Inside: Reasons why your baby won’t sleep through the night and how to fix them
Ever wonder why your baby just won’t sleep through the night?
Is sleep training not going as well as you might hope?
Sleep deprivation isn’t fun, we all go through it at some point and you are most certainly not alone. Hopefully, some of these tips can help you- moms DO sleep (sometimes). This is what worked when my son was a baby.
Some babies sleep through the night only weeks after they go home from the hospital. Mine did not. I got all sorts of stories from others like:
My baby is seven and STILL not sleeping through the night.
Oh, well my baby slept through the night after 2 months.
First thing you need to do is stop comparing your baby to other babies.
Every baby is different and whether your baby sleeps all night or not, it has NOTHING to do with how “good” of a parent you are. My baby is always happy but still didn’t sleep through the night until 4 months.
Note: These methods are for babies under the age of 1. My son started regressing around 10 months old and I had to start trying new things to get him to sleep through the night again. What works one day might not work the next and toddler sleep habits are definitely different than that of an infant.
You are expecting too much too soon.
Basically, sleep training before 4-6 months of age is (most likely) going to be disappointing. This does not mean that you can skip any efforts at all. Get a routine established early- it will only make it easier later.
Don’t worry if your 4 week old is still waking up every 2-3 hours, new babies are supposed to wake up all night! The respiratory patterns of new babies are not regular and they sometimes have periods of apnea (where they briefly stop breathing). Them waking up frequently is their bodies way of stimulating them.
Your baby sleeps all night? Probably not. Your baby may not cry when they wake up (therefore not waking you up) but chances are they are still waking up, moving/fussing, and going back to sleep. They are just naturally awesome at comforting themselves. Lucky!
You also need to keep in mind eating habits. Breast-fed infants will wake up more often for feedings. That doesn’t mean switch to formula just to get a good nights sleep- what your doing is awesome (it isn’t so easy for some mommas). Also, when I had to switch to formula, my baby was still waking up all night- it’s not a cure-all and there are better ways.
The good news is that babies generally just need a feeding and then they will be back to sleep. There were times that my son (and this also happened with my daughter) would stir until I fed him and then be sleeping by the time I was done. They never even opened their eyes.
The bad news is that you have to wake up (side-lying breastfeeding was totally my friend!!)
You are keeping your baby awake too long
Okay babies are definitely NOT like adults. Keeping them up longer to make them “more tired” does not work. Once your baby crosses that line into overtired, it’s going to be downhill from there. I didn’t know this, I thought if I kept him up until he was nice and tired, then he would sleep sweet and sound. Nope, they get overtired and cranky and miserable and they (for whatever reason) are up all night.
Side note: newborns don’t count. Until they are at least one month of age, newborns feed and sleep around the clock which means there is no such thing as “bedtime”. You do want to establish day vs. night habits (especially if they were born with a backwards schedule) and watch for sleep ques.
Steps of sleepiness (for my kid):
First, he starts rubbing his eyes. Then his eyes will get very heavy. Next, he will start making his high-pitched fussy sound. Not a cry, just a weird high pitched fussy scream. Then he really gets miserable and starts crying- he has now crossed the line into overtired.
Sometimes it can’t be avoided, so you just do your best. After all, it is unrealistic to always leave where you are so that you can go do your bedtime routine and get your kid to sleep, especially around the holidays.
You are moving them after they fall asleep
Meaning, if you are home- lay them in their crib (or wherever they sleep all night).
I have never been one to rock my baby to sleep. If he sleeps on me for a nap, I get comfy because I won’t move him for the whole nap. Rocking your baby to sleep is really just teaching them to soley rely on YOU to get them to sleep. So be prepared because it is likely you will need to rock them to sleep every night and also during the night.
Now I have broken this on a few occasions:
- Being at someone elses house for the night
- When he is sick
Sometimes sleep training goes out the window and you just need to comfort your baby. Your momma instincts will guide you. Being in a different location and being sick are both most likely going to result in a rough night anyway. I have always found that when everything is back to normal, the sleep pattern goes back too.
Related article: getting your baby to sleep in their crib after bedsharing
Now, when I say avoid rocking to sleep I really mean avoid letting them fall asleep in any non-permanent location.
Example; swings, car seat, etc. Most babies do fall asleep in the car and theres not much you can do to stop it- but try not to drive them around just to get them to sleep.
And if they are sitting in their swing and start looking like they are going to fall asleep- go lay them down.
Another very important habit to start as early as possible is laying them down WHILE AWAKE! This will teach them how to put themselves to sleep and only benefit them (and you!) later on.
Something worth mentioning: When my baby got older (closer to one year old) I had to stop letting people hold him during naps. Everytime he was held during a nap, I noticed that he didn’t want to lay down in his crib. I don’t think his grandparents were too happy about my new rule- but they aren’t the ones that had to get up all night with him.
Something is waking them up
Consider taking away the pacifier (if you use one).
Hear me out.
I must’ve read like 20,000 sleep training articles and never saw anything like this. In fact, most of what I read was “Go in, put the pacifier back in their mouth, and leave”. I tried this, and when my baby was still waking up every 1-3 hours at 4 months old, I thought “something isn’t right, what I’m doing isn’t working”.
I told my husband that I was thinking about taking the pacifier away. He was iffy about it- after all, he was all about the binky when he was little (he even hid them all over the house so he had spares when his mom started taking them away). Ultimately, he told me to do what I thought was right. He now thanks me for it.
When I moved my son back to his crib, I had very little resistance. I didn’t understand where people would need to let their babies “cry it out”. When I took the pacifier away, it was a very different story. It was hard, but probably not as hard as it would have been if I let him have it for a few years.
He cried, and cried, and cried. I did a variation of “crying it out” which I’ll talk about in a minute. And, almost like magic, he went from waking up every 1-3 hours to waking up twice a night.
The most important thing to remember about this is to stick with it. My mom gave him his pacifier for a nap while babysitting one day (my fault, I forgot to tell her not to) and it was back to square one for a day or two.
So think about your baby, is there something that comforts them to sleep but ALSO wakes them up?
They haven’t been taught to soothe themselves
When I say I tried everything, I mean I literally TRIED EVERYTHING before deciding to let my baby cry it out. One of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard is that crying it out is “damaging” to your baby. It isn’t.
My baby is one of the happiest babies I’ve ever met. He is cuddly, smart, excelling in his developmental milestones, and is very content (even when other people hold him). He has also never needed to cry himself to sleep for longer than 30 minutes.
I didn’t do the full-blown cry it out method, I tried a variation that I had read about. In this method, you go in to comfort the baby very quickly and leave. The baby will still be crying, but it’s okay- it will still work.
- Lay baby down
- Baby starts crying
- Watch the clock for 10 minutes
- Go in, stroke their face or rub their belly and say “I love you” and leave- do not linger or pick up the baby.
- Watch the clock for 10 minutes
- Is baby still crying? repeat until asleep.
Gradually increase your time away. This worked very quickly for me. The first night he took about 30 minutes. The second and third night were around 20 minutes. After that, it took him about 10 minutes for awhile, and after about 2 weeks he barely fussed at all.
Sometimes, depending on his mood, he still cries for a minute or two but more often than not- he just falls asleep. Not only did this help him fall asleep, but when he woke up in the middle of the night- he was finally able to put himself back to sleep!!!
Side note: this method also worked well for him in his toddler years as well.
Important things to remember when using this method: don’t linger in the room, and don’t pick them up.
Another method I read about was kind of like a reverse cry-it-out. I tried this first because it sounded easier on the baby, but unfortunately, it did not work for us.
If it works for you though, then it is worth mentioning. In this method, you wait until the baby stops crying (or slows down) and THEN you go in the room.
- Lay baby down
- Baby starts crying
- Wait outside room until crying slows or stops
- Go in, praise baby- say “I love you” and leave
- Continue until baby is asleep
Essentially it is “rewarding” the baby for soothing themselves. In my case, my son would get all settled down, I’d go in, praise him and leave.. and he would be like WTF and start crying all over again. Every baby is different though, so it’s worth a shot.
They are stuck on those night feedings
I was so close. He was putting himself to sleep, and sleeping almost all night. But he was stuck on those night feedings. He would wake up every night at 0200 and 0500 to eat. Now, my son is in the 90th percentile for weight and has been since he was born (even while breastfeeding) and he was also four months old.
I asked his doctor if he actually needed those night feedings (always ask your pediatrician because newborns usually do need their night feedings). He said that my son most likely wanted night feedings for comfort or out of habit, not because he needed them.
So that’s when I decided to wean him off. It took a little while, but to my surprise, that’s what finally got him to sleep 11 hours straight. Here’s how I did it:
I started with the 0200 feeding (I didn’t try to wean off both at the same time) and gradually decreased the amount of formula in his bottle. When it got to be that he was only having about 1 oz, instead of getting up, I just gave him a minute and he put himself back to sleep. After that, he slept through until 0500.
Then I repeated the same thing with the 0500 feeding. And just like that, he was sleeping from 2000 to 0700 uninterrupted (and if he did wake up, he would fuss for a second and go back to sleep).
I think it is worth noting that the first night, I did try to wean both feedings at the same time and it did not go well.. do it gradually as your baby tolerates it. They will let you know if you need to slow it down.
Bonus resource: I can not recommend this book more! This ultimate guide contains all of the secrets to guide your baby to a better night’s rest. Think of this guide as your key to creating a healthy night’s sleep for your baby in one convenient place.
They will get there
It might feel like forever when it is happening. Soon enough they will be sleeping through the night and it will be hard to remember how it felt when they weren’t. Or you will have a second baby and miss the times you thought you were sleep deprived.
Take it a step at a time, evaluate what works for your baby and what doesnt work and go from there. Take the advice you get (or read) and give it a shot.