The number one question I get from parents is “How can I get my baby to sleep through the night?” Some babies are great sleepers and will sleep through the night at a very early age. As those lucky parents tell the world about their baby’s sleep habits, the sleep-deprived parents, who are tired and frustrated, search for answers. “Why isn’t my baby sleeping?”
I feel like I repeat this in every single post, but the truth is, every baby is different. I had two very different babies myself. My little girl was a great sleeper, but my boy used to wake up screaming every three hours. The first six months were very difficult, but I kept (and still keep) a very consistent sleep routine for both of my children. For months I asked myself if a consistent bedtime routine was working, because my baby was still waking up in the middle of the night. One night, when he was eight months old, I put him to bed at his regular bedtime (7:30ish pm) and he slept until 7 AM. I still remember the feeling of waking up with daylight and realizing that my baby had slept through the night. I remember rushing to his crib to make sure he was okay. My son from that day on consistently slept through the night. The same happened to my baby girl; it also took her eight months to give us an 11 to 12-hour stretch.
I am a true believer that a consistent bedtime ritual is the key to help babies sleep through the night. It is important for babies to know that it is time to wind down and that sleep is expected. Your baby will only know/recognize bedtime if you keep a CONSISTENT routine. Here are my bedtime tips:
1. Warm Bath
Start winding down your baby with a warm bath.
2. Baby Massage
After bath, apply baby lotion and give your baby a gentle and soothing baby message (some babies respond better to massage than others).
3. Comfortable Sleepwear
4. Full Tummy
Nurse/bottle feed your baby. It is important for babies to have a full tummy before they go to bed. Consult with your pediatrician about adding cereal to your baby’s bottle.
5. Baby Bonding
After feeding your baby, continue to bond with your baby. Rock your baby, sing, and play lullabies. Make sure the room is dark and soothing.
6. White Noise
When your baby is about to fall asleep (make sure your baby doesn’t fall asleep in your arms) put him/her in the crib. Give your baby a pacifier (if your baby likes pacifiers). Turn on a crib soother or white noise machine. If you don’t have a sound device (which I highly recommend), turn on a fan or radio with static noise. White noise is considered one of the most effective ways to soothe and prolong your baby’s sleep. Crib soothers are also very effective. I often hear my 18-month old baby turn on her crib soother in the middle of the night and go back to sleep by herself.
It is important to put your baby down awake so he/she learns how to self-soothe. Babies that learn how to self-soothe are more likely to go back to sleep by themselves in the middle of the night. When the pediatrician told me it was okay to stop nursing/feeding my baby in the middle of the night, I started giving my baby a pacifier when he woke up at night in lieu of nursing him. I would turn on the crib soother and he would go back to sleep. Sometimes he cried for a little bit, but he knew I was not going to pick him up and feed him so he would go back to sleep. It is okay to comfort your baby (I am not a fan of the “cry it out methods”) but, as your baby gets older, it is important that you don’t use bottle feeding/nursing as a way to soothe your baby back to sleep. Be consistent with your approach and your baby will respond to it.
8. Dream Feed
Tracy Hogg in the book “Secrets of the Baby Whisperer” recommends a “dream feed” right before you go to bed. For illustration purposes, assume you do your bedtime routine and feed your baby around 7-8 pm. Before you go to bed around 10-11pm, “dream feed” your baby (nurse or bottle feed your baby while he/she is sleeping). You don’t even need to burp your baby, just put him/her down without waking him/her. A “dream feed” will give your baby some extra calories to skip the middle-of-the-night feed.
9. Dark and Comfortable Nursery
Make sure your baby’s nursery is dark and the room’s temperature is right (around 70oF/21oC) not only for nighttime but also for naptime. There are some great thermometers like the Gro-Egg Color Changing Digital Room Thermometer that you can get for your baby’s nursery. During the day, try to keep your baby on a nap schedule and avoid late naps.
I truly believe that babies with consistent nap schedules and bedtime routines will sleep longer at night. Remember, consistency is everything!