Are you still rocking your child to asleep? Does he wake up in the middle of the night? Here’s how to get your baby to sleep through the night.
Exhausted doesn’t even fully describe those nights. With the baby waking up crying hysterically throughout the night, I’d fumble through the nights delirious, looking forward to the day the sleep deprivation would finally end. My baby needed to nurse to fall asleep and didn’t know how to self soothe just yet.
I had heard that, past the newborn stage, babies can start to sleep through the night—a solid 10-12 hours of sleep, straight. They’d be able to take in their calories during the day rather than waking up multiple times to feed. And that eventually, they’d be capable of soothing themselves to sleep without relying on us to do so.
As much as I had heard it happening, I didn’t believe it at first. How could my baby, the one who needed to be rocked and swaddled, put himself to sleep, and through the night too?
Thankfully, he did. But first, let’s talk about when babies can sleep through the night.
When will your baby sleep through the night?
Typically, babies around four months old can sleep through the night. They’re able to put themselves to sleep without relying on sleep aids like rocking or nursing. They can also take their calories during the day and reserve the nights for sleep.
But the best way to find out if your baby is ready to sleep through the night? Check with his pediatrician. Each baby is different, from when they were born, to any complications they may have, to any issues with weight gain that need to be addressed.
Your child’s pediatrician can recommend whether she thinks your baby is able to sleep several hours at night on his own, depending on his unique needs.
How many hours is “sleeping through the night”?
Ask several moms what they consider sleeping through the night and you’ll get various definitions. For some, getting five to six hours of sleep counts as sleeping through the night. For others, eight is enough, since it at least gives parents the sleep they need.
Personally, I consider sleeping through the night as 10-12 hours of sleep. Children typically need that much sleep at night (my seven-year-old still sleeps for 11 hours straight). And while they’ll periodically wake up throughout the night (like you and I do), they’ll also know how to put themselves back to sleep (again, like you and I do).
How to get your baby to sleep through the night
Once you get the a-okay from your pediatrician that your baby can sleep through the night without a feeding, it’s time to take action.
1. Change your mindset
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 techniques 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 did. It’s difficult to expect him to fall asleep on his own if he hasn’t had any opportunities to even try. He’s only doing what you’d been instilling from the get go.
Think of helping your child sleep through the night as giving him the chance to sleep on his own, unaided.
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2. 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 and other sleep aids aren’t working anymore. Or perhaps you’re simply too sleep deprived because your baby wakes up every hour to even function the next day.
These sleep aids worked for the first few months and were even necessary, especially during the newborn stage. 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.
3. 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 settle down and go back to sleep.
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, either. 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. If your baby cries after you lay him down, 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.
4. Wean your baby from nighttime feedings
Ask your child’s pediatrician if your baby is able to sleep through the night without feeding. If so, consider weaning him from them.
You and I take in our calories during the day, and we don’t eat at all while we sleep. At some point, so can your baby. It’s hard to consume so much during the day when you’re also eating at night. Help your baby drop the nighttime feedings to encourage him to take in his calories during the day.
Here’s a quick summary of how to do that:
- Record when your baby typically wakes up for the night. For instance, he might wake at 11pm and 3am.
- Set your alarm 30 minutes before the wake up times. Don’t wait for him to wake up to cry for milk. This helps break the association between crying and getting milk.
- Wake the baby to feed. At those designated times, feed your baby the same amount or time you usually do. Give him milk at these set times, even if it means waking him up to do so.
- Give extra milk the next day. Increase the amount of milk he gets by the same amount you had reduced. If he had two bottles reduced by half an ounce each, add half an ounce to two of his bottles the next day.
- Reduce the amount the next night. Wake him up at the same times, but decrease the amount of milk you offer by half an ounce. If he typically drinks 5 ounces each feeding, offer 4.5 ounces instead.
- Continue to repeat every night, reducing the milk by half an ounce each night until it’s so little you don’t need to bother waking him up.
Ideally, your baby will begin to eat less at night and more during the day. 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.
The moment when my babies could sleep through the night were turning points in parenthood for me. Rather than spending upward of an hour nursing and rocking them to sleep, I’d simply nurse them, lay them down awake in their cribs, unswaddled and without pacifiers. After a few minutes, I’d find them fast asleep.
I could then relax, knowing I wouldn’t have to scoop them up to rock and nurse if they happen to wake up. I had the hours between their bedtime and mine to do what I wanted or needed to.
And the sleep… I could fall sleep by 10pm and wake up at 6am the next day, without having woken up once.
Meanwhile, my kids would clock in a full 12 hours, going to sleep at 7pm and waking up at 7am. Sure, once in a while they’d fuss or cry, but they’d often settle themselves back to sleep on their own. And even the times I’d comfort them back to sleep were rare, rather than the norm.
The changes really were like night and day.
I know the same can happen for you. Despite what you may feel right now, you’re not stuck with sleep deprivation for the rest of your life. You can help your baby sleep through the night, starting with changing your mindset about what it means to let your child self-soothe.
Then, ditch the sleep aids you’d rather not continue, such as using pacifiers or rocking him to sleep. Do strategic check-ins, including not rushing in for every whimper you hear. And finally, learn how to wean from nighttime feedings so your baby can eat during the day and sleep at night.
Help your baby sleep through the night and end sleep deprivation once and for all.
Get more tips:
- A New Mom’s Guide to a Baby Fighting Sleep
- 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
- How to Handle Your 2 Year Old Not Going to Sleep Until 11pm
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?