Getting Babies to Sleep

getting babies to sleep

Occasionally, you’ll talk to some friend who had the Sleeping Miracle Baby — the newborn who woke up once a night to feed to start with, and then after a little while, began sleeping through the night. I don’t have any advice for those people, aside from maybe “keep your mouth shut when talking to other new parents.” And let’s be clear: Sleeping Miracle Babies aren’t the norm. “Normal” looks much more like newborns snatching sleep here and there in smaller chunks. A lot of those chunks may be during the day, rather than when you’d like to sleep – at night. So getting babies to sleep can be critical. Here’s some advice.

Learn the 5 Ss

If you haven’t already, read (or skim) the Happiest Baby on the Block. I found the discussion of the Fourth Trimester helpful, since it explained why the book recommends the following, all of which I found pretty helpful. To calm down a baby, which is often the first step of getting them to sleep, first try these five things:

  1. Swaddle. Swaddling your kid recreates the snugness of the womb, and is usually pretty calming. I’ve talked about it more here. A few kids may not like swaddling much, but if you get the swaddle right, they’re usually in the minority.
  2. Side or stomach position. Babies need to be on their back to sleep, but to calm them down, hold them on their sides. 
  3. Shush. Babies are used to bloodflow in the womb. Recreate this sound by “shushing” in their ear. When in doubt, go louder, rather than softer. We’ve also had good luck with white noise machines for sleep, since it’s another signal to your kid that it’s sleepytime. We’ve continued using the white noise machine with our toddler. If you’re on the move, a cell phone with a looped hour-long white noise file works fine.
  4. Swing. It’s pretty jiggly in the womb. Jiggling outside helps calm kids down. Combine this with the side position and a small bounce or jiggle, while supporting the kid’s head and neck.
  5. Suck. Give the kid something to suck on, usually a pacifier. If you get them started on something like this, when they gain a little more dexterity they’ll be able to replace the pacifier if it falls out.

Create a Routine You Can Live With

Everyone, from babies to adults, do well with a bedtime routine – a process that signals to the brain “hey, calm down, it’s going to be time to go to sleep soon.” Usually, that involves dimming the lights and slowing things down, and often doing something that triggers calm. All of that is great. Just make sure that the bedtime routine you build for your baby is something that you can continue to do every time it’s time to go to sleep.

Most babies are comforted by falling asleep in-arms, and it’s probably the most attractive trap when it comes to baby sleep. You want your kid to sleep, and your kid will fall asleep in-arms, so why not let your kid fall asleep in-arms.

Because you may need to do it every. Single. Time. And it impedes your baby’s ability to teach herself to self-soothe and fall back asleep on her own if she wakes up in the night. And if you need to rock your baby to sleep every time, it means that you’re not falling asleep when the baby is falling asleep. Co-sleeping can be a solution to this issue, but the topic warrants a much longer discussion. 


If your partner is breastfeeding, feeds in the night might be solely in her department. But if your baby doesn’t conk out immediately after a feed, getting the baby to sleep might be your department. If your baby isn’t sleeping well during the night, it might be helpful to take shifts where one parent handles wake-ups from X to Y time and the other handles wake-ups from Y until morning. How to break up the times depends on your kid’s schedule and your own schedules. But if one of you knows you can roll over and go back to sleep if it’s before 1:00 am, it may help everyone get more sleep on-balance.

Don’t Neglect Adults’ Sleep

Don’t forget that you and your partner both need your own sleep. Help each other out with taking shifts so you can both grab naps here and there as needed, and give each other the benefit of the doubt when at all possible.