If your baby is still waking up through the night and you just don’t know what to do anymore, you have come to the right place.
As a Mum of two boys who have both slept through the night from an early age I get asked all the time how this happened. I went into parenthood for the first time with a bit of a plan, it wasn’t by chance or luck that my eldest was sleeping 7 hours from 12 weeks old and my second child was doing 5 hour stretches at 5 weeks then 7 hours at 7 weeks. If you are reading this and have not yet had your baby, I encourage you to implement these tips as soon as possible. However for most of you reading this I imagine you are here because you aren’t getting sleep and you’re desperate for some help. It isn’t too late! You can start making changes as soon as you feel ready. There are quite a few points on here so try not to feel overwhelmed. Just focus on one thing at a time and when you feel ready move on to the next. You will never master all of these things at once but it’s nice to have a goal and it gives you hope when you have a bad night that you have a plan for the next night.
The older your child is the more likely it is that they have developed their own likes and dislikes when it comes to sleep. The most common mistake that new parents make is going in and picking up their baby the moment they wake up. Initially the newborn cuddles are cute and you are just being a good parent by tending to the needs of your precious and helpless newborn. However the longer this goes on the harder it is to stop intervening in your baby’s sleep patterns. As soon as they wake up they know to expect that someone will come. At what point do you both decide they need to learn to resettle themselves back to sleep or stay in their cot happily until you are ready. It’s fair to say that a 10 month old who starts waking at 5am can and should be able to drift off to sleep again or stay in bed happily for 20-30 minutes but if they are used to Mum or Dad always coming to them when they wake up then there is no need to learn this skill. All they need to do is cry and you will come!
So what can you do? Letting them cry it out seems too brutal and everything else you have tried isn’t working. Well please read on and try my steps below, it works but you have to be consistent and stick with it! Give in once and they know what to do every time to get the comfort and love they want. Now please understand that all children deserve bucket loads of constant love and care, they just don’t need it at 3am. If you know you have given them your time, energy and love during the day then they must eventually understand that night time is for sleep. This is a non negotiable fact in our home. I have as little to do with my children possible once they are asleep and I have no guilt about it because I shower them with love and attention during the day.
1) Feed – Awake – Sleep
There is nothing quite so precious as a sleeping baby and babies naturally want to fall asleep after a big feed. However if you are willing to commit to trying Feed – Awake – Sleep in that order, you won’t be disappointed. If you are new to my site anyone from the keeper community can tell you how much I love a flexible routine! The reason we do it in this order is once a full feed has filled their tummies it requires time to process and digest. For a little baby they often get wind build up or vomiting. Allowing the body a chance to digest it’s food before lying down to sleep ensures the body is more comfortable, wind free and tired from play. They just seem to sleep longer. Trust me and give it a try!
FEED – AWAKE – SLEEP!
2) Implement the same bed time and morning wake up time
Consistency is key! When a baby can learn to predict moments in his day, they feel secure and thrive. It honestly gives them the best chance to then focus on other learning and development. If you remove the need for your child to always prompt you for his basic needs then they can focus on learning other things. Having the same start and bed time each day also helps the night sleep fall into a predictable pattern which then allows you to ‘merge’ the sleeps together (see below on merging). It also helps you to plan your day better when you know roughly when you can be out and about or when you are at home having a rest. It sets out a nice predictable flow to the feed- awake – sleep cycle. Try to be strong against the temptation to sleep in on the days baby is having a longer sleep-in. Eventually you will have a baby that sleeps all night and you won’t be so tired but you must be consistent with it for now.
For more information on this you can read about it here.
While you are trying to enforce the same wake time each morning it may take a bit of time to implement. For example if you choose 7:30am as the time you start your day then any time your baby wakes before that is considered a ‘night’ wake. Even if they wake up at 6:45am one morning. Feed, resettle and put back to bed. Then at 7:30am you go in and wake them up (if they went back to sleep) lights on and a very happy “Good morning!”. If they refuse to go back to sleep, that’s fine but you do not go back in there until 7:30. It is ok to give yourself a 20-30 minute window if they are super unsettled but don’t make this the norm. They will just keep pushing the boundary to get you to go in when they decide – not the other way around. Just remember this will only work on a child that is healthy and safe. I do not recommend if there are underlying health issues.
3) Cot Play
They need to feel comfortable in their own bed when they are awake. So start by introducing some cot play every day. Start with 5 minutes and set a timer, give them 1-2 toys but no more than that. At the end of the 5 minutes when the timer goes off give them massive amounts of praise. Congratulate them on a job well done and reward them with tons of love. Make sure you let them know how happy you are that they did so well at ‘cot play’ (even if they screamed and cried the whole time). Do this each day and slowly build up the time every few days. This is also fantastic for those moments you need to have a shower or have an unexpected visitor and need them in a safe space while you are busy. You can do this for any age up to about two years old. My son wakes from his nap during the day and he happily lies there for up to an hour because he is comfortable in his bed. It becomes their safe space. The hope here is that when they wake in the night they aren’t insecure because they know their bed and are comfortable there. Another added bonus is that it helps to teach them focus play which is an important skill they build on as they grow and use their imagination. A child who can’t focus for long will struggle to learn as well as a child who can hold his attention for longer.
4) Fill them up!
Make each feed as big as possible. A full belly is a happy baby and one less reason to wake up. If they don’t get a full feeding they can miss out on the best part of your milk (if breastfeeding) which is also the most nutritional and fattening, meaning their little bodies have to work harder to process it and it makes them sleep better. So keepers! Fill them up nice and full each time.
5) When they wake don’t go in straight away
Just start with a minute or two of letting them fuss. The goal is to teach them to self settle back to sleep or be content for a period of time without you. Gradually dragging out the minutes longer and longer. Especially during the night you want to intervene as little as humanly possible.
6) If they have a predictable wake time you can try ‘merging’
If your baby wakes up 2-3 times in the night it could work where you bring two of them together. For example if your child wakes at 11pm and 1:30 you can aim to merge the 1:30am wake with the 11pm wake up. You would do this by setting your alarm (sorry!) for 1:15am go in and wake your baby and give a feed, resettle and put down again. do this for a few days and then move it to 1am. Slowly you move the wake up time forward in 15 minute increments so you get closer to 11pm. Eventually the child gets tired enough that they only need to wake up once.
If you need more information on this you can go to the Babywise site where they go into more detail about sleep training and merging.
If you aren’t sure if they have a regular wake time then take note for a few nights and see if there is a regular pattern. This won’t work until you have a regular bed time and morning time. If you put your child to bed one night at 7:30pm and they wake at 10pm but the next night you put them to bed at 8:15pm and they wake at 11:45 it will make your life harder. Setting the same bed time and wake time each day is crucial for a child to establish a routine. Eventually this won’t matter as much but for a few weeks you have to do this to create boundaries for your child. Boundaries are so important and children must have them.
My final note is that with all of these ideas they take time to implement. The older your child is the more they tend to resist. Try not to feel overwhelmed and only focus on one step at a time. I promise you will eventually get there. It is a different way of life and more structured which puts a lot of people off but just remember it is temporary. It requires consistency to make it a new normal and the end goal is more sleep! Once things are settled and you feel comfortable you will have a lot of flexibility with your day and way more energy. Give it a try, be consistent and good luck!
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