Getting Baby to Sleep Through the Night

Get baby to sleep through nightGetting your baby to sleep through the night is a huge victory for parents. For most of us, it doesn’t come easy. It comes after weeks upon weeks of establishing sleep routines, figuring out your baby’s wants and needs, and trying lots of different strategies. You can and will get there. Here’s how to get started.
Table of Contents:

When do babies sleep through the night?
What does “through the night” mean?

Strategies to Get Through The Night
Setting a nightly routine
Feeding your baby at night
Dressing your baby for sleep
Setting the stage: Your baby’s room

Problems and Troubleshooting
Be prepared for any problem
When your baby wakes up at night
3 last tips for getting baby to sleep longer

When do babies sleep through the night?

It varies quite a bit between babies, but almost never before two months of age. Newborns have to eat every 4 hours or so, so even if they could go all night, they probably shouldn’t. Sorry, that’s part of having a baby! You’ll probably turn a corner at 3-4 months, when babies can sleep five hours or longer after a good feeding. See the baby sleep chart for more. Food is, in my opinion, the ultimate determinant of when babies start sleeping through the night. As soon as your baby can take, and hold, enough food to last for a long stretch, you can start working toward sleeping through the night.

What “through the night” means

You, as an adult, probably like to get 7-8 hours of good, uninterrupted sleep each night. When the baby comes, you’re lucky if you get 3 or 4 hours at a time. On the bright side, newborns sleep about 18 hours throughout the day, so when they sleep, you sleep to make up for those late nights. You should set milestones, based on your baby’s adjusted age, for the longest period of nighttime sleep:

Goals for baby to sleep through the night

By twelve months, your baby should be able to sleep 10-11 hours through the night without waking. Here’s what you’ll need to get there.

Setting A Nightly Routine

Choosing a nightly routine for your baby is critical to help him sleep through the night. The bath-bottle-bed routine is a classic example. Performing the same steps with your baby, in the same order, helps train them that it’s time for “the big sleep” at night. It also helps you remember to do everything that matters – change the diaper, put on the pajamas, swaddle, etc.

Solid foods mixed with cereal, as much as the baby will take.
Play Time
Bouncer, play yard, bumbo chair, and/or tummy time (not right after eating, though)
As often as possible. This really relaxes them.
As much as your baby will take, followed by a good burping.
Clean diaper, warm pajamas, full belly, swaddler, sound machine.
earths best baby vegetables Baby bath routine Dr. Brown's Bottles Arm's Reach Baby Bassinet

Even the best parents can forget a step; we’re all working on limited sleep, right? For a detailed guide on what your baby’s nightly routine should look like, see Establishing a Bedtime Routine.

Feeding Your Baby At Night

Baby formula at nightThe principal reason that babies wake up in the middle of the night is to eat. This is a powerful, biological urge that they can’t really control. For this reason, newborns less than 2 months of age typically can’t sleep more than 3-4 hours at a time. The hunger pangs are too strong. As your baby gets older, though, he’s able to take more food and (eventually) to take solids, which really seem to make a difference. Even before that time, there are steps you can take to help your baby sleep at night:

  • Save the formula for nighttime. If you supplement with infant formula, which is common, you may wish to do so in the evening or at night. I am not suggesting that you feed with formula instead of breast milk. We all know and appreciate the benefits of breast feeding. However: a lot of moms supplement breast milk with formula, either out of convenience or necessity. For these moms, I suggest favoring breast milk during the day (as it digests more quickly) and favoring formula at night. Or, offering a little bit of formula once the milk is exhausted at nighttime feedings. The goal is just to make sure that your baby has a full belly, which gives him or her a better chance at sleeping through the night.

    Baby vegetables for nighttime feeding

    Baby Vegetables

  • Solid food at dinner. As soon as your baby is allowed solid food, start offering it to him. You’ll probably be instructed to try single-grain cereal before baby food. It takes a while for babies to get the knack of it, but your efforts will pay off. Solid food makes a HUGE difference in keeping your baby satisfied. When your baby starts eating a container with a bit of cereal mixed in at dinner, you’ll see a big difference in nighttime sleep. See our article on 6 Tips for Starting Solid Food.
  • Thicken food with cereal. The single-grain cereal is a great thickener, and it helps your baby stay full for longer. You can mix it into runny baby foods, especially carrots, sweet potatoes, and most fruits, to make them more substantial. They also stick to the spoon better and make feeding less messy. Baby cereal is very nutritious, so don’t feel like you’re short-changing the baby’s diet.

About cereal in the bottle

As a rule, many pediatricians and nutritionists advise against adding cereal to bottles. They have convincing reasons for this. Realistically, this is a rule that is “broken” by many parents whose babies wake up hungry in the middle of the night. Whether or not you should try this is is up to you.

I am neither advocating it nor speaking out against it, but a little bit of cereal into the last bottle of the night can help a baby sleep longer. Not more than a teaspoon or two; it should still be liquid after you mix it. Be sure to use a level 2 or level 3 nipple and watch for clogs. This should not be the only way that your baby gets cereal. You still have to do the work of teaching him or her to eat with a spoon.

Whatever you use, make certain that you offer your baby all that he’ll take at the nighttime feeding. If he finishes a bottle and seems interested, offer another 2 ounces. Make sure to burp regularly, of course. The more you can get your baby to take, the longer he’ll be able to go without waking up.

For more help, see Nighttime Feeding and Sleep.

Dressing Your Baby to Sleep At Night

Ensuring that your baby is warm, safe, and secure will help him get a good night’s sleep. He or she may not tolerate a baby hat or mittens, but here are some other, more essential things.

  1. A fresh diaper. What A Newborn should wear to sleep through the nightEven if you changed it half an hour ago, put on a fresh one. Every bit of dryness counts. As soon as your baby’s big enough for a size 3-5 diaper, look into Huggies Overnites, which are extra absorbent and designed specifically to wick away moisture overnight. These things are lifesavers!
  2. Clean, soft pajamas. I prefer long-sleeve pajamas with footies. A little over-sized is okay, but never put a baby in pajamas that are too tight. Soft pajamas are not only more comfortable, but they’re a tactile clue that your baby will associate with sleeping at night. See our review of cute baby pajamas.
  3. Good swaddling. A well-executed swaddle will keep your baby warm and snug, but also acts as a safety measure because it prevents him from getting a limb caught in the crib. Such incidents aren’t usually life-threatening but they tend to evoke a screaming fit, so prevention is key. Learn how to swaddle a newborn and do it every night. If your baby kicks out of it, check out our review of sleep sacks and sleeping bags.

Setting the Stage: Your Baby’s Room

Periodic table of baby sleep through the night

Periodic Sleep Table

There are lots of things you can do in the baby’s room to make it a safe, comfortable environment that encourages long hours of sleep. You want to make your baby’s room and crib a place where he feels cozy and secure, a place where he knows it’s time to sleep.

This is why you shouldn’t play with your baby while he’s in his crib, no matter how cute he’s being. The crib is for sleep only. Here are some other tips that I’ve found useful in extending a baby’s ability to sleep through the night, most of which are also highlighted on the periodic table of baby sleep.

  • Consistent darkness. Unless you enjoy waking up at sunrise, invest in some good room-darkening shades for your baby’s window. Also, install a small lamp or baby night light, somewhere near the changer and away from the crib, to help you see while not over-stimulating the baby into wakefulness. See our review of baby night lights for some suggestions.
  • Quiet or white noise. When the baby goes to bed, try to keep the noise to a minimum. This probably isn’t possible if you have other children. We set up a small fan in the baby’s room by the door and turn it on when he goes to bed. This provides a nice, consistent white noise and has the added benefit of moving some air around in the room, keeping the temperature more consistent.
  • A wind-up or electric music box is an exception to the “quiet” rule: soft music can have a soothing effect at bedtime. You might try a soother or sound machine and see how it goes; some babies like them, some babies hate them. Make sure you have something that either winds up or has a shut-off timer, so you don’t have to go back in to turn it off. With luck, the music from it will be another cue that it’s time to go to bed and sleep through the night.
  • For safety reasons, your newborn’s bed should be clear of anything that could pose a hazard, including baby clothes, blankets, stuffed animals, pillows, and crib bumpers. Yes, crib bumpers. I know they’re cute, but they have been linked to infant injuries and deaths. I don’t know why they even make these any more.
  • If your baby has reflux or wakes up due to gas, you can try slightly elevating the head of your baby’s bed. Often this can be accomplished using the crib’s height settings, and lowering the “foot” of the bed one peg to create a slight incline. This puts gravity on your side and reduces spit-ups. You can also go the low-tech route and put a phone book under one side.

Baby sleeping at night

Be Prepared for Any Problem

Almost every problem that prevents your baby from sleeping through the night has a fix, and you should keep that solution close at hand. Before you put your baby to bed for the night, think about the common reasons babies wake up or won’t sleep and get everything prepared:

  • Have clean diapers out where you can reach them. Whether or not to change the diaper is a judgment call, since you risk waking the baby up even more, but if it’s soaked or dirty, you should do it. Have the new diapers unfolded with tabs at the ready.
  • Make sure the wipe warmer is stocked. I’m a big proponent of baby wipe warmers; not only do warm wipes help avoid stimulating the baby, they seem to reduce the number of times the baby pees on you.
  • Keep extra pacifiers in the bed and on tables in your room or the baby’s room. You can never have too many pacifiers, and they’re often hard to find at night. See our review of the best pacifiers.
  • Set out bottles with pre-measured formula, nipples, and a burp cloth. When they wake up hungry, babies want food NOW. Save time and minimize fumbling by having this stuff ready to go.
  • Make sure the rocking chair is clear so that you have a soft and safe place to take your baby for feeding or soothing.

With this arsenal to handle any problem, and the strategies outlined above, you’ll have your baby sleeping through the night better than ever before. Good luck!

When Your Baby Wakes Up At Night

Why baby won't sleep

Why Baby Won’t Sleep

No matter how perfect your preparation, there will still be the occasional wake-ups in the middle of the night. How to handle these is an area of contentious debate among sleep experts. In my own case, I don’t have the option of letting a baby fuss for long, because our twins share a room and are close to their 2-year-old sister.

Wake-ups are common, even among babies that routinely sleep through the night. You might not be doing anything wrong! To the left you’ll see a pie chart from my article on Why Baby Won’t Sleep depicting the most common reasons that babies have trouble sleeping. There are several possible causes, but when your baby wakes up, here are some response strategies that you should keep in mind:

  1. Respond quickly, but quietly. Don’t go barging in and throw on all the lights. Don’t say anything. The less you stimulate your baby, the better.
  2. Try soothing him in his bed first. Resist the urge to pick him up. At least half of the time, I can get a baby back to sleep by re-inserting the pacifier, tucking his blanket in, and shushing him with a soft voice. I’ve also had luck pushing down on the crib mattress (gently) near the baby to offer a little bit of vibration, almost like taking baby on a car ride.
  3. Find the problem, and fix it. If it’s clear that your baby is hungry, and you’re both up anyway, you might as well feed him. If he looks uncomfortable or squirmy, try burping him. If she looks frightened, hold her close and rock her.
  4. Leave the room as soon as the baby is settled. Don’t stick around to see if it worked, just leave the room and listen outside the door. That way, your baby won’t see you and think it’s time to be extra-cute and wake up.

For more help, see the in-depth article on How to Soothe Your Baby Back to Sleep.

Three Things to Try to Get Baby to Sleep Longer

If you’ve followed my advice so far, you’re a long way on the road to having your baby sleep through the night. There are three “sleep extending” strategies I haven’t touched on that might help your baby sleep longer and more consistently.

1. Bath before bed

Baby bath thermometer

Bath Thermometer

Babies seem to respond differently to baths – some love them, some hate them. I think that water temperature is key here. It should feel slightly warm to your touch, about 90 to 95 degrees. A baby bath thermometer helps. Splash some warm water on the seat or platform that holds your baby up right before he or she goes in – if these get wet and are exposed to air for a couple of minutes, they turn cold very quickly. Regardless of how much they enjoy the bath itself, 100% of my babies are more relaxed after a bath. They fall asleep easier and usually sleep for longer.

2. Early bed time

This is a strategy that you often hear about from sleep experts – the early bedtime. A lot of parents put their babies to bed for the night too late. It seems counter-intuitive, but often putting babies to bed earlier helps them sleep longer. For us, the right time was around 1-2 hours after dinner, around 8:00 or 8:30. Experiment with this and find the right time for your baby.

Aden + Anais Blankets

Aden + Anais Blankets

3. Hands free to soothe

This is for older babies, ones that are using their hands to grab and hold things. Try giving your baby a light-weight blanket, blankie, or extra-soft plush animal to hold at bedtime. Again, not for newborns. Technically, this is not in line with the current sleep safety guidelines so consider it carefully. If you decide to try it, experiment with a few different items. Our boys like the corner of a thin receiving blanket, specifically the legendary Aden+Anais blankets. The soft touch against their cheek soothes them to sleep, and often back to sleep if they wake up.

What To Read Next

Our complete guide to teaching healthy baby sleep habits is called Baby Sleep Training 101. If you like this article, you might want to subscribe by e-mail or RSS so that you’re notified when new content is posted.

Baby sleep problems Wireless VIdeo Baby Monitors Train baby to sleep through the night Essential Baby Sleep Gear
Baby sleep problems takes you through the most common sleep issues and how to address them. Our video monitor reviews compare the latest cutting-edge wireless color video baby monitors. Visit our sleep training section for strategies and tips for teaching your baby to sleep through the night. Check out our reviews of Essential baby gear for helping babies sleep at night.

Periodic Table of Baby Sleep

We’ve created this clickable periodic table of baby sleep with all of the elements — sleep essentials, good habits, common sleep problems, and safety concerns — to help your baby get a good night’s sleep.

Sleep Essentials Sleep Problems
Establish baby sleep routine Feeding to get baby to sleep Warm to get baby to sleep Reflux keeps baby awake Gas keeps baby awake Hungry baby wont sleep
Burp baby for sleep Quiet to get baby to sleep Comfort baby to sleep Get Sick baby to sleep Baby sleep diapers
Dark to get baby to sleep PERIODIC TABLE OF BABY SLEEP Get teething baby to sleep
Pacifier for baby sleep Nightlight for baby sleep Loose blanket baby sleep safety Smoker baby sleep safety
Swaddle baby to sleep White noise for baby sleep Cereal for baby sleep Overheating baby sleep safety Drugs baby sleep safety Cosleeping and baby sleep safety
Good Sleep Habits Safety Concerns


Essentials for Baby Sleep

These are the basic things that your baby needs to fall asleep. In dark blue are the basic necessities for putting baby to bed; in light blue are the things he’ll need to fall asleep quickly and consistently.

Establish sleep routine for baby Routine. Establishing a sleep schedule and nighttime routine for your baby is critical for good sleep habits. You’ve probably heard of bath-bottle-bed, a classic bedtime routine. Following the same steps at roughly the same time each night helps train your baby that it’s time to go to sleep.
Feeding baby at night Feeding. A full belly is one of the most important ingredients for success in baby sleep training. Simply put, the more food your baby has in his belly, the longer he’ll sleep. It’s all about the nighttime feeding. Solid foods, once your pediatrician OKs them, make a huge difference if you give them at the evening meal.
Burp a baby for sleep Burping. One of the most common reasons, if not the most common reason, that babies won’t go to sleep or wake up crying is from stomach gas. That’s why you have to burp a baby extensively before bed. Knowing some alternate burping techniques will help get stubborn burps out.
Quiet for baby sleep Quiet. This may seem rather obvious, but most infants sleep best in a quiet sleeping environment. White noise is fine, but random noises — from televisions, radios, siblings, or parents — will disrupt the rest and might wake your baby up for the night. Keeping things quiet can be especially difficult if you’re entertaining or traveling with your baby. Invest in a good baby sleep monitor to stay in tune with your baby overnight.
Comfort baby to sleep Comfort. This has two parts to it: choosing the right clothes and blanket(s) for your baby to sleep in, and comforting him at bedtime. You, as a caring parent who’s online reading about babies and sleep, probably do this last part pretty well. For help with the first, see What A Newborn Should Sleep In and check out our guide to cute baby pajamas.
Warm to get baby to sleep Warmth. Being nice and warm helps a baby sleep just as much as it helps an adult. Babies have a harder job of it, though, because they’re so little. A velcro swaddler or baby sleep sack will help keep your baby warm and snug overnight. See also How to Swaddle A Newborn.
Dark for baby sleep Dark. You can help your baby sleep through the night by promoting his natural circadian rhythms – make sure he gets light during the day when it’s play time, but goes to sleep in a dark or nearly-dark room, with at most a night light to see by.

Good Habits to Help Baby Sleep Longer

There are numerous sleep strategies that parents use to help their babies sleep longer and more deeply. Not all of these will work for every baby, but these are some things I recommend when you’re trying to get your baby to sleep through the night.

Pacifier for baby sleep Pacifier. The pacifier is a must-have for bedtime. You should have two or three backups readily at hand so that you can find one in the dark in the middle of the night. Many parents use the hospital-preferred Soothie, though pacifiers by MAM seem more comfortable for older babies. See The Best Baby Pacifiers for more recommendations.
Swaddle baby to sleep Swaddle. If you ever look through the window of a hospital nursery, you’ll notice that the nurses tend to swaddle a newborn under their care. Sometimes one-handed, too, which is impressive. Swaddling your baby mimics the warm snugness and comfort of the womb, while also providing a safe wrapping for your baby to sleep in. A baby sleep sack or sleeping bag does the same while allowing the legs some movement.
Night light for baby Night Light. This could be for your baby, to keep him entertained or distracted while he’s falling asleep in bed. More likely, though, it will be for the parents, to minimize the number of cracked knees and stubbed toes that inevitably result from bumbling around in the dark in baby’s room. See Choosing A Night Light for Baby for some recommendations.
White noise for baby White Noise. Something that provides a low, steady humming noise helps shield your baby from other noises that might wake it. Further, it forms part of the baby bedroom “environment” in which your baby becomes accustomed to sleeping. A fan is a good choice here, because it has the added benefit of circulating air around the room. Soothers and sound machines are also a comfort for many babies.
Baby cereal at night Cereal. As soon as your pediatrician approves it, get some single-grain cereal and start teaching your baby to eat it. Rice and oat cereals are good to start with. You can use cereal to thicken baby food (especially carrots, sweet potatoes, and most fruits). Give your baby cereal at the evening meal (or a bit with the bedtime bottle) and you’ll almost certainly notice him sleeping longer.

Common Baby Sleep Problems

When your baby cries in bed, or wakes up in the middle of the night, there are dozens of possible explanations. In my experience, though, a handful of the most common reasons explain 90% of the times that a baby won’t sleep.

Hungry baby wont sleep Hunger. In my opinion, this is the single most common reason that babies (1) refuse to go to sleep, or (2) wake up crying in the middle of the night. They’re growing all the time. They need food to do it. A good nighttime feeding strategy will help keep your baby’s tummy full overnight.
Gassy baby wont sleep Gassiness. Another major source of bedtime discomfort and baby waking up. Sometimes there’s not much you can do; infant digestive systems are still maturing and need some time to work the kinks out. Just be sure you know how to burp a baby thoroughly before bed, and be certain to do it every time.
Wet diaper wont sleep Diaper. A fresh, clean diaper is a must when putting your baby to bed. Babies with a wet or dirty diapers usually won’t even go to sleep, much less stay there. When your infant is a little bit older (say 3 months), look into the Huggies Overnites diapers. These wick away more moisture to keep your baby dry overnight. See our article on the Importance of Diapers for Sleeping.
Reflux baby wont sleep Reflux. Spitting up is a common problem with newborns, and especially frustrating around bedtime because (1) your baby messes up his pajamas, and (2) he’s just regurgitated the food he’ll need to sleep overnight. You can protect against this by keeping him upright (holding, bouncer, or Bumbo seat) for 20-30 minutes before bed. For more tips, see Handling Reflux or Colic.
Get A sick baby to sleep Sick. Even the best-trained babies have trouble sleeping when they’re sick. They feel icky, they’re congested, they can’t breathe, and they cough the pacifier right out. Getting A Sick Baby to Sleep takes extra patience and extra work, but it can be done.
Baby sleep while teething Teething. This is one of the reasons why baby won’t sleep that’s hard to diagnose. Sometimes your baby has a runny nose, or refuses to eat even though he seems hungry. My boys would suddenly wake up screaming, as if in pain. Luckily there’s a good solution for this problem: Baby Orajel.

Unsafe Sleep Practices

All of us have bad habits. When it comes to babies and sleep, however, your weak points can actually create a dangerous situation for your baby. Some of the most worrisome safety concerns warned about by the American Academy of Pediatrics are in orange and red.

Back to sleep cosleeping Co-sleeping, or sleeping in the same room with your baby is actually a recommended practice to help you monitor him overnight. A mini crib is ideal for this. Bed-sharing (letting the baby sleep in your bed), however, can be dangerous. This is a major risk for SIDS and you shouldn’t get into the habit. See Cosleeping with Baby for some advice. And check out the safe crib for co-sleeping.
Back to sleep smoking Smoking. Room-sharing and bed-sharing with someone who smokes increases a baby’s risk of SIDS, even if that person doesn’t smoke while in bed. The carcinogen-containing smoke particles cling to a smoker’s clothing, skin, and hair, and can still be transferred when he or she touches or goes near an infant. Quitting smoking is something you should try very hard to do. For you, and for baby.
Back to sleep safety overheat Overheating. With all of the flannel pajamas, swaddlers, and baby blankets, it is quite possible for your baby to overheat. The AAP recommends that your baby have, at most, one more layer of clothing on than an adult would need to feel comfortable. Some of the digital video baby monitors that we reviewed include remote temperature sensors for the nursery, which seems like a nice idea.
Back to sleep safety drugs Drugs and Alcohol. Parents taking prescription drugs, non-prescription drugs (you know what I mean), or alcohol can endanger their baby because these things make them (1) less responsive, (2) groggy and/or clumsy, and (3) poor in judgment. The risk of SIDS is even higher when parents also let the baby sleep in their bed.
Back to sleep safety loose blankets Loose Bedding. This is the danger that we all know about, and all of us eventually become guilty of. When you’re trying to get a baby to sleep and comforting him, it’s tempting to put a little stuffed animal or soft pillow or loose blanket in his crib. Be strong, and don’t do it. Your baby’s crib should only have one thing in it: the baby. Consider swaddling with an Aden+Anais blanket for extra comfort.

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Does My Baby Have Reflux or Colic?

baby reflux colicReflux and colic are similar conditions that put babies in a lot of discomfort. So how do you tell them apart? More importantly, what can you do if your baby is affected? This guide will help you answer those questions.

Symptoms of reflux
Symptoms of colic
Helping a baby with reflux
Helping a baby with colic

Symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) in infants is different from acid reflux in adults. Infant reflux is simply frequent “spitting up”, which many babies do. It’s estimated that up to 35% of the 4 million babies born annually in the United States suffers at least mild reflux. If your baby spits up occasionally, it’s nothing to be concerned about. The symptoms of GERD tend to be more severe:

  • Repeated vomiting
  • Spitting up with little or no apparent effort
  • Frequent wet coughing
  • Apparent respiratory problems, such as wheezing.

If your baby suffers any of the above symptoms, it may be reflux.

Symptoms of Baby Colic

Baby colic (also called infantile colic) is a condition in which an otherwise healthy baby cries or appears stressed for long periods without any obvious cause. Typically, it manifests during the first month of life and continues until the baby is 3-4 months old, though rare cases have persisted up to a year. The medical criteria specify that babies with colic cry or fuss for at least three hours, at least three times a week, for the first three weeks of life. That being said, many doctors believe that a baby can have colic without quite meeting these symptoms, especially the 3-hour rule. A more general set of symptoms of baby colic include:

  • Sudden onset of crying or fussiness without any discernible reason
  • Intense crying that lasts for hours
  • Hunching and other signs of intestinal/GI discomfort
  • The frequency and intensity increases over a course of weeks
  • Symptoms happen more often or more acutely in the late afternoon or early evening.

The late afternoon / early evening fussiness is common among babies, even those without colic. We asked our pediatrician about it, and even he was uncertain as to the reason. He did point out that the early evening is when babies (1) tend to get more tired, as they don’t sleep as well during the day, and (2) usually have gone a longer time without substantial feeding, which usually happens in the morning and at night. The confluence of these factors may explain why many babies are colicky at around 4 or 5 p.m.

Helping A Baby with Reflux

There’s lots you can do to deal with babies with mild reflux. The most important thing is to minimize the stress placed on your baby’s tummy. This means that you should avoid overfeeding and try to burp your baby at least twice during feedings. You should also keep your baby in a somewhat upright position for at least half an hour after he’s eaten. You can hold him, of course, or put him in a baby bouncer or Bumbo-type seat. Always put a burp cloth or towel on your shoulder when you’re holding the baby or burping him, as infants with reflux tend to spit up a lot.

Helping A Baby with Colic

The jury is still out on the cause of baby colic. While gas bubbles in the stomach or digestive tract have always been a popular theory, it is clear that the set of causes goes well beyond that. Worse, many of the standard treatments for digestive discomfort — simethicone, for example — seem to only offer temporary relief or none at all. Wikipedia recommends that babies with colic be treated instead with the five S’s:

  • Swaddling your baby to keep him warm and help him feel secure.
  • Side or stomach positions to comfort your infant while holding him (he should only be put on his back to sleep).
  • Shushing or sound. Make a soft shushing noise near your baby’s ear, or use something else to make white noise in the baby’s room.
  • Swing the baby back and forth in tiny movements. Make sure he’s tucked close to you, and support the head and neck.
  • Sucking. Give the baby a breast, pacifier, or a (washed) fingertip to suck on.

You’ll notice that these are all baby soothing techniques, nothing more. Unfortunately, since the medical basis of colic remains understood, there are not many advanced treatment options. No matter what the experts say, I recommend that you try gas relief drops with simethicone (Mylicon) and gripe water to see if they make a difference for your baby.

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Soothe Your Baby Back to Sleep

soothing baby back to sleep

Credit: Flickr user peasap

Sometimes your baby will wake up in the middle of the night when he or she normally would sleep right through. The same thing can happen at nap time. There’s no need to panic! This is not as disastrous as it seems.

My twins often wake up in the midst of a sleep cycle; nine times out of ten, I can soothe them back to sleep within a few minutes. Do it right, and your properly soothed infant will probably sleep for hours more.

Do it wrong, however, and you’re dealing with a stressed baby that’s now completely off his regular sleep schedule. Here are some tips for soothing your baby back to sleep.

baby moon night light

Night Light

1. Count to Ten

If you can, wait ten or twenty seconds before entering your baby’s room. Sometimes they fuss a little, and then go right back to sleep. Of course, you might not have this luxury if there are other sleeping children in the room (as in twins) or down the hall.

2. Skip the Grand Entrance

The worst thing you can do when a baby wakes up suddenly is barge in, throw on all the lights, and pick him right up. I find that the best soothing takes place in the dark and in the quiet, with as few stimuli as possible. Slip into the room, get the baby comforted, and slip out again.

3. Keep the Baby Close

If your baby wakes up in the middle of the night and you want to soothe him or her quickly, think about getting a mini crib or bassinet and keeping it in your room. That way you can reach out and calm your baby back to sleep without even getting out of bed.

Soothing Cute Baby with Pacifier

4. Install a night light or small lamp

Make sure it’s within easy reach. This will give you enough light to see by but without over-stimulating the infant. It’s a handy way to help you (1) hunt down missing pacifiers, and (2) not wipe out on heavy pieces of furniture.

5. Find and re-insert the pacifier.

Half the time I can’t find the one that the baby went to bed with, so I keep one at each end of the crib and another on a nearby nightstand. You can’t ever have too many pacifiers. See also our review of the best baby pacifiers.

Pink MAM pacifiers

6. Touch your baby and quietly reassure him.

I usually stroke his head, very gently, and tuck the Aden+Anais blanket back down around him. Much of the time, this is all I have to do, and the baby goes right back to sleep.

7. Pick your baby up

Do this only if the previous two things don’t work. It’s far easier to get a baby back to sleep when he’s already in bed. Often your presence alone is enough.

8. Rock your baby.

If you have a rocking chair in the room, which I recommend, use it now. Sometimes my boys don’t care for the motion of the rocker and I have to stand up to rock them. Either way, find a position and motion that gets your baby calm.

9. Keep the pacifier in

unless your baby actively pushes it out. Sometimes the baby will turn his head back and forth against you, losing the pacifier in the process. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t want it, he’s just stressed. If he doesn’t want the pacifier, he’ll push it out with his tongue and rear back when you try to put it back in. Invest in good pacifiers so that this isn’t an issue.

10. Put the baby to your shoulder and pat his back.

Just like you’re burping him. Sometimes this will even produce a belch, which was likely what roused him. You need to address gas (ideally before putting baby to bed), because a gassy baby won’t sleep.
Try humming, singing, or a music box. The effectiveness of these varies substantially between infants, but if it’s something your baby likes (and has been comforted by in the past), do it. See my review of soothers and sound machines for baby’s room.

Still Struggling?

soothing sound machine

Graco Sound Machine

If you’ve tried all of the above and your baby’s still crying, something is probably wrong. We’re beyond soothing at this point: you need to find the problem and fix it. I have an entire post breaking down the reasons a baby won’t sleep. Usually, I like to start with a diaper check. This is something you can fix (change) right there and in relative quiet, without waking your baby up too much. Never underestimate the importance of diapers for sleeping.

Over time, you’ll learn to recognize the signals your infant gives you. Nuzzling at you and slurping heavily on the pacifier usually means hunger. A baby that arches his back and cries in apparent discomfort probably has gas or digestive discomfort. Find the problem, fix it, rock your baby a little bit, and put him back to bed. You can often do it in less than five minutes.

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Best Baby Pacifiers has our recommendations for newborns, older babies, and teething infants. Baby sleep problems takes you through the most common sleep issues and how to address them. The periodic table of baby sleep has all the essential elements for healthy baby sleep habits. Visit our sleep training section for strategies and tips for teaching your baby to sleep through the night.

Getting A Sick Baby To Sleep

getting sick baby to sleepSick babies often won’t sleep. When your baby is sick, all of those good sleeping habits seem to go out the window. Even babies that have been sleeping through the night for months suddenly have trouble falling asleep or wake up periodically at night. It’s especially frustrating for the parents, because we know our little one is suffering but feel powerless to help.

In this article we’ll talk about how being sick disrupts a baby’s sleep habits, and what you can do about it.
1. How to tell when your baby is sick
2. Why sick babies won’t sleep
3. Help a sick baby sleep

Signs that your baby is sick

Most of the symptoms of a sick baby are pretty obvious, but it’s a bit harder because they can’t communicate with you. Here are the signs that your baby is falling ill:

  • Runny nose. This is the classic symptom, the one you often notice first. Keep lots of tissues handy and wipe whenever you can. The moistened Boogie Wipes are good for this.
  • Coughing and sneezing. This is another symptom, and one that can linger long after your child has otherwise recovered. Fair warning: infants have absolutely no concept of covering the mouth or turning away. They will literally cough into your open mouth if you’re not careful!
  • Congestion. You notice this primarily in two ways. First, you hear it when they breathe. Second, you notice that they have to spit out the bottle or pacifier to breathe because their nasal passages are clogged.
  • Fever. The most measurable and definitive symptom that your baby is sick is a consistent fever above 100.3 degrees (F). It’s tough to measure a baby’s temperature accurately using crappy little baby thermometers, so I highly recommend one of the no-touch infrared thermometers; they cost around $30.

Why sick babies won’t sleep

The reasons babies have trouble sleeping are similar to the problems that we grown-ups encounter, with some additions:

  1. Trouble breathing. This is mostly due to congestion, and it gets in the way of keeping the pacifier in.
  2. Can’t eat enough. A sore throat, irritability, loss of appetite, or all three keeps the baby from eating enough.
  3. Coughing. This can wake the baby up or prevent him or her from falling asleep.
  4. Fatigue. You’d think this would help the baby sleep, and sometimes it does. Other times they’re overtired and too fussy to go to sleep.

Helping a sick baby sleep

You’re going to need a well-stocked baby medicine cabinet with an arsenal of things to make your baby more comfortable. Stock up now, before the symptoms hit, and you’ll be glad that you did. Here are some specific things to help make your baby more comfortable when sick.

Getting Baby’s Nose Clear

I don’t recommend the blue bulb syringes for trying to clear out baby’s nose. It’s hard to know how deep to push these in, and most of the time you just end up irritating the nose even more. Our pediatrician recommended instead using infant saline drops (such as Little Noses) several times a day: two drops in each nostril before they eat and before they go to sleep. You don’t have to use a syringe to clear it out and the drops won’t sting. We also came to appreciate Boogie Wipes, soft little moistened tissues for gently rubbing the crusties away.

With saline drops you can provide your baby some relief, but let’s be honest, it’s not equivalent to adult blowing his or her nose. Some congestion will remain. It’s time to ask yourself: how far are you willing to go to help your sick baby?

Saline Drops for Sick Babies
Saline Drops
Nose Wipes for Sick Babies
Nose Wipes

The Nosefrida Snotsucker

There’s another, more direct option for getting the snot out. Something that has 800+ reviews on Amazon, most of which give it 5 stars. I’m talking about the Nosefrida Snotsucker Nasal Aspirator.

This is a Swedish device that you can use to physically clear out your baby’s nose, not unlike a bulb syringe except you (the parent) provide the suction. In that way it seems a bit safer than other snot-suckers.

Now, this idea probably grosses you out. But is it any worse than being peed, pooped, or spit-up on by your little one? You’ve undoubtedly been through that. So bite the bullet and order this.

Nosefrida Aspirator

Help with Breathing Problems, Coughing, and Sore Throat

The dry, stale air indoors in winter time is a major culprit for breathing problems. You can minimize the problem with a humidifier for the babies’ room. Humidifiers now-a-days come in two forms: warm and cool. I don’t know much about the differences between them, only that cool-air is the newer thing and these tend to be a bit more expensive.

We chose a cool-air humidifier for safety reasons, not just for the babies but for their two-year-old sister. Crane makes a series of small, quiet cool-air humidifiers for children shaped like a penguin, frog, cow, puppy, or half a dozen other animals. They’re cute and have over 3,000 reviews on Amazon, usually a good sign.

Humidifiers for Sick Baby
Cool Air Humidifier

Dress Your Baby Comfortably

Even if your baby has a fever, you want to dress him or her warm enough (especially for bedtime). Usually a clean diaper, long-sleeve pajamas, and a swaddle or sleep sacket is the winning combination. For a complete guide, see our article on what a newborn should sleep in.

Elevate the Crib Mattress

Second, we elevated one side of the bed so that our babies’ heads were higher than their feet. This helps keep their airways clear of mucous, which is loosened by the saline drops. You can do this the “right” way, by lowering the setting at the foot of the bed (assuming that the crib is already at its highest setting), or you can do this the “easy” way by putting a couple of books or similar sturdy, flat objects under the head of the mattress.

Don’t use baby sleep positioners, ramps, or other after-market products that go in the baby’s crib. They’re not safe, especially for infants! See our article on the myth of baby sleep positioners.


Infrared baby thermometerChecking for Fever

You can often tell that your baby has a fever when you pick him or her up, because feverish babies feel unusually warm. It’s best to know if and when your baby has a fever, and just what that fever could be (your pediatrician will probably ask). Taking an unhappy baby’s temperature is an exercise in frustration, particularly when using those crappy little thermometers they give you in the hospital.

Fortunately, there are now reasonably priced infrared baby thermometers that take temperatures quite accurately in just a few seconds. Well worth the investment!

Treat Your Infant’s Fever (if possible)

If your baby has a fever, he’s probably uncomfortable even with a clear nose. And you should be checking for fever on a regular basis. I wouldn’t bother with the cheap plastic digital thermometers… they’re inaccurate, even when you get them to work.

If your pediatrician gives the OK, you can treat your baby’s fever with a number of over-the-counter pain reliever / fever reducer products. These are usually acetaminophen- or ibuprofen-based, in liquid form, often flavored to make your infant take them. Follow the dosage instructions carefully, as these medicines tend to vary in concentration. It goes better if your infant is partly or fully inclined, and somewhat calm. Administering medicine helps if you do it a little bit at the time so that your baby can swallow it. Make sure that you wash the dropper after each dose!

You should also look into the Cold and Flu Season section of They have everything you could possibly need!

Baby Advil

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With cold and flu season approaching, here are 14 things for baby’s medicine cabinet. The periodic table of baby sleep has all the essential elements for healthy baby sleep habits. Visit our sleep training section for strategies and tips for teaching your baby to sleep through the night. Check out our reviews of Essential baby gear for helping babies sleep at night.