Baby Sleep Training in Fall and Winter

baby sleep training fall winterThe season of change is upon us, and with it are a number of factors that might affect your baby’s sleep habits. In the United States we have daylight savings changes, which move the clock forward in springtime and backward in fall. Gaining an extra hour this fall seems like a great idea, right?

Until you consider the fact that circadian rhythms have a major impact on sleeping patterns, which might have your little ones waking up an hour earlier in the morning. Ouch! This article covers some of the seasonal changes in fall and winter, and how you can use them to help establish or continue healthy baby sleep habits.

Daylight Savings and Baby Bedtime

For me, the daylight savings time change in fall is a scary thing.

Baby sleep daylight savings time change

Sleeping after the time change

Essentially it means that sunrise will come an hour earlier, and so will the songs of the despicable birds that congregate outside of our house. Both sunlight and natural noise conspire to wake my boys in the morning. We combat this by using room-darkening shades with heavy curtains, and providing white noise in the nursery with a crib soother or sound machine.

Daylight savings is also an excuse to practice one of the most powerful techniques in baby sleep training: the early bedtime technique (EBT for short). The days are already getting shorter, so it’s a natural fit. The EBT will surprise you with how well it works in this transition period. Start adjusting for it now, so it’s not a shock when the clocks roll back.

We try to put our boys to bed about an hour after dinner, which  means we finish eating, play for half an hour, and then start getting ready. Dinner is the kickoff event for our nightly bedtime routine. Ever since the boys started eating solid food, we’ve focused on getting them a good nourishing dinner to help them sleep longer without waking up hungry.

Dressing Baby for Colder Weather

Long sleeve pajamas for baby

Break out the cute pajamas!

So long as you address it, the colder weather is on your side when it comes to baby sleep training. It’s an opportunity to put your baby into cozy long-sleeve pajamas and a swaddle blanket or baby sleep sack. These have a few advantages:

  • Keeping your baby warm overnight in case the temperature fluctuates
  • Providing the touch sensation of something warm and soft against their skin
  • In the case of swaddlers and sleep sacks, keeping baby from rolling around too much and waking up with a leg stuck in the crib’s bars.

The soothing white noise of central heating is a plus as well; it’s hard to imagine that a soft flow of warm air into the nursery would have anything but a positive effect.

Indoor  Baby Activities and Exercise

One thing that sucks about the changing weather is that it keeps you inside. Gone are the days when you could send your little ones forth to splash and play in the heat. There’s no better recipe for great naps and nighttime sleeping. When they’re cooped up indoors in the fall and winter, sometimes the babies have trouble sleeping just because of pent-up energy. Here are some ways to both engage your children and get them a bit of exercise and/or activity before bedtime:

  1. Play time on a soft mat or baby activity gym on their own, or even better, with you
  2. Tummy time for newborns who haven’t started crawling (not too soon after eating!)
  3. For crawlers, practice pulling up on sturdy things (couches) and lateral “cruising” while holding on
  4. Constructive activities like building blocks for babies of any age.
  5. A nice warm bath will do wonders – see our 7 tips for a perfect baby bath.
  6. Chasing, tickling, and other things that make them laugh

Preventing and Handling the Inevitable Sick Baby

One of the worst things about fall and winter is the onset of cold and flu season, which is ramping up even as I write this. Every year it seems like Halloween is the “infection point” for our family, after which we pass around colds for the whole month of November. A bit of planning ahead and general germophobia will hopefully reduce the chances of dealing with a sick baby this fall:

Settling Down for Bed

Something about the colder weather makes me really want to snuggle a baby in a soft, overstuffed chair and read a book. There are plenty of good reasons to read to your baby; fall and winter are a great opportunity to engage in this “indoor” activity. Play time, settle down time, and a solid bedtime routine are the critical elements for good baby sleep habits in these changing seasons.

9 Baby Sleep Tips You Won’t Like Hearing

9 baby sleep tips you won't want to hearWe all want our babies to sleep through the night as soon as possible. When they’re waking up frequently overnight, or too early in the morning (or both), the whole house suffers. If you’re serious about baby sleep training, it will mean taking steps that, frankly, you’re not going to enjoy. You don’t want to hear these things, but you need to. Read on.

1. Change your own routine

When your baby’s sleep schedule doesn’t match your own routine (meals, work, day care, etc.), it can be rough. You like waking up at 7, but baby’s always up at 6. Something’s gotta give, and it might be easier to change your schedule (governed by you) than your little one’s (governed by circadian rhythms).

2. Get a special diaper

A baby that sleeps overnight will wet his or her diaper 3-4 times. If that bothers them, especially if it wakes them up, you need to break out the heavy artillery. A standard diaper usually isn’t going to absorb this much while keeping your baby comfortable. You might need to pony up for overnight diapers, which are more expensive.

On the bright side, this is an easy problem to solve. And as a bonus, the nighttime diapers are good for road trips, too.

3. Wait three months.

One common mistake is starting baby sleep training too early. If your infant is less than 6 months old (adjusted age) and doesn’t seem to be sleeping for longer stretches, this may only be an exercise in frustration for you. Certainly in the first 3-4 months of life, your baby really shouldn’t sleep more than 5 hours or so without waking up to eat.

Wait for, and watch for, the signs that your baby is ready: sleeping longer stretches (even at nap time), self-soothing, and falling asleep without a lot of fuss at bedtime are all encouraging signs.

4. Wean from the late-night bottle.

baby-bottleWith our oldest daughter, we had a bit of a setback: we started soothing her in the middle of the night with a small bottle. She’d wake up once, drink it, and go back to sleep. It was almost sleeping through the night, so we didn’t mind. It’s so easy to fall into that routine.

Our pediatrician was the one who encouraged us to wean her from the late night bottle. It took about a week, and that week was rough! In the end, though, we got more REM sleep and that’s a good thing.

5. Put the baby in the crib

baby-sleep-in-cribMany parents bring the baby into their own bed to sleep at night. It’s easier for the baby to fall asleep here, easier and faster to soothe him, too. Unfortunately, this may be an untenable practice when it comes time for baby to sleep through the night.

Break this habit, even for naps! We all love to snuggle our little ones while they sleep — it’s one of the best parts of being a parent — but part of sleep training is putting the baby down. Your little one needs to learn to self-soothe, and to sleep in his or her own crib.

6. Devote more effort to bedtime

Once your baby learns to fall asleep on his or her own, it’s tempting to rush that process. You see those droopy eyes and want to tuck the baby in right away, so that you can do yesterday’s chores or go to bed yourself. The idea that 20 minutes of routine — warm bath, dry-off, new diaper, clean pajamas, bottle, book, bed — stands in the way can be daunting.

So we skip things. We skip the bath or the final diaper change or the clean pajamas. Sometimes there’s a price to be paid for this: the disruption in routine can prevent your baby from settling down and getting a good night’s rest. It’s hard, but it’s almost always worthwhile, to devote more effort to these little things.

7. Throw money at the problem.

So many times when a baby woke up too early or too often, we later talked about the cause, and how it could have been prevented. Maybe it was too bright in the nursery at 6 a.m., or the damn neighbor was dragging his garbage cans out after midnight. If only we could have found the pacifier in the dark!

Some of these issues can be addressed by just throwing money at the problem:

  • Buy extra pacifiers. Once you determine your baby’s favorite, you can never have too many. Why not buy 10 of them, so you always have one when you need it?
  • Find the best blanket. Most babies are happy with a $3 blanket, but if you want the best, go for Aden+Anais muslin blankets. They’re light, breathable, and super-soft.
  • Deck out the nursery. Go for the heavier curtains and the more expensive room-darkening shade. Put in the sound machine and the projection night light.
  • Get the video baby monitor. This always seemed like an extravagance, but being able to see and talk to your baby without getting out of bed seems like it’s worth the investment.

8. Bring in outside help

Many of us don’t want to admit when we’re in over our heads. It can feel like a personal failure when you can’t solve some issue with your baby, like the fact that she’s waking up once every 2 hours. You must be open to the idea of getting advice, because you’ve read most of this article!

Go ahead, ask for help. The first person we reach out to is our pediatrician. He’s super-patient with us, and he’s offered some really good advice. Other parents who have older children can offer useful tips as well. You might simply confide in one of your friends, invite her over, and ask, “What am I doing wrong?”

9. Let the baby cry

This is one of the hardest things to do. Sometimes, the things you need to do to help your baby establish healthy baby sleep habits are going to make them unhappy. When a baby cries, it really tugs at the heartstrings of both parents. You want to run in and snuggle them and soothe them in your arms, right?

Sometimes you have to be tough. You have to leave the room after putting the baby in the crib, or let him cry when you’re weaning that late-night feeding. If you’re the more tender-hearted spouse, put in the earplugs and tag out for a night. Let someone else be strong.

I’m not an advocate of letting the baby cry for hours without intervention. We like the approach of going in every 15 minutes or so, reinserting the pacifier, and then walking out again. That way you know the baby’s OK, but you still send the right message.

Helping Your Baby Sleep Better

For a while, it might seem like you establish healthy sleep habits for your baby at the price of your own rest and relaxation. If it were easy, this wouldn’t be one of the most common problems reported to pediatricians. Put in the effort. Don’t forget the little things.

Go read Baby Sleep Training 101, our comprehensive collection of baby sleep tips & advice, if you need more help. Good luck!

Blankets for Baby Sleep

blankets for baby sleep

Image credit: abardwell on Flickr

Finding blankets for baby sleep can be a lot of fun, but it’s also harder than it sounds. Your baby’s needs as far as blankets go change from newborn to infant to toddler stages. There are safety concerns. There are colors to coordinate. There are genders to gently remind strangers about until your baby’s hair comes in. Blankets can also play an important role in your baby’s sleep habits. In this article we’ll talk about blankets for babies at the newborn, infant, and older baby stages.

Blankets for Newborns

For newborn babies, especially in the crib, safety is the first concern. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a fairly simple guideline when it comes to what should be in the crib: a correctly-sized mattress, a fitted sheet, and the baby. The one exception is if you swaddle your baby using a blanket or a velcro swaddler. This is actually a good idea, as it provides both warmth and a feeling of snug security as your baby drifts off.

Swaddling Blankets

square muslin swaddle blanketSwaddling is a skill that every parent should learn, and learn well. The ideal swaddle is snug, uniform, and won’t come undone during your baby’s nap. If you want the walk-through, see our article on how to swaddle a baby. One key element to swaddling well is to choose the right blanket.

When our little ones were still newborn-sized, I always preferred the square swaddle blankets, because you could fold them down to make an even triangle. It makes a good starting point and seems to provide better angles.

You also want a relatively thin and lightweight blanket; otherwise it’s too bulky when you make the required folds for swaddling.

Velcro Swaddlers

summer infant velcro swaddlersOne way to ensure a uniform, tight swaddle every time is to use a velcro swaddling blanket, which is shaped kind of like a peapod. You put your baby’s legs in the bottom, wrap both “wings” around him or her, and secure it in place with two or three velcro pieces. These are nice because you can do them one-handed. Also, even the most determined little baby usually can’t kick out of them because of the secure velcro closure.

When our boys were little, we had about four velcro swaddlers in rotation, a primary and a backup for each one. That way you always have one; in those still-fuzzy first few months of twin babies, I’d occasionally have a moment of panic when I couldn’t find either one for my assigned twin.

Blankets for Older Babies

carters muslin baby blankets

Carter’s muslin blankets

As your baby grows and your fear of SIDS slowly passes, you’ll become more open to the idea of letting your baby take a blanket to bed. Technically, the only things in the crib should be mattress, fitted sheet, and baby, but let’s be honest: stuffed animals and pacifiers and an extra blanket or two are going to sneak their way in eventually.

Now is actually a good time to make a lightweight, loose blanket part of your baby’s bedtime routine. Nothing is better for this than the breathable muslin blankets by Aden + Anais. They don’t come cheap (you can expect to spend about $10 per blanket) but they’re the softest and most lightweight blankets ever. Our kids just love them, and I’m not even worried if they drape it across their faces when they go to sleep. Carter’s also makes soft muslin blankets that are a bit less expensive.

In fall and winter, a warmer blanket might be desirable. Adorable hand-sewn flannel or fleece baby blankets can be found on sites such as Etsy.

halo sleep sack blanketSleep Sacks or Wearable Blankets

At some point your baby will start kicking out of the swaddle or just be too big to fit into the velcro swaddler anymore. It’s a bit of a sad day, but there are good alternatives. We transitioned our boys to sleep sacks, also called wearable baby blankets. These are single-piece garments, often cotton or flannel, with sleeves and a zipper that zips closed toward the bottom. There’s a lot to like about them:

  • The body of the sleep sack keeps your baby’s legs warm but lets them move freely
  • You can unzip and change a diaper without taking the baby out of the sleep sack.
  • It fits over your baby’s onesie or pajamas
  • They promote healthy hip positions while the baby’s sleeping
  • Sleep sacks still seem to limit movement; they prevented our boys from rolling around too much.

Your Baby’s Blanket

As your baby grows and becomes more independent, self-will becomes very important. They like to have things a certain way, and they learn about the concept of personal property. In other words, everything is “mine.” It’s a good time to give them a special blanket to call their own. One that they’ll use to cover up dolls or teddy bears during play time, and take to bed every night.

Etsy is a great place to find unique baby blankets that were made by hand in the U.S.A… one of our favorite stores there is Snug As A Bug Baby Shopwhich sells baby blankets for  boys and girls, and even some gift sets with a blanket and a matching painting for the nursery wall.


Our Book: Baby Sleep Training 101

baby sleep training 101

Are you ready to teach your baby to sleep through the night consistently? Baby Sleep Training 101 is the comprehensive guide to baby sleep training, and you can have it for  $1.99 through September 30th!

Baby Sleep Training Fundamentals

Written for parents of infants aged 3 to 24 months, this book covers the fundamentals of healthy baby sleep habits, including:

  • Baby sleeping patterns by age
  • Sleeping in the crib
  • Establishing a bedtime routine
  • Feeding baby for sleep

If you’re a visual person, you’ll enjoy our Periodic Table of Baby Sleep, a colorful depiction of the key elements to teaching your baby sleep through the night.

Download it now for just $1.99!

Who Should Read Baby Sleep Training 101

Our book is written for the parents or primary caregivers of babies less than 24 months of age, and we think it would be most useful to families with:

  • Newborns or young infants (0-4 months), to establish safe, reliable sleep habits
  • Babies 4-12 months old that aren’t yet sleeping through the night consistently
  • Baby sleep problems, including early wake-ups, trouble falling asleep, not sleeping in the crib, etc.

Baby Sleep Training 101 also makes a great gift for parents, nannies, or babysitters who might appreciate a little help!

Table of Contents

Here’s a preview of what you’ll learn about in our book.

Chapter 1. How to use This Book
Chapter 2. Why Baby Sleep Training?
Chapter 3. Babies and Sleep Patterns
Chapter 4. The Periodic Table of Baby Sleep
Chapter 5. Good Baby Sleep Habits
Chapter 6. Feeding Baby for Sleep
Chapter 7. Baby Sleep Safety
Chapter 8. Handling Baby Sleep Problems
Chapter 9. References and Further Reading

Download Now, Read Later

We published Baby Sleep Training 101 as an e-book in PDF format, so that you can read it on:

  • Your home computer or laptop
  • Your Kindle, Nook, or tablet
  • Ipads, iPhones, and most Android devices

We’ll also send it to you by e-mail so that you can get it from anywhere.

buy our book now

Secure Processing with Gumroad

We use Gumroad to process all book orders. It’s a quick, easy and secure process. We never see your credit card information. You’ll be reading the book in minutes.

Handling Baby Sleep Problems

There’s a special section on common baby sleep problems and how to address them, including:

  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Sleeping in the crib
  • Naps and sleep schedules
  • Trouble staying asleep
  • Early morning wake-ups
  • Reflux
  • Baby Colic
  • Teething
  • Cold, Flu, and Sickness
  • Sudden sleep setbacks

The Latest Infant Sleep Research

Thanks to daytime employment, we have access to all of the current research by groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). We leverage that in Baby Sleep Training 101 to summarize what researchers have recently discovered regarding:

  • The prevalence of baby sleep problems and their effect on infant and maternal health
  • Current safe sleep recommendations from the AAP
  • Long-term evaluations of the possible benefits or harms of baby sleep training
  • The effectiveness of following sleep training practices

At the end of the book, we include references and suggestions for further reading. Don’t wait until you’re completely sleep deprived…

Buy This Book Now!

7 Rules for Toddler Sleep Training

toddler sleep training

Image Credit: Flickr user dherholz

Teaching your baby to sleep through the night is one of the hardest — and ultimately sweetest — things you’ll accomplish as a parent. The good news is that, whether or not you succeed, your baby will eventually learn to sleep at night. The bad news is that now you’ve got a whole new animal on your hands: a toddler.

Although the sleep training challenges that toddlers bring are a very different sort, a lot of the ways to address them are the same. The game-changer is that your toddler has discovered free will. After some success with my own three toddlers, I thought I’d share these ten simple rules for toddler sleep training in case they help you.

1. Stick to the Bedtime Routine

It’s a bit harder to keep toddlers on any kind of routine, just because their days are so filled with wanton chaos. At least, that’s the way it seems with our twins. At night, though, we have a prescribed routine that begins before bedtime:

  1. Warm milk bottles. Yes, we still warm the milk even for toddlers. Someone once remarked “Oh, you do? We’re just too busy for that.” Guess what? Everyone is busy. Anyone who’s not is retired or dead. But we still take one minute and fifteen seconds to warm up the milk, which helps ensure that the kids drink it all (and activates the sleep-inducing proteins in it, too). 
  2. Upstairs for diaper change and pajamas. The boys get a nighttime diaper, and our daughter goes potty. Everyone puts on clean, comfortable pajamas. This is an important part of the routine; the soft feel of the clothes helps signal that it’s bedtime.
  3. Reading bedtime stories. Even if it’s late, we spend 5-10 minutes each night with each toddler reading a couple of our favorite bedtime baby books. We practice word repetition, and identifying animals and objects. The boys only really got into this when they turned two, but once they learned to sit still long enough, we made it part of the routine.
  4. Blankies and bed. We tuck them in bed with their favorite Aden+Anais blankets, put in their music box, turn off the light, and leave the room.

2. Keep Them in the Crib

We transitioned our daughter to a toddler bed when she was about two years old. She’s mature for her age, and had two little brothers on the way, but honestly I think it was too soon. For a few months, we had trouble keeping her in bed. She kept getting out and coming downstairs, or (once we gated off the door to her room) crying for us at the gate.

The crib is a safe and contained place for a toddler to sleep as long as he can’t climb out of it. We lowered our boys’ cribs as much as we could. In the last go-round, we moved their mattresses to the floor (they’re just tall enough to form a barrier with the base of the crib), effectively making it super-deep. As long as toddlers are in the crib, they really have just two choices: (1) go to sleep, or (2) cry a bit and then go to sleep.

3. Block Light and Sound

Our toddlers are good sleepers, but they’re also easily woken by errant noises or (as happened this morning) bright sunlight. The problem is that toddlers are usually excited about being awake and playing with their toys. They understand that if they cry enough, you’ll come get them up, and they can play. So the key is to prevent such wake-ups as much as possible.

We use room-darkening shades and heavy curtains to block out sunlight, and have a fan to provide the steady background hum that drowns out noises.

4. Offer a Soother of Some Kind

Until recently, we used a pacifier as the last touch that comforted our toddlers as we left the room at night. It also worked great as a soothing tool, for unexpected wake-ups. Once we had to wean our babies from the pacifier, however, we couldn’t do that any longer. Luckily, we found a reasonable replacement in the Playskool Glo-Worm. It’s small, cuddly, and lights up / plays a little lullaby when you push the belly.

We made sure to present our toddlers with these glo-worms as part of the “taking the pacifiers away” ceremony. Since then, we’ve used them in the same way that we did the pacifiers: offering them only in bed, as we’re leaving the room, and making sure the boys can find them if they wake up unexpectedly at night.

5. Keep the Early Bedtime

I admit that we’ve let the bedtime slip occasionally over the summer, because the days are longer, we’re playing outside, or going on trips, etc. There are plenty of excuses. We’ve found, though, that our toddlers do better when they have a consistent (and relatively early) bedtime. Usually about an hour after dinner ends. Yes, they’re capable of staying up later, but sometimes they end up a bit crankier the next day. And they usually don’t sleep any later.

6. Wear Them Out

Toddlers, as you probably have realized, have boundless energy. They can run and play circles around us for hours without breaking a sweat. The more energy you can burn off, the more willing your toddler will be to fall asleep when it’s time. This is especially true for the afternoon nap. Some of the best ways we’ve found to wear our toddlers out include:

  • Playing outside in our yard or a park where they can roam and play somewhat freely
  • Swimming or water play with a baby pool, water table, or sprinkler. One of our 3 keys to summer baby sleep.
  • Taking walks around the neighborhood, either in the stroller or (if we’re adventurous) walking on their own.
  • Backyard play on the swing set or their ride-on toys (see this article on the best ride-on toys for toddlers).

7. Make Sure They Sleep Enough

Sometimes our toddlers fight naps, or refuse to fall asleep at night. It’s often about that discovery of free will. They would often rather stay awake and have fun, and they realize that by crying a lot, they just might get it. We try to be firm, because we (as parents) know that toddlers really need their sleep.

Our boys, at two and a half, need about 14 hours per day: a 2 hour nap and 12 hours overnight. When they don’t get it, they’re cranky and short-tempered and fussy. No one wins: not the toddler, and certainly not the parents. Knowing this, we put our children’s needs first. We usually don’t make the 3 p.m. birthday party (smack dab in the middle of nap time). If we’re visiting friends or relatives in the evening, we keep an eye on the clock and leave before it gets too late. No matter how much we and the toddlers would like to stay.

There’s just something to be said for the soft, content sigh of a toddler settling down into his bed. It’s priceless.

Weaning Baby from the Pacifier

weaning baby from the pacifierA pacifier has been central to establishing healthy sleep habits for our babies. If you read my article on pacifiers for sleep training or enjoyed my review of the best baby pacifiers, you know this already. But there comes a point when your child gets old enough that it’s time to take the pacifier away. This is a sad time, because you’ve come to love it almost as much as they do.

Our pediatrician recommended doing this by age 2, a milestone our twins have just reached. My personal opinion is that two years is almost too old — our boys are stronger, louder, and more independent than our daughter was when we took hers away at around 20 months. And they loved their pacifiers.

Weaning your baby from the pacifier seems like a cruel thing to do, but it’s a necessary part of their development. The good news, if you’re planning to make this happen, is that it’s not as rough as you think it’s going to be. Here are a few steps that will help.

1. Begin Reducing Pacifier Use

We start by limiting our little ones’ pacifier use. In short, it’s only used for bedtime, and we take it away first thing in the morning. We make sure they don’t get a hold of one throughout the day, which isn’t easy. We resist the urge to give it to them at the fussy time of the evening, or in the car.

If they need it to fall asleep, or wake up and need another one, we give the pacifier to them. But we make it clear that it’s for bedtime and nothing else.

2. Explain and Celebrate Taking the Pacifiers Away

We spent a day collecting all of the pacifiers in the house and putting them into a ziploc bag. We explain that because they’re BIG BOYS they have to give up the pacifiers, so that other babies can use them. We emphasize the point by putting the last two pacifiers into the bag, and then putting it away up in a high cabinet.

3. Offer a Replacement for the Pacifier

replacement pacifier

Playskool Gloworm

Your little one will do better if you provide some sort of replacement for the soothing comfort that a pacifier offers. We chose a Playskool Gloworm, a soft and squeezable soother that the babies take to bed with them. When you squeeze its belly, the face lights up and a little lullaby plays for about 30 seconds.

These were good replacements for pacifiers because they’re comforting and entertaining, soft, but not really chewable. So we don’t have to worry that they’ll take it as a literal replacement.

Don’t expect your little ones to be fooled. One of ours recognized right away what was going on, and he cried. The shiny new gloworm didn’t really do much for him.

4. Brace Yourself and Be Strong

There will be a few rounds of crying, but be strong. Our boys took an hour or two of crying to fall asleep the first couple of nights. Once or twice we had to go in because they’d thrown their Gloworms on the floor.

But it got better rather quickly. They still seem to miss the pacifiers, and they slept less (taking longer to fall asleep, and waking up earlier) but now we seem to be getting back into a routine. It’s hard that we can’t offer them a pacifier to help them sleep longer in the morning, but we get by.

Whatever you do, make sure that your baby doesn’t find a pacifier somewhere around the house and start using it… because then it’s back to square one.


Pacifiers for Sleep Training

pacifiers for sleep trainingPacifiers happen to be one of my favorite baby products. It’s amazing how such a small thing has become so critical in our day-to-day routine with the babies. Sure, they’re great for handling fussiness or teething discomfort, but pacifiers truly become invaluable when it comes to sleep training.

Whether it’s for soothing the baby to sleep at bedtime, or handling unexpected wake-ups, I can honestly say that pacifiers have enabled longer and more consistent baby sleep for all three of our kids. We probably wouldn’t have survived without them. And when we had to wean our babies from the pacifier, we lost a powerful sleep training tool.

Newborn Pacifiers

Soothie newborn pacifier

Soothie Newborn Pacifier

Our newborns all seemed to prefer the Soothie pacifier, a strange-looking but highly effective pacifier that they tend to use in most hospitals. The Soothie is designed to mimic the shape and feel of a mother’s nipple, and therefore it presumably doesn’t interfere with your baby learning to nurse. They’re a bit unwieldy, however, and between that and a newborn generally not being very strong yet, this pacifier tends to fall out a lot.

Will it work for sleep training? Sure, but you won’t really be able to do any sleep training in the first couple of months of life. At that stage, newborns eat, sleep, and poop in 2-4 hour cycles. The most important thing you can do with regard to sleep training is get your baby accustomed to falling asleep in the crib on his or her own. Getting into this habit only gets harder as your baby gets older and louder.

Pacifiers at Bedtime

One of the most effective ways to teach babies to sleep through the night is to establish a bedtime routine, and the pacifier is an important part of that. For us it’s always the last step, the final touch of comfort after we tuck them in bed before we leave the room.

Giraffe pacifier for sleeping

Wubbanub Giraffe

There are a few benefits to this:

  • It quiets the baby (or babies, in the case of twins) from crying for you as you leave. This reduces your temptation to go back in and soothe the baby another time.
  • The comfort of the pacifier acts as a sort of proxy for your presence to calm the baby. There’s that 30-second period when a baby first gets a pacifier and is so happy he or she can’t think of anything else… the perfect time for you to slip out.
  • The feel of the pacifier becomes, by habit, something your baby expects and associates with falling asleep. They learn that the pacifier is the last thing they need.

The pacifier is an integral part of our babies’ bedtime routine, and I hope it becomes part of yours, too.

Handling Wake-Ups with Pacifiers

Another part of baby sleep training is how you handle wake-ups. There are a number of reasons that babies wake up at night, but more often than not, it’s hunger. When you feed your baby at this middle-of-the-night waking, it reinforces the habit. Your baby’s little body thinks that it needs to wake up at that time to eat, and so it does.

baby pacifier clip for sleep training

MAM pacifier clip. This one stays on!

This is a perfect opportunity to use the pacifier as part of your baby’s sleep training. First, you offer less milk at that late-night feeding, cutting it in half for the first couple of nights, then in half again. Then, you offer only a bit of water for two nights. Then, you offer just the pacifier (sometimes you can dip this in water to make it more appealing).

For this to work, you need to make sure there’s a pacifier available and easy to find. Once our boys were over 6 months old, we began using a pacifier clip at night. We also kept spares on our dresser, just in case the clipped one had been pulled off and thrown.

Avent nighttime pacifier

Avent Nighttime Pacifier

We also kept spares on our dresser, just in case the clipped one had been pulled off and thrown.

A third option is to keep a spare pacifier in the crib near your baby’s head, especially one with glow-in-the-dark handles like the Avent Nighttime Pacifier. It might seem like going overboard, but every time your baby finds the pacifier on his own and goes back to sleep, this thing pays for itself!

Pacifiers for Baby Sleep

You’ll truly come to appreciate how important pacifiers are for your baby’s sleep patterns when you have to take them away. In my article on weaning baby from the pacifier, I discuss what you’ll have to look forward to when you do this: a baby that has trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and just staying happy in general. On the bright side, I have some tips in there for how to make the transition go smoother.



Baby Sleeping Schedule

baby sleeping scheduleWhen should babies be sleeping? When should they be awake? Figuring out your infant’s sleep schedule sometimes isn’t easy. There are two schools of thought on this topic. One is that your baby won’t have a sleep schedule, that you should let him or her sleep and eat and do anything without structure at all (a sort of “attachment parenting” view). The other school of thought, the one I support, is that encouraging a somewhat regular sleep schedule for babies helps them sleep longer and more consistently.

Newborn Sleep Schedule (0-3 months)

If your baby is still a newborn — less than 3 months old — there’s good and bad news. The good news is that you have more control over your little one’s sleeping and eating schedule. The bad news is that they generally wake up to eat every 3-4 hours (2-3 hours for breastfed babies). The best thing you can do is try to match your baby’s sleep schedule to hours of the clock.

When our twins came home, we were on 3-hour cycles, so they ate at 3, 6, 9, and 12. Gradually they switched to 4-hour cycles (4, 8, 12). At this newborn stage, babies don’t spend a lot of time awake… generally they get a diaper change, eat, burp, and then go back to sleep. It’ll be hard on your own sleep patterns, but you must try to sleep when they sleep.

infant sleeping scheduleInfant Sleep Schedule (3-6 months)

For many babies, the period between three and six months is one of transition. They begin spending more time awake, growing and eating more than seems humanly possible. They might begin to sleep for longer stretches as well. If you’re really lucky, they could be sleeping through the night at this age as my daughter did. If not, you might see no real change or get only the occasional longer sleep stretch.

One challenge here is that your baby’s still on a completely liquid diet of breast milk and/or formula. Simply put, it’s hard to sleep for a super long time without any solid food. All you can do is fill that belly and hope for the best. If you’re supplementing with formula, you can make sure that your baby gets enough by offering a couple more ounces at a time until he’s full. See our article on nighttime feeding for sleep.

Don’t be frustrated if your baby still keeps a newborn schedule (eating and sleeping in 3-4 hour cycles) at this stage. At around 6 months your baby will turn a corner.

Baby Sleep Schedule After 6 Months

For many parents, there’s a significant change in baby sleep habits at around six months. This is often accompanied with your baby’s introduction to solid food. A belly filled with baby food and/or single-grain cereal tends to provide that “slow burn” that babies need to sleep for longer. It’s not a guarantee, but at around 6 months, you might start seeing these differences:

  • Your baby sleeps in longer stretches, 5-7 hours or more
  • Sleep duration gets longer at night
  • Fewer naps are necessary
Baby nap schedule

Flickr: mistermoss

Nap Schedule

At around this point, your baby should settle into a nap schedule that will persist over 3-6 months or longer. For my little ones, this was something like:

  • 8:00 a.m. wake up
  • 10:00 a.m. morning nap
  • 12:00 p.m. wake up, eat lunch
  • 3:00 p.m. afternoon nap
  • 5:30 p.m. wake up for dinner
  • 7:30 p.m. bedtime

Note how there are two daytime naps (morning and afternoon). Our daughter also had a phase where she took an evening nap (7:30 until 11:30), and then slept through the night. That wasn’t too bad, because we’d put her to bed and then go right to bed ourselves.

Eventually (after the age of 12 months), your little one will transition to taking one nap per day, usually in the afternoon.

Final Words

All babies are different. These rules, while they generally applied to my own children and others I know, may not apply to yours. The most important thing you can do is find a schedule that works for your baby, and try to stick to it as long as it keeps working.


Baby Sleep Secrets

baby sleep secretsFew things are more rewarding than teaching your baby to sleep through the night. Those lucky parents who bring a wonderful sleeper into the world simply can’t appreciate it. When your baby learns healthy sleep habits, it’s a win-win: a developmental milestone for him, and more blissful sleep for you. In this article we’ll cover some of the baby sleep secrets that we’ve uncovered in raising our three little ones.

1. For Baby Sleep Training, Timing is Everything

Timing is a critical aspect of baby sleep training. For example, the time to start your baby sleeping in the crib is the day you come home from the hospital. Yes, it seems too big, and yes, your precious little input might seem lonely or frightened or upset about being placed in the crib to sleep. But it’s natural and the safest place for him.

Importantly, for the first few months your baby should not (and likely will not) sleep more than 5 hours at a time. Most newborns eat, sleep, and poop in 2-4 hour cycles. Sometime between the age of three and six months, you’ll notice that your baby begins sleeping for occasional longer stretches. That’s when you can begin some baby sleep training techniques to encourage the longest sleep stretch to be at night.

2. Nighttime feeding and sleep are connected

A number of factors influence how long your baby sleeps at night. One of the most important of these is the nighttime feeding. The most primal and powerful urge your infant knows at birth is a simple one: eat, eat, eat. This need takes precedent over being snuggled, over play time, even over sleeping.

What, when, and how much you feed your baby has an impact on how much he’ll sleep. It boils down to this: make sure you fill your baby’s belly with a full, nourishing meal before bedtime. For more help, see our article on feeding your baby for sleep.

3. Set and follow a bedtime routine

A consistent bedtime routine is a critical part of baby sleep training. Let’s be honest, life with a baby in the house (let alone twins) tends to be chaotic. If there’s ever a time for constancy and harmony, it’s the half hour before bed. By following the same steps in the same order every night, you teach your baby that these are the events leading to bedtime. They know where it’s going, and by the time you put them in the crib, they expect it.

Aside from the core elements (feeding, diaper change, and pajamas), the elements you put into your baby’s nighttime routine are up to you. Maybe you like reading to your baby, singing lullabies, or rocking in a rocking chair.

4. No bedtime is too early

Once your baby starts sleeping for longer periods (5-7 hours), setting a bedtime becomes more important. Often in our modern world, parents simply keep their babies up too late. There are lots of reasons for this — parents who work want to spend more time with the little one, or the chaos of dinner and clean-up takes too long. Giving your baby an early bedtime, however, can have surprising results: it helps them sleep longer!

Our little ones go to bed about an hour after dinner. That’s just enough play time and food-settling time, and then they’re ready. The signs are usually there: rubbing eyes, snuggling blankets, glazed eyes, and general fussiness. Look for these in your baby and you might find she’s ready for bed earlier than you’d think.

5. The diaper makes a big difference

As infants, our babies went through 8-10 diapers per day. That’s one about every three hours. When you want your baby to sleep 5 hours, 7 hours, or longer, a regular diaper just isn’t going to cut it! When our babies started sleeping longer at night, we switched them to a nighttime diaper. These generally are available in size 3 and up, and provide way more absorbency than your typical diaper. It’s just astonishing how much these can hold.

They also work to wick the moisture away from your baby, making him or her more comfortable. And that translates into longer sleep for the both of you!

Personalized Baby Books

6. Sleep training can work against you

The term “sleep training” refers to habits that are formed out of repetition. Ideally, these are good habits that you help establish for your baby. However, it’s equally possible that sleep training can work against you if the habits you allow are less than ideal. Some examples of these:

  • Letting the baby sleep in your bed, a swing, or somewhere other than the crib
  • Reinforcing late-night wake-ups in older babies (>6 months) with a bottle

The last one got us into trouble with one of our boys. He started waking up in the middle of the night, we’d feed him, and he’d go back to sleep. The problem was that we knew he was capable of sleeping through the night, but we reinforced the wake-up by feeding him every time. On the advice of our pediatrician, we devoted one week of sleep training to wean him from that. It paid off big time!

7. Only one thing goes in the crib

The baby. That’s right, the latest baby sleep safety guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that the infant be the only thing in the crib. No pillows, no stuffed animals, no loose blankets, and certainly no crib bumpers. A swaddle is permitted (not to mention recommended by most experts for warmth, safety, and security), as is a pacifier. When your baby starts kicking out of the swaddle blanket, switch to a sleep sack (a sort of “wearable blanket) instead.

8. Cereal and solid food will help

Before your baby is old enough to eat solid foods, you should have limited expectations about how long he’ll sleep at night. An all-liquid diet of breast milk and/or formula simply digests rather quickly. When your pediatrician advises you to start giving single-grain cereal, don’t delay! As soon as your baby gets the hang of that, you have a new tool in your baby sleep training arsenal.

Cereal and solid food provide a “slow burn” that seems to stave off hunger. When it comes to sleeping through the night, solid food at dinner time may be more important than the bottle before bed. In fact, we sometimes offer a little bowl of cereal right before that bottle for our extra-hungry baby boy, and it makes a difference.

Solve baby sleep problems

This baby wants something

9. You can solve most baby sleep problems

Many (if not most) baby sleep problems have a cause, though it might not be obvious at first. Once you figure that out, there’s probably something you can do about it. Here are some articles that will help you address some of the more common baby sleep issues.

Get these figured out, and you’ll notice an improvement in your baby’s sleep habits.

10. There is no universal baby sleep solution

We hope that some of these tips are useful to you. In fairness, many of them aren’t really secrets — the nighttime routine and early bedtime, for example — but common strategies for baby sleep training recommended by many experts. None of these experts knows your baby as well as you do. Above all, pay attention to your little one and trust your instincts.

Most of what we learned and found success with for our children was the result of trial and error. Try something new for a few days and see if it helps. It takes both effort and time, which you (as an exhausted new parent) might not have in great supply. But it’s an investment that will pay off huge in the long run. Good luck!

Baby Sleep Problems

Baby sleep problems are a source of frustration and exhaustion for many parents. Here, we’ll discuss common problems in getting your baby to fall asleep, establishing good sleep habits, and teaching babies to sleep through the night.
baby sleep problemsProblems Getting Baby to Sleep
Baby won’t sleep in crib
Gas or digestion keeping baby awake
Baby only falls asleep in my arms

Problems with Sleep Habits
Baby has no sleep schedule
Baby sleeps too much
Baby sleeps during the day but not at night
Baby cries in his sleep

Problems Sleeping Through the Night
Baby wakes up to eat
Baby wakes up to play
Baby diaper problems
Sick baby
Teething baby

Problems Getting Baby to Sleep

Many baby sleep problems involve getting the baby to fall asleep consistently in his or her crib and without much fuss. One thing works to your advantage here: babies need sleep, and lots of it. At some point their bodies will take over. But establishing a bedtime routine and sticking to it is important, and it should start the day your baby gets home from the hospital. If not then, it should start now!

It might be hard to fix these problems cold turkey. If you need to make a change, start once every 2 or 3 days and work your way up. This will make the transition easier on everyone. Let’s talk about some of the unfortunate habits that babies get into.

Baby won’t sleep in crib

Arm's Reach Baby Bassinet

Arm’s Reach Bassinet

This is a common baby sleep problem, one that parents are often posting about in the forums. Maybe you’re transitioning the baby from bassinet to crib. Maybe you’ve gotten into the habit of letting him sleep in a swing, or worse, sharing your bed. The crib is the safest place for your baby to sleep. Unfortunately, it’s also flat and wide open space that may seem scary to your baby until he’s used to it.

There are a few things you can do to make this transition more comfortable. Try a portable bassinet (left) that lets your baby lay right next to you but in his own little space. Swaddle your newborn to help him or her feel snug and secure. Next, set the mood with a soothing music box or baby night light. Use the same one, every night, when baby goes into the crib.

For detailed help, see our article on Getting Baby to Sleep in the Crib.

Gas or digestion keeping baby awake

baby gas problems gripe water

Gripe Water

If your baby has reflux, or squirms and cries when put in bed, your problems may be from baby’s digestion. Gas makes babies uncomfortable, particularly when they’re laying down. To address this, make sure to burp your baby thoroughly before putting him or her into the crib. Second, you should elevate one side of the bed, the side where your baby’s head will be.

Most cribs these days have different height settings; you can lower one end to create a slight incline. This puts gravity on your side and reduces spitting up. It may also help bubbles work their way out rather than going through your baby’s digestion system. For more help, see the article on 5 things to do for gas.

Baby only falls asleep in my arms

pink baby swaddlers

Velcro Swaddlers

This is another frequent problem I hear about, often with new parents. The baby only falls asleep while being held or rocked. First things first, you should put your baby into bed before he or she falls asleep. This teaches your baby to soothe himself to sleep, and makes these transitions easier. You don’t want to get into a situation where you put the baby down, he wakes up, and you have to start over.

Put the baby in bed, offer a pacifier, tuck in the swaddle or blanket, and leave the room. This last part is important; your baby knows when you’re around. If the baby fusses or cries at first, that’s fine. Give him 5-10 minutes to settle down. Go back in, re-pacifier, re-tuck, and leave again. Eventually the need to sleep will overpower the need to be held.

For more help, see our article on 12 ways to make a baby sleep.

Problems with Sleep Habits

Sleep habits vary widely among babies, even between twins. Here we’ll focus on the habits that create problems for establishing a good sleep routine. If your baby sleeps too little, too much, or at random intervals, this section is for you. Make sure you check our baby sleep chart to know what the norm is for babies at your infant’s age. A newborn (0-2 months), for example, should not and usually cannot sleep more than 5-6 hours consecutively. A 9-month-old or 12-month-old, however, should be able to sleep 10-11 hours at night, if not more. Let’s go through some common sleep habit problems and talk about how to address them.

Baby has no sleep schedule

Most newborns eat every three to four hours, and generally sleep in between. If your baby spent any time at the NICU, he or she probably already follows a schedule like this; as NICU nurses must care for multiple infants at once, they don’t have the luxury of feeding a baby whenever he cries. Our nurses established, and recommended that we continue, a schedule based upon points of the clock: 3, 6, 9, 12. The maximum wiggle room was about half an hour, no more. This means that we’d wake a baby up at 3:30 if he was supposed to eat at 3. If he woke up early, we’d try to hold him off until at least 2:30. This kept our babies on schedule and let us plan our our days at nights.

If your baby eats a little bit, falls asleep, and then wakes up half an hour to an hour later, then you’ve got problems. Most likely, he or she is waking up hungry. Try to get your baby to drink the whole bottle. If he falls asleep while drinking, wake him up by switching positions, talking to him, or doing a diaper change. Feeding, burping, and a fresh diaper are the key to make it for 3-4 hours.

Baby sleeps too much

There’s an old adage, one my dad likes to bring up, that you should “never wake a sleeping baby.” There is such a thing, however, as a baby sleeping too much. This is a tough one, because most other parents you ask about it don’t see it as a problem. Judging by the number of forum posts and internet searches on this, however, it’s actually a problem for many babies. First, you should be aware that newborns need a lot of sleep.

According to the baby sleep chart, a newborn should sleep 18 hours a day. If your baby is sleeping more than that, or not eating frequently enough, it’s time to take action. Lucky for you, waking a baby up is easy. Light, noise, and movement work well for this. I find that changing a diaper and/or the baby’s clothes gives a brush of cool air that rouses them nicely.

Baby sleeps during the day but not at night

twilight turtle night light

Twilight Turtle

Here’s an issue that even the authors are dealing with: babies that sleep better in the daytime than at night. Everyone does better when the pressure’s off, right? My understanding is that this problem is due to (1) mixed-up circadian rhythms, and (2) getting too much sleep during the day.

The circadian rhythm thing has to do with light exposure – make sure your baby experiences natural light during the daytime, and sleeps in a completely dark or near-dark room (with the exception of a night light). Also, we’ve found that if we let the babies nap for too long before dinner, or put them to bed too early in the evening, they’ll wake up in the middle of the night. Curtail the daytime sleeping, and you’ll find that your baby does better overnight.

Baby cries in his sleepBaby Sleep Problems Crying

Sometimes babies fuss or cry in the middle of the night without truly waking up. It’s hard to say what causes this. They might be having a bad dream. They might have a bit of discomfort from stomach gas or digestion. Or they might simply wake up briefly in the dark, alone, and feel a bit frightened. The bottom line is that most of these babies can be soothed right back to sleep, if they don’t manage it on their own.

The worst thing you can do is go barging in there and throw on all of the lights, waking the baby up. I go in quietly, and if his eyes are closed, I re-insert the pacifier, tuck in the blanket, maybe touch his head and whisper a soothing word, and then I leave the room. This works almost every time.

Problems Sleeping Through the Night

Babies start sleeping through the night at different ages. For us, we were lucky in that all three of our children proved themselves capable by three months of age. This is roughly in line with the baby sleep chart; by three to six months, most babies are capable of doing 5 to 8 hours at night. That’s the age, and the amount of sleep, at which most parents I know start looking presentable again in daytime. While there’s bound to be variation between babies in how early they’ll sleep through the night and for how long, here are some of the problems you might have to overcome.

Baby wakes up to eat

In my experience, hunger is the number one reason that babies wake up in the middle of the night. The key is to stuff them with as much food as possible at the dinnertime and (if applicable) the nighttime feeding. Your baby might be capable of drinking more than you suspect; if he finishes a bottle and still seems interested, burp him, and then offer another 2 ounces. As soon as your baby is allowed single-grain cereal (usually the first permitted solid), start giving it to him. In the morning, try spoon-feeding, as they’ll need to learn how to do this and it takes a while to get the hang of it.

At nighttime, right before the longest sleep period, I’m a firm believer in mixing in some cereal with breast milk or formula. Not so much that it’s no longer liquid; I’m talking about perhaps 1 teaspoon per 4 ounces of milk. Make sure you use a level 2 or level 3 nipple and watch for clogs. When your baby takes cereal, you will almost certainly enjoy longer naps and more sleep at night. See the article on nighttime feeding and sleep for more on how to handle this problem.

Baby sleep problems awakeBaby wakes up to play

This is a problem I hear about occasionally from other parents – their baby wakes up to eat in the middle of the night. Afterward, the parent wants to go back to bed, but the baby is wide awake and ready to play. This might be because the baby’s well-rested and doesn’t recognize that it’s still nighttime. More likely, though, the baby’s waking up and feeding overstimulates him or her into a state of alertness. You can take several steps to avoid this:

  1. Respond quickly. The sooner you start soothing and feeding your baby, the less he’ll wake himself up. I also keep bottles with pre-measured formula standing by for the same reason.
  2. Minimize light. Use the hall light or a night light to provide just enough for you to see by, no more. The less light he’s exposed to, the less it will rouse him.
  3. Keep quiet. The less you talk to your baby, the less he’ll feel the need to wake up and respond to you.
  4. Feed him close to bed. We have a soft, rocking armchair in the baby’s room and another just downstairs to handle those late-night feedings.

Last, and most important, once you’ve fed and burped your baby, and put him back in bed, leave the room.

Baby diaper problems

huggies overnites for diaper problemsSometimes babies wake up sooner than they should due to a wet or dirty diaper. Or, they might go through the night and wake up extremely wet, sometimes causing skin irritation. You should put your baby in a fresh diaper right before bed. Also, look into Huggies Overnites diapers, which are super-thick and wick away more moisture for the long night’s sleep.

Sick baby

Few things disrupt a sleeping schedule like a sick baby. When your baby is sick, he’s often congested, has trouble breathing, and feels icky in general. He coughs the pacifier right out. There are a few things you can do to make your baby comfortable and help him sleep:

  • Get the nose clear. You can try the blue bulb-syringe, which most babies seem to hate. We had better luck just using the infant saline drops, which help break up the mucus.
  • Run a cool-air humidifier in baby’s room. This softens and moistens the air, making it easier to breathe.
  • If your pediatrician permits it, give baby pain reliever / fever reducer (Tylenol or ibuprofen).

For more help, see the article on getting a sick baby to sleep.

Teething baby

Giraffe baby teether

Giraffe Teether

Sometime between the ages of three and twelve months, your baby will start teething. This will probably create all kinds of problems for you – teething babies don’t want to eat, drink bottles, take a pacifier, or go to bed. They pretty much just want to be held. The very first thing that you should try is Baby Orajel, a gel that you spread on baby’s gums with a Q-tip. It contains a topical anesthetic, and I know it works because if I can’t find a Q-tip and put it on with a finger, my finger’s numb about five minutes later.

If things are still really bad, and your pediatrician OK’s it, a bit of baby Tylenol will provide some relief as well. Give the medicine a few minutes before you feed your baby, so that the relief arrives in time to let him finish that critical nighttime bottle.

For more help, see our article on What to Do When Baby Is Teething.

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