There is almost nothing more frustrating and disheartening than when a baby won’t sleep in the middle of the night! It’s exhausting to not know how to get the sleep you need, whether you have a newborn, a 10 week old baby or a 10 month old. Read on for some serious tips on how to get more baby sleep, tested on all 10 of my kids!
I’m pretty sure the person who coined the phrase “sleeps like a baby” never, in fact, had a baby. Every parent knows that these little cherubic stinkers are notorious for their naughty nocturnal habits. Have you ever blearily wondered why in the world your baby won’t go to sleep at night? I mean, I LOVE sleep…how come they can’t figure it out??
All the sleep tips and tricks out there could fill a book – in fact they have filled several. If you’ve done any googling at all, you might be familiar with the names of some methods of sleep training like “cry it out”, “gentle sleep training” or the Ferber method. As you can probably tell from the title of this article, I’m a big fan of a gentle, no-cry sleep training method. Healthy sleep habits are crucial for kids of all ages, but especially for young children and new parents!
If you’ve just had your first child, or it’s been a while since you’ve had a child sleep through the night, I highly recommend “The No-Cry Sleep Solution” by Elizabeth Pantley. I bought it when my twins were 8 months old and still waking up at all hours and it saved my life. Or the twins’ lives. OK, probably all three of our lives. After reading it, the twins were sleeping through the night in a matter of weeks.
If, however, you think you’re a fairly proficient parent who simply needs a refresher course on getting a baby to rest soundly, then read on! I’ve compiled some of my favorite tried and tested tips for getting that sanity back.
A word of warning: it does take a bit of work to sleep train, and it’s important to realize that sometimes things get slightly worse before they get better. But a little inconvenience up front is a small price to pay for a full night’s sleep, I promise!!
1 – Babies need sleep! Lots and lots of it. It’s a good idea to remember: sleep begets sleep, which essentially means that babies who miss naps, don’t usually sleep well at night. Want a better night sleeper? The first step is to help baby fall asleep more during the day. By about 3 months of age, young infants should be on a loose sort of schedule and should be taking 2 or 3 longs naps during the day, plus about 10-12 hours at night). Keep this schedule in mind: Sleep-eat-play, sleep-eat-play…
2 – Babies will stay asleep the way they fall asleep. That means, unless you want your baby to nap attached to your breast for 3 hours, you might not want to nurse them to sleep. The exception is newborns…they’ll pretty much sleep whenever, wherever and will have lots of night feeds. But you’ll want to teach your baby these new skills to put himself to sleep as soon as possible. It takes practice and persistence but it’s worth it!
Side note, it is normal and healthy for a new baby to be night feeding. Many babies will continue this waking up at night to eat indefinitely but I have always tried to train my babies to sleep through the night at around 8 weeks. A good rule of thumb is that once they have doubled their birth weight (for healthy, full-term infants), they are large enough to go 6-ish hours at night without feeding. Keep in mind, they will generally do this naturally once they develop good sleep habits and can soothe themselves to sleep.
And while it’s not necessary to sleep train (I had a couple of babies that I really enjoyed waking up to cuddle with at night!), if you’re reading this post, chances are good that you’re feeling it’s the only way you’ll regain your sanity.
3 – Teach your baby to fall asleep on her own with specific sleep associations: You can do this by nursing, rocking or otherwise comforting your baby until she is ALMOST, but not quite, asleep. Then put her down and let her fall asleep on her own. If she fusses, pat, rub &/or sing to her so she knows she’s OK, but without picking her up. If she freaks out, go ahead and pick her and start this step over again.
For older babies who are in the habit of falling asleep in your arms, they will not learn to soothe themselves to sleep the first time. It might take a few rounds and a few more sleepless nights until they figure it out- but it WILL happen!
If you try this several times and she’s still not falling asleep, go ahead and put her to sleep the usual way (by nursing or whatever) and try again on the next nap. Overtired babies do not train well.
4 – Letting baby cry for an excessive amount of time is not okay. Please do not listen to any person who tells you that your baby needs to scream it out for an hour. That’s not healthy for anyone. But a little bit of crying will not harm your baby, I promise. And by a “little”, I mean 5 minutes or less. You can almost always tell by the sound of their crying if they’re in pre-sleep fussiness or if they’re in genuine distress and need their mom or dad.
I have had 2 babies now who literally cannot fall asleep unless they cry for a minute or two. It drove me crazy until I realized that they just needed to have the last word and then they zonked. Marilyn was one of them and she’d fuss or cry for about 2 minutes before every nap, then be out like a light!
5 – Create a consistent bedtime routine: change baby’s diaper, make sure he’s warm but not too hot and swaddle him in a muslin or light knit blanket (or a sleep sack). Pacifiers can help comfort a baby who’s used to sucking himself to sleep.
My favorite trick is this: nurse until baby’s almost asleep, slide him off the breast and immediately insert a pacifier (or baby’s thumb, if you prefer). I also have white noise machines in every child’s room. They are a lifesaver! (This one is my very favorite)
6 – Once baby is putting him or herself to sleep regularly, try to adopt this pattern: baby wakes, gets fed, has awake time (or play time for older babies), then back to bed. Younger babies generally take 2 or 3 naps a day, then once they hit 1 year, they usually go down to 1 nap per day. If you’re lucky, your toddler will keep napping until about 3 years old!
Bear in mind that sleep regression is a real thing that can have you banging your head against the wall down the road. You might have a great sleeper who all of a sudden changes his sleep routine out of nowhere! Some reasons for a child’s sleep problems could be that they’re teething, they’re sick, they’re experiencing separation anxiety during the day (a new daycare or school routine), or any number of issues. Just stay calm, be patient and rule out any underlying problems and you should see improvement soon.
Good luck to all you overtired, exhausted but good, good moms (and dads) out there. Here’s to a good night’s sleep!