Learning how to get a baby to sleep is one of the biggest hurdles that new parents have to overcome and often, there's no one 'right way'.
How you get a baby to sleep often depends more often than not on the baby themselves – how old they are, their bedtime routine or even something as simple as when the last time they ate. We know it’s a tricky one to figure out but not to worry, help is at hand.
We’ve created the ultimate sleep guide, which includes all the expert tips and tricks you’ll need to know to get a baby to sleep, with all the recommendations for sleep aids, Moses baskets and cot options you could ever need to soothe your baby.
And once your little one gets a little older, you can take a look at our kids’ sleep guide for more great advice from sleep and child experts on how to get older children to sleep successfully.
How to get a baby to sleep
From birth to six months
Newborns don’t know the difference between night and day, and often baffle their parents by sleeping for long periods during the day, only to be awake for hours at night. Also, new babies often wake because they need a feed, as they only have little tummies.
In her book, The Complete Sleep Guide for Contented Babies and Toddlers, Gina Ford suggests that babies who weigh over 10lb, are putting on enough weight each week and following her routine, may sleep through the ‘core night’ (11pm to 5am) from six weeks. By 10 weeks, her plan is that babies start to sleep from 11pm to 7am.
Certainly by three to six months, your little one will hopefully sleep for reasonably long periods through the night.
Chireal Shallow, of Naturally Nurturing sleep clinic, says, “To help your baby feel secure, recreate the conditions of the womb. Swaddle them, just like they were snug inside you, and make sure their Moses basket is cosy. If they’re warm and sleepy in your arms, being moved to a cool mattress can be a shock.
“To settle them, put a hand on their chest, lean down and put your cheek next to them, then make a ‘shh, shh’ sound. When they stops crying, stop all of these. They’ll learn you’re there for them when they’re upset, but that they can go to sleep on their own when they’re calm.”
In the first few months of a baby’s life, it’s especially important to consider their sleep space. Both for their comfort to lull into a peaceful sleep and their safety, with experts recommending that babies have their own space to sleep outside of a parent’s bed, on a flat surface. Something like a Moses basket would be perfect for this, as they come up smaller so are perfect for newborns and can be put right next to the bed.
For those with a little more space, cots and cribs are a classic go-to baby sleeping option. We’ve put together a handy guide on some of the best cots available to buy right now, with useful advice on what to look out for.
If you’ve just had your baby and are struggling to get them to sleep on their first couple of nights, then they could be experiencing a completely normal baby condition called Second Night Syndrome. It affects some babies more than others and is simply characterised by complete sleep for the first 24 hours of life, and then crying and excessive feeding amongst other symptoms from then on.
From six to 12 months
By now your baby’s tummy is big enough to enable them to sleep for around 11 hours at night without waking to feed. If they’re still waking frequently for food, it’s time to re-think your feeding patterns. It may also be that your baby can’t settle themselves, and needs your help to doze off again.
Your baby’s old enough now for you to be able to introduce sleep training to get them into better habits. The aim is to teach them how to get back to sleep on their own. Methods include gradual withdrawal (slowly moving further away in the room as they drift off to sleep) and ‘controlled crying (leaving them for gradually increased periods of time before going in to reassure them).
A recent study has revealed that there are no adverse effects of letting a baby ‘cry it out’, with their development exactly the same as babies who were constantly soothed by their parents. The research has helped to prove that ‘controlled crying‘ – leaving a baby to cry and so self-soothe themselves to sleep – is a perfectly acceptable way of establishing a sleep routine for your baby. Tests also proved that babies were still just as attached to their mothers as those who did not self-soothe.
Sophia Nomicos, founder of parenting network Mas and Pas, says that this tends to be “one of the quickest ways to sleep train a child with a number of parents reporting their children were sleeping through the night after just 3-5 nights of starting the method.”
Tips and tricks on how to get a baby to sleep
Check your baby’s room temperature
Make sure your baby isn’t too cold or hot by investing in a thermometer and checking that their room is between 16°C and 20°C.
The FSID (Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths) recommends that babies sleep in a Grobag, a baby sleeping bag. Here are the guidelines Gro Company supply on what the baby should wear with which tog, in which room temperature.
- Under 16°C: Put them in a 2.5 tog sleeping bag and long-sleeved vest, plus long-sleeved sleepsuit
- 16°C-19°C: Put them in a 2-2.5 tog sleeping bag and long-sleeved sleepsuit or long-sleeved vest
- 20°C-24°C: Put them in a 1-1.5 tog sleeping bag and long-sleeved vest or short-sleeved vest
- 25°C plus: Put them in a 0.5 tog sleeping bag and vest or vest alone
Feeling their tummy is the best way to tell how hot or cold your baby is and don’t worry if their feet and hands are cold as it doesn’t necessarily mean they feel cold.
Have you tried altering the lighting?
Newborns don’t realise that night time means bedtime, but if you’re still wondering how to get a baby to sleep you can help your baby learn and create a relaxing atmosphere in the evenings by softening the lighting in their room. Try turning off any overhead lights and switch on a lamp or night light instead.
If the lighter summer evenings (and mornings) seem to be messing up your baby’s sleeping pattern, invest in blackout blinds to block out the light – The Gro Company Stars and Moons Blackout Blind on Amazon has had thousands of five-star reviews.
Also, make sure that light isn’t creeping in from under a door and waking your baby up. Next time they wake up early, instead of going straight to your baby, go inside, shut the door and see if you can see any reason why they’ve suddenly woken.
Is your baby hungry?
You’ll need to breastfeed your newborn every hour or two (or two to three hours if you’re bottle-feeding) in the first couple of weeks. The best way to get through this time is to sleep when they do and leave the housework to someone else.
When your baby weighs around 10lbs they might sleep for longer and go for four to five hours between feeds. From 14lbs they could even go five to six hours without needing milk. Getting your baby to sleep through the night really depends on your baby’s weight and how quickly they digest their milk, so listen to your baby and don’t be in a hurry to get them sleeping through the night and worry about how to get a baby to sleep.
It’s good to know that your little one may also feed more often and for longer during a growth spurt, however if their constant waking up for milk doesn’t seem normal, it might be worth checking your milk supply with your health visitor.
The last feed before bedtime
Avoid being stuck with a sleeping baby in your arms by encouraging them to fall asleep on their own (without being fed) from around three months old.
We know it’s easier said than done, but if your baby masters it, they’re more likely to be able to soothe themselves back to sleep if they wake up during the night. You won’t be stuck with how to get a baby to sleep and then you can get more sleep too!
Try feeding your baby before you read them a bedtime story or sing their favourite nursery rhyme. When they start showing their usual signs of tiredness e.g touching their ears and yawning, put them down in their cot awake.
If you’re worried that they’ll wake up later in the night hungry, why not try a dream feed? That way you can anticipate the problem and feed them before they wake up.
If you’re still struggling, why not try out a baby sleep aid? As much as having extra items in your baby’s sleep space such as toys is a real no-go, a mobile or rocking stand could help you lull them into a gentle snooze.
Swaddling your newborn baby
Swaddling is when you wrap a baby in a blanket to make them feel secure, like when they were in the womb. Here’s how to swaddle a newborn:
1. Fold one corner down on a thin cotton cot sheet. Lie your baby on their back, in the middle of the sheet and with their head resting above the fold
2. Take the left corner and wrap it over your baby’s body then tuck it under their right arm
3. Fold the tail upwards then wrap the right corner over their body and around their back, making sure their head is uncovered and your baby has enough space to wriggle their hips and knees
4. Avoid using extra or thick blankets to stop your baby overheating
5. Don’t swaddle babies over 1 month old.
Winding may help them sleep for longer
GoodtoKnow user Jolene says, “My son Huxley normally sleeps for an extra hour if he’s been properly winded, but it took me seven weeks to figure that out!
“I sit him up on my lap with his spine against my chest. I then put my arm under his arms and sit up as straight as I can. After a few seconds it usually brings up a stubborn burp! The good thing about this position is you can do it when they’re asleep too (as long as you support the head).”
Some mums also swear by Infacol, which you can buy from any good pharmacy to help your baby burp easily after a feed.
Mummy blogger Sophie Cachia took Instagram to share a video of her burping technique in a bid to help others mums that are struggling to burp their babies. In the video, The Young Mummy blogger can be seen sitting her tot on her lap as she begins to move her little ones limbs to open up her airway.
Sophie describes what she can be seen doing in a helpful caption alongside the video, ‘Simply [so it’s definitely not always SIMPLE, sometimes they arch their back and you need to use some gentle-but-firm mummy/daddy love to hold them in place) sit them on your lap and bring their knees bent in like so, and lift their arms up to about 90 degree angle.’
The Australian mum continues to reveal that she used this technique successfully on both of her children but warned that it’s essential that your baby’s body is relaxed.
Could a dummy help or hinder?
Some mums find that their baby falls asleep easier with a dummy, so it may be worth trying one out to see if your baby likes it. Sucking a dummy can also help send your baby back to sleep if they wake up during the night which means you won’t have to get up. If you’re breastfeeding, wait until your baby is four weeks old before you introduce a dummy as it could affect your milk supply since your baby might not feel like feeding as much after sucking.
On the other hand, if you find your baby is waking up in the night because the dummy keeps falling out of their mouth, you might like to consider taking their dummy away.
How to establish a bedtime routine for your baby
Bedtime routines are good for both you and your baby. They get used to an order of things and are often comforted by it. Babies with routines are likely to settle much quicker than babies who don’t know what’s coming next, so you won’t be stuck with how to get a baby to sleep. And the quicker they’re asleep and not fretting, the sooner you can relax and not fret yourself!
You can start a routine as soon as the health visitor makes their first visit when your baby is about 6 – 8 weeks old. Pick a time that you’ll stick to, then do the same thing every night before putting your little one in their cot so they understand it’s time to sleep.
GoodtoKnow user Ruth told us about her daughter Addysen’s routine, which starts with “a nice warm bath, a warm bottle while wrapped in a big fluffy towel, Bear in the Big Blue House on the TV, then bed.”
9 rules for a successful bedtime routine
1) Make their room special: Make your tot’s bedroom a place he wants to be so that he looks forward to being in his own space. Try muted coloured mobiles for babies, a favourite fluffy toy that only comes out at night, or soothing music. Avoid bright colours, or mobiles with flashing lights. Blackout blinds might also help.
2) Sleep associations: Children and babies sleep better if they have recognisable clues to remind them that it’s time to go to sleep. Try a familiar routine, like bath, own bed, short story, kiss, lights out, sleep. Remember, if they fall asleep in your arms, or in front of the TV, then when they wake in the night, they’ll need these things to return to sleep.
3) Play it down: If your little one is sick in the night, or soils the bed, deal with the problem with minimum fuss. If you give it too much attention, your child may begin to associate it as a way of getting you into their room.
4) Calm and quiet: By all means play with your little ones, but when bedtime approaches, wind it down. Any stimulation before bed just makes it harder for them to get to sleep.
5) Keep a diary: When you change your child’s bedtime routine, it’s a good idea to keep a diary to help remember your progress. It can be hard to believe things are changing when you’ve taken him back to bed 20 times, but if your notes tell you that two nights ago you were having to do it 25 times, you can’t argue with that.
6) Create a friendly monster: Little people are scared of the dark and this is partly due to their imaginations running riot – it’s hard for an under-5 to know the difference between an imaginary world and the real world. Try telling him a story about a monster, but say that this was a really nice monster who couldn’t understand why little boys were so scared of him? Soon your child will feel more in control of the situation and his anxiety will reduce.
7) Don’t go it alone: Breaking habitual behaviour is hard. If your baby has learned to fall asleep on your breast and now you feel the time has come to break this pattern, it will take strength for you to see it through. Likewise, if he’s always fallen asleep with Dad on the living room sofa, changing this will be tough. Don’t underestimate how hard it will be, and make sure you talk about it to your partner, if you have one, your family or friends – you’ll need support too.
8) Just say ‘no’: As a parent, you set the boundaries. Assertiveness and consistency are critical. Once you’ve decided on a course of action, be strong and be clear. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love your child.
9) The lonely parent: Being a parent is tough and can be lonely, especially in the middle of the night. If you feel down, don’t be tempted to wake or cuddle your baby. Phone a friend instead.
When do babies sleep through the night?
Sleeping through the night generally means your baby is sleeping six to eight hours straight overnight without waking up.
Louenna Hood, Norland nanny and maternity nurse, says that every baby is different though. She tells GoodtoKnow, “I have looked after babies who sleep through the night from eight weeks old but others not until four or five months old. If your baby follows a regular eating and sleeping pattern through the daytime and finishes full feeds, they should be able to sleep through from four months.”
But this doesn’t necessarily mean that their sleeping through the night is the same as yours, so there may still be a midnight or 7am wake up call. As much as we all wish that babies could just nod off at 7pm, we know that it doesn’t always work that way…
To help you see the light at the end of the tunnel, mum-of-three and founder of Mas and Pas, Sophia Nomicos has given us some of her tried and tested advice. She says that while parents and caregivers expect to lose some sleep when newborns arrive, a recent study has shown that parent’s sleep disruption can last for as long as six years.
“How much our sleep is lost varies from family to family,” Sophia tells us, “But long term sleep deprivation can have a real effect on our mental and physical wellbeing. Some experts have even linked exhaustion to postnatal depression as modern mothers try to do it all on their own. They often do not have family around to help them, as they may have had in earlier generations.
“If your child is old enough to sleep through the night but is still waking up several times before morning, the chances are they are probably exhausted too. If you can do something to help them sleep for longer stretches, or through the night, it’s likely to help the whole family. Which method you use to sleep train your child is a deeply personal choice for every parent, and it’s important to find a technique that you’re comfortable with and believe in.”
Why doesn’t my baby sleep?
What can cause a baby not to sleep?
Little or less sleep is inevitable when you have a baby, especially during the first few months, but persistent sleep problems can be a sign of a more serious, underlying issues. The majority of sleep issues are caused by temporary factors such as temperature, appetite or change in routine; these are often isolated incidents (not persistent) and are nothing to worry about.
Jumaimah Hussain, parenting expert at Kiddies Kingdom, tells GoodtoKnow. “The more serious causes of disturbed nights may be a sign of a disease or medical condition which will require parents to consult a paediatrician or family doctor. One of the most common medical conditions that may affect the sleeping habits of a young baby is infections. This can range from well-known and easier to spot infections such as ear infections and yeast infections, to more unusual problems like parasitic infections, also known as pinworms.
“Breathing and respiratory irregularities are also a common cause for disturbed sleep and something that should be monitored if persistent. If coupled with hiccupping, bringing up milk and not gaining weight, lack of sleep may be a sign of acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease, again, something that should be monitored and flagged to a paediatrician.”
Why do babies fight sleep?
“There can be many reasons why a baby might refuse or fight sleep but the most common is because they are overtired.” Jumaimah says, “Just like adults if a baby doesn’t get the required sleep, they becomes delirious and becomes too tired to fall asleep. Babies and young children have a specific ‘sleep window’ where they naturally become drowsy and if they miss this window or a nap interferes with their routine, they will struggle to fall asleep.”
However, “On the flip side, a baby may fight sleep if they have had sufficient naps and simply aren’t tired. Getting this balance right can be hard for parents as it requires a strict routine and a lot of persistence.
“As a baby approaches the eight-month mark, they often adopt separation anxiety which can also lead to them fighting sleep. The need for parental contact usually peaks around 18 months but if it’s not managed properly, it can cause sleep disruption right through to early years.”
How do you stop babies fighting sleep?
It all depends on the cause for the baby fighting sleep, but largely, parents should move their baby’s bedtime to adjust their routine slightly. Jumaimah says, “If you suspect they are overtired, put them down earlier, encouraging them to feel relaxed and drowsy with a bedtime story or lullaby. However, if they do not seem sleepy in the evening, then try moving bedtime later or extending their wind-down routine.
“Likewise, introduce naps accordingly; for example, if they have been used to taking two naps a day then try dropping this down to one to help tire them out.
“For separation anxiety, find a balance between providing comfort and reassurance but also giving the baby space. Holding back during periods of unrest will teach them to self-soothe and in turn, reduce the need for parental attention.”
Should you let an overtired baby cry it out?
While controlled crying is certainly a valid method of baby sleep training, letting a baby just ‘cry it out’ is something completely different and largely, you shouldn’t let an overtired baby cry themselves to sleep.
As a child sleep specialist, Lauren Peacock from Little Sleep Stars says, “I do not advocate a baby or child, of any age, being left alone to cry for as long as it takes them to fall asleep. When a baby or toddler has become overtired, crying may be inevitable, especially with younger little ones. The crying and fighting sleep is due to a child’s threat response having being elevated by the hormones secreted when overtiredness occurs.
“Babies and young children cannot emotionally regulate and so to avoid the potential of this stress becoming toxic, little ones need the support of a responsive caregiver. Whilst being in a parent’s loving arms might not stop the crying, the parent essentially absorbs much of the stress that their child would otherwise experience.”