How to Put a Baby to Sleep In A Scientifically Proven way That helped Thousand of Mothers
Does your little one often wake up crying? Take back the night with this 24/7 guide on how to get your baby to sleep longer. If your baby tosses and turns all night, reworking their sleep routine might solve the issue.
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Don’t Feed Baby to Sleep
“Newborns fall asleep all the time while eating, and I don’t want anyone to stress about that,” notes Turgeon. But if your baby often dozes off during a feeding, they’ll think they need to eat in order to get back to sleep.
To combat this issue, gradually move the feeding earlier until your little one can get through it, then finish the routine with a calming book and song, and tuck them in drowsy but awake. You may still need to get up for a nighttime feeding, but then it will be about hunger, not soothing.
Stick to an Early Bedtime
When considering how to put a baby to sleep, timing is just as important as a routine. “At around 8 weeks, babies have a rise in melatonin, a drowsy-making hormone the body releases when it’s time for sleep, which means they’re ready for an early bedtime consistent with the sun setting,” says Turgeon. “If you keep them up late instead, they become overstimulated and harder to put down.” Melatonin levels rise somewhere around sundown, but given that sundown can be anytime from 4:30 in winter to 8:30 in summer, stick to the clock and put your baby down around 6:30 or 7 p.m. for the most success. If the sun is still up, close the shades.
“A good sign of drowsiness is when the baby becomes calm — they’re less active, have a bored look, or just stare off,” says Turgeon. Don’t mistake this behavior as happiness for being awake. Seize the moment and start your bedtime routine. “The baby’s internal clock is telling them when to be awake and when to be asleep, and you want to reinforce that,” she notes.
“Sleep and nutrition go hand-in-hand,” notes Prueher. For the first 8 weeks, a baby should be feeding on demand every 2 to 2.5 hours. “If they want to eat every hour or so, they may not be consuming enough at each session,” says Prueher. Keep a 24-hour log of how many ounces a bottle-fed baby takes and at what time. For a breastfed baby, write down how many minutes they’re nursing each session. “If they eat for 20 minutes during the nighttime feeding but only five or ten minutes during the day, they’re just snacking,” says Prueher. “And they’re not filling their belly enough to sleep through the night.”
On the flip side, if Baby is eating well during the day, they should be able to sleep for a 4- to 6-hour stretch at night by around 2.5 to 3 months. To help your baby eat more efficiently, work toward spacing out their meals (distract them with a pacifier or some entertainment) so they’re actually hungry each time. Also, don’t neglect burping. “Sometimes we mistake coming off the breast or bottle as being finished, when really the baby needs to be burped,” notes Prueher. Bright lights or noise can also be distracting. Try feeding Baby in a darker, quiet room, especially when they become more interested in their surroundings.
Take Naps Seriously
A well-rested child will sleep better than an overtired one. It seems counterintuitive, but skipping a nap (or keeping a baby up late) in hopes that they’ll sleep longer at night simply doesn’t work. “When infants get overtired, their stress hormones rise,” says Turgeon. “Then, once they finally fall asleep, there’s a good chance it won’t be for long, because those stress hormones wake them when they’re in a lighter sleep stage.”
This is why regular naps are so essential for getting a baby to sleep. “At the age of 2 months, a baby’s optimal span of awake time is only about 90 minutes between sleeps, which goes by really quickly,” says Turgeon. “They don’t have the tolerance to be awake more than that until 4 to 5 months.” Keep an eye on the clock, because picking up on your baby’s tired gaze isn’t easy.
Set Napping Guidelines
It may be tempting to let your sweetie snooze in their car seat or on your chest, but you should try for at least one nap a day in the crib. That way, they’ll get the quality rest they need. “The first nap is mentally restorative for an infant and will dictate how the entire day goes, so ideally you want them to have that one in their crib at home,” notes Prueher. “The second is physically restorative, so once your baby’s old enough to be moving around a lot, they really need it to be quality too.”
By 3 to 4 months of age, your little one will have longer awake periods, and you can work toward a nap schedule: one in the morning, one in the early afternoon, and a short late-afternoon nap if needed. Naps are a great time for you to practice putting Baby down drowsy, adds Prueher. It’s not the middle of the night, so you can think more clearly, pick up on cues, and follow through.
Let Baby Work It Out
If you rush in immediately at night to help your munchkin fall back to sleep, you’re creating a cycle that will be hard to break. “As long as you know that they can’t be hungry, you can pause before rushing in,” says Turgeon, who recommends starting a “soothing ladder” from as early as day one. When you hear your baby fuss, pause for a minute and see if they can work it out themselves. “If they can’t, go in and do the least intrusive thing — pat or shush but don’t pick them up,” says Turgeon. If that doesn’t work, you gradually climb the soothing ladder until you get them back to sleep.
“The point of the soothing ladder isn’t to make a baby learn to self-soothe overnight, but to give them enough space to allow their self-soothing skills to unfold naturally, over time,” says Turgeon. Plus, it will help you avoid a traumatic cry-it-out situation down the road, when you’re still learning how to get a baby to sleep.
Stop Overthinking the Situation
Resist the urge to research “how to put a baby to sleep” every single night. “Information overload causes parents to try a million different things, which doesn’t build any consistency or trust,” says Prueher. “Children thrive on knowing what to expect.” She recommends giving your baby a little space to show their capabilities.
How Long Will My Baby Sleep?
Because babies this age are more awake, alert, and aware of their surroundings during daylight hours, they’re more likely to be tired at night and sleep. But the range of normal is still very wide.
Infants up to 3 months old should get 14–17 hours of sleep over a 24-hour period, says the National Sleep Foundation. Many will have settled into a daily sleep routine of two or three naps during the day, followed by a longer “sleeping through the night” stretch after a late-night feeding.
Helping Your Baby Sleep
If you haven’t already, start a bedtime routine that will be familiar and relaxing for your baby. Bathing, reading, and singing can soothe babies and signal an end to the day. Some babies like to be swaddled (wrapped in a light blanket), which can be done until they start to roll. Be consistent and your baby will soon associate these steps with sleeping.
If you rock your baby to sleep before bedtime, your little one may expect to be rocked to sleep after nighttime awakenings. Instead, try putting your baby into a crib or bassinet while drowsy but still awake. This way your baby will learn to fall asleep on his or her own.
Some babies squirm, whine, and even cry a little before falling back to sleep on their own. Unless you think that your baby is hungry or ill, see what happens if you leave your baby alone for a few minutes — he or she might settle down. If your baby wakes during the period that you want him or her to sleep, keep activity to a minimum. Try to keep the lights low and resist the urge to play with or talk to your baby. Change or feed your baby and return him or her to the crib or bassinet.
What’s the right age for sleep training?
Most sleep coaches say the ideal time to start sleep training (or promote independent sleep, not necessarily using the cry-it-out method) is based on your baby’s development, but is usually somewhere between four and six months, when your baby hasn’t had much time to get used to nursing or rocking to sleep. At this stage, most babies are also developmentally ready to learn the skill of falling asleep on their own, explains Jennifer Garden, an occupational therapist who runs Sleepdreams in Vancouver. Around four months of age, some babies go through a sleep regression because their sleep cycles change and there are longer periods of lighter sleep per cycle. “It’s a great time to work on independent sleep skills,” says McGinn. Other babies’ slumber derails around this time because they are working on new skills, like moving around and rolling. Some parents choose to wait until things settle down before embarking on a sleep-training method, but you don’t have to, says McGinn.
If your baby is older than six months, don’t worry, McGinn says: “It’s never too late to develop good sleep habits.” Dickinson says he finds nine months to be a bit of a sweet spot for parents in terms of getting babies to sleep through the night. “They are at a good age for understanding routines and don’t need to eat during the night,” he explains.
The age of your baby might determine what kind of sleep-training method you choose, though. You could try a gentle shush-pat technique with a five-month-old, but you’ll likely have to leave a one-year-old in the crib as they protest (cry or scream) about the new bedtime arrangement. Don’t attempt a formal sleep-training method before four months, until your baby is able to go longer in between feeds and their circadian rhythm starts to develop. (Many babies this age still feed in the night — contrary to popular thinking, sleep training isn’t synonymous with night weaning.) Dickinson says that many four-month-old babies are biologically able to go through the night without a feed, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t respond and feed them if other methods of calming them aren’t working. Since every situation is different, we recommend checking with your doctor before withholding your baby’s night-time feeds.
Before getting started
12 baby-sleep tips for exhausted new parents Before you even think about “training” your baby to fall asleep on their own, make sure you’re following a regular schedule and putting them to bed at a consistent time each night (hint: early is usually better, typically around 7 or 8 p.m.). Starting at about two months old, it’s a good idea to try to put them down drowsy but awake whenever you can, just to get them (and you) used to it, even if they fuss a bit. Make sure that they’ve been awake for an appropriate amount of time before bed (an over- or under-tired baby will have trouble falling asleep), and establish a calming and consistent bedtime routine, like a feed, bath or massage followed by pyjamas and stories or songs. Some experts recommend feeding at the beginning of the routine to avoid having the baby associate the feeding with falling asleep. Ideally, your baby won’t have started to nod off at any point during your bedtime routine. “You really want to make sure your baby is primed for sleep,” says Pamela Mitelman, a psychologist in Montreal who specializes in infant and child sleep. Be conscious, too, of filling their daytime awake periods with enough activity and stimulation, says Garden. “Kids need to be moving in all sorts of ways when they are awake, not just sitting in a bouncy chair,” she says
This is a very gradual sleep-training method ( McGinn gives her clients a two-week plan for implementation) and requires a lot of discipline on the part of the parents. Again, you prep your baby for bed, but instead of leaving the room, you sit in a chair next to the crib. When they fall asleep, leave the room, but every time they wake up, sit back down in the chair until they fall back asleep. Every few nights, move the chair further and further away until you’re out of the room.
“The pro of this method is that mom or dad is there and present,” says McGinn. “But the con is, there will likely still be some crying, and now baby is watching you watch them cry. It can be really hard to be consistent with this method.”
Mitelman doesn’t recommend this method to her clients because she says having a parent in the room but not responding to the baby is confusing and may also be too much stimulation, depending on the baby’s age and developmental stage. “They can get so escalated to the point that they can’t calm themselves down,” she says.
The greater good
On the advice of a sleep consultant, Welk and her husband took away Greyson’s pacifier, moved his bottle to before his bath (so he wouldn’t associate feeding with going to sleep) and chose to start with a very gentle method (because he was only four months old at the time). Greyson’s dad put him in the crib and stood next to him, patting him until he fell asleep, for about a week. That went well, and then they started leaving him immediately after putting him in the crib without patting him fully to sleep. “For about a month, he would cry or fuss every night for 10 to 15 minutes before falling asleep,” recalls Welk. It was hard to hear her baby cry, but she feels confident that it was for the greater good because they were both well rested and happy during the day. Now, Greyson is 11 months old and a champ sleeper, having weaned himself from night feeds at seven months.
If you’re on the fence about sleep training, it can be helpful to think of it this way: What is my baby’s developmental need right now? “At 11 months, they don’t need to eat during the night but they do need consistent sleep,” says Garden. Yes, those nights of crying are heartbreaking. But chances are, if you’re considering sleep training, it’s because what you’re currently doing isn’t working for you.
As your baby gets older and their sleep needs change, make sure that you’re adjusting wake times, naps and bedtimes accordingly to help them continue to easily fall asleep and stay asleep. Some parents think of sleep training as a “one-and-done” endeavour: You endure a lot of crying for a few days and your prize is a perfect sleeper. But it’s really a lifestyle change — once your child has the skills to fall asleep, they’ll still need routines, consistency and help adapting when life throws curveballs, like starting daycare, the arrival of a new sibling or going on a trip (where they may have to sleep in a different space or crib). Colds and illnesses, as well as time changes, can also throw a wrench in your perfect schedule. The trick here is to get back on track as soon as possible. If you start allowing or enabling the old, bad habits and sleep associations, it will take longer to return to the regular routine.
Do your research, talk to your doctor and if you’re overwhelmed, consider hiring a sleep consultant or taking a workshop. Your baby’s sleep might seem like a mystery to you, but there are people who understand the complexities and can help. While not everyone agrees with every approach, no one would argue with the benefits of a good night’s sleep, for babies and exhausted parents alike.