This is a very common question I have been asked or heard. Yet there are so many opinions on how to get your baby to sleep through the night. In this article, I will describe my own experience and confirm with an example every decision taken. We have made it happen fairly fast and what is most important, it was a gentle sleep training that let us slowly to get used to a new sleep routine. We also got in touch with professional sleep consultants from the UK and Canada who shared their sleep training methods for all our parents.
There is always a moment when you feel: “it is just about the time”. I had one of those. When we got back from a three-week vacation in Latvia, my Teo turned eight months. And I knew we (and I stress out “we”) have to find a solution. I started to feel discomfort having my son on my breasts for 40 to 60 minutes every night before bed. That wasn’t only feeding as the whole process takes about 10 to 15 minutes. He actually needed to fall asleep using my nipples as a dummy.
Just a month before that, one of my friends told me about “sleep coaching”. It turned out it is very popular in the UK, also quite expensive. It was definitely out of our budget back then. So, she showed me what every baby sleep routine should look like. She told me that the trick is in separating his bed from yours and letting him cry for two to three days. “Eventually, he will be fine”, she concluded. I believe I am a bit softer person at this point. I’ve never tried extreme actions and always preferred gentle methods getting baby to sleep. My goal was to change his habit and learn self-soothing skills progressively. What I want to say is that every human is different. It is a very individual process.
Basically, there are two main theories:
- one side believes that you have to leave them to cry because if you come and interrupt the process they will cry more – a true statement;
- another side believes the psychological stress to realize that “nobody comes, I was left alone, and I need to survive” is too much for little babies, and they use softer methods – a true statement.
Which one is the best?
The one that works specifically for your little cub. Both sleep techniques are equally correct, but they work differently for every parent. The main point in this is for a parent to figure out how to explain or show to your own baby what you want him now to do. If you get it straight – he will. How you do this is on you. Below are the tips and tricks that will help your baby sleep through night.
How To Sleep Train
This is the first basic rule. You can’t move forward without it. It is very important to know what you want, then you will be able to show it to your baby the way that he understands. Do not make tests if you are unsure of what you would like to do, that will just confuse him.
Think about it this way: “It is, and it will always be like this. It can’t be any other way”. Don’t worry, just accept it, then your baby will also think the same way and you won’t be able to pass on him your own worries, even if you have some. For example, I always set myself up for a smile, tender voice and remained extremely calm, so my baby felt the same way.
To be honest, we are simply talking about changing one habit to another. It shouldn’t be that hard, but preparations must be in place. In my case, I have done my research, made a plan and paid close attention to my son’s routine and his reactions in the beginning. Don’t rush. Take your time. Patience is an essential part when we change the habit.
It is important to note that I was breastfeeding. Everyone says that getting baby to sleep breastfeeding at night is slightly harder than feeding him with formula milk. I don’t think it should. Both types of food shall be separated from baby naps or baby sleep routine. In fact, when I was trying to find my perfect way of surfing the Internet, all I could see were the videos of “how to put babies to sleep after finishing breastfeeding”.
Trust me, you can still keep breastfeeding while your baby sleeps through the entire night! These two things do not necessarily correlate to each other. I personally combined both methods and made my own routine. The main point is to do it soft and gradual.
Show your baby how to sleep through the entire night
1. Introduction of new baby sleep routine
So, how to make baby sleep at night? It is important to set up the perfect baby sleep environment for your little one. We usually take a bath, put new clothes, get some quick massage. I always start talking to him calmly and quietly, sometimes singing a tune. TV, radio and all sorts of devices are switched off, nobody is running in the house. Then we switch off the lights and go to the bedroom. We can read a book or a short story. Within the time our reading time increased to half an hour. It is also important to say “goodnight” to everyone, give a hug and a kiss before bedtime. And just before putting him into his cot I give a warm kiss.
Note: you can choose when to give him the last portion of breast/ formula milk. It can be before the story or bedtime.
2. Do not stay in the room staring at him
But do not run away either. I always take my time to cover Teo with a blanket. He already knows that, and so feels relaxed and ready to rest. In the beginning, I did “shhh” sound as, of course, he didn’t want me to leave and got upset.
3. Let your baby learn to fall asleep by himself avoiding him feeling scared
This is the trickiest part of them all. You accustomed your baby to fall asleep with you since he was born. Of course, he will protest. Of course, he needs you, and probably he gets very confused about why you are leaving him now. This is what I understood from my experience. I was never able to leave him for more than 15 minutes, and personally I don’t think it should be more than that. I am quite a fan of Bowlby’s theory.
We took our time. Babies need time to process new information, as their brain is 25% developed compared to adults. First, I let him learn that I can go out of the room. I left him to cry for three to five minutes, then came back and let him fall asleep by breastfeeding him. It never worked with me coming back and forth every one to two minutes because the baby seemed more irritated. But I know it helps a lot of parents and their babies. This is a very individual process, so, please, just listen to your kid.
When the time has come, we prepared for the bed as usual, and I didn’t come back in five minutes, I stayed outside the door. I knew he was ready, and he was. Since then my son slept every night from 18:30 to 6:00 with two and then one nap during the day until he turned 20 months old. In the beginning, he would cry every time I put him in the cot, the cry used to stop the second I left the room. I made my conclusion, babies do not want us to leave, but can they fall asleep alone? Sure they can. The main point is to show them that you are close and will be hugging them first thing in the morning.
Note: It is very important that your husband and relatives who share a house with you provide full support and help to change your baby’s habit together. It turned out I wasn’t ready myself and lots of parents don’t. Who likes to hear their baby cry even for a minute? A family is an important tool when getting baby to sleep.
4. Keep it this way
Sometimes babies tend to get back to their original habits. It is normal. But you don’t want to lose a new sleep routine you had been working on so hard. If your baby doesn’t feel well, recently had an immunization, is teething, and needs more care and cuddles, don’t hesitate to give him all your love for as long as they need it. Just make sure you will be back on the same routine once he feels better.
5. Night wake ups are possible
Another thing is the night wake-ups. It is normal to feed the baby occasionally during the night, especially if he cries a lot. After all, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. I have been up every single night for nearly nine months. That’s 273 days. It is quite normal to wake up and run to your kid immediately after hearing him cry. It is an automatic reaction. And I failed a few times to do so. There I had no chance but breastfeed him as he had seen me already.
Though when my son started to sleep the whole night, I still couldn’t do the same for more than a week. Instead, I used to wake up with my breasts being engorged and express milk in the bathroom at 3 am in the morning. This also helped me to control my body better when he was awake during the night.
So what did I do when my baby unexpectedly woke up in the middle of the night? Nothing! I was lying there completely still with my eyes wide open. It took Teo two to five minutes to get back to sleep, and I was not needed at all. There I realized he wakes up because it is normal for humans to wake up during the night, not because he is hungry. In the course of time, he learned how to fall asleep just under one minute or so. Our mornings became the best part of the day for the whole family for the following reasons:
- We all got enough sleep;
- It took Teo half an hour to literally empty me;
- He was sooooo cuddly every morning.
Separating breastfeeding from naps
When baby sleep routine is very well established, you can start with separating breastfeeding and naps. Keep your routine. Think of similar sounds and moves you do when putting your little cub in the cot.
What I have done first was putting in place our breastfeeding routine. From every two-hour feed, I started to feed him every three to four hours. And this was also because he didn’t require much more than that. There is a great chance your baby won’t fall asleep during his first time. Let it go. Keep him active until his second “siesta”. He will definitely get tired enough to rest. Also, I noticed my son had no trouble falling asleep in his pram when we were out. That made me realize he doesn’t really need to be breastfed. He is totally fine by taking his nap without me.
Basically, the system is just the same as explained above. It should be a bit easier, as your baby already knows how it is going at night. It is all matter of your imagination and reaction. There is no one way or another. You are more than welcome to improvise.
And few more handy tips on how to get your baby to sleep through the night
These are tips based on personal experience. I find them quite practical. Please, see the special interview with the sleep consultant introducing different sleep training methods here.
1. It is a collective decision
I have been receiving a lot of complaints from moms saying that dads won’t participate, and then blame them if something went wrong, or that their own parents are trying to interfere, so they don’t feel comfortable with their own decision and get confused instead.
I want you to know that the decision you make is a collective decision. That is why I stressed “we” at the beginning of this article. Both parents should know and agree on what they are doing, also be prepared to support each other at any time. Also, it is absolutely unacceptable for your parents to interfere with saying what you should or should not do, unless it is a real help, not a judgment. After all, they had their chance to raise you, now it is your turn.
2. Be consistent
Be consistent in what you do. The main point is to show your baby what you need him to learn, not stress him out. Some babies tend to go back to their previous routine later on, or they can occasionally wake up during the night. Let their dads take charge. Babies usually behave differently with each of their parents. In my case, it helps a lot.
3. Be patient
What if it doesn’t work and the baby is still crying? Again, be consistent and patient. In my personal opinion, it is better to take it slow rather than extreme, and by extreme, I mean leaving a baby cry until he falls asleep for two to three days. A 2011 study found that babies do eventually learn to stop crying when left to settle themselves through “sleep training” or “controlled crying”. But while this decreased the stress levels of parents in the study, the level of stress in the babies went up.
4. Soothe and caress your baby
It is always good to soothe him with breastfeeding or a bottle, caress, say “shh” or “hush” in the beginning. In my case, it works to go out of the room and then get back in a while. My son calms much faster this way. Again, it is important to listen to your baby and communicate through the process.
5. Do not substitute breast milk
It is better not to substitute breast milk to something else, such as a bottle, pacifier, formula, music or toys. In my opinion, it only creates another habit, t.i. a problem you have to be dealing with later on.
6. Make sure your baby is prepared for the change
I personally think babies should be prepared for such a change and have to be ready for it also age-wise. Nature made it so that human babies are born 9 to 18 months early compared to other animals. Therefore, they are expecting good care – like in an external womb or nest. Besides, the brain systems only have 25% of the adult brain-size developed, and a lot of systems haven’t set their thresholds and parameters yet. Our babies need their parents, so separating them from mamma for the whole night and leaving without feeds at a very early stage of their life might be a bit of extreme.
7. Express just enough of breast milk
If you are breastfeeding, you will face engorgement during the night, and it might be a bit painful. Express just enough to release your breasts’pain, but do not express a lot, unless you want to keep it for later in a freezer. Usually, it would take one week for your body to accommodate the breast milk supply. That’s right! Can’t say more – our body is pure magic!
8. Do not wait for too long
Do not wait for too long to put the baby to sleep, thinking that this way he will definitely fall asleep faster. It might cause counterreaction.
9. Separate baby bed from yours
It is important to separate the baby bed from yours. In fact, it is one of the first rules of sleeping coaches. I agree, at some point, we all want to feel free, read a book in the bed and make some noises.
10. Be positive
When you have decided to start changing the habit, always react with a warm smile to your baby, like it should be this way. Ask him what happened with a surprise on your face, then he will feel different about the situation too.
And if for any reason you are still struggling, share your concern in a comment below. We will try to fix it.
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Also, check out:
- Sleep consultant talks: how to make baby sleep at night (Tips + Plan)
- How To Increase Breast Milk: 9 Magical Breastfeeding Tips.
- Flying With An Infant On Lap: 15 Workable Tips For Long-Haul Flights.
- Dealing With Baby Jet Lag and Adjusting Fast To A New Time Zone.
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