Gentle Ways To Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night (Without Crying it Out)

 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!) 
One of the biggest challenges a new parent faces is with a child who won't sleep. Here are a few gentle ways to help them that don't involve crying it out.

Do you worry about your baby’s well-being while sleeping? I know I do. Be sure to read this post about my experience with this, and the most amazing baby monitoring device that helps me sleep better this time around and helped us more times than one! Make sure you check out the Owlet Coupon Code page for all current offers – the only coupon codes will be available here. They also offer refurbished ones for $199.

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!


1) Routine

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.

2) Comfort

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.

3) Sleepwear 

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!

You can buy it on Amazon, or if you want to buy multiple sizes nd get a discounted rate, I recommend buying directly from the website.


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.

9) Bath

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!


11) Patience

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.

BONUS

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!)


Here are some other posts you may enjoy (click photo for post):

Introducing Solids 101 (2)

The Simple Trick

 

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25 Comments

  • Hi Katie, I'm curious to know what you do when your child does start to cry. I'm pregnant with my first and have many friends that use the cry it out method (to a reasonable degree, I believe) and it works for them, but I'm very much open to other ideas! So if your baby does start to cry when you leave the room or in the middle of the night, what is your process? I'm worried about coddling because I have other friends that coddle and it flat doesn't work. So again, open to any and all suggestions :) Thanks in advance!
    • Hi Robyn! Thanks for your question -- it's good one that I think I'll update this post with! So, when my son was little, I would either nurse him back to sleep, or rock him to sleep. It worked for us. However, when he got older, it wasn't as easy to rock him to sleep because he would always wake up when we put him down! I would usually go in and sit by his crib, so he knew I was there, and sometimes I would rub his back. That always worked well for us. It took a few nights where I could just put him down, and he would fall asleep without me rubbing his back, but after a few days he would fall asleep on his own. If he woke up in the middle of the night...it just depends. Sometimes I would go in and just sing to him, rub his back, etc....but I'll admit, most nights (when he was older), I would just bring him in our bed. haha. I sometimes still do that now when I'm just too tired, but most of the time I can just give him his water cup, lay him back down, and he'll go back to sleep :) Good luck! I think the most important thing to remember is that there's no textbook baby :) Just go with your gut. I think mother's intuition is a real thing :)
  • Hi Robyn and Katie, How nice that I come across your conversation here. I have just registered and want to search images for my website. My website is about crying babies. I hope not I you this robbery. My expertise is correcting the energy of the baby, which can be disrupted by trauma passed into the blood line or from a previous life. It can also be a birth trauma are. The baby resonates on invisible energy, making the baby is not feeling well. The only way to indicate the displeasure, is crying.There is also no cause can be found. By correction of the energy of the baby, the result is healing. The healing may very well happen remotely with the help of skype. My name is Anneke van Opstal I live in the Netherlands
    • Hi Alyssa! We started trying to get him into a routine right away - while I believe in feeding on demand in the first several months for sure, I think you can start some of these ideas right away. However, if you want to try and get them to sleep through the night, I'd say around 6 months is when we really started trying to get him to do that. From everything I've read, that's about when kids*should* be able to sleep through the night.
  • These are all great tips! I started the white noise and swaddle sleep sacks since the first night our daughter was home with us. Within a month, we started to do a quick bath or warm washcloth bath, pjs, white noise and nursing every single night when the sun went down. By 8 weeks, my daughter was sleeping 8hrs a night (I breastfed on demand, and still do, at 10months!) I think routine is so important!!! Once I went back to work, I spent about two weeks taking notes on when my daughter napped/duration, and when she woke in the mornings. Over the NEXT two weeks we adjusted her bedtime just by 15min at a time so that her 6am wake up call (so I can get to work!) was her natural wake-up time. Regarding the "when they do have a bad night" concern of many parents... You know your baby. If they are screaming and you need to go in, do it! I have found that Nora wakes about 4 nights a week with a quick scream (literally less than 7seconds) and then soothes herself back to sleep with humming or finger sucking. Always go with your gut... and ONE night of going in to rock her doesn't mean you have created a habit that will continue.
    • Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I agree - you know your baby. It's important to go with what you think is best and to discern if something is just an "off night" or an actual problem.
  • Hi, my first little guy was like your Jack (but without the health problems). We chose not to cry it out as well. It was really hard with him because he would sleep 45 mins at a time and it taking an hour to get him back down. I just stuck it out because I chose to comfort rather than let him cry. My second little guy had health issues so we co-slept with him for his comfort. It was more important for me that my babies slept comfortably (and not me) because of night-time brain development. Dr Sears is an excellent source for anything baby, including sleep. We like Dr Jay Gordon as well. He has a good method for getting them to sleep gently, especially breast fed babies and babies in the family bed. It is such a common misconception that babies sleep. The phrase 'sleep like a baby' is a misnomer. When 75% of babies do not sleep through the night, they are the rule not the exception. I have often felt, and still do to some extent, that I needed to justify our chosen method with respect to sleep. I usually shrug my shoulders and say "my baby, my choice. my house, my rules."
    • Thanks for all your thoughts! I completely agree with you though. I hate feeling like you have to justify not crying it out to some people. I truly believe babies will sleep through the night when they are ready. Love Dr. Sears, and I'll definitely have to look up Dr. Jay Gordon!
  • I enjoyed reading this and I feel like I learned a few things to help my toddler. I also wanted to tell you, when I was a baby, I had severe ear infections, some digestive issues and acid reflux, as well as so.e immune issues. After a year of many doctors and many trips to the e.r., my parents finally discovered I had a milk allergy. About 3 days after they took me off milk, I was well for the first time and ever since. I figure you've probably got things pretty well figured out with his peds, but I just wanted to offer m y experience in case you're still looking for answers.
  • You aren't supposed to give a child that young a blanket. On their back, with nothing else in the crib is the safest sleep environment.
    • Thanks for your concern! This post isn't just for small infants, and I did say this: "It's not recommended to put loose blankets or pillows in a baby's bed when they are young, so keep that in mind."
  • Hi! Thank you so much for this post! Other than establishing a routine and since our work schedule is inconsistent that is a hard thing for us to do. Outside of that, I haven't heard any of these tips. I have a 6-month old at home and until recently he would only wake up once throughout the night. I would assume he was hungry, but he wouldn't eat. He would fall asleep immediately after latching on. Unfortunately, now that he is teething he has been waking up anywhere from 2 to 5 times at night. He also tends to fight sleep quite a bit. So now I am looking forward to trying out these tips and (hopefully) getting a good nights sleep (for the both of us)! Thank you!! :) You're a lifesaver!
  • I have done everything you mentioned and more for the last 8 months with my 11 month old and he still wakes 3 x a night and I cannot get him back to sleep unless I bring him to bed. Can I ask how old your little one was when he started going back to sleep on his own? I feel like there is no hope!
    • I'm so sorry Nicki! It's so hard when your child won't sleep, no matter what you do. Jack started to soothe himself back to sleep around 15 months, but it wasn't until about 20 months that he actually slept through the night. He would come in our room at around 4:30 - 5 PM until then
  • Hello, These are all great suggestions! Luckily our daughter goes to bed in her crib with no problem. She usually will wake up by 6/6:30 every morning. However, she will not nap in her crib and usually will only nap once a day. She is 15 months old. We try to keep a consistent routine as best as possible for her naps daily. I know it is different for each kid but didn't know if you had any additional suggestions to try. Thanks!
  • Routine and associations are the very best for getting to a sleep time that baby actually looks forward to. That being said, family drop-ins, appointments, teething pain, etc. will create conflicts to work around. Don't get frazzled, though. Work with the interruptions to guide baby to sleep time. And as much as a routine/schedule is key to development, baby's needs are paramount, so "listen" to your baby's body language. They may not verbalize yet, but they tell you a lot by a tug, a nestle, a rigid back, a patting hand, etc. If I miss a signal, i.e., patting my shoulder when I am holding her, I get a cranky baby who is wondering why I won't put her to sleep! (Our routine for naps: blinds drawn, lights out, Stevie Nicks "Bella Donna" - baby is asleep before song has ended!)
  • Hey Katie! Really really love these tips (: I think winding down and routine are something that we really need to work on in my house. I've found that we are less likely to have nighttime wakeups if I do a bath, story, and nursing before bed. If I skip this, and we just lay down and nurse, he tends to be more restless. My son is 10 months old and still needs to be nursed or rocked to sleep. Hopefully by staying consistent with a routine, he can begin to fall asleep on his own. Thank you so much for sharing <3
  • Hi Katie, From the beginning my daughter nursed to sleep. When she first came home I would just put her in her rock and play after falling asleep but as a first time mom and being exhausted I would just put her in the bed with me when she would wake up in the middle of the night for feeding. Now my little princess is 10 months old and is still sleeping in the bed with me. She sleeps all night without waking but has to fall asleep nursing. When I tried crib training every time she would fall asleep nursing she would wake up as soon as I put her in her bed. She would not allow me to comfort her in the bed. I would have to take her out and spend an hour putting her back to sleep and ended up caving and put her back in bed with me. Do you have any tips that I could give a try? I can't let her cry it out, breaks my heart.
    • Hi, Victoria! Thanks so much for commenting. Sounds like we both have 10 month olds (and mine loves to sleep in my bed, too). Transitioning to a crib from co-sleeping can be so hard for everyone involved - especially when you don't want to CIO (which we don't do, either!) This might seem a bit weird, but have you tried getting in her crib with her? I actually did that with my first, and it helped a lot. I was able to get him to sleep. He eventually went in there by himself. It just took some time for him to get used to being in there. You could try doing that, and then maybe wear her blanket or outfit for an hour before bed, so it smells like you.

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