How to Get Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night
“Is he sleeping through the night?” That’s a question that new parents get all too often. When the answer is no and the child is nearing the one year mark, it can be frustrating for everyone. Every baby is different, we hear it all the time, and it’s true. A breastfed baby may wake up more often to eat during the night than a formula-fed baby. Your baby may suffer from acid reflux or be a bit more colicky than some babies. These factors all affect how one sleeps.
So, how do you get your baby to sleep through the night? Following these tips is a great start!
First, define what sleeping through the night means for your child. There is no magic number. The term ‘sleeping through the night’ is misleading. It could mean that your baby sleeps a solid six hours and wakes one to two times per night for “twilight feedings” and goes right back to sleep. It could also mean that your baby sleeps for 10 hours straight without waking up for a meal. If you’re one of those parents with a baby that sleeps 12 hours per night, consider yourself very lucky, and you probably don’t need to continue reading! But for the rest of us struggling to get sleep ourselves and barely managing to walk through the haze of day after day, read on…
The biggest step in getting your baby to sleep through the night, or do anything for that matter, is establishing a routine. Pick a time of the evening (early bedtimes between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. work best) and stick with that time every day. The time that you choose is the time that your baby should be in bed asleep or falling asleep, so your routine should be started 15 to 30 minutes before that magic time. Decide what your routine will consist of. A common routine might go like this: bath, lotion, diaper change, bottle, story time, lullaby and rocking. Whatever you decide to do is fine, but make sure you choose tasks that you can stick with every night.
Put baby in his/her bed or crib sleepy, but awake. It’s good for babies to learn how to fall asleep on their own. In fact, it’s essential to getting them to sleep through night! This teaches baby how to put themselves back to sleep if they happen to wake up during the night. So, try to put them down when their eyes are just beginning to close vs. when they are completely out and snoring on your shoulder! If your child immediately pops his/her eyes back open when you lay them down, try not to pick them back up. Instead, gently pat them and let them know it is bedtime and it’s ok. Tell them that you’re counting to 25 and then leaving the room. And then do it!
It’s not easy to hear baby cry out in the night, and most parents have a hard time with the “Cry It Out” method. But there’s some truth behind it. When baby cries out, first try to determine why he/she could be crying before you go in. Is it time for a diaper change or a feeding? If the answer is no, wait a couple of minutes to see if baby stops crying. If he/she continues to cry, go into the room, but again, try not to pick baby up. Instead, gently pat them and let them know it is bedtime and it’s ok. Sometimes it helps for dad to be the one to go in to comfort baby instead of mom. This is because a baby generally always wants to be picked up when mom is near, and they can sense that mom has a hard time not giving in! If you do need to pick baby up, try not to spend more than one to two minutes in the room comforting them. The longer you are in the room, the more awake baby becomes and the harder it is for you to put them back down without needing to rock them to sleep. If baby starts crying again when you put him/her down, try to wait five minutes before going back in. Follow the same steps without picking baby up. Again, if baby cries when you put him/her back down, gradually increase the amount of time you let baby cry before going back in. Pick a number that is your cut-off point, ten minutes maybe, and go in to comfort baby every ten minutes if crying continues. But, chances are that after only a few minutes, baby will fall back to sleep on his/her own. Letting baby sleep with a lovey or small doll also helps with fostering self-soothing techniques.
If your baby is old enough to go longer than a few hours between feedings, but he/she is still waking up, it could be more out of habit than actually needing to eat. Around six months of age, experts agree that babies should be able to go 12 hours without food. If your baby is not dropping midnight or early morning feedings on his own, it’s ok to give them a little push. You can do this by gradually decreasing the volume of the feeding. For example, if your baby usually wakes up to drink six ounces at 11:00, but goes right back to sleep afterward, this could mean the feeding is nonessential. Try decreasing the volume by one ounce every day until he is no longer waking up. If baby is still waking up and you’re down to only one ounce, try switching over to one ounce of water. The idea is to help baby realize that he does not need those calories in order to get back to sleep and that you will not be offering anything but water going forward. It could take a week or two weeks, but if you’re consistent, it will pay off.
Following these tips should help you on your way to getting your baby to sleep through the night, but above all else, just remember that this stage does not last forever. Be patient and consistent.