Whoever coined the phrase “sleep like a baby” probably never had one.
Getting up with a baby in the middle of the night is probably the biggest adjustment for new parents. Here are some tips to help your baby sleep easier, stay asleep longer, and wake up happier.
Don’t let baby get overtired
Newborns can only handle being awake for around 30 minutes. It may seem like all they do is eat, poop, and sleep, but that’s just how it is for a few weeks. Gradually, babies can handle longer awake periods as they get older, but never more than 2 hours. Even up til their first birthday, babies still can get overstimulated after the 2 hour mark. Watch for signs that they might be getting tired, and try to get them in the crib soon after that.
Make bedtime or naptime pleasant
Yes, we have been looking forward to that magic sleep hour all day, but try to be as happy, loving and soothing as possible. Give baby lots of kisses, cuddles and sweet talking before laying them down. If they can associate naps with comfortable feelings, they will be more apt to not fight you when the time comes for them to lay down.
Reward good naps
For younger babies, this means going in to get them out of their crib with big smiles, praise and lots of kisses. For toddlers, it might also mean a small treat or snack when they wake up. Help them understand that sleep is a positive experience.
While establishing good sleep habits, use a few objects or routines to help signal that it is time to sleep. Using the same pacifier, blanket or burp cloth, position in the crib, etc. will soon become comfortable and routine to your baby. They will cuddle up on that blanket and know “ahhh …its sleepy time!”
Establish a night routine
Doing the same thing at the same time every night will also help the baby to remember what is coming. After a few days of a soothing bath, lotion and jammies in a semi-dark and quiet room, and a bottle/nursing session, your baby will soon understand the difference between day sleep and night sleep.
Tune in to your baby
Some babies are born independent sleepers. They just cannot be rocked to sleep and then successfully put in their cribs and stay asleep. Those types of babies need to just be soothed and snuggled and laid down to rest alone. Other babies might need a little more coaxing, rocking, nursing, etc to get them to sleep. Ideally, babies should eventually learn to fall asleep on their own. Otherwise, you will spend countless hours trying to force them. Not fun.
Use swaddling to relax baby
Some babies wake themselves with their jerky reflexes, and a good snug swaddle can minimize that. SwaddleMe or Woombie are two excellent options for babies that are strong enough to wiggle out of regular blanket swaddles.
Burp, burp, burp!
Burping is perhaps the least pleasant chore in caring for your baby. It is the one thing that stands in the way of going back to bed. It might be tempting to lay that drowsy baby down without burping, but almost always, your plan will backfire. Within minutes, your baby will be squirming and grunting uncomfortably and eventually wake up. Babies don’t develop the ability to burp themselves til they are around 6 months old, so just get used to it. Better burps mean better sleep. Try out as many positions as you need to, but get that burp out. Use Gas Relief Drops or Gripe Water for stubborn gassiness.
Drown out as much noise as possible
Use a box fan, bathroom fan, white noise machine, ceiling fan, whatever. The idea is to create an environment that will allow for the easiest and deepest sleep. White noise machines are particularly useful, especially when traveling. Just plug it in in the same room, and instantly your baby is reminded of their own crib and room.
Drop that mid-night feeding
Babies will sleep through the night when they are ready, but there are a few things you can do to encourage it. Test the waters by offering a pacifier or a quick snuggle first. If they don’t go back to sleep, then proceed with the feeding. Eventually, they might just start going back to sleep without eating, and then hopefully sleeping straight through without waking up at all. Try to increase food intake during the day, to eventually compensate for the meal you’re trying to drop during the night.
Read, read, read
If your baby is not a “good” or “easy” sleeper, don’t give up! Many sleep books offer excellent specialized advice for more needy babies. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Marc Weissbluth is a best seller with numerous years of research and success stories to back it up.
If you found this helpful, you can also check out my post on encouraging kids to sleep in.