How to Get Baby to Sleep Through the Night
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 had health problems since the day he was born, that often resulted in pain, so we just didn’t think it was the right decision 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.
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.
If you are a fan of crying it out – yay for you! This post is probably not the one for you (and that’s okay).
Some of these ideas are based on 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!
As an update almost four years later, Jack is an AMAZING sleeper. He often tells me how much he loves to sleep, and we haven’t had sleep battles with him since he was young.
Although it made for some long days and nights, I do believe that our patience and willingness to try other methods beyond crying it out have helped him become the sleeper he is today.
First, I want to dispell a few “infant sleep myths” I hear over and over again.
Not Sleep Training Spoils Your Baby
Oh, I just love this one. There’s a big trend/belief in Western society that if you hold or comfort your baby, you will somehow be setting them up for a lifetime of being spoiled and coddled.
Personally, I think that you can never hold or comfort your baby too much. Can you imagine being so helpless as an infant – especially right after birth? You can’t communicate except with cries. I’m a big fan of attachment parenting, and there is plenty of evidence to back it up.
Maybe my kids are spoiled – but I don’t think they are. We are often told what kind, respectful, and grateful children they are. So I don’t think we spoiled them by avoiding sleep training.
If you don’t sleep train, your child will never sleep
We didn’t sleep train with either of our children, and they both are fantastic sleepers now. They fall asleep in minutes at night on their own, and they don’t wake up until the morning.
Jack took naps until he was 4.5. Oliver stopped needing them at 2.5 (that’s a story for another post).
Sure, these are just two examples, but if you are reading this wondering if you have set your child up for a lifetime of not sleeping because you didn’t sleep train…rest assured – there are plenty of parents who have proven otherwise.
I wrote this post in 2013, and now, 5-6 years later, I can safely say not sleep training does not equal your child never sleeping.
Babies Should Sleep Through the Night at Six Months
I hear this in the breastfeeding support group I run all the time. Someone’s pediatrician, or their mom, or the cashier at the grocery store, told them that if your baby is still waking up at six months, they have serious problems.
I think this is insane. Babies can’t read the text book. They don’t know when they are “supposed” to be doing anything.
If your baby is gaining weight well, meeting milestones, and generally happy…if they aren’t sleeping throught the night at six months, that might just be their normal.
Never hold your baby when they sleep
Well, if this is the key to messing up your child, my kids have no chance. I held both of my boys for every nap I think they had for the first six months (or I laid down with them…nap time for me, too!).
Not saying that you have to do this – but you aren’t ruining your childi f you do 🙂
Babies don’t need to eat through that night after X amount of months
This is another thing I can’t stand to hear. If your baby is waking in the night to eat, you are OBVIOUSLY doing something wrong.
Your milk supply is low
You need to “fill them up” with a large bottle before bedtime.
They need to eat more solids during the day.
You should just give them formula, because ALL formula fed babies sleep through the night early on (lie).
They have a horrible habit that needs to be broken.
The fact is, some babies do need to eat during the night past six (or seven, or eight) months.
Unless baby is not gaining weight, they are more than likely getting enough to eat, and they aren’t just trying to make up for calories during the night.
Sometimes they are just thirsty. This is what we found with Oliver as he approached a year. He would wake up and want to nurse, but it was just because he was thirsty, but sometimes it would be hard to get a letdown, and he would freak out.
Once he was old enough to get a sippy with some water, it would instantly quench his thirst.
I love this article from the Milk Meg about why older babies and toddlers wake at night.
It’s also true that sometimes nursing at night can be a sleep association that can be hard to break from. Once the baby is old enough to be night weaned, I love this method from Dr. Jay Gordon.
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 bedtime instead of breast milk to help your child sleep longer.
Your a horrible parent if you sleep train
So you might be getting to this point and start to think, “So are parents who sleep train horrible people?”
And the answer is no.
In this post, I do share my opinion and thoughts, simply for other parents who are looking for non-sleep training/crying it out advice. Because I think it’s important to provide that support to parents who might come here wondering if they have to make their baby cry it out.
For some, sleep training might be what they feel is best.
I do not think you are a bad parent if you choose to sleep train. Most of the time, I will keep my mouth shut when people talk about sleep training – unless I’m directly asked my opinion.
But I also expect the same respect when I say we don’t sleep train/cry it out 🙂
originally published in 2013; updated in 2018.
Help Baby Sleep Through the Night
Be aware that many of these tips below are for older babies (more than 4 months). I am a big believer in the fourth trimester and not putting too much pressure on yourself or your baby to get into any kind of routine super early on.
Children are creatures of habit.
I think one of the most important things you can do is encourage a sleep routine.
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 seemed 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 is really helpful to do so.
Their bodies start to feel 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.
(But don’t beat yourself if your baby doesn’t want to be on a schedule – especially in the beginning. Slow and steady changes are ideal. There are all sorts of “sleep schedules” out there for newborns, and they make me laugh. Your baby can’t tell time!).
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 you 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 is 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.
Of course, be careful with putting anything extra in a baby’s crib, especially when they are younger. An ideal sleeping environment is one without any blankets or stuffed animals.
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.
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 a while 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 or white noise, 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. We love this sleepy time roller ball essential oil from RMO – it’s specifically designed for children (though just be careful using it on an infant).
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.
With that said – if your baby is getting older and you are finding they are fighting sleep at night, consider whether or not it might be a good time to drop a nap. This doesn’t always help, but it’s something to consider.
7) Have a Good Mattress
I think that as parents, we often underestimate the importance of a proper sleeping place for our child. I mean, Jack slept on a used crib mattress from someone we didn’t even know until he was four!
I have recently taken an interest in learning more about sleep, and I’ve discovered how important a mattress is for proper sleep. Honestly, I think that out of all the groups of people, children need the best mattresses.
For cribs, I recommend the Stitch & Cradle mattress. It only uses the highest quality materials and is made with your child’s safety in mind.
However, if your child is ready for a twin or full size (which we moved my youngest to straight from our bed – it’s nice for when he needs me in the night), I highly recommend 5 Little Monkeys.
These are the BEST mattresses for children, and they come with an amazing warranty so it will truly last your child until they leave the nest.
8) 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.
9) 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 asleep 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.
11) 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 an 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!
I know people that swear by Windi to help relieve gas in babies, especially at night.
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.”
It’s also important to remember that sleep is a developmental milestone – and just as you can’t force your child to walk or crawl, forcing them to sleep before they are ready can be less than effective as well.
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.
Also, be aware that sleep regression does exist. This is an awesome post that talks about baby sleep regression.
Other Posts You May Enjoy:
- How the Wubbanub Saved Our Sanity
- How to Get a Toddler to Sleep: 15 Simple Ways
- Introducing Solids 101: How, When, and What
- The Basics of Babywearing