Moms, are you exhausted with your baby fighting sleep during the day and at bedtime? Learn how to get a baby to stop fighting sleep once and for all.
If there’s one thing all new moms struggle with, it’s sleep. From not getting enough of it to managing erratic sleep patterns, it seems there’s never any end to sleep issues.
Perhaps the biggest headache? Dealing with a baby fighting sleep.
My son seemed to have it worst. He never liked to nap (and would wake up cranky each time). Putting him to sleep would take upwards of an hour each time. No matter how tired he looked, he still fought going to sleep.
For instance, I used to rock him in my arms to sleep, but instead of closing his eyes, he tried to keep them wide open as if looking around the room. It got to the point where I’d even try covering his eyes with my hand to see if that would do the trick.
And that was on good days.
Other times, he’d stir and squirm in my arms, or start screaming and fussing when I lay him down. Then I’d have to repeat the whole process all over again.
Whether fussy and screaming or looking around the room, one thing was certain: the longer he was awake, the fussier he got, and the harder it was to put him down to sleep. I remember panicking when I realized he had been awake a full six hours straight because he kept fighting sleep.
As you can see, a baby fighting sleep is exhausting for both parent and child. The good news is, I did find that certain techniques helped him take to sleep better.
As with anything related to babies, these techniques took time and were sometimes unpredictable. That said, once I began applying these tips, I noticed a considerable difference in how he took to sleep.
Give them a try the next time your baby fusses and fights going to sleep:
1. Do the opposite of your current strategy
We often hear the importance of consistency and routine. Shoot, I’m a big fan of doing the same things in the same order, and even prided myself on knowing the exact strategies my babies needed to fall asleep.
Except… sometimes, as with all things in life, it doesn’t always work.
Your baby, who might have always taken to the pacifier in the past, now spits it out each time you try to put it in his mouth. Or rocking him on the yoga ball—no matter how vigorously you bounce—isn’t getting you anywhere anymore.
Stop doing what it is that the baby is fussing about. After all, he’s complaining about something, and clearly what you’re currently doing in that moment isn’t making him happy.
Sure, he might drift off eventually after an hour of rocking, but the chance of him waking up the minute you put him down is pretty high if he started his sleep fussy and upset.
Instead, try doing the opposite.
So instead of rocking the baby on and on, see what happens if you put him down on a blanket—maybe he’s tired of being held. Instead of insisting on a pacifier, see if he could be hungry. And if he keeps stretching himself out of a swaddle, try putting him down unswaddled or partly swaddled.
He’s resisting the current way you’re putting him to sleep, even if for today or the last few days. Use this as an opportunity to try new strategies and see if he takes to one of them.
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2. Put your baby down by the clock
Has anyone ever told you that you’ll “know” when your baby is tired? That you’ll figure out his sleepy cues and understand instinctively that it’s time to put him down for a nap?
Except if you’re like me, you have no idea what those sleepy cues are. This can make you feel even more terrible that you can’t decipher what your baby is trying to communicate.
Here’s the thing: parenting takes practice, and as a first-time mom, it shouldn’t come as a shock that you can’t always tell your baby is sleepy. In fact, I eventually stopped relying on sleepy cues to decide it was time to put my babies down.
You see, I thought babies fall asleep when they’re tired. No wonder I ended up having an overtired baby instead, one who couldn’t get himself to fall asleep no matter how sleepy he was.
Instead, I put them down by the clock.
I kept track of how long they’d been awake, and would base their next nap from the time they woke up. The younger the baby, the shorter the time they should be awake.
And wow, what a difference this made. Now, I no longer had an overtired baby fighting sleep — instead, he fell asleep much quicker and with less resistance.
3. Experiment with your baby’s bedtime
Does your baby fight sleep at bedtime? You might want to experiment with timing bedtime (and the preceding nap) to see if that helps.
Watch the video below where I share three ways to experiment with bedtime and naps:
See what happens if you fiddle with the times he goes to sleep so that he’s comfortable and ready to go to sleep when it’s time.
4. Put your baby down drowsy but awake
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links, which means I will earn a commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase.
Many times, a baby fighting sleep does so because he struggles with putting himself to sleep. Your baby might have gotten used to being held or nursed to sleep, so if he wakes up in his crib, the unfamiliarity of it might distress him.
While your baby might be too young to sleep train, you can still practice good sleep habits now, especially as a first resort.
For instance, each time you put your baby down to sleep, do so when he’s drowsy but still awake.
Yes, your baby likely won’t fall asleep the first few times you try this (in fact, he might wake up shrieking and crying for you). But do this first before your usual go-to moves to at least give him a chance to fall asleep on his own.
After all, how can he learn to put himself to sleep when he has never been given a chance to?
So for now, put your baby down drowsy but awake as a first resort each time he needs to sleep. Then hopefully down the line, you might find he’s better able to sleep on his own without your help.
5. Reduce stimulation
Babies are like you and me: we need the right environment to fall asleep.
A few minutes before naps and bedtime, start reducing the stimulation your baby might see. Turn any loud sounds off, keep blinking lights out of the room, and draw the curtains to keep out extra light.
This also goes for how you speak and handle your baby. Talk in hushed and subdued tones, don’t carry him too quickly around the house, and be gentle as naps and bedtime roll around.
The less stimulation, the less likely your baby will resist going to sleep.
Tip: Install darkening curtains like these. They keep the light out from the room, making it more likely for your baby to fall—and stay—asleep.
6. The fussier your baby gets, the calmer you need to be
The first time I got truly upset at my baby—to the point where I felt guilty and ashamed—happened when he was only eight months old.
He wouldn’t nap, no matter how long I tried rocking him, and he fussed the whole time. At the end of my rope, I remember laying him down only for his eyes to fly wide open the second his head touched the crib mattress.
And I lost it. I yelled at my little baby, so upset that he wouldn’t nap.
What happens next shouldn’t surprise you: he cried even louder, and looked upset and even afraid. I scooped him up, apologized at my unreasonable reaction, and vowed not to get upset anymore.
You see, our babies pick up our mood and energy. They know when we’re upset versus when we’re soothing and compassionate. And if you had to pick between the two, you can imagine which mood would be more conducive for them to fall asleep.
After all, can you imagine falling asleep when someone has a furrowed brow and a down-turned mouth looking at you? Not exactly calm and soothing.
The next time you put your baby to nap, remind yourself that he needs you to be patient when he’s at his fussiest. We can’t only be happy and calm when he’s happy and calm—he needs us to be the calm anchor through all his emotions, good or bad.
Think of yourself as helping your baby through a hard time. The fussier he gets, the calmer you should try to be. If you’re too upset, pass the baby off to someone else (who’s calmer) or take a quick break alone while you collect yourself.
You’ll find that your baby will usually fall asleep with someone calmer, or with you once you’re calm as well.
A baby fighting sleep can be one of the biggest challenges facing new moms. You’re not used to the sleep deprivation that comes with parenthood, so it’s easy to get upset when nothing seems to work.
The key takeaway? Stay calm and keep trying. Do the opposite of your current strategy, since your baby might be resisting it. Put him down for naps and bedtime by the clock, and not based on sleep cues.
When you do, put him down drowsy but awake each time he goes to sleep to establish good sleep habits. Spend a few minutes reducing stimulation and gearing him up for a calm, restful environment.
And finally, remind yourself that the fussier your baby gets, the calmer you need to be.
By applying these tips, you can help your baby stop fighting sleep—no covering his eyes with your hand needed.
Struggling to get your baby to sleep through the night? My guide, How to Teach Your Baby to Self Soothe, has given thousands of parents the sleep they need.
Stop the sleep-deprivation and grab your copy below—a few days or weeks from now, you’re going to look back and be so glad you did:
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