Many mothers believe that once their child is born they will never, EVER, sleep again.
Newborns, of course, usually wake up every few hours to eat. That can't be helped. Older kids will have nightmares. Sickness inevitably strikes in the wee hours. Beyond that, adequate sleep is NOT just a distant fantasy for parents.
The first thing you have to do is take a good, hard look at your situation. It is very possible that the reason you aren't sleeping is you!
Are you insecure about your parenting abilities?
Do you feel you are neglecting your child if you are not with them every moment?
Do you think crying = mommy screwed up?
Do you believe that you are somehow making your child better by "sacrificing" your sleep for him?
If you said yes to any of those questions then you are mistaken.
Think about this: what is a parent's role? To prepare their children for adulthood. Sleep is good for kids. They grow when they are asleep. They are happier when they are well rested. (Ditto for you)They are developing habits that will last the rest of their lives.
So, mommy, suck it and sacrifice your feelings for the good of your child!
Here are my guidelines for a good sleeper ( I wouldn't really bother before they are 6 months old. Infants need lots of attention around the clock!)
1. Don't rush in every time they make a sound. Some people are of the opinion that if their child might be crying and they don't get immediate attention they will be scarred for life. Others will let their kids scream and cry for hours. In my opinion, both are wrong. It's okay to let your child cry for a few minutes. If it is in the middle of the night, they might not even be awake. Give them a little space to figure things out. Eventually, they will have to learn to take care of themselves (unless you are planning to let them live with you for the rest of your lives!)
2. Try new things. Children change as they grow and develop. They might develop a fear of the dark. Trying a nightlight could help. Maybe they need a bedtime snack. Maybe they are cold or hot at night. My kids seemed to need reassurance that I would be there when they woke up so "see you in the morning" has become part of our nightly routine. Each child is different, each circumstance is different. Experiment and see what works. Just remember the goal is sleep for everyone!
3. Don't reward night waking. It is so tempting to cuddle your baby, sing them lullabies, rock them to sleep, hold them in your arms and stare into their beautiful, angelic face. Do that stuff during the day. If your baby is getting lots attention from you at night they will keep waking up. Instead, keep the lights off, keep the cuddling to a minimum, don't sit on the couch and watch TV with them. Let them know sleep is the only option.
4. Remember who's in charge. That would be you. Parenting sometimes means doing the hard things for the right reasons. If your child is healthy, well-fed, clean, and loved, you are a great mom. Don't let them manipulate you into staying up all night playing and reading and hugging. You don't have to be mean. Just firm. Put them in bed and walk away. (It's okay if you go to your room and cry just don't let them know!)
5. You don't have to be mean to win. I am always shocked when I hear someone say "Oh, don't make them take a nap! That's so mean!" Seriously? No, I don't buy it. It is not mean to make them sleep. Kids need sleep. Parents need sleep. It isn't mean to want a basic human need. If you loose your temper because you are exhausted and you scream and cry and throw things then yeah, that's not good. But saying "Baby, it's time for bed. You need to go to sleep now. I will see you in the morning. Good Night" and then walking away, that's not mean.
6. Consistency is key. I used to think that meant never making exceptions, being ridged and immovable. But I have learned that consistency is much easier than that. In the case of sleeping, consistency simply means making sleep the priority. Maybe you give in sometimes. Maybe you let them stay up a little late once in while. It's okay. But if a good night's sleep is the goal you have to make that clear. You have to keep going back to it and keep doing what you need to do to get it.
7. Be a team. One of the best things my husband has done for me is be on my side in the sleep wars. He is often the voice of reason that says "Send them back to their own bed" when we have night time visitors. He reminds me of my ultimate goal and the consequences of giving in. Without him, I would be a sleep-deprived lunatic!
8. Don't fall for their excuses. As kids get a little older, they start trying to find ways to stay up. Don't fall for it. Make sure they go to the bathroom and get a drink before bed. When they need more tell them "Too bad! You can do that in the morning." They will keep trying and keep getting away with it if you let them.
It might take time. It will definitely take patience and determination. But it can be done!