Baby Sleep Tricks: 5 Sleep-Through-the-Night Strategies

Tired of your baby staying awake late into the night? Learn how to get him (and you!) a good night’s sleep with these baby sleep solutions.

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Get Baby to Sleep!

That newborn of yours took a while to figure out the difference between night and day — and you expected this. But you didn’t anticipate that his whole first year could leave you feeling like you got a job working the graveyard shift. If sleep deprivation has you weeping into your coffee mug, take heart: It’s possible to put an end to those 2 a.m. wake-up calls. “After 4 months, a baby’s natural preference is to sleep,” says clinical social worker Jennifer Waldburger, coauthor of The Sleep-Easy Solution. “He just doesn’t always know how to stay asleep. But even bad habits are usually fixable in just a few days.” Use our advice to sort out what’s keeping your baby up at night.

baby sleeping with pacifier

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Wean Baby Off the Pacifier

Slumber-buster: Your baby loses his paci again and again, waking him often.

Sleep-through solution: By 8 months, most Binky babies have the fine motor skills to put their paci back in their mouth — a good thing since experts say using a nighttime pacifier can reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) during the first year. “Until then, your choice is either to get rid of the pacifier altogether, or to let your baby cry it out in the middle of the night,” says Janet K. Kennedy, Ph.D., founder of NYC Sleep Doctor, a sleep-consultation service. She’s helped many babies with this problem, including her own daughter when she was 5 months old. “From 4 to 5:30 a.m., we were constantly going to her room to put in her paci, so I finally just let her cry it out. It took a couple of days and was really brutal at first, but she was eventually able to go to sleep with a pacifier and then not need it again.”

Getting A New Baby To Sleep Through The Night

Can’t get baby to sleep continuously through the night without waking up? Get must-know advice from Baby Sleep Whisperer Ingrid Prueher.

baby in crib

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Play White Noise Sounds

Slumber-buster: Slight noises — even you clicking off a lamp — wake your baby.

Sleep-through solution: Use a white-noise machine or a fan to create a gentle hum that masks other sounds. “A whooshing white noise becomes a sleep association,” says Dr. Kennedy. “If you turn it on as part of your baby’s bedtime routine, it’ll cue her to relax and go to sleep.” Don’t want to buy a noise machine? Search online for “white noise MP3s” for downloadable sound tracks, like one of a hair dryer.

Baby in crib

Alexandra Grablewski

Avoid Soothing Baby Too Long

Slumber-buster: It’s 4 a.m., but your baby’s ready to play.

Sleep-through solution: If she’s going through a developmental growth spurt, like learning to crawl, she may be too excited about practicing her new skill to quickly fall back asleep. Be firm about the fact that nighttime is not the time to play. “One night Alyssa awoke, wanting to cruise from one side of the crib to the other,” says Stephanie Gaczewski, of Darien, Illinois. “After a few moments, I left the room. She whined a little but soon stopped.” If your baby is chatting and cooing, ignore her. “Hopefully, she’ll entertain herself until she decides to go back to sleep,” says Waldburger. But if she’s crying, your baby may be experiencing separation anxiety, which usually comes with new motor development. When this happens more than 30 minutes before her typical wake-up time, soothe her for a few minutes, tell her you’ll see her soon, then leave the room.

mother breastfeeding baby

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Stop the Nighttime Feedings

Slumber-buster: Nursing is the only way your baby will go back to sleep.

Sleep-through solution: The one thing that seemed to soothe her colicky daughter was nursing, but before long, Jonna Rubin, of Framingham, Massachusetts, felt like an all-night diner. Finally, her pediatrician suggested putting the baby down sleepy but awake, then checking in every three minutes until she nodded off. Amazingly, she conked out after just five minutes, no feeding necessary. In fact, 90 percent of 6-month-olds can sleep through the night without snacking, says clinical social worker Kim West, author of 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Once you get the green light from your pediatrician to cease night feedings, you can slowly reduce them. If she’s getting multiple bottles, eliminate one at a time over a four-day period. You can also try decreasing the amount of formula in each bottle. When she realizes that milk is no longer on the menu, your baby will stop angling for it.

Baby Sleep: When to Give Up Nighttime Feedings

When should you stop feeding baby during the night? Our expert explains why prolonged feeding may not be best for baby or for you.

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Prepare Baby’s Sibling First

Slumber-buster: You rush to your baby’s side before he wakes his sibling.

Sleep-through solution: Running to your baby the second he sniffles can make him depend on your presence to fall back asleep. But it’s hard to let him fuss if you’re worried he’ll wake the rest of the household. Try warning an older sib in advance: “Jonah may cry at night, but he’s just trying to learn to sleep all night.” When the baby wakes up and so does your older child, soothe your big kid first. He’s more likely to fall back asleep without a ton of added help, and you’ll give the baby a chance to settle himself before soothing him. If you’re in the thick of sleep training and anticipate a few grueling nights, consider sending an older sibling to Grandma’s during this time.

baby sleeping

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Snooze Schedule

Follow this first-year guide to your baby’s nighttime zzz’s to find out how many hours of p.m. sleep she needs at every age.

1 week old: 8 hours. Babies can sleep 16 to 18 hours a day. Half is at night.
6 weeks: 8.5 hours. Nighttime sleep finally begins to solidify.
3 months: 9 hours. You’ll see a hint of a schedule. Move bedtime up.
6 months: 10 hours. Now is the best time to sleep-train your little one.
9 months: 11 hours. If she needs it, reteach your baby how to go to sleep.
12 months: 12 hours. Still not sleeping? Ask your pediatrician for advice.

Originally published in the November 2010 issue of Parents magazine.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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