Are you so tired that you can’t quite remember what it feels like to have energy? Desperately Googling things like, “how to get a baby to sleep?” You aren’t alone.
Most parents struggle with their baby not sleeping. Why? Because good sleepers aren’t born, they’re taught. Baby sleep is a learned skill, both for the baby and for new parents. You can learn how to get a baby to sleep. Once you understand the principles of sleep you will have a range of gentle, effective strategies to teach your baby to sleep, no matter how young, old or overtired you both are!
What is good baby sleep?
What does good baby sleep actually look like? Baby showers, book stores and the internet are full of myths and misconceptions about how to get a baby to sleep. Parents are understandably confused by complicated schedules, expensive miracle products or ‘wisdom’ that doesn’t sit right, like leaving babies to cry it out.
Good baby sleep is measured by two things. First, is your baby sleeping long enough that they wake up happy? Second, is it working for you? This means that you need to be happy with the way your baby is put to sleep, and their schedule needs to fit within your family life. Keeping these two measures in mind will help you to develop realistic, developmentally appropriate sleep goals for your baby.
Good baby sleep is not dependant on any type of parenting style. You don’t have to become an attachment parent or ‘slow parent’ or decide between free range and helicopter parenting. Every parent can learn how to get a baby to sleep. Once you understand the principles of sleep you will find that there are a range of strategies and techniques you can use, depending on what suits you and your baby.
Realistic sleep goals
Sleeping through the night is the holy grail of baby sleep. If you find your baby not sleeping through the night there are a few factors to consider:
– Health: Is your baby well? Illness and medical problems can cause pain, discomfort and can be the cause of your baby not sleeping. Talk to your GP, paediatrician or child health nurse if you think your baby could be unwell.
– Feeding: Is your baby feeding well? A full tummy helps babies to sleep well. Feeding and sleep issues can often go hand-in-hand, and addressing one can often help the other. I can assist with feeding issues impacting on baby sleep.
– Maturity: Is your baby old enough to sleep through the night? Newborns should not be sleeping through the night! We want young babies to wake up for feeds through the night. Their little tummies and growing bodies need milk frequently. Six months of age is generally accepted as the age that healthy, full term babies may stop needing a feed during the night. Find out if your baby’s night waking is age-appropriate.
Can you ‘get’ a baby to sleep?
Often tired parents come to me asking how to get a baby to sleep or how to get a baby to sleep through the night. Their baby not sleeping is not only exhausting, but it feels like they are failing as parents. The truth is you cannot get a baby to sleep. Only your baby can fall asleep. You cannot force or trick them into it. When I explain this to new parents they feel great relief! They’re not failing, and you aren’t failing either!
Your baby’s job is to fall asleep. Your job is to: provide a safe, comfortable sleeping environment; to teach your baby about sleep; and to observe and respond to your baby’s tired signs.
Safe, comfortable sleeping environment
Safe sleep is Good baby sleep. Usually I don’t like ‘rules’ and ‘musts’, but safe sleeping environments are the exception, there are rules that you must follow for your baby’s safety and your peace of mind.
Safe baby sleep principles are based on evidence and prevent many, many unnecessary and tragic deaths each year. Put your baby to sleep on their own sleep surface, whether it is a cot, bassinette or a co-sleeper in your bed. Make sure the cot, bassinette or co-sleeper is in good repair and meets current Australian Safety Standards. Don’t use things like bumpers, pillows, soft toys and loose blankets as they are a smothering risk. Dress your baby in light layers of clothing rather than in a single thick layer that can be too warm. Clothing and bedding made of natural fibres will help your baby to be comfortable and regulate her body temperature. The answer to ‘how to put a baby to sleep’ is always ‘safely’!
Teach your baby about sleep
The number one baby sleep myth that new parents believe is that when your baby is tired he or she will just fall asleep. For the vast majority of babies this just isn’t true. So parents wonder why theirs seems to be the only baby not sleeping, and why they are so tired. Sleep is a learned skill. As a parent your role is to teach your baby about sleep.
It’s as simple as
1) observing and responding to tired signs,
2) setting up good sleep associations, and
3) being calm, consistent and flexible.
1) Observe and respond to your baby’s tired signs
When parents ask me how to put a baby to sleep my response often surprises them. The secret to getting your baby sleeping is not so much how you put them to sleep, but when. Babies don’t just fall asleep when they are tired. But they do give signs that tell you when they are tired and ready for sleep. With practice it becomes easy to recognise these signs and put your baby to sleep at just the right time. If you miss baby’s tired signs they quickly go from being tired and ready to sleep to overtired and unable to sleep. Overtiredness is a very common cause of baby not sleeping.
2) Set up good sleep associations
A sleep association is anything that tells your baby or toddler that it is time for sleep, or helps them to fall asleep. Setting up positive sleep associations teaches your baby that certain things mean sleep. When these sleep associations are present your baby knows what to do, it is time for sleep.
As a parent it is your choice to set positive sleep associations. If you want to cuddle your baby to sleep that is your right. If you want to put your baby in a cot with a special snuggle toy that is your right as well. The only criteria for a positive sleep association is that it is helpful in getting your baby sleeping and staying asleep. For example, if your baby likes a dummy and it helps them sleep that can be a positive sleep association. If every time they drop the dummy they wake up crying then it is not helpful and needs to be adjusted.
3) Be calm, consistent and flexible
Babies and toddlers thrive on routine and predictability. As you respond to your baby’s tired signs and develop positive sleep associations they will learn about sleep. Soon your baby will develop the skills they need to be a good sleeper. Keep in mind that the world keeps changing for babies and toddlers. As they learn, grow, develop, get sick, cut teeth or experience big changes in their worlds their sleep habits may change. Some people call this a regression. Watch out for them, be calm and flexible and know that things will be back on track soon.
Starting your sleep journey
As you and your baby start learning about sleep keep in mind that you are both probably overtired. It will take some time (and patience) to catch up on sleep and then get into an awesome rhythm of good days, great nights and a happy baby. Overtired babies will often cry to wind down for sleep. That’s okay. They just need you to be with them and love them.
You can do this! You and your baby can sleep through the night and feel happy each morning. Here are a range of products to help you on your journey:
Congratulations on being one step closer to your baby sleeping easily and peacefully. Helping your baby to sleep is simple once you understand the principles of sleep. The principles of sleep are explained fully in the ebook and video series. Keep in mind that good sleepers aren’t born, they’re made. As parents and baby work together you will all learn good baby sleep habits and sleep skills.
Wishing you great sleep,
Registered Nurse, Midwife, Child Health Nurse and Lactation Consultant
Passionate, experienced baby sleep expert