So today I'll start with some tips about babies that have worked well for me and many other moms I know (I've recently been talking with some friends with little babies so all this is sort of fresh in my mind right now). Then I'll do posts with my best ideas for other ages and stages when I get the chance.
Of course, these are just my ideas and my experiences. I'm not a doctor. I'm not an expert. I'm just a mom with 5 kids whose figured out a few things through trial and error and the help of family members and friends who've shared their experiences.
Getting kids to sleep through the night
Here's what worked for me (certainly different things are right in different situations but here's what worked for my parents and their 9 kids, for me and my 5 babies, and for pretty much all my siblings and their kids):
- The first few weeks, there's no real point in getting babies on any sort of schedule - their digestive systems are immature, they are getting use to their little bodies, etc. - but we can help them learn night from day by keeping lights very dim during nighttime feedings and keeping things mostly silent or whispered (while in the day, we've got the lights on during feedings and changings and we're talking in an animated way to the baby while changing and feeding).
- About two weeks in, we'd start making a point of feeding the baby every only every 2-3 hours. She's often act like she might be hungry within an hour of eating (as a baby, if you're awake, the only thing you can think of to do is to eat, right?). A lot of the time, a pacifier would satisfy the baby's need to suck (most babies want to suck most of the time they're awake - it's soothing and fun for them - but they don't need to eat most of the time they're awake!). Sometimes we'd walk around, holding the baby facing outwards with an arm across their tummy (seemed to soothe any little tummy problems they were having). Usually, with a pacifier, some walking around, some changes of position, etc., the baby could make it for at least 2 hours and usually three hours between feedings, often sleeping for the 2-3 hours between feedings. I found that if I fed the baby every time she seemed to want to suck or seemed fussy, I couldn't quite build up enough milk between feedings to give the baby a really satisfying feeding but that if I waited at least 2 hours, I had some more satisfying milk quality and quantity for the baby. Plus the baby was getting used to eating when she needed nourishment, not just eating because that's the only thing to do! By helping babies learn to eat just when they need food, they will be set up better for sleeping longer stretches at night.
- About two weeks in we'd also start keeping the baby awake for about an hour before we planned to go to bed (for us it was 11pm so from 9 or 10 on, we'd try to keep the little one awake). We'd walk with the baby, lay him on his back and "bicycle" his legs, talk to him, dance around with him, read to him. We'd do everything we could to get his little body and brain stimulated and then tired out. After this "active" period, we'd dim the lights, do a bath if it's been a couple nights (not necessary to bathe babies every night since they get a sort of half-bath every time they have a diaper change and too much bathing dries out their skin), do a diaper change and put on pj's (while taking softly to the baby), feed the baby, then swaddle the baby tightly and lay him down (still awake, but sleepy - it's important for them to learn to go to sleep on their own). Then we'd quickly get to bed ourselves!
- Usually our babies would sleep 4-5 hours after establishing this "active time" then "quiet bedtime" routine. Then they'd wake up and eat quickly (and while we kept lights off or dim and kept things very quiet then), then we'd burp the baby, do a diaper change (if there was some poo going on - otherwise I found it was best to not do a diaper change - that wakes them up so much and diapers are generally good at wicking moisture away from the skin unless they're really full), swaddle the baby, and lay him down (with a pacifier - my kids loved pacifiers and that really helped them to feel soothed when it wasn't time to eat). Sometimes the baby would fuss around a bit after laying him down. We'd pat him gently, say "SHHHHHHHH" quietly, then walk away, trying not to go back unless he seemed like he really couldn't soothe himself - in which case we'd do some more patting, some more "Shhhh-ing" and pop the pacifier back in his mouth. If there was more fussing, we'd pick the baby up and see if there was another burp in there. But through all this, we tried to give the baby the message that nighttime was for sleeping and that eating and changing and picking up would only happen when really necessary.
- By about 2 months, our babies were sleeping about 6 hours in a row, waking around 4am for a a quick feeding, then going right back to sleep until about 7am. Then in the mornings, they'd want to eat a bit more frequently - eating like at 9 and then at 11. Then they'd go to every 3-4 hours for the rest of the day.
- By about 3 or 4 months, our babies were sleeping mostly through the night - from like 11pm until about 6am. Sometimes they'd still wake up for a 3 or 4am feeding and sometimes they were sick or teething or had something going on that we couldn't determine and woke up every hour all night. But mostly, they could sleep through the night. They were getting the longer stretches of sleep they needed to really feel rested and I was getting the sleep I needed to be a good mom and feel like a real person!
Getting babies to take bottles
I think it's really important that babies accept a bottle for two reasons. First, it makes it so that the dad can be a bigger part of the newborn's life - eating is pretty much the world to babies and dads need to be part of that world at least sometimes. Second, most moms need to get a little time away from their baby from time to time, even if they don't need to go back to work or leave the house for solid obligations.
Once breastfeeding is established (about a week in for most babies), all my experience (personal and what I've heard from others) says that introducing a bottle is not a problem at all ("nipple confusion" seems to be a myth - never heard of a baby who wouldn't take the breast when they sometimes have a bottle - unless they never learned to take the breast properly in the first place). In fact, the earlier you introduce a bottle, the easier it will be for the baby to accept it. After weeks of eating in just one way, it would naturally sort of freak a baby out to have this rubber nipple put in her mouth, right?
When my babies were like 3 days old, my husband would give them their first bottle - just a tiny bit - just to get them used to eating from a bottle - not enough to interrupt their appetite for breast milk. They'd sort of push the nipple out of their mouths with their tongues at first, then if we'd shake or squeeze the bottle so they could taste a drop or two of milk on the nipple, they'd get the idea pretty quick. Sometimes it would take a few minutes. We found that we needed to do this when the baby was slightly hungry so he/she would want to suck - but not super hungry or they'd just get frustrated!
Then every evening (or every couple of evenings) they'd get a little feeding time from dad - some expressed breastmilk or a tiny bit of formula or even a little water (I liked them to learn to drink a bit of water so that if milk wasn't around, they'd accept a little warm water to tide them over - very handy when I was driving somewhere and the baby was fussy but we didn't have formula or breastmilk handy - a little warm water would soothe the baby for a few minutes until we could stop and do a proper feeding).
Feeding "solids" to Babies and Toddlers
You know those "squeezable" fruits and veggies you can buy in those little pouches to feed to your kids? You can feed your babies the same sort of stuff with the same convenience, same lack of mess, and less environmental impact and expense by doing this:
- get a baby bottle with a cross-cut nipple
- use sharp scissors to snip that "x" a little bigger
- put pureed food or rice or oatmeal cereal inside the bottle (applesauce, veggies or fruits you've cooked and blended in your blender, or a jar of babyfood)
- feed it to your baby or toddler
My mom taught me this trick explained above - she fed all nine of us this way when we were ready for solid foods. I asked my pediatrician about this method when I first had kids and he said it sounded great but that it could lead to overeating and to children not learning to eat from a spoon if we weren't careful. So we were careful. And we did spoon feeding as well as bottle-feeding (spoon-feeding when we had time to sit the baby in a highchair and have a nice little social eating time together, bottle feeding when they needed solid food but we were on the run). Worked like a charm. And I think my kids learned to eat more variety of foods at a younger age when they could receive it in a more familiar form - a bottle - rather than having to deal with learning to eat from a spoon WHILE learning to accept new flavors and textures.
The bottle feeding method is also great for helping babies accept new flavors. My mom would put something the baby already liked - like pureed pears or bananas in the bottle first, then some peas or squash or beans or something they may not totally love at first taste in next, then top off the bottle with more of the pears or bananas. This way, the baby would start sucking, taste the food he liked, then be so into eating that he didn't really notice or mind when he got to the peas or beans, then enjoy a little "dessert" of more pears or bananas at the end.
All nine of us are good eaters. We were never picky and would always eat pretty much anything placed in front of us. I think this method of feeding us solid foods as babies really helped!