We 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.
With 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
Many 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!