Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. They say to get as much sleep as you can before your baby comes...we all know that never works.
Sleep can make all the difference in my eyes between enjoying your baby and hating life. I don't function well on little sleep, well no one really does, so I do all that I can to make sure the boys sleep as much as possible. With Calvin I didn't get much sleep until he was around 7 months old but with Max it happened a lot earlier. I have read books and received much advice on how to best get your baby to sleep. Our method is based on what has worked for others and because of this sage advice, I am so thankful that our Max is a good sleeper.
Newborn - 3.5 months: For the first few weeks there was obviously no routine/schedule but I knew that sleep encouraged sleep so Max was free to sleep as frequently and for as long as he liked. We had the Fisher Price Rock N Play (we used this with Calvin too) and it has been a favorite baby product. Since both my boys had reflux it was great because it kept them upright and it also easily folds up and is lightweight to put into any room. For every nap we would do a diaper change, swaddle them tightly (not to the circulation cutting off point) using the SwaddleMe blankets, and then I would sing the Gloria Patri ("Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen, amen.") and rock them to sleep in my arms with the sound machine on (a sound machine adds soothing ocean waves that remind baby of sounds in the womb). This always seemed to work and I had no problem of transferring them down into their bed and/or Rock N' Play.
For bedtime we followed the same routine but we would begin it with a warm bath, every night. I know not every mom bathes their kid every night but with all the poop and spit up it is important to me to clean them up and it always gave them a cue for "It's almost bedtime!" I then did diaper, lotion, jammies, and would have the room dark with the sound machine on, and nurse them to sleep. My boys slept like this and in the Rock N' Play until they were able to roll over. Since 4-6AM babies are not in a deep REM sleep I would have Nick help me during this time and sometimes Max/Calvin would sleep on his chest. That was the only time they ever slept in bed with us.
3.5 months - 1 year: Once they were able to roll over we no longer swaddled them and did the cold turkey approach. Straight to a sleep sack (although I think for Calvin we swaddled him with one arm out for a night or two). This is also the point where we started to put them to sleep in the Pack N' Play crib next to our bed. Once they made the adjustment to being flat (it took about a week or less) we put them into their actual crib. With Calvin 2 years ago and now with Max we put the crib in our master closet and moved clothes and boxes around to make room for them. We leave the door wide open and have a fan in there. This has worked for us because they are close enough to hear if they are crying but far enough not to smell me and not to hear every little stir.
At this point we did the same sleep routine but instead of rocking them down we sang our song and always said "I love you baby, good night" before placing them in the crib. My boys never really cried in their crib once being put down and soothed themselves by sucking on their hands or small breathable Aden and Anais security blankies. If they did start to cry, I would check on them after about 5 minutes to make sure they didn't need a burp or have a poopy diaper and then would kiss them and put them back into their crib. This was repeated until they fell asleep and I rarely remember having to do it more than twice.
Bedtime was the same as when they were newborns and they always seemed to go right to sleep. This is the only time we would nurse to sleep. At around this same stage is when babies tend to be on more of a schedule and are highly predictable. We have two kids so thankfully Nick puts Calvin to bed and I obviously put Max down since he won't take a bottle. Our night time routine starts pretty early because with two kids things just take a lot longer. We eat dinner between 5-6 PM, Nick plays with the kids while I clean up, baths are at 6PM, and I nurse Max and have him in bed by 7PM. Max usually will sleep until 3/4AM and will nurse for ten minutes and then goes back down instantly and wakes for the day between 6:15/6:45AM.
I try to pay close attention to the different developmental stages babies go through so I keep pictures on my phone of sleep examples for each age group and how long babies can stay awake for at each stage. This is super helpful to me because every few weeks they are growing up and changing fast.
I will write soon on our bedtime struggles and successes with Calvin. He climbed out of his crib at only 1.5 years old so after months and months of getting him to stay in his bed, he finally now stays in his room for naps and bedtimes....for the most part! More to come on that so stay tuned.
Our routines might not work for everyone and that's okay. Do what works for your family. Nick and I really value our nights together so that's why we put the kids down "early." We like to have time together as a couple, and we also want to allow for those rare evenings out with friends or to make room for a quick date night. Before having the boys we would stay up for hours talking, watching TV, reading, jacuzzi time, appetizers/drinks, beer tasting, etc. so we try hard to make sure to stick with our little routine so that we can have our Nick and Gina time. We live with my mom and one of my sisters so we have in-house nannies/babysitters who love our kids and this allows us to go on date nights periodically. Family is the best!