself back to sleep without me. Success!

2. Use a fan.

Every single one of my children sleeps with a fan. I am convinced that the white noise blocks out disturbances, sets a soothing environment, and that the mere act of turning on the fan "cues" my kids that it's time for sleep. Granted, creating kids who are completely dependent on fans to sleep does make traveling tricky, but I'll take my chances.

3. Realize it is temporary.

Ok, yes, I admit it that I am saying this on the other side of having babies. (My youngest is almost 11 months old and sleeps through the night.) But I can clearly recall the nights when I would stand by the baby's crib on the verge of tears, saying actual prayers that she would fall asleep. Every single one of my kids has gone through "sleepless spurts," where they sleep horribly, usually around 6 and 9 months, again at 18 months and 2, and then with potty training. I panicked with the first two, worried that I just had horrible sleepers on my hands and that I was spoiling them. Come to find out, those temporary sleep disruptions are usually completely normal and related to growth spurts, teething, the moon or a bad burrito. Don't panic too much about them.

4. Babies are all different.

The one thing that I have really learned about babies and sleeping is this -- yes, you can teach them to self-soothe a bit at night by doing all the "tricks" like letting them fuss a bit and letting them fall asleep on their own, but when it comes right down to it, the truth is, some babies are just better sleepers than others. I've had two great sleepers and one who was just god-awful -- and still is. Even my dad, who babysat my poor sleeper approximately one time, for 20 minutes in his entire life, looks back on her time as a baby as a traumatic, stressful experience. Which is it was. Unfortunately though, it's just who she is. To this day, she just needs less sleep than my other children. Fight it all you want, but sometimes, you do need to realize that kids' sleep patterns are all different.

5. Learn to swaddle.

Seriously, if you have a baby and you haven't at least tried a swaddle, you must do it -- and quickly. Swaddling has literally been a lifesaver for calming my babies and helping them go to sleep. Try this tutorial if you aren't exactly sure how to even begin swaddling and you can thank me later.

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Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN, is the author of the blog Find Chaunie on Twitter at @tinybluelines and on Facebook.