Getting your little one to sleep is a common struggle in many households, unless you’re blessed with a baby that sleeps through the night right off the bat! However, most times, babies don’t start sleeping through the night until 6 months of age, but this time period may be earlier or later depending on each unique child. No matter, though, because we have some tips to help you!
Babies under 6 months may wake during the night because they are hungry, need to be changed or may need some reassuring from you, particularly during the newborn stage. When babies are born, their tummies are about the size of a cherry and gradually grow to the size of an egg (fun fact).Because their tummies are so small, it is no wonder they wake so frequently from hunger. It is important to remember that babies aged 0-2 months have unpredictable sleep habits and tend to sleep late in the evening and wake frequently in the night. As your baby grows and their brain develops, they can and will learn healthy sleep habits and routines that will give them, and you, the rest that is needed.
As a caregiver, you may begin implementing healthy sleep habits right away. The first way to develop healthy sleep is to ensure your baby has a safe place to sleep, including bassinets and cribs. When baby is about 3 months of age, they can begin to identify sleep associations to help them learn independent sleeping. Sleep associations may include reading a bedtime story, having a bath before bed or the last feeding before being placed in their crib or bassinet.
When your baby reaches 4-5 months of age, it may be a good time to introduce a bedtime routine. By this age, most babies have a semi-predictable nap and sleep schedule in mind, but remember that a bedtime routine doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out process. In fact, bedtime routines can be simple, like a story or song, cuddling, a warm bath or a feeding. Any bedtime routine you choose should be something that you feel comfortable with and something you can maintain over a longer period of time. After all, consistency is important for predictability, and predictability cues your baby’s brain to prepare for sleep.
When your baby is 6 months of age, they may have the ability to sleep for longer periods of time. It is important to remember that not all babies are the same and some may take longer to start sleeping for longer periods. It is known that more than half of 6-month-old babies will continue to wake during the night despite having the ability to sleep longer, which may be because they are not yet able to self soothe and fall back asleep independently. This age is about the time when your baby is developmentally ready to start sleep-training and your baby will need your help. Sleep training can be intimidating, but the most important thing when adjusting your baby’s sleep habits is keeping consistent for at least two weeks. This means that if you begin one sleep schedule with your baby, give it time to take effect and for your baby to adjust for two-weeks minimum. If after two weeks there is no improvement, it is appropriate to switch schedules again. It is completely normal for babies to wake up a little each night as they transition from deep to light sleep. Adults do this as well, but the difference is that adults have learned how to fall back asleep. Therefore, it is important to allow your child to self-soothe. Otherwise, babies may continue waking at night because they have learned that you (the caregiver) will help them back to sleep.
When building healthy sleep, it is a good idea to give your baby time to settle when they wake. For example: your baby awakes during the night and begins to fuss and cry, so you naturally get up to help them. In this moment, try to slow your body down and allow your baby a few minutes to fuss for a before you tend to them. This gives them time to learn how to soothe themselves. If after a few minutes your baby cries louder and does not appear to be settling, it is time for you to help them. Some things you can do to help settle your baby without picking them up are:
· Rub or gently stroke their back, tummy or head while quietly “shhhing”
· Remain calm and remind yourself that the goal isto get baby back to sleep without picking them up. Remind them that it is sleep time by saying things like “it’s time to sleep, I love you”.
· If your baby is crying loudly and will not settle with your presence and gentle verbalization, pick them up until they settle. The next time they cry, try and let them settle on their own again. It may take a few tries, but continue consistency and they will get there!
· Keep the sleep area quiet and dark to support sleep. If your baby wakes because they want to play, avoid watching videos or TV with them. When you engage in these activities during sleep time, your baby will learn that this is normal and may create additional issues for you with teaching healthy sleep.
If you are currently helping your baby settle to sleep by feeding/nursing, they may become dependent on this for sleep and may wake multiple times during the night to feed. Typically, around 6 months of age, your baby does not need night feedings as long as they are at a healthy weight and are growing normally. When they wake to feed, it is typically out of habit and not necessarily for nutritional reasons. Thus, around 6 months of age, feedings should be decreased with an introduction to solids during the day. If your baby is needing to be fed and or nursed to sleep, here are some tips:
· Once you hear your baby slowing down with their eating, give a quick cuddle and place them in their crib.
· If your baby has fallen asleep while feeding, wake them a little and put them in their crib. It is important that your baby go to sleep in their crib awake to learn how to sleep independently.
· When you place your baby in the crib, keep your hand on them and quietly “shhh” them until they settle.
· Feed your baby 5-10 minutes before they usually are ready for sleep, making feeding not the last part of their bedtime routine. Use books, songs and/or cuddles as the last part of the routine to help calm them for sleep.
Some other tips to help set the tone and get baby ready for sleep:
· Using a small fan or white noise machine can help baby’s brain calm for sleep.
· Limit rocking, swaying and bouncing as baby may create sleep associations with this (have you tried to sway a crib? Not an easy task.)
· If you are holding baby until they fall asleep, start putting them in their crib to fall asleep. Baby should wake wherever they fall asleep, so they can transition back to sleep easily and reducing confusion.
Here is a general guideline for infant sleep:
It’s important to remember that even once your baby is sleeping more through the night, there may be times when baby wakes frequently or sleep changes. Waking often may be caused by:
· Growth spurts and/or developmental leaps
· Learning new skills like standing, crawling,walking etc.
· Separation anxiety
· Time changes
· New schedules, holidays or transitioning in naps
· Not feeling well/illness
Unfortunately, babies and sleep can change in a heartbeat, despite your admirable efforts. Keep in mind that this is normal and transition is challenging for most, children and adults. If you are struggling, the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby is to stay consistent and continue with the routine you’ve built. Give yourself grace during this time because sleep is hard.