“Is your baby sleeping through the night yet?” The well-intentioned, yet super annoying, question new parents get asked all the time. Whether in the grocery line, family get-together or Facebook moms group- nothing can send a tired mom into a rampage quite like asking her this.
The truth is, she’s tried to teach her baby to self soothe and start sleeping longer stretches at night. But this makes her baby cry, which brings on the mom guilt and anxiety, and any hopes of baby sleeping through the night are gone.
I feel your stress and overwhelm, mama. I’ve been there- twice! But after working with tired families for many years, I’m here to assure you that it is possible to get your baby sleeping through the night (once your baby is old enough and your doctor approves.)
This article walks you through the steps of getting your baby to learn self soothing, which leads to sleeping longer stretches at night. And next thing you know, your little one will be sleeping all night. Let’s do it! (If you have any questions, you can post them in the comments below.)
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When do babies sleep through the night?
Newborns and young babies need to eat every few hours. They aren’t developmentally ready to sleep longer stretches at night. Most parents realize that having a baby will mean waking during the night. But there comes a point when every parent wonders when (and if) their baby will ever start sleeping through the night.
As a baby sleep consultant, I’ve found that the majority of babies are able to fully night wean and sleep 11-12 hours straight, between the ages of 7-10 months old.
Babies 5 -7 months old can learn to sleep longer stretches at night, while keeping 1-2 night feeds, if needed.
As a lactation consultant, my first priority is your baby’s nutrition, growth and breastfeeding bond. With your pediatrician’s approval, you can begin reducing night feedings around 5-6 months old, with the goal of weaning off night feeds between 7-10 months.
How to get your baby to self soothe (and sleep longer stretches at night )
Tip #1: Create a calming bedtime routine
A research study conducted by Mindell & Williamson in 2018 showed that bedtime routines help babies sleep longer at night, and also aid babies’ development and general well-being. These benefits can last for years!
Certain activities have been proven to relax babies, and when done in the right order, it sets your baby up for sleeping long stretches every night.
Doing the same activities, in the same order, at the same time each evening, signals to your baby’s body and brain that it’s time to relax and welcome sleep. Over time, your little one will adapt and settle in peacefully for sleep.
RELATED: Sleep Training Methods Explained
Tip #2: Find the ideal bedtime for your baby
I’ve worked with thousands of tired parents over the years, and I’ve found that the “sweet spot” for bedtime is between 6:30-7:30 pm.
I’m sure this is probably much earlier than you expected, but the truth is that babies sleep best with an early bedtime. Putting your baby to bed later, especially after 8 pm, typically leads to night wakings and early risings. Baby sleep is counterintuitive!
When your baby has an age-appropriate bedtime, they’re more likely to sleep longer stretches at night.
If your baby’s bedtime is currently later than this, move it earlier by 20 minutes every two days until you reach a time between 6:30-7:30 pm. Once you’re there, aim for your baby to be asleep at the same time each night. Try to keep bedtime tight, not varying by more than 15 minutes every night. This sets your baby’s body clock to sleep at the same time everyday, which helps them fall asleep easier.
Worried that an early bedtime will lead to early morning wakings? This guide helps you prevent your baby waking at 5 am ready to start the day.
Tip #3: Create a sleep-friendly space for your baby
This part is so simple yet so important!
You can learn how to set up your baby’s sleep space in my Exhausted Mom’s Starter Kit. This guide walks you through exactly how to do this and why it’s so important.
Most parents see results overnight, and the best part is – you can start ALL of these tips tonight.
Tip #4: Teach your baby to self soothe
Teaching babies to self soothe involves teaching them to fall asleep on their own, without any external soothing like rocking or feeding. The key to getting your baby sleeping through the night is to teach them to self soothe at bedtime and during any night wakings.
When babies are helped to sleep (whether by rocking, bouncing, feeding, holding, or patting) they’re also going to need help falling back to sleep when they wake or stir during the night. Please know that there is nothing inherently wrong or “bad” about helping your baby fall asleep. It’s perfectly natural, and when our babies are young, it’s necessary. But many parents discover that their older babies don’t settle as easily or start waking more often at night, needing to be helped back to sleep several times. That’s a sign that it’s time for your baby to learn to self soothe.
How to get your baby to self soothe
1. Your baby goes into the crib awake at bedtime
When we teach babies how to self soothe, we always begin at bedtime. That’s because bedtime is the time of the day when your baby is the most tired and more likely to accept changes in their sleep routine.
You can start off by putting baby in the crib drowsy but not yet asleep, so they get familiar with falling asleep there, rather than in your arms. Every day, place your baby in the crib a little more awake. The more awake they are, the more aware they are that they’re falling asleep on their own. This is essential for your baby to learn to sleep through the night. Once they know how to fall asleep on their own at bedtime, resettling back to sleep on their own during the night becomes possible.
2. Give your baby the opportunity to self soothe during the night
Sometimes, we parents rush to scoop our baby up as soon as we hear them at night. Either we don’t want them waking an older sibling or we’re still half-asleep ourselves!
The thing is, if you always rush in and “rescue” your baby right away, they’ll never learn to fall back asleep on their own. I know it’s hard, mama. I’ve been there! But the biggest part of teaching your baby to self soothe is giving them time to resettle on their own. Don’t worry though, you can start small and wait only 1-2 minutes before going to your little one during the night. This gives them a small opportunity to practice falling back asleep.
Now it’s time to begin sleep training
Now that you’ve warmed your baby up to the idea of self-soothing, it’s time to begin sleep training.
Sleep training is the process of teaching your baby how to fall asleep independently at bedtime and resettle back to sleep during the night. It’s the process of placing your baby in the crib awake, giving them a kiss, leaving the room and having them happily fall asleep on their own. If your little one stirs during the night, they easily settle back down to sleep without your help. And it’s 100% possible from the age of 5 months. I help families do this everyday in my sleep training program, 21 Days to Peace and Quiet.
A common myth about sleep training is that it involves lots of crying and abandoning your baby at bedtime. This is simply not true! My sleep training program offers several step-by-step methods varying from gentle, hands-on sleep training to quick, hands-off methods. All of the methods are effective and show you how to get your baby sleeping through the night. The best sleep training method is one that matches your baby’s age and personality and we cover this in my sleep training program.
When you sleep train, you’re setting your baby up to sleep well for YEARS. Research shows that sleep training not only helps your baby sleep well, it also supports your baby’s development and improves parental mental health! (That’s a triple win!)
There you have it! These are my top tips for getting your baby to self soothe and sleep longer stretches at night. First, make sure your baby is old enough to learn self-soothing. If they are, begin a calming bedtime routine and give your little one an age-appropriate bedtime. Make sure their bedroom is conducive for sleeping great all night. And finally, begin sleep training by teaching baby how to self soothe.
Remember, if you ever need step-by-step help on getting your baby sleeping through the night, join us in my sleep training program here.