Updated: Jul 10, 2022
Do you have a newborn, or small baby, that struggles to sleep? If so, you may have done some other reading already about tips to get your little one to sleep through the night, or at least for longer stretches.
I had the baby that never sleeps. She wouldn't sleep without being held at naps until she was 11 months. I remember that first time she did, that crazy feeling of freedom, and not knowing what to do with myself while she was asleep. I ended up going in my older daughter's room and chatting for a while. It felt nice, and peaceful.
She is a toddler now, so I feel like I have finally come out of the sleep deprived daze that was her first two years of life.
Hopefully some of these tips will help you so that your little one will sleep through the night sooner than mine did. I am going to tell you everything that I googled during those 11 months, what worked, what didn't, and what sounded scary and dangerous.
But first, everyone will tell you this because it is the most important thing you can do: Sleep when the baby sleeps. It may seem tempting to catch up on work or chores while your little one is sleeping, or to binge watch Netflix in a daze. Believe me, get your sleep when you can, it is a precious commodity!
I am putting this first, even though I am NOT by any means, an advocate of sleep training, because sleep training is what basically everyone told us to do with my now 4 year old. Even the pediatrician.
With my now 18 year old, I did sleep train successfully using a modified Ferber. I sat by her bed and patted her to sleep for 3 nights, one of the nights she cried for 15 minutes. But after that, I was able to successfully put her to sleep in her own bed, in her own room.
My toddler was a completely different story. I tried the same modified Ferber with her for months. I would put her down in her cradle, next to my bed and pat her in attempt to get her to sleep. She didn't sleep. She didn't cry either. Weird right? I googled that and found absolutely nothing.
We talked to the pediatrician for about the 3rd time about her not sleeping, and they recommended we do the Ferber method. Keep in mind, it is current guidelines to put the baby to sleep in the same room with you until 6 months. So when we did Ferber, we had to stay in the living room and watch her on the baby monitor.
The doctor told us that most babies will sleep after about 90 minutes. Ours didn't. We sat and watched her, while she cried, and we cried, and went to pat her every 15 minutes like the booklet from the doctor told us. After 6 hours, we couldn't do it anymore. We went to sleep with her back in our bed, like we had been doing before. We wanted to sleep. We wanted HER to sleep, but most of all we were just sick from hearing her cry for so long. We vowed to never do that again. It was horrible.
A few months later I read an article, saying that sleep training may lead to a less secure attachment between the baby and the mother, than when the mother took a more responsive approach to nighttime crying. This made me feel validated in my decision to take a more Attachment Parenting stance.
For more information why sleep training can be detrimental see:
Everything I read said to have the same routine every night, something like a bath, a book and then rocking or nursing. By having a consistent routine, it can create a sense of security and trust with the baby. This should help them to fall asleep more easily, because they will be calm and settled.
Even if having a nighttime routine doesn't work right off the bat, if you stick with it consistently, it has the best chance of working long term.
According to the Australian Parenting Website, "A bedtime routine can have quite a few activities. The key is that you do similar activities in roughly the same way each night, starting around 20 minutes before your child’s bedtime.
Most bedtime routines include pre-bed tasks like having a bath and brushing teeth, as well as quiet, enjoyable activities like reading a book or listening to a story. The aim is to keep the atmosphere calm and positive, using positive attention and praise.
Here’s an example of a bedtime routine that could start after dinner and a bath:
Your child plays quietly for 15-20 minutes – this could include reading with you.
You and your child go into the bedroom.
You and your child have a brief cuddle and kiss.
You put your child into bed."
The idea with using a bedtime routine is that your baby will get used to doing the same things in the same order, and come to expect that it is time to go to bed now, and therefore go to sleep more easily.
Most advice says that, after the bedtime routine is completed, you would lie your baby down "drowsy but awake" into the bed and they will fall asleep easily.
Although this didn't work for us to get River to sleep as a baby, it has started to work better and better as she has become a toddler, and she doesn't usually fight against going to bed anymore. We used to have a struggle and a fit at each step of the bedtime process, but now she goes to bed more easily.
It could be Gas or GERD.
If a baby has gas or GERD it can be difficult for them to sleep because they are experiencing a physical discomfort. Typically, if the discomfort is relived, it will alleviate the sleep issues as well.
For babies experiencing gas, it can be helpful to have them take organic gas drops (which you can find in the supermarket of drug store). If your baby is formula fed, frequent gas could also indicate that you may need to change formula. For example, my oldest struggled with milk-based formula and needed to switch to Soy.
However, if you believe that your baby has symptoms of GERD, you will want to consult with your pediatrician about a treatment plan. In the case of your baby's sleep though, if you are able to alleviate the GERD symptoms, they should sleep better too!
Carrying your baby on your shoulder while walking them around the house can provide a gentle movement to lull a baby to sleep. It helps if you walk at a slow and consistent pace, and in an area that is dark and not very stimulating. This can be especially helpful for small babies, that are used to the movement of the mother's body while they were in the womb.
Walking to sleep worked well most of the time with River while she was small, especially for naps. This method seemed to work better for Gary than it did for me, perhaps because he is stronger and able to carry our little one for a longer amount of time.
Similar to walking, rocking the baby to sleep is a tried and true method that makes a rocking chair a must-have for any nursery. The gentle rocking motion can help to lull your baby to sleep.
When my toddler was tiny, this was my go to for getting her to go to sleep. Usually, I would nurse her in the rocking chair before bedtime, usually singing or humming softly to her to get her to go to sleep. Many times, she would go to sleep in my arms.
Pushing in the Stroller or Car Ride
Both of these work on the same premise of the previous two; that your baby will be lulled to sleep by the gentle motion. With my older daughter, she went to sleep easily in the car, so there were nights that I would drive her around the block a few times to get her to go to sleep.
My toddler, on the other hand, hated the car. So, sometimes if she was having a difficult time going to sleep, we would push her around the house in the baby buggy. (No need to go outside unless you like it better!) Sometimes that would put her to sleep.
Put them on top of the washing machine.
I read this somewhere and never tried it. Supposedly, it is the same type of motion as riding into the car, only you don't have to drive around the block 300 times. To me it sounded really dangerous, so the verdict is out on that one. I suppose you can strap them into the car seat so they don't fall?
Still, since there are other, safer methods to create the motion feeling for your baby, I would try one of those instead!
Especially for newborns, nursing to sleep comes easily, and will often happen without your trying. You may have read that this is bad, or will cause unnecessary "sleep associations" which will have to be broken later. However, it is honestly one of the easiest ways to get a baby to go to sleep, in my experience.
Babies will also tend to go to sleep easily with a bottle (if they are bottle fed) or a pacifier. The sucking reflex is calming, and helps to lull them to sleep.
If you let your baby have a bottle at bedtime, keep in mind that you do need to take the bottle out of your baby's mouth, vs letting them hold it all night, because the milk can pool in their mouth and cause tooth decay. One way that I found to avoid this issue with my littles was by substituting a bottle of water for milk, once they started getting teeth. It will provide the same relaxing sucking reflex, but without the problems for their teeth.
Singing a baby to sleep can be combined with any of the other above methods also. Babies are attuned to their caregivers voices, and will be soothed by knowing that mom or dad is near.
According to NAEYC, "When you sing to your baby, they bond with you and your voice. Singing makes yours the first and most important voice in her life. Your baby learns that you LOVE him!"
Since singing signals love to your baby, it is easy to use your voice to lull them to sleep, by helping them to feel calm and peaceful.
Bedtime stories are great for a similar reason to singing, because with young babies it can help lull them to sleep because of the familiar voice.
Also, according to Brightly, "Reading to kids at bedtime serves many functions. Language and literacy development are obvious benefits. But reading also gives kids a time for physical closeness with parents, which serves as a sort of emotional security check-in. It gives older kids an opportunity to soften their defenses and talk about things that might be troubling them. Bedtime reading also provides a point of focus and distraction, away from the day’s activities and frustrations, allowing the body’s fatigue to take over and bring the child closer to sleep. Even in young babies, this point of focus helps them to filter out the stimulating world around them and relax.
Because bedtime reading happens when the child is tired and relaxed, it becomes associated with those feelings. Over time, bedtime reading actually triggers and enhances the sleepiness and relaxation because of that association. With repetition, bedtime reading becomes a very powerful sleep cue."
These are all excellent reasons to use a bedtime story with your baby to help them to go to sleep.
Many of us grew up taking a bath every night before bed ourselves, to wash off all the dirt from playing outside all day. Until I started doing self care activities, it never occurred to me that there was an actual reason (other than being dirty!) to take a bath at the beginning of the nighttime routine.
According to Johnson and Johnson wellness, "Few activities can be as soothing as taking a bath—and that’s especially true for little ones. After coming out of a warm bath, a baby's body temperature starts to cool, which can help your infant fall asleep more easily."
Baths can be very soothing, so it is a great start to the bedtime routine!
Similarly to taking a bath, a massage is a good way to start lulling your little one off to sleep, because it is so relaxing.
There are some other benefits of baby massage too. According to the Mayo Clinic, "Research suggests that infant massage can have various health benefits. For example, infant massage might:
Encourage interaction between you and your baby
Help your baby relax and sleep
Positively affect infant hormones that control stress
Massaging your infant is a great way to bond using skin to skin contact, and to help them relax before bed.
I never tried this with my girls when they were little, but my toddler loves to get a massage or to give one to me or her dad.
According to Healthy Children, it is best to "Place your baby's crib, bassinet, portable crib, or play yard in your bedroom, close to your bed. The AAP recommends room sharing because it can decrease the risk of SIDS by as much as 50% and is much safer than bed sharing. In addition, room sharing will make it easier for you to feed, comfort, and watch your baby."
However, according to sleep research from Notre Dame, "both adults and babies sleep longer overall when they bedshare, probably because caregivers don’t have to get all the way up out of bed to feed and babies don’t have to call out, wait for help, and settle back down. And that longer sleep has implications for parent-child interactions in the daytime. Research suggests that more well-rested parents make better decisions and, importantly, have better emotion regulation. Sleep deprivation also raises the risk of postpartum depression."
Since our little one would wake up every time we tried to lay her down alone for almost a year, we fell into co-sleeping almost by default, and early on I felt I almost had to apologize for it, or not tell my friends. That being said, it does work for us. Our little one has always slept better with us than she did alone.
The night you cave and let them watch videos on your phone.
Sometimes, nothing works to get your baby to sleep. Mine would refuse sleep on and off until she was about 2.5 (and on the rare bad night she still does it now) so, we fell into the "bad" habit of letting her watch videos before bed.
We started with ASMR videos of kinetic sand, because it is supposed to be relaxing, but after that we have let her watch other kids YouTube videos. I think that in some ways the singing on the videos lulls her to sleep too.
That being said, the blue light from electronics can actually keep you awake because it is overstimulating, so this is not something I would actually recommend, although it seems to have worked for us.
Hiring a Sleep Consultant.
If you are still having trouble getting your baby to sleep, even after trying all of these strategies, you may want to hire a Sleep Consultant.
In an article by another sleep deprived mom on Vox, she explains her experience, "It’s hard to overstate the hopelessness of indefinite sleep deprivation. We just want someone to tell us what to do and when to do it. Dr. Benjamin Spock, in his Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, made waves in the postwar era with his gentle and intuitive approach when he counseled parents to trust themselves: “You know more than you think you do.” What about those of us who feel they know absolutely nothing?
Sleep consultants can lift this hopelessness. When I had my initial phone consult with Christine, the most comforting words I heard were that she could help, and that within days I could be walking out of my son’s bedroom by 8 pm and waking up with just my husband beside me in bed. When friends heard that I’d hired a sleep consultant, they were eager to glean secret knowledge or “hacks” from which they could benefit. I had to break it to them that there’s no magic, just a structure informed by sleep education and the built-in accountability to keep to that structure. Sleep consultants do not train babies, after all, they train parents."
So, if you are still stuck, you can easily find a sleep consultant in your area, or one that will work with you remotely.
There are many different ways to get your baby to go to sleep. Some of them may not work for you, and others may work well. As you try new things, it is helpful to try a new strategy for a few nights, up to a week, to see if it will work for you. If you only do something for a night, it is hard to tell if it is a one off chance element, or if it actually is a good or bad strategy.
From my experience, having a bedtime routine is what will work best over a period of time. I am a big proponent of routine overall, and routines are proven to reduce stress, because they automate some of our mental processes, by putting things step by step in a way that is easy to follow.
Many of the other things that I have outlined will be great additions to your bedtime routine. See what works for you, your baby, and your family!
Other thank that, I honestly think that how soon a baby is able to learn to sleep alone has more to do with the baby's temperament, than anything that mom or dad can do. At leas that has been the case with my two. My older daughter is an introvert, and learned to sleep alone at 9 months. My younger one is an extrovert, and still wants to sleep with us at 4.5.
My point being, your baby not sleeping is not your fault, and you have not done something wrong! Lots of babies don't sleep through the night from the first!
If there is something else that you have tried that gets your little one to sleep like a charm and I haven't mentioned it here, please leave me a note in the comments!
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