Here are some gentle ways to help your child sleep through the night without crying it out (and if you are looking for toddler sleep tips, be sure to check out this post I just published!)
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Despite the advice of some well-meaning people, I never resorted to crying-it-out with Jack. I believe all parents have the right to make the best decision for their child, and Forrest and I never felt good about letting Jack cry-it-out, despite his terrible sleep problems.
He’s had health problems since the day he was born, that often result in pain, so we just didn’t think it was the right decision for us. And before any of you think I’m judging you if you used crying it out, I’m not. It just wasn’t right for us!
Because of that decision to not use the cry-it-out method, I found myself searching high and low for tips to help Jack sleep better. Even though it took a little longer to get him to sleep through the night, it was worth the effort and sleepless nights. He now goes to bed really easily (well, at least when we are at home) and takes a nap every day between two and four hours. I like to think we’re being rewarded for those many sleepless nights.
If you are finding yourself with a child who just won’t sleep, but for whatever reason don’t want to use crying it out, here are a few things we did that we found effective. Some of these ideas are based off of The No-Cry Sleep Solution, which is a book I highly recommend. It’s very well-written and has some great tips. While none of these are fast fixes, I believe they are gentle ways to help your child be more comfortable!
Children are creatures of habit. I think one of the most important things you can do is establish a sleep routine early on. With Jack, we usually put him down to sleep at the same time every night, but it wasn’t until we finally started having a very specific routine right before bedtime that he not only stopped fighting us when we put him down to sleep but seems to look forward to our nightly rituals. I’m sure our routine seems a little bit silly to some, but it works. One night when I was away taking some photos for my sister-in-law, Jack was having problems going to sleep, so I sang to him over the phone the song we always sing, and it helped immensely.
It can be hard to make sure your child goes to sleep around the same time every night, but it’s important to try and do so. Their bodies start to get trained to get tired around the same time if it’s done over and over again. If you are putting your child to sleep at random times, it can confuse them, making it hard to get them to sleep ever! Our routine always includes brushing teeth, saying prayers, turning on this magical machine, and Jack loves it.
I think it’s important to make sure your child is comfortable and knows you haven’t abandoned them. Whether or not you decide to have your child cry-it-out is up to you, but whatever you do, let them know you haven’t left them to the wolves.
Before your put your child down at night, be sure to make sure they have a clean diaper on (who wants to sleep in a wet one? No child I know. We are BIG fans of using THESE at night), and that the clothing they are wearing are appropriate for the climate and temperature.
Giving your child a comfort item at night is a great idea, too. Whether it’s a favorite blanket, a stuffed animal, or something else, having something to cuddle at night can help them feel less alone. For my son, he has to have some of his little trains, his “Grammy” blanket, and his WubbaNub before he’ll let us leave the room.
What your child sleeps in can have a HUGE effect on how they sleep. When they are younger, swaddling is almost always helpful. We came to really love the Aden and Anais swaddling blankets. However, the SwaddleMe swaddling wraps are great if you haven’t mastered the swaddle (it’s hard!) If your baby doesn’t love having their arms restricted, I highly recommend the Woombie Convertible. The Woombie is an awesome product in general (lightweight, makes baby feel they are still in the womb), but the convertible option lets them have more freedom with their arms.
A lot of babies start to regress when their parents try and stop swaddling them (which should be down around 3-4 months.) They still crave that comfort, but it can become unsafe to swaddle. I recently heard about Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit, and it is AMAZING. It’s hard to explain, but it helps settle a baby’s startle reflex and helps them sleep more soundly. All the reviews rave about it, especially when transitioning from the swaddle. We have been using it for awhile now, and Oliver sleeps really well in it.
I do recommend getting the cotton one if you are in a warmer climate or don’t have air conditioning. The microfleece can get a bit toasty!
4) Wind Down Time
This is something Forrest swears by. It seems like right before bedtime is when Jack gets the most wound up, especially when we’ve been spending time with family. For anyone, it can be hard to go straight from non-stop fun, to non-stop quietness. Right before naptime and bedtime, we take about 10-15 minutes where we help our son wind down a little bit. It usually involves reading a book, or just snuggling on the couch, but we’ve found that he goes to sleep much easier if he’s not wired.
And when you think about it, isn’t that the same for most of us? I know that when I try to go to bed after a rather intense workout, or even watching a captivating television show, I have a really hard time falling asleep. It can take some time to wind down, but the ten minutes that it takes is worth it, when it prevents 60 minutes of whining and trying to avoid sleep.
5) Sleep Associations
The author of the No Cry Sleep Solution suggested creating “sleep associations,” which is basically something that the child only associates with sleep. This can be anything from soft lullabies, to a blanket, to lavender essential oils (good for calming) in a diffuser — it just has to be something that is only used during sleep time. It may take time to create a sleep association, but after a little bit of consistency, these sleep associations can be incredibly powerful and comforting.
Something I believe in very much is WHITE NOISE. It was heaven-send when Jack was baby. I think it helped his mind be at peace, and it also drowned out any other noise. He used it until he was about four, and I really felt like we turned a corner with him once we used it consistently.
While we used the DOHM with him, I recently got the Hatch Baby Rest, and it is AMAZING. It has white noise, lullabies, a night light with a variety of different mood lights, as well as an “Ok-to-wake” feature (which is awesome for older kids – . It’s a great price – similar to other comparable products, but it has the most features. You can buy it here. I think ALL moms need this!
6) Keep Naps consistent
Babies can easily get overly tired, and this makes getting them to sleep SO much harder. This was certainly the case with Jack – even now (at the age of four) if he doesn’t regularly get a nap, he has a really hard time falling asleep, and even worse, staying asleep.
7) Night terrors and Night Crying
Jack actually gets night terrors and has since he was a baby. I feel like they were often related to him not getting enough rest during the day (though sometimes they just happen out of nowhere.) They are terrifying, and there’s not a lot you can do except wait for your child to calm down. I actually wrote an entire post dedicated to helping parents deal with night terrors.
8) Wear their blanket
This is something that works best with younger children (under about a year.) Infants are usually comforted immensely by the scent of their mother, especially at night time. And since you probably don’t really want to climb in their crib and sleep with them, putting a blanket, or even an article of clothing, near them that smells like you can help calm them down.
When Jack was smaller, I would often put his swaddling blanket (the Aden and Anais brand is the BEST) around my neck, like a scarf, for about two hours before I wanted to put him to bed. When it was bedtime, I would swaddle him in it, and I really feel like it helped him fall sleep faster and for longer. It’s not recommended to put loose blankets or pillows in a baby’s bed when they are young, so keep that in mind.
A lot of children are very soothed by their baths, and it can really help them sleep better. Jack isn’t one of those children — he’s hated bath time since he was about nine months old. However, from everything I’ve read, giving your child a nice, warm bath right before bedtime can help soothe their minds and body and prepare them for bed. Lavender is a scent that is oft associated with relaxation, so if your child isn’t sensitive to scents, I would recommend getting Aveeno Lavender and Vanilla shampoo or bubble bath.
10) Rule Out Illness
As I mentioned, our primary reason for avoiding crying it out with Jack was because of his health problems. He has had digestive problems, acid reflux, and ear infections since he was young, which does affect sleep. This was something we discovered after several doctor’s visits, and I’m grateful that investigated why he had so many problems sleeping. After countless ear infections, he had tubes put in, which almost immediately helped him sleep better. The stomach problems have been harder to help, and he does occasionally still wake up because of them, but not nearly as much as he did before.
Not all children have health problems if they are having problems sleeping. However, some do, and if you find your child just won’t sleep, or cries inconsolably for hours, I would definitely consult your doctor. You never know if there’s any underlying problem! If you find that your child is having a lot of gas, one thing you can do is use Gripe Water. This is seriously a miracle worker. We’ve used it many times, and it almost always works to help settle a grumbly tummy. I like the Wellements brand, and I have even used it on myself when I have a stomachache. It works!
It’s not realistic to expect your child to sleep through the night a few weeks after they are born. Nor is it realistic to think that it may not take a little bit of work. There will always be those children that start to sleep through the night, with no trouble, super early on, and then there will be others who, despite your best efforts, refuse to sleep for a very long time. Although it can be incredibly frustrating, and tiring, try and remember that “this too shall pass.” Easier said, than done, I know. But I promise, there will come a time when your child will sleep through the night, and you might just miss those middle of the night snuggles.
Does Food Help a Baby Sleep Through the Night?
This is a highly debated topic – some people swear that it does, and then there is research that says it doesn’t. Honestly, I think it depends on the age of the child. When my kids are older, I do find that having a fuller stomach helps them sleep longer.
For a younger child though, research does not support putting rice cereal in a bottle, introducing solids early, or giving formula at bed time instead of breast milk to help your child sleep longer.
I recently heard about a course called Coos to Snooze. It was created by a fellow blogger who knows how difficult it is when your baby isn’t sleeping! It’s an interactive course that is completely customizable to your preferences – whether you believe in crying it out, or if you are like me, and aren’t a fan, this course can be helpful for you. You can learn more and sign up here, or you can just sign up to get some smart sleep tips here (for free!)
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