Feb. 20, 2012

How to: Help Baby Sleep Through the Night

Ok, so I'm slightly obsessed with helping Tom sleep better (he wakes every 1-2 hours per night), and have received an avalanche of advice. I thought it might be fun to compile it here as a possible check list of things you might try to help baby sleep. I'll admit straight away that this is more an indication of how complicated the baby sleep industry is, than how to actually get baby to sleep through the night tonight.
  1. "Ferberizing"/cry-it-out sleep training. There are a million variations on this. We've tried it a few times (meaning attempted it for an evening and ultimately abandoned between 10 pm and midnight), and it usually takes Tom 1 hour and 15 minutes to fall asleep the first time and then he's never slept longer than 20 minutes before waking and crying again. I think it would be like this all night long for the first few nights, and then we'd see improvement. My resolve for this method is a lot stronger midday than later in the evening.
  2. Swaddle. This worked quite well for the first few months, until baby started breaking out of the swaddle once he became stronger and more mobile around 3 months old. Sometimes I'd wake up and reswaddle the baby and he'd sleep for a few more hours before waking to be fed.
  3. Co-sleep. This worked maybe the first night and has gotten progressively worse (meaning the baby now wakes briefly at the end of almost every sleep cycle - 45 minutes or so). The problem is that I barely wake up and don't have to get out of bed to nurse, so this method seems to ensure the most rest for us all. Other moms I know have used this method with great success.
  4. Put baby down to sleep drowsy but not asleep. This seems to be the clear advice to helping baby learn to self soothe. I did this the first week that he lived with us, and then it became more and more difficult. If you did this consistently from birth, and your baby was willing, you might be able to avoid sleep training and get sleeping through the night pretty easily.
  5. Use white noise/an aquarium/mobile to lull baby to sleep. We've tried white noise, lullabies and an aquarium with limited success but others say that one of these tools are vital to helping baby settle down to fall asleep in their crib.
  6. Introduce a dream feed. This generally involves feeding baby around 11 pm before you go to bed. Ideally baby doesn't wake fully while feeding and this extra meal helps get them through the night. Many people I know swear by this.
  7. Give baby a bottle of formula before bed. This is the same principle as the dream feed, and assumes that formula takes longer to digest than breast milk, so baby is less likely to wake in the middle of the night out of hunger. We've never tried this, but others I know say that their baby would never sleep through the night without a bottle of formula as their last feeding of the day.
  8. Give the baby a pacifier. One friend of mine swears by the pacifier as a tool to transition baby from the breast to the crib without tears. We've never used a pacifier, so I'm not sure if Tom would actually take one at six months old.
  9. Sidecar the crib/bassinet/playpen. This means putting the crib or other sleeping space next to or near parents bed. The principle here is that baby sees you and knows you're close so is less likely to cry for you in the middle of the night.
  10. Put baby to sleep earlier. Supposedly if baby hasn't had their naps and is awake too late it will be harder for them to go to sleep and stay asleep because they're over tired. Thomas goes to bed by 7 pm most every night, so I don't think this is our problem.
Beyond these broad strategies, you also might want to try adjusting the temperature or light in the room where baby is sleeping to help them stay asleep. We haven't found what works for us yet, but maybe some of these tips might help you! xo

The photo of Thomas above shows him awake because I actually couldn't find a photo of him asleep in his crib or bassinet!


  1. You're right - it just goes to show how complicated it all is. What works for one will, most likely, not work for the other. To wit: we used a pacifier and it was part of the problem. He'd wake up looking for it every 30-45mins. We also started on formula and gradually increased bedtime amounts - made zero difference to sleep duration. The white noise helps keep him asleep when there's other noise in the house, but the mobile and aquarium were viewed by HP as toys ;) We tried co-sleeping and bedside sleeping with much misery for all of us. Best for us was transition to nursery and sleep training, and more recently, turning off the monitar (gasp!).

    Again, this worked for us but may not work for others. Here's hoping you find a rhythm with Tom soon!

    1. It's so nice to hear your experience Colleen. As you say, it's all about finding the rhythm that works for you. Thomas thinks the aquarium is a toy too. I had such high hopes for it when we put it up (I hadn't installed it until about two weeks ago - it had just been in the top of his closet after a neighbour gave it to us as a hand me down).

      Surprisingly, Thomas woke up only twice last night between 7:30 pm and 6:30 am - a miracle. We made sure his last nap ended at 4 pm (usually it's later), we played with him between supper and bed time (normally he starts rubbing his eyes right away but for some reason he didn't last night, we waited for him to cry for food before we gave him his last meal of the day (which we used to do before I started instituting a bed time), nursed him to sleep in our den and then let him sleep next to me for more than an hour before transitioning him to bed (attempted the crib but he cried out right away) so I picked him up and he settled right away, lay him in the middle of the bed between us alone to sleep (normally one of us kind of holds him), and we opened the blinds in our room so it wasn't nearly as dark. I'm going to attempt to replicate tonight. Two wakings in about 12 hours is very bearable if you're co-sleeping, and is almost as good as STTN!