Baby sleep guide: How to get a baby to sleep

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  • Stuck with a sleeping baby in your arms or maybe you've been up all night feeding and rocking and are wondering how you'll make it through the day?

    We know it’s hard knowing how to get a baby to sleep but try not to worry, help is at hand.

    We’ve created a baby sleep guide, which includes all the expert tips and tricks you’ll need to know how to get a baby to sleep and how to establish a good bedtime routine that should bring better (and more!) sleep for both you and your baby, whether they sleep in a moses basket or a cot.

    What’s more, we’ve even got a handy kids’ sleep guide too, so as your bundle of joy grows you’re still not short on advice.

    How to get a baby to sleep: the ultimate guide

    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 him, just like he was snug inside you, and make sure his Moses basket is cosy. If he’s warm and sleepy in your arms, being moved to a cool mattress can be a shock.’

    ‘To settle him, put a hand on his chest, lean down and put your cheek next to his, then make a ‘shh, shh’ sound. When he stops crying, stop all of these. He’ll learn you’re there for him when he’s upset, but that he can go to sleep on his own when he’s calm.’

    How to get a baby to sleep: From six to 12 months

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    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).

    How to get a baby to sleep: Tips and tricks

    Don’t be afraid to let them cry themselves calm

    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.

    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 made by Gro Company. 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.

    Is your baby hungry?

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    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.

    Have you tried swaddling your 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.

    Have you winded your baby?

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    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.

    Have you tried a dummy?

    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.

    Have you tried altering the lights in your baby’s room?

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    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. 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.

    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 wont 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.

    Establish a bedtime routine

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    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.’

    Rules for a successful bedtime routine

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

    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.

    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!

    At what age babies sleep through the night generally depends on their age, weight and feeding habits. But generally, at four months old, babies can sleep for a solid seven or eight hours. At five to six months, they should be sleeping through the night. If they are waking for food, it may be that they’re not actually hungry.

    Was your baby or child a terrible sleeper and what did you try to give them a better night’s sleep? Let us know in our comments section below, we’re sure other mums would love to know if anything you’ve tried worked.