Before our son was born, my mom told me the easiest way to get a baby to sleep through the night. She said that anytime a baby wakes up and cries overnight to “observe” and “listen” to see if the baby truly needs something versus rushing to pick them up immediately if they’re crying.
A lot of people don’t know this, but babies wake up slightly between their sleep cycles and they get scared and cry when they’re very young. Everyone has a lighter time of sleep between sleep cycles but adults have adapted and learned to sleep through this “wake up” period.
Here’s the best and easiest way to help a baby sleep through the night. I did all of these (really mostly by coincidence) and the result was that our son slept through the night (8:30pm-6:30am) by 2 months old. It’s not luck, it’s all about how you condition the baby from the beginning.
1) Swaddle your baby at night. Babies like to feel the comfort and security of feeling tightly nuzzled like they were in the mother’s womb. Swaddling also helps because babies move a lot in their sleep and the flailing of their arms and legs wakes them up versus if they were swaddled it wouldn’t happen as easily. Initially, we used receiving blankets and folded them a certain way to wrap up our baby because the velcro swaddling blankets were too large.
2) When your baby naps in the daytime, be sure to have a good amount of natural light coming in. Most people think that when a baby naps that they need to draw the curtains and have it really dark. The sooner your baby can decipher between daytime and nighttime, the better. In utero, there is no timetable and so a baby comes into the world not having a sense of day or night. It’s in your best interest to get this established as soon as possible
3) Have your baby sleep literally near you. Get a used bassinet or special co-sleeper so that your baby can sleep next to your bed the first 2-3 months. This helps the baby smell its mother and know she’s near, for comfort. It also allows you to breastfeed or do night feedings a lot easier than if you had to walk to baby’s room and the kitchen to do a feeding. Also have your baby nap near you in the daytime as well- even 6 weeks worth of this is a step in the right direction.
4) When baby is sleeping, have some sort of moderate noise going on (radio, tv, music, etc). You want your baby to get used to real life and the sounds that go with it. Babies get startled easily by sudden noises but so long as the noises are at a medium level or lower it should be ok. Babies need to get used to the daily noises of life so that you don’t have to be super quiet when baby’s asleep.
5) Make sure to have a happy, safe, loving bond with baby. This one is also majorly important in your child being able to sleep through the night. If baby feels strongly connected to you then they are more likely to feel comfortable sleeping on their own and not in mom’s womb anymore. The first few weeks are rough in terms of getting the baby to calm down for bed, but by having a lot of skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding if you’re able to, holding the baby, playing with the baby, talking, reading, singing, taking short walks outside, etc you can help strengthen this bond.
6) Be in tune to your baby’s needs. If your baby wakes up in the middle of the night, don’t dash over immediately to see what baby needs. It might just be that the sleep cycle is restarting and so the baby is whimpering or making noises- they make a lot of them ! For us, if our baby was crying after 10 minutes then we would “help” him- see what he needed, which was usually food. Now that he’s 4 months old we wait about 15-20 minutes to see if he truly needs something or is just crying between sleep cycles.
7) Try to keep your baby as comfortable as possible, especially while sleeping. If baby seems to cough in the morning it may be because baby’s throat is dry, so you could invest in a cool mist humidifier ($20-$30). See if baby is sweaty in the morning. If so, put baby in a sleeveless sleeping “sack”, not so heavy a fabric (cotton is more airy than microfleece), and see if your baby can be soothed with a sound machine, mobile that plays music, a lullaby CD played at bedtime, or a toy that has light that shines into the room that plays music.
All of these strategies are things we used to help our son become autonomous and begin to understand that overnight his parents are there for him when he needs it, not just because. It’ll help you get more sleep as a parent, it’ll teach your baby good sleeping habits, and it’ll make your baby feel more safe with overnight sleeping. When you feel the overnight sleeping has become a good habit (2-3 weeks consistently) then that would be a good time to put baby into their own room and crib- parents get better shut-eye this way too.
If you’re past the newborn stage with your child, it’s never too late to start ! It may take anywhere from 4 days to a few weeks to get fully adapted and in-tune with these types of habits on your end as a parent. It can be a bit heartbreaking to hear your little angel cry, but know that you’re doing it with their best interests in mind. Plus, who doesn’t want a win-win situation so mommy and daddy can get more sleep, too ?