Being a new parent is a privilege, but getting your baby to sleep can become a challenge. Especially as your baby approaches four-month-old, it’s time to start full sleep training. To get this training nailed, the tips you can try include:
- Swaddling your baby
- Dreamfeeding before bed
- Limiting daytime nap lengths
While babies are indeed tiny bundles of joy to be cherished, they can certainly give you a run for your money when it comes to getting them to sleep. New parents will tell you the difficulties and insomnia they stumbled through in their parenthood journey – but luckily, thanks to the internet, you can find a whole host of helpful tips with the touch of a button.
This is why we created a list of 18 top tricks to get your little one off to sleep. Whether it be teething, feeding or diaper changing – our guide will help you get through it all.
Getting Your Baby Comfortable
1. Swaddle Your Baby
Do you ever suddenly jerk awake in the middle of the night because you have a dream where you’re falling from a dangerous height? This isn’t uncommon, especially in babies. From birth until the age of around five months, babies have a natural startle reflex, which makes them feel as though they are falling. This sensation of falling causes jerking movements which will trigger your baby to wake up during the night. Keeping a tight swaddle around your baby will prevent them from startling themselves awake, especially helping newborn babies sleep both better and longer.
To swaddle your baby, follow these steps below:
- Fold the swaddle blanket into a diamond shape and place your baby on their back in the center with their shoulders just below the fold.
- Place your baby’s right arm alongside the body, slightly bent. Take the same side of the swaddle blanket and pull it securely and tightly across your baby’s arm and chest, tucking the fabric under your baby. Leave the left arm free.
- Fold the bottom of the swaddle up and over your baby’s feet. Tuck the small point of the fabric into the top of the swaddle blanket.
- Place your baby’s left arm alongside their body, slightly bent. Take the remaining swaddle, and wrap it over your baby’s arm and chest, tucking the fabric under your baby to secure the swaddle.
2. Consider Using A Pacifier
Babies have a natural need to suckle, and a bottle or breast usually meets this need, but the desire to suckle can continue even after they have been fully fed. This is where a pacifier comes in handy – especially when your baby wakes up during the night with the desire to suckle. Pacifiers can help babies learn to control their feelings, relax them, and make them feel secure when feeding time is over, but comfort is still required. The comfort factor is, of course, a huge benefit, as a calmer baby during the night can mean calmer and better-rested parents.
Using pacifiers during naps or nighttime can also prevent sudden infant death syndrome. Doctors aren’t sure entirely how this science works, but studies show that they can reduce the risk by half. After the 2-year mark, however, problems can arise with pacifier use. Your baby’s top or bottom front teeth may slant or tilt and can have major long-lasting effects on their adult teeth.
3. Choosing The Best Clothing
Dressing a baby sounds like a simple task, but it’s a huge factor when you consider how it impacts on your baby’s ability to get to sleep and stay asleep. It is important to choose the right type of sleepwear, consider different fabrics, and determine how much clothing in terms of layers to dress your baby in.
The first thing to consider is selecting sleepwear that is appropriate for the season. Overdressing babies in winter is a common problem, while underdressing babies in the summer is also a similar issue. In the spring and fall, rapid temperature changes can also lead to over and under-dressing. These tips will help guide you through these tricky seasonal changes:
- Don’t overdress your baby in the winter. If you have a newborn and are swaddling your baby, then you can dress your baby in a cotton long-sleeved onesie with socks under the blanket. For babies no longer being swaddled, a heavier cotton long-sleeved onesie with socks is a great choice.
- Don’t underdress your baby in the summer. For newborns, swaddling in a lightweight cotton blanket should be enough during these warmer months, but feel your baby’s skin to be sure of their temperature. Your baby can wear a lightweight short-sleeved onesie under the swaddling if it’s not too hot for extra layers. Babies who aren’t being swaddled can wear a short-sleeved one-piece babygrow.
- Check your baby’s skin often in spring and fall. In the spring and fall, rapid temperature changes mean that you will have to check your baby’s skin often to see if they are comfortable enough. Try dressing your baby in layers in spring and fall so that you can add and remove layers whenever you check on them during the night.
Choosing sleepwear made from natural fibers and materials is also a way to ensure your baby remains comfortable, as natural fibers are more effective in hot and cold weather. In hot weather, natural fibers can absorb sweat better and pull moisture away from your baby’s body. In cold weather, natural fibers provide more effective insulation and they are easier to layer. Some good natural fibers to choose for your baby include:
Working Through The Night
4. Dreamfeed Your Baby
If you’re a new parent online, chances are you’ve heard of the ‘dreamfeed’ before. The dreamfeed is the feeding given to your baby right before you go to bed. This feed helps prevent the baby from waking up too quickly. During this feed, your baby should still be asleep – hence the term ‘dreamfeed’. You can do this feed with either breastfeeding or by the bottle. Most parents will begin to dreamfeed any time between 6-8 weeks old and 4 months old, once your baby no longer needs to eat every 3 hours at night.
To work out when your baby should dreamfeed during the night, calculate a few hours after they have gone to sleep. For example, if your baby goes to bed by 7 pm, you should dreamfeed them at 10 pm when they’re well into their sleep and you’re ready to go to bed also. If the dreamfeeding works, you’re baby shouldn’t wake up until 4 am or 6 am – giving you a blissful 8 hours of sleep in between.
5. Use The Eat, Wake, Sleep Cycle
When you’re baby wakes up from sleep, they usually eat immediately. After this, your baby will probably stay awake for a while to play. Then, hopefully, your baby will go back to sleep.
This cycle may seem tedious, but it serves several purposes. The cycle encourages full feedings by allowing your baby to eat immediately after waking. This is helpful as this is when your baby will have the most energy (immediately after waking) making them more inclined to take a full feeding and go longer between feedings.
Also, by feeding your baby during the night after waking up rather than before they are ready for sleep, the cycle will prevent your baby from associating food with sleep or using food as a sleep prop.
Of course, there may be times when you will feed your baby before bedtime – they may need a little extra help for naps or rest – but for the majority of the time, it’s good to avoid this.
6. Change Diapers Cleverly
If you find yourself feeding your baby in the night, going back to sleep, only to be woken up a couple of hours later to change their diaper, you’re probably doing something wrong. If so, it’s time to start changing their diaper with a different strategy. Changing the diaper before feeding the baby in the night gets them comfortable and relaxed again. It also prevents your baby from waking up too much after feeding is finished. When your baby wakes up for a feed, change their diaper and re-swaddle to prepare them for sleep immediately preparing for a night feeding. If you change their diaper after the night feeding is complete, your baby may become too awake, making it more challenging for him/her to fall asleep.
Setting Up A Routine
7. Pre-Nap Before Bed
Just like super-organized adults, babies thrive on routine, structure, and predictability. Creating consistent and regular routines for your baby will help bring order to any chaos you and your baby are experiencing. You can start by choosing a pre-nap routine that works for you. A pre-nap routine can include taking the baby to their room, closing the blinds or curtains, placing your baby in their swaddle or wearable blanket, turning on the white noise, and giving them a quick kiss.
A bedtime routine would typically be a little longer and should include a bath, lotion, massage, and quiet time together. This is based on a study of 405 babies and toddlers, which concluded that this ritual resulted in better sleep, according to The Sleep Journal.
8. Limit Length Of Day Time Naps
It can be incredibly hard to wake a sleeping baby, especially since you don’t know when they’ll be peacefully asleep again, but sleeping too long during the day can rob them (and yourself!) of nighttime slumber. If your baby naps past the 2 to 2.5-hour mark, it’s a good idea to go ahead and wake your baby up, feed them, play and keep them awake for a little before and then lay them down for another short nap.
If you think your baby truly needs longer naps during the day, feel free to increase the nap limit to around 3 hours. There may be times where your baby is overtired – perhaps they traveled a lot that day or didn’t sleep well the previous night – meaning they could need a little recovery nap. During these times, allow your baby to sleep for a little bit longer for one nap and then be sure to get started on your regular routine again.
9. Understand How Your Baby Sleeps
Every baby has it’s own sleep pattern – and you as a parent will probably understand their unique patterns better than anyone else. You’ll hear a lot of parents chat about knowing the exact times their baby wakes up every night and how they deal with these patterns. You should also take time to get to know your baby’s patterns and work around them. This will help your baby stick to their regular pattern rather than becoming overtired, agitated or confused by disruptions to the routine.
It’s also commonly known that the more your baby sleeps, the better it is for them in terms of them getting even more sleep. Keeping a baby awake for long periods in hopes of tiring them out will actually result in over-stimulation, and they will experience both difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep afterward. It is very likely an over-tired baby will sleep shorter, not longer, meaning you could be up and down during the night dealing with these irregular patterns. Obviously, this tip can confuse some parents. You want to limit nap times, but also not overstimulate your baby by preventing them from sleeping. The best way to solve this dilemma is to know your baby well and notice when they appear overtired. Remember: Let them nap, but know when enough becomes too much.
10. Lay Your Baby Down While They’re Awake
If you put your baby to bed drowsy but still awake, they will associate the cot, rather than yourself, with going to sleep and bedtime. A common mistake made by new parents is rocking their baby to sleep in their arms. If your baby usually goes to sleep this way, or by being fed to sleep, they will expect this to also happen when they wake up in the middle of the night.
Tips for settling babies into a drowsy but awake state:
- Give your baby some time to settle. Avoid picking up your baby up as soon as they make any noise. It’s normal for babies to make noises when you first put them into their cot.
- As your baby gets older, give them some time to settle if they cry slightly. When they wake up during the night – they are likely to re-settle without your help. If you hear real crying, you need to help them settle.
- Try the patting settling technique. With this technique, you pat your baby until they calm down, but you stop patting just before they begin to fall asleep. A benefit of patting is that your baby is still going to sleep in the cot.
Engaging With Your Baby
11. Don’t Rush Into The Room
When your baby cries, especially as a newborn, it’s natural to rush over to them to see what they need immediately. This is generally a good thing and of course a natural instinct, but when it comes to sleep, this can often backfire on both you and baby.
Babies make all kinds of sounds during their sleep. Some will even cry out just for a moment while they are fast asleep – but if left alone for a minute to fuss it out alone, they’ll often fall right back asleep themselves. This is a much better habit to learn instead of rushing to your baby whenever they make a slight gurgle, as this will only disrupt their sleep pattern and yours.
12. Don’t Look Your Baby In The Eyes
Many babies are very easily stimulated – even just smiling at a baby can send them into fits of adorable giggles. Meeting your baby’s gaze can engage their attention and signal it’s playtime, even when bedtime is fast approaching.
Parents who make eye contact with sleepy babies inadvertently encourage them to snap out of their sleep zone, says Claire Lerner, senior parenting adviser at Zero to Three, a nonprofit that promotes the health of infants and toddlers. “The more interaction that takes place between you and your baby during the night, the more motivation they have to get up,” she says. Lerner suggests keeping eye contact to a minimum instead. If you go to your baby at night, don’t make eye contact or talk excitedly. Keep your gaze on their belly and soothe them back to sleep with a quiet voice and gentle touch.
Getting The Environment Right
13. Use White Noise
We’ve heard hundreds of times how listening to white noise helps adults drift off to sleep – and unsurprisingly, it’s no different for babies. A groundbreaking 1990 study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood Trusted Source found that white noise could be helpful. 40 newborns were studied, and it was found that 80 percent were able to fall asleep after five minutes of hearing white noise. There are plenty of ways to emulate white noise for your baby to aid in sleep. You can place a fan in their room, without pointing it directly at them. You can also use a white noise machine or simply set up a device with YouTube, where you can find 8-hour long white noise videos – just be aware of loud advertisements which may pop up on auto-play!
It’s also wise to be aware of any dangers surrounding white noise. White noise machines may exceed recommended noise limits for babies, so be sure to check the device’s safety regulation. Babies can also become dependent on white noise machines to be able to fall asleep, which isn’t helpful particularly when you’re traveling without one. It’s also important to remember that not all babies will respond well to white noise, so don’t feel defeated it doesn’t work out for you.
14. Set Up A Night Light
Lots of parents assume that a night light is a baby essential that every nursery requires. After all, a well-placed night light can reduce the fumbling usually associated with middle-of-the-night diaper changes and feedings and also help your baby rest. Since it is considered a useful essential, it’s important to get it right. Here are two simple night lights which can help keep your baby settled throughout the night:
Greenic Dusk-to-Dawn LED Nightlight (in Amber): This night light is very basic, but also super effective and ambient. It casts just enough diffuse light to help you find your way around for diaper changes and feedings, but not so much that it’ll make it hard for your baby to sleep. The warm tones of the light are also relaxing for your child’s bedroom.
VAVA Baby Night Light: The VAVA Night Light is a customizable light with a rechargeable battery that lasts up to 200 hours on its dimmest setting. You can touch the top for half a second to enter night light mode for breastfeeding at night, or you can tap the logo twice to set a 1-hour timer to comfort your baby to sleep. This way, your baby has a night light as they go to sleep, but it won’t wake them in the middle of the night.
15. Limit Screens
According to new World Health Organization guidelines, babies and toddlers should not be left to passively watch TV or other screens. Sedentary screen time, including computer games, should not happen before a child is two, the WHO says. The limit for two to four-year-olds is an hour a day and less is better. It’s also no secret that screen time can disrupt your sleep, no matter how old are you. This is due to the blue light emitted from electronic devices.
According to The Sleep Foundation, this particular light can delay the release of melatonin – the ‘sleep hormone’ – which is produced when you’re in a darker room or conditions. Although it can be tempting to let your baby watch children’s cartoons to keep them distracted before bed while you complete other household tasks, it can keep them up later in the long-run.
Keep device use to a minimum and perhaps opt for reading a picture book to your baby instead, which can be just as entertaining while also drifting them off to sleep by using a soft tone of voice.
16. Regulate Room Temperature
The optimum temperature for baby’s bedroom is between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. This can feel slightly chilly to some but has been proven to ensure safe and comfortable sleep for babies. As tempting as it is to turn the thermostat up if it feels too chilly for you, a cooler room is much more beneficial for your baby.
First of all, it is important to plan ahead and have some type of thermometer in your baby’s room to make it easier for you to keep the bedroom at the right temperature for babies. Another option to achieve the right room temperature for babies is to turn your heating on or up. Try to resist the temptation to cover your baby in a blanket, as this can be dangerous if it wraps around them or covers their face. Instead, you could use a baby sleeping bag or use thicker layers. Never put a hot water bottle or electric blanket in the cot, as these can also prove dangerous. Baby’s limbs will usually feel cool, especially their feet and hands, and so long as their bodies and heads are comfortably warm then you don’t need to worry. However, if hands and feet look discolored this is an indication that your child is too cold.
17. Keep Noises Low, But Not Silent
Adults are usually pretty skilled in sleeping through household noise due to the amount of time they spend in rem/deep sleep. However, there is a period in the middle of the night where adults cycle into a light sleep. A quiet noise at this time of night might wake you up but for most of the night, you would easily sleep through general household noises. However, children don’t develop this sort of sleep pattern until they are closer to 10-12 years old. They cycle into light sleep far more often.
When you or your child are in a state of deep sleep you’re welcome to do as many loud household chores as you wish, however when your baby cycles into light sleep you’ll find that an ill-timed sneeze has the potential to wake them up.
It’s also key to remember that when your baby is in the womb, they are surrounded by amniotic fluid and wrapped in the layers of your body. That means all noises from outside your body will be muffled, but still rather loud. The most significant sound your baby hears in the womb is your voice. In the third trimester, your baby can already recognize it. This means that your baby will be used to loud noises they can sleep through, so make sure you are aware of what stage of sleep your child is at to determine the levels of noise you can make.
18. Set Up A Baby Swing
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infant swings can be a valuable asset when parents need help soothing a fussy baby.
Simply place your little one snugly into their swing, turn it on and let the swing calm your baby back to sleep again. However, swings aren’t babysitters and shouldn’t be used in every situation. For some infants during the fourth trimester (first 3-months after being born), swinging is incredibly soothing in nature, says Alanna McGinn, a certified sleep consultant and founder of the Good Night Sleep Site.
The swing might be your baby’s version of relaxing in a hammock, but sleeping while swinging should be kept to a minimum. “A baby swing isn’t meant to act as a sleep environment,” says Amy Lage, a pediatric sleep consultant and founder of Well Rested Baby. The sleep that your child gets in a swing is not as beneficial as sleep that happens in a stationary location. During motion sleep, it’s hard for your baby’s brain to get into a restorative state, explains Lage, which could mean that your child is building up a sleep debt whenever they use the swing. Once you notice your baby settles back into sleep, place them back into their cot so they can return to a deeper, more restful sleep.
The last thing to remember when following these tips is to prepare yourself for sleep regression. This is when your baby starts waking up during the night again. But don’t panic, It’s likely just a temporary hiccup. Babies and toddlers often have minor sleep regressions around major developmental milestones or changes in routine, like travel, illness, or a new sibling. Many parents notice sleep problems begin around 4 months when babies become more mobile and their sleep patterns change, and again around 9 months as separation anxiety increases. To get through these periods, stick to your usual predictable and consistent schedule day to day with a soothing bedtime routine. Hopefully, your baby will continue to have sweet dreams throughout their development.