Are you a tired, sleep-deprived new mom? You’re not alone. Being awakened multiple times each night by a screaming infant is familiar territory for every new parent. These tips on how to get a baby to sleep through the night can help you get your little one on a consistent sleep schedule.
Follow a set bedtime routine
Prepare your baby for sleep by following the same bedtime routine every night. One study showed that babies who follow a nightly routine before bed fall asleep more easily, sleep more soundly, and cry less frequently in the middle of the night. Try following these steps as you begin to create your baby’s nighttime routine:
- Bathe your baby. The warmth of the bath and the soothing sounds of the water will help her begin to wind down.
- Turn on a white noise machine in the room where your baby sleeps.
- Cuddle or rock her while speaking softly. Keep the lights low. This is the perfect time to read a short book to her and let her relax to the sound of your voice. Avoid active play during this time.
- Place your baby in her crib or bassinet when you see that she’s getting drowsy. This helps her associate her bed with falling asleep. Don’t let her fall asleep in your arms.
Once you’ve established a routine, keep it the same every night.
If your baby wakes in the night, see if there’s a reason
Getting your baby to go to sleep at bedtime is often easier than getting him to go back to sleep after he wakes in the middle of the night. Try to identify the reason your baby wakes up. Here are some common issues that could disturb your infant’s slumber:
- He’s lost his pacifier. Giving your baby a pacifier at bedtime can help him go to sleep, but if he loses it in the middle of the night, he will probably wake up and cry. Depending on how often he loses his pacifier, it may or may not be an ongoing issue for you. If you find that you’re getting up to put it back in his mouth several times each night, try weaning him off nighttime use of a pacifier.
- He wants to nurse. Your pediatrician can tell you how often your baby should nurse. When he’s very young, your baby will wake you up because he needs nutrition in the middle of the night, perhaps as often as every two hours. As he gets older, though, nighttime nursing may become a comforting habit that isn’t actually necessary. When your doctor tells you that middle-of-the-night feeding is no longer needed, begin to reduce the number of times you feed him at night. Let him nurse the first time he wakes you, but then soothe him in a different way the second time.
- He wants to play. As infants grow and develop, they become more interested in moving their bodies. It’s normal for your baby to want to practice new skills like rolling over or crawling, and he may want you to be present for the fun, even in the middle of the night! Don’t reinforce active play when your baby should be sleeping. If he has woken you up and wants to play, calm him for a minute or two with a soft voice, but then leave the room.
When you don’t know why your baby wakes up, try another method
You may not be able to identify exactly why your baby won’t sleep through the night. The Ferber Method or “Ferberizing” works for many babies who are old enough to learn self-soothing (typically between three and five months). The method’s creator, Robert Ferber, M.D., instructs parents to allow their children to cry for prescribed amounts of time before entering the room to comfort them.
Ferber recommends letting your baby cry for five minutes. Then, go into the room and soothe her briefly, without picking her up. If she cries again, let her cry for 10 minutes before soothing her. The next time, wait 15 minutes, then 20, etc. Ferber asserts that this process teaches your child that she can soothe herself (she will eventually go to sleep), while still providing reassurance that you are nearby. Dr. Ferber explains more about his method here.
If the Ferber method doesn’t seem right for you and your baby (or if your baby isn’t old enough for the Ferber method), “Baby Sleep Whisperer” Ingrid Prueher has some other techniques you can try:
Know best practices for infant sleep safety
Follow some basic sleep safety guidelines provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics to help your baby sleep well and to reduce his risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome):
- Your baby should sleep in his own crib or bassinet, not your bed.
- Place your baby on his back to sleep.
- Your baby should sleep on a firm mattress designed for use by infants. With this type of mattress, it’s less likely that your baby will have difficulty breathing if he rolls over and presses his face into the mattress.
- Keep soft objects like pillows and stuffed toys away from your baby’s sleeping area to reduce the risk of suffocation. Non-fitted sheets and blankets should also be avoided, as they can put your baby at risk for suffocation or strangulation.
Sleep training can be a difficult process, but it is well worth the effort. Begin working on your baby’s sleep habits earlier rather than later, and your child will be sleeping through the night before you know it (and so will you!)