Inside: 28 things to do if your baby will not sleep. These are easy to do, gentle, and great ways to calm your infant down.
When I was pregnant with my firstborn… I’d never even babysat a child. Much less a baby.
Much less a newborn that was as small as my forearm and was always hungry.
I read what I could, studied what I found, and now – as a mom of 5 – can safely say… getting your newborn to sleep well is totally possible.
I’ll show you how.
Things To Try When Baby Won’t Give Up The Ghost
- Swaddle baby. And read the basic swaddling tips for newborns. Remember, leave baby unswaddled when baby is supposed to be awake, and leave baby swaddled when you want him asleep. If you unswaddle in the middle of the night this sends a “get up” signal. Use this swaddle and you can change baby’s diaper without unswaddling the arms.
- Put baby to nap or bed earlier. Wearing the baby out is a Big Fat Myth. You may need to make your baby’s bedtime a bit earlier if he’s super tired and this will help give him more of a chance to get to sleep before exhaustion hysteria sets in.
Identify things that stop baby sleeping well
- Pinpoint sleep props. Here are sleep props and what to do about them. A sleep prop is something that prevents baby from going to sleep on their own without you helping get them to sleep. As in, if you have to come rock 3 times then sing a lullaby, baby is unable to go to sleep on their own because they need that from you. These things are great for bonding, but make it difficult for baby to sleep longer than 45 minutes or an hour at a time because then, again, they need you back.
- Feed unswaddled during day. This helps clear up day and night confusion.
Things to try in baby’s sleep environment
- Get quiet for 15 minutes prior to nap or bed. If there are big siblings, remove baby to somewhere quieter. Good routines that help baby wind down wind-down routines make a big difference in getting baby to settle. This is particularly important if baby has loud siblings who create a stimulating home environment.
- Get a wedge. If baby has gas, hiccups, or reflux get a wedge to put under the crib mattress so the baby can sleep on an incline. If you think your baby has reflux, there are certain measures you can take that’ll help increase baby’s comfort which in turn will help him sleep.
- Make sure baby isn’t too hot. If the baby is too hot he’ll wake up. You can shed a layer, get a summer swaddle, or even a legless swaddle for summertime. Otherwise, adjust the air temperature, put on a fan, and make sure baby isn’t too hot. If baby has a sweat sheen on his face, cool him down.
How to create positive sleep associations
- Get blackouts. I never put a baby to bed in a bright room ever. If you want baby to settle down and drift off to sleep, the darker the environment the better. This doesn’t mean babies can’t sleep in bright rooms – they can, but as they get past 3 months of age, they will not be as drowsy as they once were and will need an environment more conducive to sleep. These are bestseller blinds.
- Hold baby upright for a few minutes. Instead of rocking to sleep (which can create a sleep prop as mentioned above) or putting in the crib cold turkey, hold baby upright to help him settle. Sitting in a room with baby upright on your chest is a soothing position for the wind down routine.
- Feed swaddled at night. Don’t wake baby up further by swaddling after they’re already fast asleep. You want baby to be swaddled all night, so only unswaddle at night to change the diaper and, if you can, buy a swaddle (like this) that allows you to change the diaper without removing the top part of the swaddle (more tips on that here).
How to find baby’s sleep window
- Find the window. Newborns can only stay awake well for about 45 minutes to one hour. From the time you start feeding until you put them down, don’t let more than an hour go by. Read this week by week routine for bubs. Also, you time how long it’s been between feedings from when baby starts feeding. So, if baby feeds at 7 a.m. then a 3 hour baby routine would mean baby feeds again at 10:00 a.m. then 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. and so forth.
- Drowsy but awake. Put baby in the crib drowsy but still awake. It’s the only way they’ll learn to sleep on their own. This allows them to go from being awake and in a chill mood to being asleep. This means when baby transitions from active to passive sleep and back again – and rouses into semi-consciousness – they will be able to go back to sleep without needing to call for you.
How to comfort baby physically to help them sleep
- Get gas drops. If you suspect baby has an upset tummy, get gas drops (these work well) to give baby immediately prior to going down for a nap. If baby wakes up from a nap crying intensely after about 30 to 40 minutes, this is often gas. Try moving their legs in a bicycle fashion or picking them up. If this gets a burp, you know gas and discomfort was the culprit.
- Confirm baby isn’t cold. Newborns need one more layer than we have, so touch their chest and back (not their extremities which are always cold) to be sure baby isn’t chilled. Cold babies will wake up frequently at night.
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How to make it easy for baby to sleep in their crib
- Perfect a wind down routine. Babies absolutely need them and here are a few that work wonders. Essentially, you want to be sure that baby has a calm quiet and consistent environment in which to go to sleep. If you are putting them somewhere different every few hours they may eventually adapt, but hard to adapt babies will simply be annoyed.
- Get a white noise machine or the white noise app. This works well if there are older siblings on the loose. White noise apps require you to put your phone on airplane so that a call or text doesn’t stop the noise, but a machine is inexpensive on Amazon and is also portable which helps if you are trying to put baby down to nap at someone else’s house.
- Create positive sleep associations. Here’s what sleep associations are and the key here is to have a few things you do every time baby goes down to sleep and repeat them. This means that all these things (singing, swaddling, turning on white noise, etc.) will be signals to baby’s brain to release the sleepy time hormones.
Get baby used to the light, then dark for sleeping
- Open curtains wide during day. If your baby is day night confused, make sure there’s plenty of light during day wake times. When baby gets up from his nap, open the curtains. When it’s time to be awake, let baby be fully awake. Then, when it’s time to go to sleep, dim the lights, close the curtains, and help baby associate a darker room with going to sleep.
- Stop rocking. If baby only goes to sleep by rocking, stop the rocking. Instead, try singing, holding baby upright, or only rocking until drowsy then putting in the crib while still partially awake. This may be a process that takes a while to swap over, but its important. There are a lot of ways you can bond with baby and not interfere with their ability to stay asleep. Sometimes rocking will be fine, and baby won’t need it all night, but if you find baby needing to be rocked back asleep multiple times a night, the answer is to stop.
- Try gripe water. If letdown happens fast and you suspect tummy discomfort, this gripe water is a bestseller and works wonders. Hiccups will often go away immediately. Again, discomfort will make it difficult for baby to sleep well.
- Avoid over-stimulation. Keep super stimulating activities to a minimum, and definitely not right before naptime. If there are stimulating environments, it’s important to have the wind down routine, as mentioned above. Don’t take baby to Chuck E. Cheese then expect him to take a 2.5 hour nap in the stroller. It *may* happen, but it’s unlikely.
- Get a better routine. Here are 25+ printable routines for babies ages 6 weeks to 5 years. A good routine means baby is well fed, tummy full, and drowsy by the time you want to put him down. This will help take most of the work off your plate and let baby get going with sleep.
Have you tried a pacifier?
- Use a pacifier. Here’s the best paci on the planet that we’ve used for 5 babies. These stuffed animal pacifiers prop up on baby’s chest and then are far less likely to fall out.
- Feed lying down. At night feeding lying down can help baby remain drowsy, feed, then essentially fall right back to sleep. If you have to pick up a baby, walk to a chair, rock and feed, then put baby back down, there are a lot of opportunities for baby to fully wake up (and you too!). Feeding lying down helps with this. Then baby can be transferred back to where they will spend the night.
Should the lights be on or off in the nursery?
- Keep all lights off at night. Unless it’s your smartphone you’re looking at to pass the time, keep all lights off. It’ll wake baby up. A night light should give all the light you need to be able to feed or change baby’s diaper. Turning on overhead lights will wake baby up further. I have heard one exception from my friend Val, and that’s when a newborn is wide awake in the dark, that turning on the lights actually forces baby’s eyes shut, which then helps him drift off. As a general rule, this isn’t a great idea, but it’s worth a shot if you’re in a bind.
- Put baby in crib or bassinet to sleep. If baby only sleeps while you’re wearing her or holding her, get all your cuddles and snuggles in while she’s awake then start transitioning her to her own sleep space. Here’s a bedside sleeper which may help, but if not, then just keep at it until baby transitions. If baby is only able to sleep in your arms, this will become increasingly difficult to function throughout the day and, if it becomes a real burden for you, increases your risk of depression.
Sleep troubleshooting for your infant
- Burp well. Babies can’t sleep well if they’re in discomfort. One trick I always use is rubbing the bottom left side of baby’s back, where the stomach is located. This often gets a burp immediately. Rub baby’s back up and down well, and do the normal burping practices, and try to make sure baby doesn’t have any gas bubbles left before putting him down. This is particularly important if you have hyper lactation (or fast let down).
- Sing quietly. Babies love mommy’s voice. Choose a song you sing every time before bed. It’s a super positive sleep association.
If you would like to create a simple and easy wind down routine that anyone putting baby down can follow plus some BONUS baby sleep troubleshooting checklists, click here and get instant access.