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How to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night

Baby sleeping in a bassinet.

The newborn phase is wrought with sleep deprivation. Blurry-eyed parents often ask, “When will my baby sleep through the night?” We’ve got some tricks to help your sweetie enter snooze-land long enough for you to catch some solid Z’s.

Every baby is different, so it’s hard to say at what age sleeping through the night is typical. Some babies sleep for eight hours straight, while other restless toddlers wake up every three hours. Even adults wake up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water or use the bathroom.

Don’t set high expectations—especially in the beginning. Longer sleep stretches are possible, and you can guide your baby there. Establishing stable sleep patterns is a skill you can learn, which means deeper sleep for you (and everyone else).

Reasons Your Baby Wakes Up

There are multiple things that might cause your baby to wake up at night. Here’s a list of some of the most common reasons:

  • Hunger: Newborns tend to wake every 1-3 hours because they have tiny stomachs that, therefore, require regular feedings. Older babies might be too “busy” exploring their world during the day and forget to eat as much. Then, they wake up hungry at night (you can counteract this by encouraging them to eat more during the day).
  • Comfort: It’s a big, overwhelming world outside the womb! Babies love to be cuddled, held, nursed, rocked, sang to—you name it. When they wake up and find themselves in a dark room, they long for that comfort to lull them back to sleep.
  • Inconsistent bedtime routine: If you’re putting your baby down at different times and not following a solid routine, they learn that sleep is scattered and unpredictable.
  • Teething: It’s hard to avoid this one because teething is painful! You can try using cold teething toys or meds if your baby is inconsolable.
  • Soiled diaper: It’s tough to sleep with a poopy diaper. You can’t blame them for this one.
  • Reversed day and night: In the beginning, babies don’t have a sense of day versus night. It didn’t matter when they were in the womb. But now, you have to teach them the difference. Spend the day outside and do more “active” stuff, like singing songs, playing peekaboo, going on playdates, etc. Eventually, your babe will learn that nighttime is for sleeping.

Talk to your pediatrician if your baby seems to be waking up more than usual. There might be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

The Bedtime Routine

The more consistent and predictable you are with your baby’s bedtime routine, the more he learns to expect and accept sleep every night. It’s hard to establish a bedtime routine in the beginning, since newborns tend to sleep whenever and wherever. But there’s no harm in starting some of these rituals early. That way, you have a plan in place by the time your baby hits the 3-month milestone.

Find what works best for you and your family, just make sure you’re consistent. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Quiet time: You can start slowing down about 30 minutes before bedtime. Dim the lights in the house, turn off all TVs or music, and set aside your phone.
  • Bath: Many parents like to bathe their babies before bed. The warm water has a relaxing, soothing effect. Plus, it’s a great bonding activity to end the day.
  • Storytime: Research shows it’s beneficial to read to babies (even newborns). So, go ahead and start this practice early. Choose a few books and read them each night to help cement the bedtime process.
  • Song: Singing can help calm a baby and prepare her for sleep. Spend some time making eye contact and, perhaps, rocking her during this time.
  • One last feeding: Nurse or bottle-feed your baby right before bed, so he’s “tanked up.” You can gently wake him directly before you go to bed, too, for another feeding. A full tummy will hopefully help him get through the night without a serious hunger attack.
  • Sound machine: Babies are soothed by white noise because it reminds them of their time in the womb. Experiment with different sounds and see which ones work for your baby.
  • Lay baby down when slightly awake: Aim to place your baby face-up in his crib when he’s visibly tired, but still slightly awake. This helps him learn self-soothing techniques to fall asleep on his own.

Nighttime Comforting

One of the main reasons babies wake up is because they want comfort and reassurance. This is a hard one to navigate because you don’t want your baby to feel alone and abandoned. Here are a few ideas to consider.

Many parents co-sleep, so baby is always close and nursed back to sleep each time she wakes up. If you choose to do this, make sure you read up on healthy co-sleeping habits.

If your baby is older, you can introduce a security object, like a stuffed animal or a lovey. Try to spend one night with the object close to your body or tucked under your shirt, so it absorbs your smell. You can even rub a few drops of breast milk on it. This helps baby feel comforted by your smell when she wakes up. The recommended age for a stuffed animal or lovey is after 12 months. However, some experts say you can introduce it after 6-months-old if your baby rolls freely and pulls blankets off her head. Discuss this with your pediatrician if you’re in doubt.

Also, try to vary which parent comforts the unsettled baby. If it’s always mom with the breastmilk, the baby learns to expect that when she cries. If dad or someone else comforts the baby, she learns different soothing skills that aren’t tied directly to feeding. This helps her with nighttime weaning if that’s your goal.

Sleep Training

A newborn baby wrapped in blankets, yawning.
Andrii Orlov/Shutterstock

Many sleep-deprived parents are desperate to reclaim their lost slumber, and we totally get it! When you’re awakened every hour or two, it’s brutal—especially for months on end.

If you’re ready for hard-core sleep training, decide which method is right for you and your family. A popular method is called cry-it-out, where you let your baby cry for a specified period of time, and then go in to reassure him everything is okay. The intervals between your check-ins increase as the night goes on. Some parents find it heartbreaking to listen to all that crying. However, many parents swear by it and claim it only took a few nights for it to stick.

If you can’t handle the cry-it-out method, consider a gentler approach, such as the no-cry sleep solution.

There are countless other methods you can explore, as well as official sleep trainers, who come to your house and discuss options. Whichever method you choose, discuss it with your partner, and make sure you’re on the same page. The main thing is to approach it with 100% commitment and consistency.

Swaddle Sleep Sacks

Babies tend to thrash and flail in the beginning due to the Moro (or startle) reflex. Using a swaddle wrap constrains their movements, so they don’t wake up from accidentally whacking themselves in the head. Swaddling has been used for centuries and is safe for young babies, who are put to sleep on their backs on a firm surface. You can discontinue the use of swaddles once your baby can roll over, or is getting close to rolling over.

We suggest using a swaddle sack with Velcro fasteners rather than an old-fashioned swaddle blanket. Who wants to mess with a blanket coming undone in the middle of the night? Instead, strap your baby in and enjoy those extra stretches of sleep.

There are also weighted sleep sacks, such as the Zen. The light weight over the chest mimics a hand, which gives your baby a sense of comfort in the night.

If available, you can join a local buy/sell/swap group in your area to sample different sleep sacks and find the one that works best for your baby.

Searching for the perfect sleep solution can be challenging, especially when you’re beyond exhausted. Just try to stay consistent with the methods and plans you choose to follow. Eventually, your baby will learn that nighttime is for sleeping.

Above all, remember that reclaiming your sleep is important. So, don’t feel bad for enforcing a stricter nighttime routine. As long as everyone gets some sleep, how you get there doesn’t matter.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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