“How can I get my baby to sleep through the night?” is probably one of the most popular Google searches for new parents. You already know that everyone asks you about your baby’s sleep. Believe me, I’ve had those nights where I was close to selling my soul for a few hours of sleep. (I wrote about this in my articles on The Postpartum Period and The Challenges and Struggles of Motherhood). But, after trying everything, I finally found the secret to getting my baby to sleep through the night… planning, observing, and routine.
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A few disclaimers to start:
- This is not sleep training. There are many different methods of sleep training. All of these methods are geared towards getting your baby to fall asleep without your help. Sleep training is not advised until your baby is 4-6 months old. My trick for helping my baby sleep through the night is focused primarily on promoting sleep and honoring my baby’s wishes. I do comfort my son through this process.
- Make sure you get approval from your baby’s pediatrician first before you start allowing your baby to sleep for long periods of time. There is a period of time where you need to be waking your baby at night to feed. This is crucial for their development and should not be dismissed. Before you get the go-ahead for a full night’s sleep from your pediatrician, you can start this routine and do your normally scheduled night feedings along with it.
- It is biologically normal for babies to wake during the night, even multiple times. The fact that so many parents are concerned about their baby’s sleep should show you how common it really is! KellyMom says “Probably one of the main reasons that babies who don’t sleep through the night are such a big issue is that parents don’t have realistic expectations of the sleep patterns of babies.”. And ran a study on the percentage of babies that wake during the night:Baby’s age% babies waking at night3 months46%6 months39%9 months58%12 months55%
Graph and study from: KellyMom https://kellymom.com/parenting/nighttime/sleepstudies/
Late Night Wakings
With all of that being said, I am responsive to my child. If he decides he wants to be awake at any point during my nighttime process, I honor that (except for him being obviously overtired and fighting sleep). For me, it’s best to work around his schedule instead of fighting him to work into mine.
Babies don’t understand schedules in their first few months. And they can’t possibly know what we have planned. It saves me a ton of frustration and stress to just allow him to be awake a little bit longer and strike while the iron is… tired. You will inevitably get disappointed that they are staying awake when you want to sleep. But I just try to remind myself that he will probably go to sleep easier during my next attempt (at the next feeding in about an hour or so).
Now, let’s go over my secrets for getting a baby to sleep through the night!
Step One: Planning
I am a planner. My brain is constantly planning future events with the hopes they will run smoothly. As I mentioned above, you can’t always have a concrete plan with a baby so my plans are flexible. Let your baby set the time schedule for you. The planning that I do is truly just setting my baby up for a night of sleep.
I have heard of babies getting daytime/nighttime confusion. When this happens, babies will sleep all day and wake up consistently through the night. To prevent this (with my pediatrician’s recommendation) I try to wake and feed my baby every 2-3 hours during the day. Yes, this can be inconvenient at times. But not getting a good night’s sleep is even more inconvenient in my eyes. This is establishing a pattern for my son to learn when to be more awake and when it is time to sleep.
When he’s napping during the day, I plan to do somewhat noisy things. I will vacuum, do dishes, or talk on the phone. I’ve noticed that my son will sleep through most noises now, which is a relief because my dog likes to talk at night sometimes! If you don’t get your baby accustomed to noises while they are sleeping, they won’t be able to sleep through you coughing or your partner snoring at night. The same can be said for lights. If your baby is used to a completely silent and pitch-black room when sleeping, you won’t stand a chance getting them to sleep in different environments.
Some babies won’t take well to you introducing sound or light into their day-time naps. If that is the case, start this out slowly. Maybe introduce the sound and light in while they are already asleep as opposed to while they are drifting off. If you are reading this with a newborn, start doing this now. The day I brought my son home was the first day of construction at my neighbor’s house. At first, we were super upset about this but it ended up being a blessing in disguise! He learned to sleep with all kinds of loud noises.
Around dinnertime, I start planning bedtime. Even if I don’t plan on going to bed for another 4 hours, I will start to think about how many more times I need to feed my son, taking into account that I feed every 2-3 hours. I will try to “schedule” the last feeding to be around bedtime.
If he starts showing signs of hunger, I will feed him immediately regardless of any plan or schedule that I have created. When this happens, I just adjust my “schedule” to match the time of his unexpected feeding. Remaining flexible will, again, save you from a ton of frustration and disappointment.
Step Two: Observing
In this step, I am simply observing my son. Watch for those signs of hunger. Feed them if you notice these signs. But, I am mostly watching for signs of tiredness. Some of the signs that you can look out for are:
- Rubbing Eyes
- Pink/Red Eyebrows
- Making an “Owh” sound. Learn more about the secret language of babies here.
- Turning Away from Lights
If you are not seeing signs of sleepiness but are instead seeing your baby engaged and looking around with wide eyes, respect that. As disappointing as this may be to see when you are ready to sleep, just go with it. I will walk my baby around the house and maybe try to pick up a few things along the way to be productive. Or I might just lay in bed and talk to my baby and rub his feet. In my eyes, having him awake and engaged now will make it that much easier to get him to fall asleep later on. He’s guaranteed to get hungry soon and then you can start your nighttime routine.
Photo: Davis Smith (my amazing father-in-law!)
Step Three: Routine
Having a nighttime routine is really the most important part of getting a baby to sleep through the night. The first two steps are mostly for you and saving your sanity. Planning and observing benefits you. It prevents you from being stressed out later on. A nighttime routine helps the baby. I’m promoting a comforting and relaxing environment in this routine. That is helping transition the baby from being awake to sleeping.
Here is my nighttime routine:
Because no one wants to sleep in a wet or dirty diaper.
This does not happen every single night. If my baby is due for a bath, this is when it happens in our day.
If it’s a Bath Day, we use this Johnson & Johnson scented nighttime baby wash to promote sleepiness. I’m a huge fan of aromatherapy and have been using lavender to help myself sleep at night for years. It just made sense to do the same for my son.
Whether I bathed my baby or not, I apply the same brand Johnson & Johnson Bedtime lotion after putting on a fresh diaper. While I am applying the lotion, I am also doing the next step…
A little-known fact about me: I went to school for massage. As you can imagine, this is my favorite part of our routine! I use this time to bond with my son. We smile and giggle at each other during his massage. While I cannot instruct you on how to give a massage, Johnson & Johnson has a great video showing you how to massage a baby.
This is an important thing to consider. You want to make sure the clothing that you put on your baby is appropriate for the temperature throughout the night. Make sure they won’t get too hot or too cold! For instance, I know if we plan on having our A/C on at night, my son will be wearing long sleeves, pants, and socks under his sleep sack. If your baby ends up at an uncomfortable temperature during the night, they will most likely wake up to tell you!
Prepare the Crib
Remove everything from the crib or bassinet. Prepare it for sleep so you aren’t juggling with random items while trying to hold your sleeping baby when you go to set them down. I lay out his sleep sack (or swaddle when he was younger!) so that it’s ready for me to set him in and zip him up. If you choose to, you can just put your baby in their sleep sack or swaddle at this point. Most nights I just wait until my son is sleeping to do this.
I noticed a HUGE improvement in my son’s sleep after switching him to the Love to Dream sleep sack and a Nested Bean sleep sack. The Nested Bean sleep sack is lightly weighted to provide comfort and therefore may not be safe for every baby. Do your research and speak with your pediatrician if you have any concerns about it. Or just use try the Love to Dream sleep sack!
Breastfeed or give your baby a bottle. It’s important to make this time as boring as possible. No eye contact. Turn off all of the lights. Do anything you can to prevent your baby from being interested or engaged in what is happening around them. I do gently tickle my son or touch his face if he starts falling asleep before he is done eating otherwise, he will just be waking me up in a few hours because he’s hungry again.
This will likely wake your baby up slightly, if not completely. This might be helpful for those who do not wish to nurse their babies to sleep, as some experts discourage. To prevent rousing my baby too much, I do the magic burp (if you haven’t heard about this, you need to watch this video). This usually produces burps pretty quickly and without too much spit-up. If my baby isn’t drowsy at this point, I might snuggle him a bit and comfort him. Comforting techniques will look different for each baby. My son is comforted by patting his butt and making “shhh” sounds.
Put to Bed
Once your baby is drowsy or starting to nod off, bring them to their crib. Setting them down can be scary! Some babies wake the instant they realize they are no longer snuggled up to you. To prevent this, I am slow and gentle with my movements. I will set my baby down but might keep my hands and blanket against him for a minute to help with the transition. Then, I will adjust slowly and remove each hand, one at a time. If you still need to put your baby in a swaddle or sleep sack, do it now. Then, remove the blanket, hold your breath, and cross your fingers!
Assuming this routine has worked, enjoy your sleep! If your baby is still wide awake at this point, I recommend entertaining yourself for a bit until you can start the routine of feeding again. Be as patient as possible! There will be nights where your baby is cluster feeding or might not feel well and is extra needy. Be there for them. And be there for yourself. Not getting as much sleep as you want or need is taxing on your mental and physical health. Use some of my self-care tips to give yourself a little extra love during this time.
Unfortunately, at some point, you will experience the very dreaded sleep regressions. In which case, all bets are off. Sleep regressions are period where you baby’s sleep schedule shifts. They may have a harder time falling asleep or no longer be sleeping as long as you are used to. Your baby’s sleep schedule is changing because they are changing. Their brain’s development is advancing and that is amazing.
Even though it’s amazing to see this development, it can be challenging to get through sleep regressions. My baby’s sleep has not been the same since his 4-month sleep regression. He doesn’t sleep through the night as often anymore. Download the Huckleberry App to learn more about sleep regressions and starting a napping schedule, because it’s probably time to start that now! It has certainly helped my son get his sleep back on track.
24-Hour Support Line
When you are up with your baby late at night and feeling lonely, it can help to know there are many other moms doing the same thing. One really amazing support tip that I heard recently was to start a group chat with other moms who wake with their baby in the night. It can help to send a “you up?” text to the group and see that you are not the only one struggling through the night. Just knowing you are not alone can take a lot of the stress away.
Find what works for you. If you are having troubles still, speak with a pediatrician about your concerns. My tips and tricks might just be a starting point for you but hopefully, they allow you to get a full night’s sleep. Pay attention to how your baby responds to this process and adjust accordingly. Many parents need to rock, hum, or sing their child to sleep. There is no right or wrong way to do it.
Self-Care is Crucial Now
All of this has focused so much on your baby (I mean you are on this article for a reason!). But, I can’t end it without giving you a little bit of much-needed attention. Trying to get a baby to sleep can be incredibly stressful and frustrating. You are normal for feeling this way! Don’t forget to give yourself a little extra care during this time. Bookmark and use my Self-Care Ideas and Activities list. You deserve it.
Wishing you lots of sleep-filled nights!
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