It seems like it would be simple, but I remember being clueless when my baby was first born. How do you hold a baby or, (gasp!) change a diaper? How do you feed a baby? And, yes, how do you get or put your baby to sleep at night? This article will be a simple guide to this way-more-complicated-than-you-thought task a new parent has to figure out: How to put your baby to sleep.
When your baby is first born, you actually marvel at how instinctual it is, in a way. At first, most of us probably flail a bit until you realize the car or walking your baby around starts to soothe him. Or, woah, when I breastfeed him, he just falls right to sleep! Or, pop in the pacifier and he sucks a bit and off to sleep my baby goes. How easy! Hopefully…
What many people don’t realize is that in the near future, you may find that the very thing that was instinctual now takes way too long (I’m talking hours, not 10 minutes) or you’re up way too many times per night (I mean every 2 hours, not once a night). After all, your baby won’t sleep and it’s your fault (not in a bad way). Months down the line you may still be wondering, when will my baby sleep through the night? It varies, just like our babies, but it doesn’t hurt to try to follow these steps on how to put your baby to sleep and try to avoid the many pitfalls many of us fall into, from the very beginning.
How to put your baby to sleep
1. Time your baby’s sleep right
When your baby is a newborn, watch for sleepy cues (yawning, staring off in space, but before cranky!), and when your baby is older (around 6+ months), you may want to follow a sleep schedule (even if it’s not a rigid sleep schedule). If your baby is too over-tired, that generally works against you, even though you think it might be opposite (I heard many times “Keep him up and he’ll sleep at night.” Seriously? That made it worse!).
2. Tell your baby it’s time to sleep
Don’t underestimate your baby and believe he won’t be able to understand you from a young age. Sure, your newborn might not understand much, but say the same key phrase over and over for 6 months? 10 months? He’ll know. So, talk to your baby and tell your baby “Time to go to sleep. Night night. I love you.” or something similar, and always use the same phrase right before sleep.
3. Cue your baby it’s time to sleep
Start your bedtime or naptime routine. The value of a routine is that your baby will begin to anticipate sleep and begin to relax before you even finish it. The content of your routine isn’t as important as your consistency of using it. If you can’t do a bath every night, that’s okay. With younger babies, the routine can be very simple: Draw the blinds/curtains, read 1 or 2 books, diaper, pajamas, and turn on music or white noise. Always in the same order. We made our LeapFrog Baby Tad an integral part of our routine and once I turned the music on, I saw a yawn and droopy eyes. It didn’t happen the first time, it was the consistency of using him as my cue that mommy would leave after the music was over. As your baby grows older, the routine doesn’t necessarily get more complicated, but it does start to take longer, so don’t make it too many steps.
4. Soothe your baby, but NOT to sleep
After your routine, you will want to soothe your baby to be relaxed and sleepy. Different babies respond to different soothing methods. Many/most babies tend to like some type of movement like when they were in your womb. They may like being bounced, rocked, or walked around the room (in arms or the stroller). My eldest son not only liked movement, but it had to be pretty strong movement. None of this Level 1 in the swing. He had to be on Level 8 or so. Yeah we got jokes he would get “drunk” but that’s the only thing that worked when he was young! Experiment with what works best for YOUR baby. What worked for your friend may or may not work for you. This is often when you’d also feed your baby, but NOT all the way to sleep!
5. Watch for drowsy, but awake
This is the MOST important part! Ideally, you will put your baby down in his bassinet or crib or your bed (for safety, a co-sleeper is much better), if you are co-sleeping, while he is still awake. You want to soothe him, but NOT all the way to sleep as that’s what leads to sleep associations. Unfortunately, for some babies this is a magic trick to find the point your baby is sleepy, still awake, and doesn’t scream his head off once you lay him down. Finding the perfect point of drowsy, but awake can take some practice, so be patient with yourself if you don’t get it right the first few times you try it. Keep trying. And, if your baby is very young, honestly, it might not work!! Only some babies can “self-soothe” from a very young age. My boys were SCREAMERS, so they simply could NOT do this step until I taught them how, but not until they were about 4 months old (and some need closer to 6 months).
6. Lay your baby down to sleep
Lay your baby down to fall asleep on her BACK for the first year, as recommended by the AAP (download a SIDS safe sleep brochure by clicking here). Your baby will likely sleep on his tummy, as he gets older. For young babies, you may need to soothe your baby all the way to sleep as I mentioned above, but ideally, your baby will be semi-awake and fall asleep on her own. This will limit further sleep problems down the line. If your baby is older, this is when you’d teach her how to fall asleep on her own without you helping her all the way to sleep. Helping her all the way to sleep is the same as trying to walk for her. She may learn eventually, but it will take longer if she doesn’t try (and fail) for herself. It takes practice, practice, and practice!
I hope this has helped you figure out how to put your baby to sleep. And, if you’re looking for more ways to get your baby or toddler into a healthy sleeping routine, please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep. Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your baby sleep through the night, when they don’t respond to the “easier” fixes. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.