Do you ever feel like your baby is the only one in the world who doesn t know how to go to sleep? Do you ask yourself, What I am doing wrong? What else can I try? And importantly, When can I go to bed?
If this sounds like you, try not to feel alone. Babies often turn the process of settling to sleep into a long, drawn out affair, leaving their parents exhausted and doubting themselves. Although it may sound very easy, actually getting your baby to the point of sleeping and staying asleep can consume most of your time. Avoid blaming yourself if your baby is awake for hours on end or refuses to settle. Realistically, your influence over when they go to sleep and how long they sleep for is marginal and not always under your direct control. Babies have their own agendas and patterns of behaviour which, for better or worse, include sleeping.
As well as what you are already doing, give these suggestions a try:
- For the first month, babies tend to have predictable routines of feeding and sleep. They often settle easily and go to sleep during feeds or when they are being cuddled. Enjoy these early days and look at your baby's sleep times as an opportunity for you to rest and recover from the birth.
- From around six weeks until ten weeks babies are often more wakeful and unsettled. Your baby may have a couple of crying episodes a day and need you to give them more active soothing and comforting than when they were first born.
- A warm bath and then a tummy massage in a clockwise direction often helps an unsettled baby to calm down and feel more relaxed. A warm, wet washer over their tummy during bath time helps them not to feel exposed and vulnerable.
- If your baby seems to have a tummy ache, try moving their legs in a bicycle fashion and gently bring their knees up to their chest. These movements often help with passing wind or doing a poo. Talk to your baby while you are doing this and reassure them.
- Look for your baby's tired signs, they will let you know when they need to go to sleep. Yawning, grimacing and scrunching their face up, getting grizzly and not wanting to play are all classic signs.
- Babies who are tired, already fed and sleepy, though still awake when they are placed into their cots, generally stay asleep for longer periods. Babies who are cuddled to sleep and then placed into their cots often wake after twenty minutes when they progress into a lighter sleep phase.
- From birth, aim to place your baby into their cot to go to sleep. If they learn that this is where they settle off to sleep and where they wake up it avoids confusion for everyone.
- Try not to feed your baby to sleep. If they associate feeding with settling they can learn to rely on this to go to sleep. Sleepy babies don t feed as well as when they are awake and it is easy to get into a cycle of snacking and then napping.
- The safest place for your baby to sleep is in their own cot, beside your bed for the first twelve months of their life.
- Many parents follow rituals of safe keeping when they settle their babies. These can include lullabies, saying a prayer, kissing their baby in a particular way or even the order in which things are done. These little habits define us as unique and form early patterns of family behaviour.
- Many babies like to suck on a dummy when they are settling. Unless the dummy becomes a problem or your baby is waking up many times because it is falling out of their mouth, they are harmless.
- Slings and front-packs are a good way for parents to keep their unsettled baby close but still have their arms and hands free. Make sure your baby is strapped in well and the sling is properly attached to avoid any accidents.
- Babies who are resistant to settling in their cots often like to be pushed in their pram or lie in a bouncer chair. Repetitive, smooth movement helps to lull restless babies to sleep. There will be times when the only option is to rock your baby to sleep for everyone's sake. Every now and then this is fine. Try not to feel you've done anything wrong or set yourself up for hard times ahead.
- Babies who are distressed and crying often need their parents to help them calm down. Young babies can t regulate their emotions without support and need to feel secure and safe before they are able to drift off to sleep.
- Babies love to be rocked when they are going to sleep and the obvious place for this is in their parent's arms. However, if they only learn to go to sleep with movement when they are placed into a stationary cot, waking up is common.
Reviewed and edited by Jane Barry, midwife and child health nurse on 3 June 2021.
Barker, R. Baby love. rev. ed. Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 2007.
Oberklaid, F. & Kaminsky, L. Your child’s health. rev. ed. Prahran: Hardie Grant Books, 2006.
childandyouthhealth.com.au [homepage on the Internet]. Adelaide: Child and Youth Health organisation, cited July 2009. Available from www.cyh.com.au
Last Published* November, 2021
*Please note that the published date may not be the same as the date that the content was created and that information above may have changed since.