Are you still rocking your child to asleep? Does your toddler wake up in the middle of the night? Here’s how to get your baby to sleep through the night.
Those early months with a newborn baby are tough because they can’t sleep through the night, as they shouldn’t. They’re still hungry, don’t know how to self soothe just yet, and still need our help to fall asleep.
But after a while, they grow up and are likely able to sleep through the night—a solid 10-12 hours of sleep, straight. They can take in their calories during the day like you and I do. They’re capable of soothing themselves to sleep on their own, and they don’t rely on us so much to fall and stay asleep.
When does that happen? Typically around four months old, but the best advice is to check in with your baby’s pediatrician to see when he or she thinks your baby is able to sleep several hours at night without a feeding.
How to get your baby to sleep through the night
Once you get the a-okay that your baby can sleep through the night without a feeding, it’s time to take some action.
Change your mindset
Perhaps the best place to start is with your mindset. Up to this point, you may have been rocking or feeding your baby to sleep, since those seem to be the only things that can do the trick. Or maybe you wake up multiple times a night to insert a lost pacifier that came loose from his mouth.
Trouble is, these habits have enabled your baby to rely on external aids to fall asleep instead of finding his own soothing methods. Let’s say you’ve always rocked your baby to sleep, as I have. It’s pretty difficult to expect him to fall asleep on his own if he doesn’t know any other way to do so. Think of these steps as allowing him to learn how to sleep through the night.
Ditch the external aids
The rocking, the nursing, the swaddles and the multiple pacifier wake ups—all these tactics are unsustainable in the long run. They’ve worked for a while because that’s all your baby has gotten used to. But you might have noticed that even the vigorous rocking isn’t working anymore. Or perhaps you’re simply too sleep deprived to wake up every hour to even function the next day.
In short, they’re simply unsustainable ways for your baby to fall asleep. They worked for the first few months and were even necessary at times. But now, it’s time to ditch them.
Imagine your perfect sleep situation and write it down. For me, I wanted to be able to lay my baby down awake, unswaddled and in his crib. Make your perfect sleep situation your goal, whether that means ditching the pacifier or not having to rock him to sleep.
As hard as it is in the first few days, it’s critical to remove the external aids you don’t want your baby to use any longer. These are the crutches that prevent your baby from learning how to sleep on his own.
Do strategic check ins
An easy way to allow your child to learn to fall asleep is to decide whether to check in to begin with. Many babies talk or whimper, even in their sleep. But after a few seconds, they settle themselves back to sleep. Problem is, if you go in during one of these whimpers, you’re likely waking him up all the way than if you had stayed put and allowed him to sleep on his own.
If he does need your attention, keep your check in short—30 seconds at most—and maintain a subdued manner. Try not to pick him up or even pat him—that only upsets him even more. He’s thinking, Why are you just patting me? Rock or nurse me to sleep like you usually do already!
The purpose of the check in isn’t necessarily to soothe him to sleep. You might notice, in fact, that he gets more upset when you check in. But you do want to check in so he knows you’re still there and for you to attend to any issues that may come up (if he has poop or is in an awkward position, for example).
When should you check in? Do them in 5, 10 and 15-minute increments. So after you lay your baby down and he cries, set the timer for 5 minutes. If he’s still crying by then, check in and reset your timer for 10 minutes. Do the same at 10 minutes and reset your timer for 15 minutes. And from there, keep checking in 15 minute increments as needed.
When my toddler was about 6-months-old, I read The Sleepeasy Solution by Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack (affiliate link). The book suggested a nighttime weaning strategy that worked pretty well for us.
First, gauge the average times your child wakes up at night for a feed, let’s say 11pm and 3am. Then, set your alarm 30 minutes before those designated times and wake the baby up for a dream feed.
Beat the baby to the punch and wake him up before he cries for milk. Dream feeds break the association between crying and needing milk to be pacified.
Feed him for the same length of time he breastfeeds. Then, reduce that time by two minutes every night.
For instance, the first night he might feed for 15 minutes. The following night, feed him for 13 minutes, and the next day, 11 minutes. Continue to decrease his feeding time until you no longer have to wake him up for dream feeds.
This process helped wean our son off night feedings. He adjusted to taking all his meals during the day instead of waking up at night to do so.
Over time, your baby will eventually go through the night without waking up to feed. He’ll consume all his calories during his waking hours in the day, just like you and I do.
Despite what you may feel right now, you’re not stuck feeling sleep deprived for the rest of your life. You can help your baby sleep through the night with the tips above.
Want a convenient way to track your baby’s feedings and diaper changes? Download this FREE printable below:
Get more tips:
- How to Sleep Train Twins: The Ultimate Guide
- How to End Bedtime Battles and Get Your Child to Finally Sleep
- Why I Regret Rocking My Baby To Sleep
- Why Your Child Shouldn’t Sleep Too Late
How did you handle nightly feedings for infants and young toddlers? What techniques helped your toddlers sleep through the night? How did you help your child settle himself or herself back to sleep when he or she woke up in the middle of the night?
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