One of the hottest topics as a new parent is sleep. And it’s no wonder. The sleep deprivation of new parenthood combined with worry that your baby isn’t getting enough sleep is enough to drive anyone crazy. One of the best things you can do is learn how to get baby to fall asleep alone. Infants can easily develop sleep crutches, and if you’re one of them, you’ll be there putting baby back to sleep 100% of the time.
I’m sharing some of the best ways to get your baby to fall asleep alone, so you can get more rest too. Are all of these tips going to work? Absolutely not. Will you have to practice the techniques until your baby learns to self-soothe? You bet. Getting a baby to sleep on their own is 100% worth it because that means fewer wake-ups for you. I can’t promise it will be painless, but it will be worth it.
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My official disclaimer on baby sleep
Before we dive in, let’s first clarify that I’m not a pediatrician, nor am I a baby sleep expert. I’m a tired mamma who spent 11 months waking up with her first daughter only to realize that I was the sleep problem. I committed to myself (and my family) that we wouldn’t go through the same experience with our second daughter. I scoured the web, expert sleep sites, and other mom blogs to figure out the best way to get our new little one to sleep. Now, I’m sharing that info with you!
Baby Sleep with Baby #1
This should really be titled lack of baby sleep with baby #1. I want to share a few things with you before we get into the ways to get your baby to fall asleep alone, mainly so that you DON’T fall into the same trap I did with our first daughter.
I would assume our daughter was an average sleeper for the first few months of her life. Before the 4 month sleep regression she was sleeping close to 8 hours at a clip once she went down. I was working to figure out how I could somehow push those hours to go until 6 a.m. living in my own little fantasyland.
What life looked like after the four-month sleep regression
After a horrific sleep transition with the four month sleep regression, she was up 2-3x per night regularly. I’d nurse her and walk her around and put her back to sleep. There was no shot she was falling asleep on her own. We continued this for months and occasionally my husband would go in and give her a bottle so I could get a little more rest.
After about six months we noticed that even if he went in and gave her a bottle, she’d cry until I came in as well and nursed her. She was always tiny and didn’t love solid food, so I wanted to ensure she was getting enough nutrition. Eventually there was really no point in my husband getting up at all, so I went in about once a night to nurse at various times.
Why this helped develop poor infant sleep habits
I’d read that every baby will sleep through the night on their own when they’re ready. It COULD happen at six months, but it wasn’t a guarantee. Since she always wanted to nurse when she saw me, I assumed she was hungry.
What changed my mind is when we went on our first vacation after she was born. She was 11 months old and my mom came to watch her for two days. The first evening she was totally distraught. My mom said she was up almost every hour and wouldn’t take the bottle when offered. She kept looking at the door waiting for me to walk in.
The second night she slept from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. without waking. She woke up and took her bottle and we were home that afternoon. From that day on she slept until 5 a.m. and made it to 6 a.m. around her first birthday.
I didn’t even realize I’d provided a sleep crutch
We had done a version of cry it out for bedtime and she always went down decently after about 7 months, but had never let her cry for night wakings more than 30 minutes. What I realized is that while we didn’t necessarily need to let her cry it out in the middle of the night (you do you, boo) – me going in and feeding her was creating another sleep crutch.
When she started showing clear preference for me versus the bottle, I should have realized that I was comfort more than food and we should have continued only giving the bottle, weaning her off gradually.
I’m assuming if you’re in this boat – the above scenario didn’t seem like I was doing anything wrong. I was just tending nightly to my daughter. What I realized is that I was creating a sleep association (nursing). She then needed this in the middle of the night to go to sleep.
The good news is, I know where we went wrong, and what I’m trying to correct for baby #2.
Here are some of the top infant sleep tips I found across the internet to get your baby to fall asleep alone.
Try the “wake and sleep” method from Happiest Baby
This method involves letting your baby fall asleep in your arms (as you’ve likely been doing). The difference is that when you go to put her down, rouse her a little bit.
Tickle her face neck or scratch her feet until she opens her eyes.
Put your infant down in the crib or bassinet and allow her to close her eyes and fall back to sleep on her own. If she starts crying at this point she might be uncomfortable. Check that she’s not wet or hungry, and try again. You may have to do this 15 times before you’re actually “allowed” to leave. Trust me, this is for the end game.
Break the Nursing or Sucking Sleep Association
This one is a toughie. So many moms nurse their babies to sleep or put them down with a pacifier. Sleeping with a pacifier is even one of the recommendations for SIDS prevention.
Babies are comforted by the sucking motion and for many moms nursing to sleep is a great way to wind down the day.
That said, this provides a sleep crutch that can eventually become problematic. If baby assumes the only way to go to sleep is after nursing, they’re going to need you every time they wake up. Since everyone (adults included) wakes up 3-4 times per night, this can get dicey.
Breaking the nursing or sucking sleep association can usually be accomplished by rocking your baby to sleep. Of course, this is something you’ll also need to eventually stop doing. If you can go cold turkey, try that. If your baby needs more help, you can remove rocking in the next phase.
Allow your baby to fall asleep sitting still in your arms.
A great way to ease into this is to begin rocking but then once your baby is drowsy, stop rocking and allow her to fall asleep. If she gets fussy, begin rocking again but stop before she falls asleep. This might take awhile (or what feels like forever) but eventually she’ll be able to fall asleep on her own while you aren’t moving.
Another version of this is to hold her up on your shoulder, not moving or singing, for five minutes to wind down at the end of the night.
The purpose of this is to allow your baby to calm down and quiet herself while she’s close to you, but without the assistance of nursing, rocking, or shushing.
Once you’ve mastered all these tasks, the next step is to try it in the crib.
Put your baby down in the crib and allow her to fall asleep alone
This doesn’t mean you drop her off and head for the hills. An important part of this step is that you’re actually still touching your baby for comfort.
Try rocking or getting baby to stillness in your arms. Then put her down in the crib while she’s still awake. Keep your hand on her chest and belly with very light pressure so she knows you’re still there. Eventually as you move through this routine you can lessen your presence. Soon you should be only holding her hand, or standing by the crib.
Things to do to promote good sleep
There are also many things you can do to promote good sleep habits and optimize your chances of getting to sleep through the night.
Feed baby frequently during the day
This one seems obvious, but ensuring that your baby gets enough nutrition during the day is critical to getting enough nighttime sleep. Your baby will wake up if they are hungry! Ensure you’ve set up for night time success by providing enough milk throughout the day.
Have an early bedtime
This seems counterintuitive for many moms, but later to bed does NOT make baby sleep in longer. It actually produces the opposite effect. Babies that are overtired take longer to fall asleep and will even wake more throughout the night.
Sometimes putting baby down 15-30 minutes earlier can have dramatic results on night wakings or the length of sleep a baby gets. For reference, an early bedtime is somewhere between 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Don’t immediately rush to your baby when they wake up
This one also seems impossible, especially if your baby is in your room or you have other children in the house. However, allowing your baby the opportunity to self-soothe will only help you in the long run.
Give her five minutes to try and settle herself back down. You will quickly learn when she’s awake because she’s hungry or needs to be changed versus when she just wants comfort.
Avoid over-stimulation close to bedtime
This seems like a no-brainer but is easier said than done. So many moms rush home from the office and just want extra time with their babies. They want to keep babies awake longer to make up for hours missed while at work.
This is counterproductive to good sleep. Ensure you avoid over-stimulation and begin winding down activities at the end of the night. This is a great step in ensuring baby sleeps longer and can fall asleep easier on her own.
Establish a bedtime and sleep routine
You can begin a sleep routine even with a newborn. The associations probably won’t start to stick until six to eight weeks, but they might help jumpstart your habits.
Do the bedtime routine every single night (bath, PJs, nurse, white noise, books, etc.) and do as many steps of the routine for daytime sleep as well. Starting this routine early will help develop good sleep associations that you won’t have to break later.
This is especially important as you navigate all the sleep regressions of the first two years. A strong routine will be your best friend during some of the worst sleep challenges.
Respond to baby’s sleep cues and put her down when she’s drowsy
Pay attention to your baby and ensure she’s getting enough daytime sleep as well. An overtired baby takes much longer to fall asleep than one who is well rested. If your baby is rubbing her eyes and yawning or is really fussy and looks away she may just be tired.
Try to put her down for frequent naps when she’s drowsy to allow her to practice falling asleep alone.
The Ultimate Game Changer in Baby Sleep
If all else fails, you can try the SNOO Smart Sleeper bassinet, which I highly recommend. It’s a high tech bassinet that utilizes continuous motion and white noise to soothe your infant back to sleep without you getting up.
Of course you’ll still need to wake for changes and night feedings, but the SNOO can be a game-changer for those babies who just need a little extra help falling and staying asleep.
I hope you found at least one of these tips new and useful. When you’re in the sleep-deprived trenches everything feels worse than it is. Hopefully these tips will get your baby falling asleep on their own, so you can get more rest too!
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