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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How To Burp A Baby

How to burp babyLearning how to burp a baby is a crucial skill for new parents. In reality, it’s nothing like what you see on TV, where the actors (who are too rested, clean-shaven, and nicely dressed to be real newborn parents) put the baby on a shoulder, pat him a few times, and go on with their day.

In reality, it takes a little more technique and a lot more patience to burp a baby successfully.

When To Burp A Baby
Burping On Your Shoulder
Burp in Sitting Position
Why Burp A Baby?
Why Do I Have To Burp My Baby?

When To Burp A Baby

Early and often, especially with babies that are fussy or have reflux. One common misconception is that you should only burp a baby after he or she’s finished eating. You’ve probably learned the hard way just how wrong this is. As a rule, you should at least try to burp your baby halfway through the feeding. If your baby spits up a lot, divide feedings into thirds. You may not get a burp every time, but you should give your baby a chance to do it. Look for these warning signs that your baby needs to burp:

  • Your baby stops eating or starts gurgling the milk.
  • He/she squirms or twists as if uncomfortable
  • You hear bubbling or rumbling sounds from your infant’s belly

If you notice any of these, stop feeding and offer your baby a burp.

Burping On Your Shoulder

The classic burping technique is to put the baby on your shoulder and gently pat his back. You should be aiming for the middle of the back, opposite the sternum. Not low on the kidneys, not high on the shoulders. You shouldn’t apply a lot of force, especially if you’re trying to burp a newborn. All you’re trying to do is loosen the bubbles of air in baby’s belly; you don’t have to physically push them up and out. If there’s an audible slap when you make contact, it’s probably too hard.

Just a warning, your baby might spit up. Occasionally there can be some spit-up when you go to burp a baby on your shoulder. This is normal, but plan accordingly – wear old clothes, or lay a burp cloth on your shoulder where the baby’s face will be.
How to burp a baby in sitting position

Burp In Sitting Position

Some babies have trouble burping in upright position on your shoulder. Another position I like to try is having the baby sit up, either on your lap or on a hard surface. A diaper changing table is perfect for this. Make sure that you support your baby, since they can’t sit up on their own at this point. Sit him at a comfortable 90 degree angle and pat the back gently.

Your infant might dislike this position, especially if he feels insecure. If this is the case, try it on your lap first and keep him close to you. Sometimes the sitting position gets a burp when the upright shoulder one does not; sometimes it’s the other way around. The important thing is to try different positions when you know that your baby needs to burp.

Baby Burping Tips

If your baby has trouble burping, you might have to get creative.

  • Instead of patting the baby’s back, you can try rubbing upward on his back, in the direction you want the bubbles to go.
  • You might also put the baby on your shoulder and move around a little. Often we get the stubborn burp out when carrying a baby up or down stairs; the bobbing motion seems to help.
  • I’ve also gotten a burp by putting the baby down on his back for a minute, and then picking him up again. Just don’t move or jiggle the baby too much, or he might spit up.
  • As they get older, some babies can sort of burp on their own if you support them in a sitting position for a few minutes.

Whatever happens, you should find something that works for your baby and stick to it.

Why Do I have To Burp My Baby?

Babies take most of their food in liquid form (breast milk or formula). They tend to ingest some air when drinking or even spoon-feeding, and they’re usually unable to relieve that pressure by belching on their own. Trust me, it’s better to get this gas up and out the way it came in. Bubbles in the tummy are often the reason that a baby won’t sleep. If air bubbles get into the digestive tract, your baby can be painfully uncomfortable for hours. So help your baby out, and give him a little pat on the back. He’ll sleep better for it.

If you have a gassy or fussy baby, see our article on 5 things to do when baby has gas.

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Nighttime Feeding and Sleep

nighttime feeding and baby sleepOne of the most important things to get right to help your baby to sleep through the night is the nighttime feeding. In most cases, this is the last time you feed the baby before you go to bed, and how you do it will affect how much sleep you’ll get. For newborns this doesn’t really apply; they eat every two to four hours, so you’re going to be up in the middle of the night regardless.

As time passes, however, the baby’s tummy gets big enough to take more food. More food takes longer to digest, and that means more time until the baby wakes up. In my experience, when it comes to reasons why babies won’t sleep when you want them to, hunger is number one. What you feed your baby at night, and your baby’s age, are two of the principal factors in when babies start sleeping through the night.
What to Feed Baby at Night
Nighttime Feeding for Newborns (0-3 months)
Nighttime Feeding for Infants (3-6 months)
Nighttime Feeding for Older Babies (6-18 months)

What to Feed Baby At Night

As you’ve probably noticed with your baby, food and sleep are correlated. The more an infant eats, the longer he generally sleeps. What you feed your baby matters as well. At the newborn stage you don’t have much choice other than breast milk or formula, but once your baby is old enough to start solid food, a baby buffet of options becomes available. Let’s break down your basic baby foods, with their advantages and disadvantages relative to sleeping through the night.

Breast Milk

There are innumerable benefits of breast feeding your newborn. It’s an intimate bonding experience. It saves money. It confers health benefits (such as natural immunity) to your infant. Breast milk digests extremely well, too. This is a plus for diaper changes, but a minus when it comes to sleeping for long hours. On breast milk alone, I think it’s hard for a baby to go longer than 4-5 hours. Also, nursing tends to be more physically demanding than drinking from a bottle, so your baby may tire before drinking his fill.

I am NOT about to suggest that you give formula instead of nursing your baby. I am clarifying here because I get the occasional angry comment or e-mail from someone who gets that wrong impression.

However, If you are one of the many mothers who supplements her newborn’s diet with formula, try to save that for nighttime. You might also consider offering a small bottle after nursing if your baby exhausted the milk supply and still seems hungry.

Infant Formula

Gerber Baby Formula

Baby Formula

No matter what the makers of Similac and Enfamil would have you believe, most baby formulas are quite similar. Mainstream products come in a few different forms:

  • Newborn formula is lower-calorie and designed to be gentle on the stomach. Good for your baby’s tummy, but hard to sleep through the night on.
  • Infant formula is pretty standard. The three main ingredients are nonfat milk, lactose, and vegetable oil. I won’t push you toward one particular brand, and generics are fine too. Just try to stick with one that your baby likes.
  • Gentle formula in various forms is marketed for babies that have reflux or other problems. This stuff is fine, but you should be aware that the number one ingredient is not milk. It’s corn syrup.

See our review of infant formula for some recommendations of pre-mixed and organic formula options.

One thing all baby formulas have in common is that they’re expensive. Like liquid gold. The advantage for sleep, however, is that formula is essentially in unlimited supply, so you can always offer more if your baby seems hungry before bed. It tends to be a bit thicker, too, which may help extend sleep.

Single-grain Cereal

Baby Cereal

Baby Cereal

When your baby is 4-6 months old, you may be told to start offering solid food, usually single-grain cereal. Our pediatrician’s baby guide further specifies that the first solid foods (in order) should be rice cereal, oatmeal cereal, and then barley cereal. See our guide on When to Give Baby Cereal. You generally mix this in a bowl with milk or water, and spoon-feed it to your infant. Start trying it right away, because it will take a few times for your baby to get the hang of eating solid food. Once he or she can eat it, baby cereal is a game changer. Give it before a nap or at dinner, and I can almost guarantee you’ll notice a difference in how long your baby can sleep.

Solid Baby Foods

It’s usually around 6 months that your baby will start eating Gerber-type baby food. You’ll begin with the classics – peas, carrots, sweet potatoes, and apples in unrecognizable smoothie form. I’ve heard from many that you should start with the veggies first, because once your baby tastes fruit, he won’t want anything else. This wasn’t true for my kids; a hungry baby will generally eat what is offered. However, the sweeter foods — fruits, carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes — tend to be of thinner consistency; I highly recommend thickening them with single-grain cereal. This helps the food “hug” the spoon for feeding, and it also offers more calories. See our guide, 6 Tips for Starting Solid Food.

No matter what food or foods you choose to offer, make sure that your baby likes it well enough, and that you’ve plenty in stock for those nighttime feedings.

Nighttime Feeding for Newborns (0-3 months)

Newborn babies have essentially two jobs: eat most of the time, and sleep the rest (16-18 hours a day). You will feed a newborn every two to four hours, but it’s important to stick to that schedule. Feed him as much as he’ll take (pausing to burp every ounce or so), do a last round of burping, and then put him down. One of the worst mistakes you can make is to try and feed your baby every time he cries. Not only does it set a bad precedent, but it shouldn’t be necessary because his tummy should be full. I’m not suggesting that you ignore a baby that’s crying and clearly hungry. But if it’s too soon for a baby to be eating, try soothing with a pacifier or a rocking chair first. When it is time to eat, there are two things you should always strive to do:

  1. Feed the baby until his tummy is full. If he starts to doze off in the middle of nursing or a bottle, wake him gently. Unbutton the onesie for a little cool air if you must. It won’t do you any good if he’s asleep now but awake again (and hungry) in half an hour.
  2. Get the gas out. The digestive system of a newborn is a delicate thing. Every parent knows how unhappy babies get when they have bubbles in their tummies. Address this by burping regularly during the feeding, not just after (see How To Burp A Baby). Many parents swear by the Dr. Brown’s Bottles which are engineered to reduce the air ingested by the baby. We have about a dozen of them. They work.

Nighttime Feeding for Infants (3-6 months)

At the age of three months, most babies can eat enough to last three to six hours before the next feeding. Don’t forget to burp him, because your baby is drinking more milk and doing it faster. Try to burp two or three times during the feeding, and once afterward. Listen for the warning signs of an imminent spit-up: deep gurgling noises, little burps, or grumbles from the stomach.

Establishing a routine is especially important here, because many babies are capable of sleeping for that critical six hours overnight that lets parents get to REM sleep. Try and time the last feeding to coincide with your own bedtime. At the last feeding, offer as much milk as the baby will take. Put in an extra round of burping. Swaddle, put in crib, and hurry to bed yourself.

Nighttime Feeding for Older Babies (6-18 months)

At six months you’ll probably notice an important turning point. For me, the biggest factor was the green-light from the pediatrician on giving the babies rice cereal. Once they start eating solid food, babies sleep longer without waking up to eat. The crucial step is to feed your baby a good and nourishing meal at dinner time. Don’t settle for finishing one container and assuming your baby is full; keep offering food until he’s obviously satisfied. Offering baby cereal in 2 tablespoon increments is good for this.

On Putting Cereal in the Bottle

Pediatricians and nutritionists generally advise against putting cereal in the baby’s bottle. The concerns are that it’s a choking hazard and that it might delay your baby’s learning to eat from a spoon. Even so, I know many parents who do mix a little bit of cereal in the last bottle before bed. We did this for the boys and it made a big difference for sleep, but hasn’t handicapped their ability to eat at all! But that’s my personal experience, and I won’t tell you what to do lest I get more angry e-mails about it (probably from people who don’t remember or know what it was like to have a baby waking up every 2 hours to eat).

If you do choose to try it, only use a teaspoon or two of cereal in a 4-6 ounce bottle. It should still be quite liquid and nowhere near applesauce consistency. Also, make sure to have a level 2 or level 3 nipple because cereal tends to clog.

With a full bottle of warm milk plus cereal, babies at this age sleep eight to 12 hours overnight. If you’re on solid food and still having trouble, see my article on getting a baby to sleep through the night.

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