There are many methods for helping baby get to sleep and stay asleep, but what works for one baby may not work for another. For many parents, it's not possible to perfectly predict when and how your child will fall asleep. Baby may wake up three times during the night, or abruptly fall asleep at seemingly-random times. That said, there are a few well-tested and documented methods that have worked for many parents.
Baby’s schedules are erratic by nature. Think about it: they’ve just left the comforting womb and are now bombarded constantly by unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells. Their entire universe up to this point has centered around their mother, so it’s not uncommon for them to want to cling to her constantly. Most babies under six months will sleep a large percentage of the day, but only sleep for about forty minutes at a time before waking up looking for attention.
This is perfectly normal! You’ll start to see more regular cycles develop around 3 months, with baby occasionally stretching their sleep time out to as much as 4-5 hours. As they get closer to six months old, they’ll start settling into a regular, lengthy sleep early in the evening. They may stop waking up at night altogether, or wake but be able to be soothed with some gentle rubbing on their back or calming music. You can phase out nighttime feeds at this point. Babies this age will still take a couple of naps during the day.
On the topic of naptime: little babies will sleep anywhere and everywhere, but ideally you’ll try to get them to sleep in their cribs as often as possible. This will help teach your baby that their crib is the most appropriate place for them to sleep. They’ll eventually start feeling more comfortable and at home there, making bedtime easy. And if you can put them down while drowsy instead of transferring them when they’re already asleep, bonus points for helping baby learn that it’s okay to close their eyes and go to sleep when they’re tired as opposed to fighting it.
Essential Oils and Pampering for Better Sleep
Soothing baby with a warm bath and rubbing lavender essentially oils on the soles of their feet is said to help calm a fussy baby into sleep. There are many different lines of baby-soothing rubs that can be bought online or at specialty stores. Various tummy drops are also available that may help treat gas or underlying colic issues that can keep baby from sleeping well. Many parents also swear by baby massage and even chiropractic techniques that can be performed by local, trained experts.
Vibrating Pads, White Noise and other Room Elements
Room elements such as vibrating pads and white noise can help soothe babies who tend to get jolted out of a relaxed state when separated from parents. You may also want to consider a bassinet or bedside co-sleeper system to keep in your own room so you can have baby at arm’s reach for midnight feedings. Some parents love having baby sleep in their own room early on to minimize late-night disruptions, while others believe that this habit may make it harder for baby to develop sleep patterns that aren’t dependent on mom or dad’s proximity. Your family sleep structure is entirely up to you! Just make sure you are aware of the risk of SIDS, and put baby to sleep appropriately on their back – without loose blankets or toys nearby.
Consistent Baby Care for Better Sleep
The most important part of helping your baby sleep well is being consistent. Having a nighttime routine involving feeding and putting them down at the same time each night can help signal to baby that they are expected to go to sleep consistently. The best place to start is feeding baby on a schedule, in a calm environment, so they can settle into slumber easily.
Many moms and dads swear that their babies sleep better when fed formula or other baby foods as opposed to breastmilk for their final meal before bedtime, since breastmilk is fairly easy to digest. Having a solid meal in baby’s tummy decreases the likelihood that they’ll wake up hungry in the middle of the night. That said, try not to “feed them to sleep,” but rather feed them shortly before starting the sleep time routine. Otherwise, they may start to inherently believe that they need to be fed to sleep. It is important that your baby develop with an understanding that sleep is something they can do on their own, without tons of assistance. Certain tools can be useful when they’re little, but don’t let them turn into a crutch.
You may also choose to give baby a final feeding late in the evening, between 10 and midnight, to help stretch out their sleep time longer into the morning. Baby doesn’t even necessarily need to wake up for that feeding, as the infant suck-reflex can be initiated in some even while they’re asleep. This gentle, sleep-sleep is often known as a “twilight feeding.”
Differentiate Between Day and Night
Whenever possible, make sure that your baby is being put to sleep in a dim, quiet space so they learn to recognize that those nighttime triggers mean sleep time is near. At night, keep the space around your baby calm and soothing (don’t let them snooze on your lap while watching a loud movie!). Do everything possible to help your baby understand that day and night are different, and night is for sleeping.
What NOT to Do
As your baby slowly starts getting into a better sleep routine, make sure you don’t become overly-reliant on tricks and tools to put them to bed. Rocking or nursing baby to sleep will train him or her to believe that those things are required in order for them to fall asleep. This creates a vicious cycle in which they cry out for you every single time they awake, based on the incorrect belief system that they’ve learned.
And there you have it! There are a lot of contradicting suggestions out there (and some even outlined here seem conflicting) because honestly, there is no “one solution” that works for everyone. Try different approaches to see what works for your baby and for your family.