Dare I say it? Alex has been sleeping through the night for almost a week now. We put her to sleep around 9 p.m., and she usually sleeps for 6-7 hours, at which point I wake up (usually with a mild panic attack because she hasn't made a peep for hours) to feed her. Even when I feed her, she is still sleeping! Then I put her back in her crib, and she sleeps until 7 a.m. It's awesome! Rich doesn't even have to get up for any of it--lucky guy!
I believe that a lot of it is just luck--you either get a good sleeper or you don't, but I also think we contribute to some of it. I have read (WAY TOO MANY) books on this baby sleep thing...The Baby Whisperer, Dr. Sears' Baby Book, Babywise, and The Happiest Baby on the Block. They all have slightly different ways of looking at it, but the few take-aways that I have gotten, and the things that we have tried are:
-A routine. Now I'm not talking a rigorous schedule of times that the baby must eat, sleep and live by, but some sort of structure to the day that helps her know what is coming. She eats first, then we play with her for a little while, and then when she starts to look sleepy, we get her to sleep. The thing that most of the books agree on is to avoid letting her fall asleep immediately after she eats, because then she will always need to eat in order to fall asleep (even though she may not be hungry, and then when she wakes up in the middle of the night, she won't be able to fall back asleep unless she is nursing). That has been the hardest part of it, because when she nurses, she starts to drift off immediately! But I keep trying to tickle her, sing to her, and otherwise annoy her so she stays awake during feedings. It seems to be working.
-Naps. It is so counter-intuitive, but the biggest take-away I have learned in the last month is that sleep promotes more sleep in babies. You would think that letting her nap a lot during the day would prevent her from sleeping at night, but it's not true. The caveat is that they are 'naps' and not long stretches of sleep. If I let her sleep for longer than a 2 hour stretch during the day, it will start to interrupt night-time sleep. And I try not to let her nap within 3 hours of bedtime, or that will interfere with night-time sleep too. The books say that when babies get "over-tired" they actually get so fussy and start to cry and wail and work themselves up so that they can't fall asleep. And the window between 'just a little sleepy' and 'overtired' is so fleeting! It's definitely true for Alex. After the 2nd yawn, I know that I better start trying to rock her and get her ready for naptime, or we are in for at least an hour of crying. But as long as I am reading her little patterns and responding in time, it has been working great!
I'm sure that she won't sleep well all the time, but we feel so lucky that she has been a good sleeper so far!