Traveling with Infants: The Essentials

Infant travel tips

Flickr Credit: treehouse1977

After the first few months (or weeks) of having your newborn baby at home, you might be getting a little stir crazy. Or your family or friends who live a few hours away begin clamoring loud enough that they’d like to see you, and you feel brave enough to take a family trip. Traveling with infants can be a major challenge. With a few tricks up your sleeve, you can make the ride a little bit easier. Our guide is broken down into three sections:

Day-to-Day Essentials
Taking Baby Out In Public
Infant Sleep While Traveling

Day-to-Day Essentials for Infant Care

First off, the easy stuff. You’ll need enough of those daily things that your baby needs, including but not limited to:

  • Formula and/or baby food. It’s best to over-estimate how much you need, because these can be expensive when you buy them out of town. You should have enough clean bottles and nipples within reach, as well as bottles of clean water for mixing. One item that can be a life-saver when traveling with infants is pre-mixed, ready-to-feed liquid formula. These seem to taste a bit different from the powder, so make sure your baby likes it before you leave town.
  • Diapers and wipes. Calculate how many you need per day per baby, and then add 20% just to be safe. The importance of diapers is often underestimated! There can be unforeseen blowouts or bouts of digestive issues. Plus, traveling is much easier when you’re not trying to stretch diapers.
  • Baby clothes. Pack plenty of these, and go for comfort over cuteness. Think about what your newborn should sleep in. Footed pajamas or onesies are easier to keep track of than socks. Same thing with single-piece garments over two-piece outfits.
  • Car seat. You have this already, because it’s the law. If you’re flying, be certain ahead of time that there will be a car seat waiting for the ride from the airport to wherever you’re going. If it’s a shuttle and they don’t offer one, bring your own.
  • Stroller. Unless you plan to lug your baby around in his or her car seat the whole time, bring along an umbrella stroller or travel system. See our Pram & Stroller Reviews for some of the best options.
  • Toiletries. Don’t forget the little things like Q-tips, diaper rash cream, and baby toothbrushes. For a full list, see our article on 14 things for baby’s medicine cabinet.

Adjusting Your Baby’s Car Seat

The more comfortable your baby is, the more relaxed he’ll be. That’s the key to traveling with babies. It starts in the car with a properly adjusted car seat.

  • Adjust the straps of the car seat to the proper height. Your baby’s grown since you came home from the hospital. For most car seats, you make this adjustment before putting the baby in because it involves flipping the seat upside down. Set the straps so that they’re at shoulder level or slightly above.
  • Position the baby deep into the seat and in a comfortable posture. It’s OK to use the head support and such that came with the seat, but no after-market products, as these haven’t been crash-tested with the seat. The only thing permissible is a rolled-up receiving blanket. For newborns, you may need two or three rolled-up blankets to keep them upright and in position.
  • Keep the light out. One lesson we learned the hard way on long car trips is that even tinted windows don’t keep the sun out, especially in summertime. It seems like every other stretch of highway puts the sunbeams right in your baby’s face. You might not even realize this because the seat is rear-facing. Get a pair of pull-down window shades for cars. In a pinch, I’ve also tied towels or blankets to the “oh crap” handle above the door. If your baby’s car seat has a canopy, use that too – most of them rotate 180 degrees.

Taking Baby Out in Public

Newborn baby carrier reviews

Baby Carrier Reviews

When you’re traveling, you’ll most likely spend more time taking your infant in public – stores, restaurants, that sort of thing. One thing that you will immediately notice is that babies have a strange effect on people. Complete strangers will approach and greet your baby, often making silly faces or noises to try to get a smile. This stuff is fine. What you  need to watch out for is this: people will come up and touch your baby without asking you. They often don’t even realize it – there’s some base instinct acting here. My grandmother was notorious for this.

Being a germophobe, I don’t like strangers touching my baby, especially his hands which are likely to return any moment to his mouth. Here are the strategies I use to prevent it:

  1. Block access to the baby. If your car seat or stroller has a canopy, use it. Keep your baby close to you at all times, so that you can use your body as another barrier. See our review of newborn baby carriers to learn about some great options for keeping baby close but your hands free.
  2. Be ready to speak and act. If I see someone reaching for my baby, I ask them to stop. If necessary, I will physically block their outstretched, likely-unwashed fingers. I do try to be nice while doing this; one phrase that seems to help is when I say “Oh, sorry, he’s just getting over a cold.”
  3. Keep hand sanitizer with you at all times. Use it liberally on your baby’s hands in the event that someone touches them. You should also use it yourself after touching door handles, cart handles, cash, public-use writing utensils, that sort of thing.

Baby High Chair / Shopping Cart Covers

One of the best baby items that we ever bought was a highchair/shopping cart cover. These serve several purposes. First, they’re soft and padded to protect your baby from the hard surface of the chair or cart. Second, they help catch anything that your baby might drop, such as a pacifier. Third, they act as a germ barrier between your baby and whatever the previous babies in that chair have had. People are always coming up and asking where we got ours.

travel high chairPortable High Chairs

Another very useful item to pack along for baby road trips is a portable high chair. This is something I always seem to forget when we’re going places with the kids, and them I’m always kicking myself for it. Portable high chairs like the Ciao Baby travel high chair have so many uses for when you’re out and about with a baby:

  • A clean place to plop the baby when visiting friends
  • At a picnic or outdoor party, somewhere safe and bug-free for baby to sit.
  • An excuse not to borrow the dirty or rickety old high chair from someone’s garage
  • A slight reduction in the mess your little messy eater will leave behind

Helping Your Infant Sleep While Traveling

Traveling with your infant is easiest when he’s sleeping. Unfortunately, babies have trouble sleeping in strange environments, and you can’t take the entire baby room with you. Still, with a little bit of planning, you can bring along a few essentials to help establish a comfortable, portable sleeping setup for your infant. Alternatively, if you’re traveling to the lake cabin or grandparents’ house, what better place to install a mini crib or bassinet? That way your little one always has a place to sleep and call their own.

  1. Pacifier clip. At home, if the pacifier falls on the floor it’s no big deal. A quick rinse and wipe, and you pop it right back into the baby’s mouth. When traveling, it’s another story. If it falls in the car you can’t find it; if it falls on the floor of a restaurant or store or hotel room, there’s no way you’re putting it right back in. Enter one of the best inventions ever for baby care: the pacifier clip. It fits most pacifiers and attaches snugly to your baby’s outfit or sleep sack. There’s always a pacifier handy when this thing is attached. Don’t leave home without one.
  2. Travel crib or pack-N-play. Your baby needs a soft, protected place to sleep while you’re traveling. Traditionally, you lugged along a pack-N-play (also called a play yard) for your baby to sleep in. High-end models come with built-in bassinets, changers, and compartments, but those don’t travel as well as the basic pen does. But there are some other options out there: compact folding bassinets and cribs designed to be travel friendly. See our review of portable travel cribs for some of the best options there.
  3. Portable swing. We have a Fisher-Price portable swing like this one, we love it. It folds up flat enough to stick behind the front seat of the mini-van. It runs on batteries, is quiet, and very soft. Babies love this thing. An added bonus is that this swing is small enough to keep in the corner of a room, and keeps your baby off of the floor. For a breakdown of the features, see our comparison of baby swings.
  4. A portable night light like this one, which is rechargeable and comes in a variety of animal shapes, is a comfort you can take along with you. The trick is to use the same light at home, so that your baby is accustomed to it. See our guide to night lights for babies for details.
  5. Sound machine. You won’t be able to control much of the noise in a car, on an airplane, or even in your hotel room. To soothe your baby and provide some white noise, look into a baby soother or sound machine. They even make portable versions of these.

What Should A Newborn Sleep In?

what should newborn sleep inNewborns sleep eighteen to twenty hours a day. If you’re lucky, that’s 4-5 hours at a time. What should your newborn sleep in to help him sleep longer? The goal should be to keep your baby warm, comfortable, and snug, in the safest way possible. Here are the basics.

Things A Newborn Should Sleep In

There are basically four to six things you should put your newborn in for sleep. Top to bottom, they generally include a set of soft pajamas, a tightly-wrapped swaddler or sleep sack, and possibly a light blanket. Very young newborns might also benefit from a sleep hat to conserve body heat and mittens to prevent scratches during sleep. For safety and sleep training purposes, newborns should also do most of their sleeping in a baby crib or bassinet.

Put Your Newborn in Pajamas

Your newborn should wear a long-sleeve onesie or long-sleeve pajamas. Even though it’s cute, don’t let your baby sleep in just a diaper and blanket. Most babies like to have their hands free, rather than tucked in, and long sleeves are important to keep the arms warm. A zipper or snaps will give you access to the vital diaper area. Pajamas with footies are nice if your baby tends to kick out of blankets. Pajamas will also prevent a chill if you have to unwrap him to change a diaper.

Here are some of our favorites:

Newborn Footie Pajamas Newborn Girl Pajamas Baseball Pajamas for newborn
Newborn Sleep N Play Baby Girl by Carters Baseball Boy Sleep N Play
Here’s a two-pack of 100% cotton, zipper-front-closure pajamas with fitted sleeves and footies to keep baby warm. This onesie has a snap closure and is tag-free for extra comfort. 100% cotton and machine washable. For your little baseball fan, this long-sleeved snap onesie is footed, soft, and tag-free. Machine wash cold.
Little Me Monkey Footie
Newborn Kimono for sleeping
Newborn Bodysuit for sleeping

Swaddle Your Baby

Aden & Anais SwaddleSwaddle your newborn. There is a reason that they swaddle all of the newborns in the hospital nursery. It keeps the babies warm, and imitates the snug comfort of the womb. There are two ways to do this. You can use a regular blanket (Aden & Anais blankets are ideal) and learn the swaddling technique. Or, you can take a shortcut and use a velcro swaddler. These are easy to use and keep your baby snugged up tight, even if he or she tends to move around.

Has your baby outgrown the swaddle? If so, check out our review of baby sleep sacks and sleeping bags for some zippered sleepwear that they won’t kick out of.

Baby Hat

Put a soft cap or baby hat on the head, if your infant will take it. This extra little step helps newborns with little or no hair stay warm. The hat should be a soft, breathable material. Make sure it doesn’t go down over your baby’s eyes. If it falls off during sleep, that’s okay. Some infants just don’t tolerate these, but if your baby does, it’s a good way to keep him warm at night. Here are three great options:

Zutano newborn hat Lovedbaby hat Minnie hat
Zutano Infant Fleece Hat L’ovedbaby Cute Cap Trumpette Minnie Hat
This unisex fleece hat has an interlock band for an extra warm fit and little teddy bear ears at the top for extra cuteness. This very popular hat from L’ovedbaby is 100% cotton, super-soft, form-fitting, and comes in a wide variety of colors. Is this not the cutest little Minnie Mouse hat you’ve ever seen? It’s Disney licensed and made of a quality knit.
Zutano hat reviews
Lovedbaby hat reviews
Minnie hat reviews

Newborn mittens to sleep

Mittens To Prevent Scratching

One thing that continues to surprise me is how fast baby fingernails grow. It probably has something to do with their diet of 100% milk plus vitamins. Clipping your baby’s fingernails is an exercise in courage and takes nerves of steel. When your little one gets a little older and can grab at things, you’ll know their nails are long because they’ll scratch you.

In the meantime, if you start finding scratches on your baby’s face or head, it was probably self-inflicted while he or she was sleeping. Until you have the time and bravery to trim them, a set of soft little sleep mittens will prevent any more scratches. These are inexpensive and often come in packs of four, which is good because they’re easily lost (in the crib or laundry).

Offer A Light Blanket

Optionally, offer a light blanket. My boys (7 months) like to have a light, soft blanket against their face when they fall asleep. Technically, this isn’t recommended in the APA baby safe sleeping guidelines, but you might try offering one if your baby seems uncomfortable or has trouble soothing himself.

Use a lightweight, breathable blanket such as the fantastic Aden+Anais muslin blankets, Tuck the loose ends under the baby securely so that he can’t pull it up over his face.

Baby Should Sleep in the Crib

Another point that I should mention here is that your newborn baby should sleep in his or her crib in his or her room (unless you have a bassinet installed in your own room). You should establish this bedtime habit early, when newborns are biologically programmed to fall asleep right after eating. Feed your baby, burp him, rock for a few minutes (if desired), and put him to bed in the crib. If your baby won’t sleep in the crib, see our article on getting baby to sleep in the crib.

Mini crib reviews

Mini Crib for Newborn

Looking for a crib that also becomes a toddler bed, day bed, and full-size headboard? Check out our guide to the best 4-in-1 convertible cribs.

Even though it’s fun and sometimes convenient, your newborn shouldn’t sleep in bed with you. Not only is it a bad practice, it’s unsafe. A significant number of infants die each year sleeping in bed with their parents. Even without you in it, an adult bed is generally unsafe for a newborn – it has no rails, is high from the floor, and has pillows and loose blankets that present suffocation hazards. For more, see the latest baby sleep safety guidelines.

It’s safer, and probably easier, to let your baby sleep in a mini crib or bassinet next to your bed. See our mini crib reviews for some recommendations.

If you’re planning to take a trip with your baby, don’t forget all of the necessary sleep items! Nothing is worse than getting to the hotel room and realizing that you forgot that critical pacifier or blanket or sound machine. Our travel crib reviews compare some portable cribs and bassinets that you can take along with you.

What To Read Next

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.

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Learn about the benefits and bestsellers of baby sleep sacks and sleeping bags. Projection Night Lights keep your baby entertained while in the crib and help soothe him back to sleep. Best Baby Pacifiers has our recommendations for newborns, older babies, and teething infants. Visit our sleep training section for strategies and tips for teaching your baby to sleep through the night.

5 Things To Do When Gas Keeps Your Baby Awake

Got-Gas2If your recently-fed baby is fussing, odds are that it’s due to gas. This is a major source of discomfort for babies, and for newborns in particular. There are two main reasons for it: (1) they eat only liquids, which often involves gulping down a lot of air, and (2) their digestive systems aren’t yet fully developed, which often seems to make digestion an uncomfortable process. If your baby has problems with gas, you’re not alone. It’s quite common and almost a guarantee with preemies. When gas prevents your baby from sleeping, here are five things you should try.

1. Burp Your Baby Early and Often
2. Elevate the Head of Baby’s Bed
3. Switch to Gentle Infant Formula
4. Try Gas Relief Drops
5. Give Your Baby Gripe Water

1. Burp Your Baby Early and Often

This is the single best piece of advice that I can offer. The gas has to come out from one end or the other, and a burp is a lot easier to get. I used to think that you simply fed a baby his entire bottle and then put him on your shoulder for some back-patting. This is not enough! You should pause every 1/4 bottle, at a minimum, to give your baby a chance to burp.

And once he’s done, you must absolutely get one. I know, it’s hard. Sometimes they don’t seem to have a burp in them. Try a change of position: sitting your baby up on a hard surface instead of putting on your shoulder, or vice versa. Try rubbing his back in an upward motion. If all else fails, hold your baby upright and walk up and down some stairs. Gently. You’d be surprised how often this seems to get a burp loose. For more, see How to Burp A Baby.

2. Elevate the Head of Baby’s Bed

You will want to check with your pediatrician first, but I find that this helps when babies get gas after you put them down. Most baby cribs have multiple height settings for the mattress; you’re probably using the highest one for a newborn, so lower one end a notch.

Or, you can put a couple of books under one side of the mattress. Don’t put anything in the bed to achieve this. Put the baby down with his head on the high end. Now gravity works in your favor, and bubbles can more easily come up and out.

3. Switch to a Gentler Formula

gentle baby formula for gasThe major formula brands have a gentle digestion canister of the powder that’s partially broken down to aid your baby’s digestion. Even generic brands tend to carry these. Be cautious, though, in switching your baby’s formula – he or she may not like it. It’s important to stick with one kind at a time, so don’t mix and match.

Once your baby is a bit older, you might wish to switch back to regular formula which tends to keep them content for a little bit longer (because it doesn’t digest as quickly).

4. Try Gas Relief Drops

baby gas relief dropsYou might have heard of Mylicon – that’s the brand name – but Little Tummys has gas relief drops for cheaper. The active ingredient is called simethicone, and it’s actually a mild, ingestible soap that breaks up bubbles in an infant’s belly.

The smell is noticeable, but my babies didn’t seem to mind it. You can get the generic kinds as well. Don’t give it to them straight; mix the required dose in a full bottle. If your baby doesn’t always finish a bottle, mix a half-bottle with the full dose first so that he takes it all.

5. Give Your Baby Gripe Water

I hesitate to recommend a specific product (much less a homeopathic one), but many parents of fussy babies swear by something called gripe water. With our twins, we were desperate enough to try it.

It worked very well for a month or two, seeming to help them rest more contentedly after eating. The downside is that this stuff is pretty expensive ($12-14 per small bottle in the store). You might try it, though, if none of the above steps work.

What To Read Next

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. Also, check out our comprehensive e-book, Baby Sleep Training 101.

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Baby Won’t Sleep

Baby won't sleepBabies are supposed to be sleeping most of the time (14 to 18 hours a day, according to baby sleep charts). So when your baby won’t sleep, it gets pretty frustrating. Sleep deprivation can be harmful both to babies and their parents, especially when it’s a long-term problem. Hopefully you’re not here because your newborn of 0-2 months won’t sleep longer than 2-4 hours at a time, because that’s perfectly normal.

However, if your baby is 3 months or older and you’re still having some sleeping problems, this article might help you.
How Much Should Your Baby Sleep?
Problem: Baby Won’t Sleep Long Enough
Problem: Baby Won’t Fall Asleep
Problem: Baby Won’t Sleep in the Crib

How Much Should Your Baby Sleep?

The hours you might expect your baby to sleep depends largely on his or her age. Newborns (0-3 months) typically eat, sleep, and poop in 2-4 hour cycles around the clock. Not much you can do about that. Starting at 3-4 months, your baby might turn a corner and start sleeping longer (hopefully at night, but the morning nap after breakfast is common too), say 5-7 hours. At this point, you know your baby is capable of sleeping for long periods, and your goal should be to line that up with your own nighttime sleep schedule as much as possible!

At around 6 months of age, usually when your pediatrician encourages you to start feeding the baby solid food, you might see another change, as many babies start sleeping through the night. It might not happen at 6 months; it could just as easily be 12 months until the stars align to make this happen. Be patient, and keep working at it.

See our baby sleep chart for a detailed breakdown of average daily sleep, number of naps, and longest sleep stretch by adjusted age.

Problem: Baby Won’t Sleep Long Enough

why won't my baby sleepThe thing about babies is that they’re completely unaware of “expected” sleeping hours and sleep charts and the need for mom and dad to actually get REM sleep. If your baby won’t sleep for long stretches (especially at night), you are not alone! Most parents go through this with at least one child. First, reassure yourself that, eventually, your baby is going to sleep through the night. It may not be tonight or even a week from now, but it WILL happen. This is human nature. Second, let’s go through some of the more common reasons that a baby won’t sleep, and see if there’s anything that applies to your little one.

Cause #1: The baby is hungry

Hunger is, in my experience, one of the most common reasons that a baby won’t sleep for long periods. In support of this notion is the observation that breastfed babies tend to have shorter sleep cycles than formula-fed babies, simply because breast milk (being completely natural) is digested more easily. When your baby wakes up crying, does he or she root around for a nipple? If you offer a pacifier, is it slurped at hungrily and then spit out in utter disappointment? If so, hunger is a likely culprit.

Of course, you’re probably not a moron. Of course you fed the baby before bed. However, a lot of times parents just don’t realize how much babies are capable of eating as they grow and get older. What filled the little one’s tummy last month probably isn’t enough any longer. Making sure that your baby’s appetite is fully sated right before bed is a key step in extending those sleep hours. See our article on nighttime feeding and sleep for more help in this area.

Cause #2: The baby has gas or digestive issues

Many babies, especially at the newborn stage, don’t have a fully developed digestive system yet. This can cause delayed stomach discomfort that wakes your baby up in the middle of an otherwise happy sleep cycle. Also, since their diet for the first 6 months is completely liquid, it’s very easy for babies to get bubbles in the tummy. Unless you do a great job burping the baby, those can come back to bite you in the middle of the night.

One way to determine if gassiness or digestive discomfort are to blame is to watch how your baby acts and cries when he/she wakes up. Squirming, grimacing in pain are positive indicators. A baby that simply lays still and cries might just be hungry. Even if you’re not certain, working to minimize gassiness overnight is always a good strategy for baby sleep training. See our article on 5 things to do when gas keeps baby awake.

Cause #3: When baby is teething

Teething is one of the most troublesome events you’ll ever encounter. Usually the process begins when the baby is 3-4 months old and continues until all the teeth have come in. This one is frustrating because there’s just no way to see it coming. You’ll just suddenly notice an exceptionally fussy baby who:

  • Can’t fall asleep, or doesn’t stay asleep for long.
  • Wakes up screaming, as if in pain
  • Spits out the pacifier
  • Seems hungry, but refuses to drink from a bottle

Check for this by washing your hands thoroughly, and then running a finger, with great care, along your baby’s gums. Often you can see where a place is red and/or swollen. If you run a finger over it, you’ll feel the roughness of the tooth breaching the gums.

Once you confirm that teething is the reason your baby won’t go to sleep, apply a teething pain ointment (mild antisthetic like Baby Orajel) to that part of the gums. Baby Tylenol may help as well. The torment will end when the tooth breaches and comes in. For more help, see our article on what to do when baby is teething.

Cause #4: Something External Woke the Baby Up

Babies, just like adults, wake up in response to things in their environment. It’s a survival instinct, but often when your baby is safe and sound, it’s just something that causes unnecessary wake-ups. There are lots of external things that can have this effect, including:

  • Temperature changes. If the baby gets too hot or too cold, they might easily wake up. Do your best to keep a steady temperature in the room, and consider swaddling your baby or using a baby sleep sack to keep them warm enough.
  • Wet or dirty diaper. Some babies can sleep through this, but most won’t. That’s why you change the diaper right before bed and maybe use the super-absorbent nighttime ones. We have a whole article about the importance of diapers for sleeping.
  • Loud noises. The world outside your baby’s nursery can be quite inconsiderate when it comes to baby’s sleep time. We’ve had issues with garbage trucks, leafblowers, noisy neighbors, and even older siblings waking our little ones up. Unfortunately, most of us can’t control everything that could make a noise, so the best defense is a crib soother or sound machine or even just a fan. The idea is to provide some white noise that drowns out random sounds.
  • Sunlight. A lot of people are early-morning risers who are up by sunrise. I am not one of them. For me, a baby waking up at dawn is not a good thing. If you notice your little one’s wake-ups coincide with when it starts to get light out, the sun might be to blame. Block out that light as much as possible with room-darkening window shades and heavy curtains. Even a tiny crack can let a beam of sunlight in to shine right on the baby’s face. We use tape, books, pillows, or whatever’s necessary to make every window totally sunproof.

For a more in-depth look at this, you might enjoy our article 7 reasons your baby woke up last night.

Problem: Baby Won’t Fall Asleep

Another issue many parents encounter is the baby that refuses to fall asleep, even when it’s bedtime and mommy and daddy are completely worn out. If you have this problem, the solution is less about finding a “cause” and more about establishing good, regular habits for you and your baby. This is what baby sleep training is all about: finding a routine that works because it meets all of your baby’s needs and prepares them, mentally and physically, for falling asleep. Here are three questions to ask yourself:

  1. Did you get your baby ready for sleep? This means you’ve fed and burped the baby, changed the diaper, put on soft comfy pajamas, done the swaddle or sleep sack, and maybe even did some rocking and/or a lullaby. All of these are the sensory cues that your baby’s about to go to bed for the big sleep.
  2. Is it time for the baby to go to sleep? If the baby just got up an hour ago, he or she won’t be ready for bed. Many parents find a sort of rhythm with their babies, a cycle of eating, play time, diaper changes, and sleeping so that everything is spaced out nicely. Some of my readers object to the idea of a “schedule” for a baby. However, if you’ve ever visited (or been in) the NICU, you’ll see a very organized one: each baby under a nurse’s care eats, gets changed, and sleeps by the clock. You don’t have to be this draconian, but keeping to a somewhat regular daily routine will help.
  3. Have you established and followed a good bedtime routine? This is a process that you go through every night with the baby, both to get them ready for bed (as in item #1) and to make the process a habitual one with no surprises. The bath-bottle-bed routine is a classic example. The warm wetness of the bath, brief chill of getting out, followed by warm clothes and a bottle of milk has been putting babies to sleep for decades. See our guide to establishing a baby bedtime routine for some pointers.

For more help with this problem, see our list of 12 ways to help a baby go to sleep.

Problem: Baby Won’t Sleep in the Crib

This is a special problem, one for which (unfortunately) the parents get most of the blame. It’s very easy to get into the habit of letting your baby fall asleep where he or she does it best: the swing, the couch, the parents’ bed, or in mommy’s arms. And it tends to be fricking adorable when your baby does konk out in these places. However, getting your baby to sleep in the crib is a critical, critical step for you to establish healthy sleep habits. It also happens to be the safest place for baby to sleep at night.

Ideally, you started putting baby in the crib to sleep from the day he or she got home from the hospital. That’s the easiest way because they’re so little that their bodies just need sleep and they can’t fight it. The longer you wait, the harder it gets to make a transition. If you need help, see our article on getting baby to sleep in the crib.

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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Getting Babies to Sleep

baby sleepingBabies are supposed to be sleeping most of the time. And yet, getting a baby to sleep is often difficult. The purpose of this site is to help parents get their babies to sleep, and keep them there. As long as possible.

First, some credentials. I have a daughter (age 2) and twin boys (age 7 months). By the age of 5 months, all of them were sleeping through the night. That is, from midnight to 7 a.m. By seven months, they were sleeping from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Believe it or not, this is what pediatricians say your baby should be doing (or at least capable of) by six months of age. The problem of reaching this point is two-fold: first, how to get your baby to sleep. Second, ensuring that he or she sleeps as long as possible.

Part 1: Getting the Baby to Sleep

Getting babies to sleep does not take luck or a certain knack. It takes learned skills and practice of a routine. In my experience, to go to sleep, a baby needs to be:

  1. Well-fed. This is the most important one. A baby’s strongest instinct upon being born is to eat, and if he’s not fed, he’s not going to sleep. Not for long, anyway. See nighttime feeding and sleep.
  2. Clean and dry. In the grand scheme of things, it is worth the extra 45 seconds and $0.24 to put a baby in a fresh diaper, no matter that you changed him half an hour ago. There’s one diaper that will almost certainly help your baby sleep longer. Read about it in the importance of diapers for sleeping.
  3. Burped out. Unresolved bubbles in the tummy will either keep your infant awake, or make him spit up. Neither will help him sleep. See how to burp a baby for some tips.
  4. Warm and snug. This means tightly swaddled in a temperature-controlled room. For newborns, a soft hat is a good idea as well. See my post on what a newborn should sleep in for more.

With these four parts in place, and knowing some soothing techniques, your chances of getting the baby to go sleep are pretty good. But that’s only where the challenge begins.

Part 2: Keeping the Baby Asleep

It doesn’t do you much good to get the baby to sleep if you’re (1) still holding him, or (2) he wakes up fifteen minutes later. Here, a few strategies can help ensure that the baby will stay asleep. Rule number one: put the baby in bed before he falls asleep. This is a common mistake that new parents make – they believe that the baby can only fall asleep in their arms. If you establish and follow a bedtime routine, the baby will fall asleep on his own. Even better if you’re out of the room with the door closed before he drifts off. That leaves less noises that might wake him up.

Most babies can sleep right through a certain amount of noise, particularly if they’re accustomed to it. Case in point: each of my twins will usually keep on snoozing even if his brother is screaming his lungs out. Even so, in the baby’s room, it should be either totally quiet or have a low-level white noise. I’m talking about something that hums, like a baby soother or sound machine.  Not a TV, radio, or anything that beeps.

Next up, pacifier. The hospital-issued Soothie is a popular one. If your baby will take one, keep two or three in the crib so that you can always grab one. Better yet, use a pacifier clip to ensure that one’s always in reach. If a sleeping baby starts to fuss, don’t say a word. Don’t pick him up. Give him his pacifier, tuck the blanket even snugger around him, and tiptoe out of the room. Babies need to learn to soothe themselves, and this is a good way to get them started.

That’s enough to get you started. In subsequent posts, I go into more detail on establishing the routines and keeping the baby comfortable enough that he’ll start logging some real sack time. And when he does, so will you.

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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. Check out our reviews of Essential baby gear for helping babies sleep at night.