You know when people say “sleep like a baby”? Well, after a few months with my firstborn, I didn’t want to sleep like a baby—I wanted to actually sleep! Every new parent wants a good night’s sleep, but that only comes when your baby sleeps. And it likely won’t just happen one night. You have to create the right sleep environment to teach your baby healthy sleep habits so you can give your baby the sleep she needs and get the sleep you need. In other words, our tips for getting your baby to sleep will help you take back the night.
16 Tips for How to Get Your Baby to Sleep
1. Swaddle your baby.
If you have a baby who’s younger than 4 months old, especially a newborn, a swaddle can be a sleep time lifesaver. Swaddling is the best way to mimic how he slept in the womb. Swaddles lovingly hold down a baby’s arms to prevent accidentally hitting himself in the face. Swaddling can also help calm a baby who won’t sleep flat on his back, which is a position most babies don’t feel secure sleeping in. Some parents use swaddle blankets, while others prefer swaddlers because they have velcro arm straps, escape-proof arm pockets, and/or lightly-weighted chest pads to keep their baby’s arms snugly secure against their body.
2. Use a baby sleeping bag.
When your baby is too old for a swaddle—once she shows signs of rolling over—use a baby sleeping bag or sleep sack. Regular, loose blankets should never be used in a crib since they increase the risk of SIDS. But baby sleeping bags provide a safe, secure sleep environment. They keep your baby covered and warm throughout the night because the last thing you want is for her to suddenly wake up from a deep slumber because she gets too cold. These wearable blankets range in their size, so you can use one with a newborn, infant, or a toddler.
3. Play white noise.
Playing white noise is a great way to soothe a baby back to sleep, as well as block out various sounds inside and outside your home. You can buy a white noise machine or app that plays white noise. You could also get a sound machine that lets you choose from a handful of different sounds, like ocean waves and a heartbeat, just in case your baby isn’t fond of white noise.
4. Make sure baby’s tummy is full.
A well-fed baby—one that has eaten well during the day and right before bedtime—will sleep better. If your little one struggles to sleep for longer stretches during the night, try giving him a dream feed. Definitions vary slightly, but essentially dream feeding is when you gently arouse your baby to sneak in one last feeding before the morning. Don’t fully wake him up or turn on the lights to dream feed. The time to do it can vary. Some experts suggest you dream feed a newborn between 10 p.m. and 12 a.m., while others say to do it 2-3 hours after you’ve put your baby to bed.
5. Establish a bedtime routine.
Babies are more relaxed when they know what’s happening next. And the more relaxed your baby is, the better your chances of her falling asleep faster. Most parents establish a bedtime routine around 6 weeks or 3 months old. This nighttime ritual can be as short as 5 minutes or as long as 30 minutes. Here are some examples:
Bedtime Routine #1: Bath, put on pajamas, bottle, sing a lullaby, lay in the crib.
Bedtime Routine #2: Breastfeed, change her diaper, put on pajamas, read a bedtime story, give a kiss, lay in the bassinet.
Incorporate things she can associate with sleep, and be sure to limit daytime distractions about 30 minutes before bedtime, i.e. dim the lights and lower the noises, so as you get her ready for bed, your baby will associate this routine with restfulness and can start falling asleep the same time every night. This consistent predictability will be good for you and your baby. And it will be even better if you can stick to it even if you’re not at home. It could help her be calm and more easily fall asleep when she’s in unfamiliar places.
6. Stick to an early bedtime.
Just as important as the bedtime routine is the time you put your baby to bed. You have a small window of opportunity when your baby’s melatonin rises and he’s ready for bed. If you keep your baby up too late, he’ll become overstimulated and it will be harder to get him to sleep. Watch for your baby’s sleepy cues (yawning, staring off, rubbing eyes, etc.), which should happen sometime around when the sun’s going down.
For anyone who’s been putting your baby to bed too late, hope is not lost. Just start putting him to bed about 15 minutes sooner every night until you reach the bedtime you want.
7. Create bat cave-like conditions.
Bats leave the sunlight and go to dark caves so they can sleep. That’s kind of the environment you need to make for your baby to sleep. Light stimulates your baby’s brain, making it harder for her to fall and stay asleep. So get some blackout curtains. You can even drape a blanket or tape cardboard over the windows. Do whatever works; just keep the light out of her room and keep whatever you use out of baby’s reach. These light-blockers tell your baby it’s time to go to bed and can help prevent her from waking up as early as the sun.
8. Distinguish day from night.
Another thing you can do is help your baby learn day from night. Expose your baby to morning light when he wakes up and be active throughout the day. Then at night, make it dark and calm.
9. Minimize nighttime diaper changes.
Try to only change your baby during the night if she poops. Most diapers can hold up to 12 hours, so use absorbent diapers and a good diaper cream to keep her sensitive skin dry. If you have to change her diaper, don’t fully wake her to do it. Keep the lights low and keep it quiet. Another tip? Get a wipe warmer or warm the wipes in between your palms so a cold sensation doesn’t jar her wide awake.
10. Create the optimum room temperature.
Too hot? Too cold? Your baby will struggle to fall and stay asleep if he’s either. I mean, don’t you? It’s recommended to keep your baby’s room temperature between 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit.
11. Scatter the pacifiers.
Does your little one take a pacifier? Don’t put her to bed with only one. When the paci falls out and your baby can’t find it, it will likely wake her up. I made that mistake with my firstborn by putting him down with just one, and oftentimes during the night it’d fall out and he’d knock it out of his crib, so then I’d have to turn on the light to find it, which woke him up even more. Scatter a few around the crib so your baby can easily find one to pop back into her mouth if it falls out.
12. Lay baby in his crib when he’s drowsy and calm.
Rather than putting your baby in his crib when he’s asleep, lie him down when he’s drowsy and calm. Doing so is how he’ll learn to associate the crib with sleeping and learn to fall asleep on his own. Also, if he’s not crying when you lie him down, he won’t have a negative association with the crib. Do this at bedtime and nap time, as often as you can, so he can make this association quicker.
13. Make the crib feel and smell like mom.
Your baby knows you; what you feel and smell like. She finds warmth and security in your arms. It’s why babies sleep so well in their mom’s arms. So if your baby won’t sleep in his crib, make the crib feel more like you. Don’t add a big blanket, stuffed animal, or pillow in with your baby. Those aren’t safe. But you can hold her swaddle or sleep sack up against you before bedtime so it smells like you. You can also lay her down in her crib and gently rub her belly while standing next to the crib for a few minutes to help soothe her.
14. Slowly transition from other sleep places to the crib.
Do you have a baby who won’t sleep in his crib? Does he only sleep well when you’re rocking him or pushing him in his stroller? Slowly transition him away from those sleep spots to his crib where he’ll sleep better. Try rocking until he’s drowsy and then lay him down once he’s about to fall asleep. Try putting him in the stroller, but don’t go on a walk. Take slow and steady baby steps away from those sleep spots to the crib and you’ll both (hopefully) get the sleep you need soon.
15. Stick to a regular nap schedule.
Daytime naps matter. A well-rested baby sleeps better than one who’s overtired. While it may seem like skipping a nap or keeping your baby awake a little longer will tire her out so she sleeps better at night, it won’t. When a baby is overtired, her stress hormones rise. So even when you do get her to sleep, there’s a chance she’ll wake up before she gets into a deep sleep. There are general guidelines for baby sleep schedules by age, but talk to your pediatrician to know for sure what’s best for your baby.
16. Be consistent but flexible.
Above all when you’ve got a baby not sleeping, decide a safe course of action and be consistent using it. Don’t try something new to get your baby to sleep every night if the previous night’s method didn’t work. Babies need consistency. They do better when they know what to expect. You also have to give him time to show you what he can do and get used to a certain routine or sleep aid. So be consistent, but flexible. Stick with the same routine and bedtime each night, but if a vacation or sickness throws you off for a few days, don’t stress. Just get back to your normal routine as soon as you can.