Picture this: You’re trying to get a good night’s sleep so you’re well-rested for the day ahead. But your smoke alarm keeps going off, beeping incessantly throughout the night.
You push the reset button but it keeps beeping. You take out the batteries but it (somehow) keeps beeping.
Finally, you’re frazzled and exhausted and you have no choice but to return the smoke alarm for a better, quieter one.
Just kidding! This story isn’t about a smoke alarm, it’s about your baby. She’s waking up throughout the night and crying out for you (or is it food, or teething issues, or gas, who really knows). She has no batteries because she’s a real live baby, and (unfortunately, you might think at times) she didn’t come with a return policy.
So what’s a tired parent to do to get their little one to sleep through the night? Try one (or all) of these four tips and just maybe you'll wake up tomorrow refreshed – or at least a little more well-rested.
The most reliable way to see your baby sleep through the night is just to wait. No, I don’t mean wait a few hours until she falls asleep on her own. I mean to wait, like, months.
Babies go through what’s called fragmented sleep. They sleep a lot during their first 3 months of being alive but they don’t have the courtesy of sleeping all at once. It’s not really their fault, though. Babies aren’t neurologically wired to sleep for eight or ten hours at a time, and the reason they wake up most often is because they're hungry. Since babies are tiny and adorable their stomachs aren’t big enough to hold enough food to keep them full throughout the night.
But never fear! The good news is that this will all work itself out. The bad news is that it’ll probably be 4-6 months at the earliest before your baby can sleep through the night without your intervention.
Luckily there are other things you can do to try to make it easier on you in the meantime.
Set a schedule
It’s important for everyone to have a routine for waking and sleeping. That’s why a lot of experts suggest adults go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – even on weekends.
The same is true for your baby. And while many of us aren’t great at sticking to our own schedules, your baby is a baby so you’re in charge of his schedule so you can actually take the reigns on this a bit.
The point of keeping your baby on a schedule is to teach him the difference between day and night and, more importantly, that night is for sleeping.
First, don’t let him sleep in. He’ll have plenty of time for that when he’s older, but for now let him know that there’s a time for being awake, and that time is now (assuming you’re reading this at around 7 or 8 a.m.). The sooner he starts his morning feeding the sooner you can start his nap schedule, and ultimately get him back into his evening slumber so you can start the cycle all over again.
Second, make your daytime feedings noticeably different than the nighttime ones. Be lively and social. When you start night feedings, make it quieter and darker. This reinforces the notion that daytime is for being active and awake, while night is a time for winding down and eventually, hopefully, sleep.
Then, go about your daily routine. A lot of people like to coddle babies – and for good reason, since your basic job as a parent is to protect your weak, smushy baby from a lot of things. But don’t be afraid to vacuum or talk on the phone or do any of the other tasks you have on your list instead of tiptoeing around, afraid you’ll wake him up. Again, you’re teaching him there’s a time for sleeping.
That’s why when night does come around it’s time to calm down, stay quiet, and let your baby get ready for sleep. On the bright side, this’ll probably help you become a better sleeper, too, if you can learn to quiet your mind instead of going about a dozen different things right before it’s time for bed.
Sleep training, sometimes known as ferberizing, is another name for the "cry it out" method of teaching your baby to sleep, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like.
The idea behind sleep training isn’t just to let your baby cry endlessly until she falls asleep. Instead, when she wakes up, you come into the room, but you do it in longer and longer intervals. So you’ll come in five minutes after she starts crying the first time, then ten minutes, and so on. You’re weening her off the immediate need for support while still providing security.
Eventually she’ll learn that she doesn’t need you to come running in when she starts crying and will be able to fall back asleep on her own. Some studies show that sleep training can work in as quickly as a week, while detractors think it’s cruel to let your baby cry (and some parents can’t take the guilt of feeling like a bad parent).
Also, make sure you’re past the point of your baby needing multiple nighttime feedings before you sleep training, otherwise you’ll just be leaving her hungry throughout the night, which actually does make you a bad parent.
Practice attachment parenting
But maybe sleep training isn’t your thing and you want to go for the exact opposite method. Attachment parenting is more of a lifestyle philosophy on how to raise your baby that focuses on empathy and responsiveness through remaining close to your baby.
However, sleeping plays a big role, because in attachment parenting that means staying close as often as possible, even through the night. And it just might help them sleep through the night, too.
Cosleeping, as it’s also called, provides a sense of security for babies so that even if they do wake up during the night, they don’t have the urge to cry. It also makes feeding much easier since the mother is already there. This makes interruptions much shorter and lets everyone go back to sleep more quickly.
Some studies have shown that co-sleeping increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and isn’t recommended by the Consumer Product Safety Commission or the American Academy of Pediatrics, but proponents claim that studies into the correlation between co-sleeping and SIDS are flawed and biased. An alternative is room-sharing – your baby won’t be right next to you, but she will be in the same room, which could help you react to your baby’s crying sooner.
Every baby is different, so it’s hard to know exactly what will make them fall asleep. Once you find something that works for you, though, stick with it and make sure you form good habits for both yourself and your baby.
And when she is finally sleeping through the night, try these three pieces of tech to help yourself count sheep.