Getting a baby to fall asleep sometimes seems like the easiest thing in the world. At the newborn stage, when they sleep about 18 hours a day, you have trouble keeping them awake. It’s eat, sleep, diaper, repeat. Then they start to grow up and everything changes.
At some point babies realize that there’s a whole wide world of things to see and touch and (especially) eat out there. They don’t want to miss anything! And so they start staying awake longer, fighting sleep with ever-louder cries.
To help you, the frazzled sleep-deprived parent, we’ve put together this list of tips and techniques for making a baby go to sleep. The quick and easy ways are listed first, followed by more advanced strategies for when your baby still won’t fall asleep.
Quick Ways to Make Baby Sleep
Your baby’s tired, well-fed, in a clean diaper, and ready to go to sleep. Here are some quick ways to help him or her zonk out.
#1. Rocking the Baby
The gentle back-and-forth motion of rocking your baby — either in your arms, in a rocking chair, or in a baby swing — has a natural soothing effect. Make this part of the routine and your baby’s sure to enjoy it.
#2. Singing or Humming
Few things are as comforting to an infant as the sound of your voice. Combine that with the natural cadence of a lullaby and you’ve got a powerful way to get your baby to sleep, one that’s been around for thousands of years. Literally. See our article on 9 lullabies to help baby sleep.
#3. Swaddle the Baby
Swaddling the baby before he or she goes to bed is a good idea not only for warmth and safety, but to help mimic the snug comfort of the womb. The famed Aden+Anais muslin blankets are ideal for this. When the baby starts kicking or rolling out of a swaddle, try a baby sleep sack or sleeping bag instead.
#4. Offer a Pacifier
The pacifier may be your most important weapon in getting a baby to fall asleep. Find which ones your baby loves, and buy lots of them. Save the best, most cherished pacifier for bedtime. For some great options, see our article on the Best Baby Pacifiers.
#5. Soothe by Touching
The soft touch of a parent is a powerful thing for an infant — it conveys warmth and comfort and a sense of safety. Nuzzle the baby cheek-to-cheek, rub his or her head, stroke the hair (if there is any), or just snuggle her against your chest.
Get Baby’s Room Ready for Sleep
Setting the stage for your baby’s sleep is an important element for success. Here are a few of the ways that we get our nursery ready for a critical nap or the overnight sleep stretch.
Use room-darkening shades, heavy curtains, and/or miniblinds to block out the sunlight (or artificial light) from windows. Books or a few pieces of scotch tape can help eliminate little cracks where sunlight might peep in.
#7. White noise
The steady hum of background noise, from a fan or a crib soother, for example, help cover up errant household/neighborhood noises. It also serves as an audio cue, just for the nursery, of when it’s time to go to sleep. See our review of crib soothers and sound machines for some good options.
#8. A Welcoming Crib
This is more of a safety and convenience tip, but the crib should be clean and clear of loose items before the baby goes in. Then you just plop the baby in and make your escape. If you need help in this department, see our guide to getting baby to sleep in the crib.
Ways to Get Baby to Sleep Longer
You might have a good handle on helping your baby fall asleep, but you’d like to work on getting him or her to sleep longer. Maybe to extend the length of naps, or to start sleeping through the night. Here are some ways you can start working toward that.
#9. Make sure baby’s tummy is full
As we emphasized in our article on nighttime feeding and sleep, the feeding right before bed is critical. Make sure your baby has a full belly right before going to bed, as hunger is a major cause of early wake-ups.
#10. Use a nighttime diaper
Both Huggies and Pampers make a heavy-duty, super-absorbent diaper for overnights. We’ve used both brands and they’re pretty good. More expensive than a standard diaper, but they hold a LOT more while keeping the baby comfortable. See our article on the best diapers for sleeping.
#11. Get the gas out
An infant’s digestive system is not fully mature at birth, and their diet is 100% liquid. That’s why you have to burp them during and after feedings. Thoroughly. You can also look into some of the treatments for gas and colic; see our article on 5 things to do when gas keeps your baby awake.
#12. Establish a bedtime routine
One great way to get a baby to sleep quickly and consistently is to follow a bedtime routine — a set of steps that prepare your baby mentally and physically for bed. Repeating these steps in the same order every night sets up a series of cues so that your baby knows what’s coming next, and is less likely to fight it.
If Your Baby Still Won’t Sleep
If you’ve tried everything in the book and your baby still won’t sleep, you may have to toughen your resolve slightly and let him or her cry a little bit. This isn’t torture (on them, at least); it’s a natural part of being an infant. Some parents may disagree, and I do get the occasional comment from someone who believes that your baby should never be allowed to cry or even whimper without being attended to. But that’s not what the world is like. Sometimes your baby will just be unhappy. See our article on Letting Your Baby Cry to Sleep for an in-depth discussion of this topic.
Have Your Own Ways for Getting the Baby to Sleep?
If you have tips or techniques for getting a baby to sleep that aren’t covered here, we would love to hear them! Please use the comment section below. Your comment won’t show up immediately (all are moderated) but should within a day or two.