‘My baby won’t sleep!’
It’s a common problem that I get asked for help with from hundreds of very tired and stressed parents every week and a problem I’ve helped thousands of parents with over the years.
Not only have my gentle techniques worked on other parents children, they have worked with my own two children who sleep on average, 13 hours a night.
How to get a baby to sleep!
As with all things in raising little ones, it’s about what works for you as a parent, what makes you feel happy and what makes your little one happy. My thought’s on parenting are very much ‘live and let live’ and as long as you and your little one are happy and they are healthy and thriving – that is great parenting!
My site and my books are all about sharing qualified, professional advice together with 23 years experience of techniques that promote happy sleeping! More importantly – I’m a mum too – and I really feel that all of my combined qualifications and experiences help me to understand what you are going through! Sleep deprivation is no fun at all!
Routine is the magic key!
I say it a lot in my talks and on my TV and Radio interviews about sleep: Routine really is the magic key to a happy sleeper.
Of course in the very early days babies are just getting used to the big wide world, so don’t worry about routines right away. You’re likely to find that they’ll fall into their own little feeding routine.
When I talk about routine I mean feeding, bedtime, nap-times and regular daily activities. Even from a very young age your baby will thrive on routine such as a regular morning outing to the park or meeting other parents, regular feeding times, and regular nap and bedtimes.
Say goodnight to sleepless nights!
Day time naps: Some parents think that if a baby doesn’t sleep during the day that they will be more tired at night and thus sleep longer and better. In-fact the total opposite happens!
Babies that don’t have regular naps during the day are grouchy, grumbly and overtired, therefore waking lots in the night.
Getting your child into good sleep habits can only really be obtained after a good daily routine is established. Without a good daily routine (and this goes for a baby or child of any age) getting them to sleep through the night is near impossible.
A good bedtime routine: Getting into a good routine doesn’t end at bedtime, if anything, it starts at bedtime! It’s important to get into a good bedtime routine from a very early age- start as you mean to go on!
Start with a nice bath! Have lots of fun in the bath with toys, bubbles and singing time, even from a very young age this is important! Sing to your baby in the bath, trickle water over them and make fun sounds. The longer, more fun the bath, the better! You can even try using some lavender drops or bedtime bath bubbles to encourage relaxation.
Preparation is key: Always prepare your older child that bathtime is nearly over by giving a two minute warning. Sounds silly? Not at all – this is usually where lots of tantrums start and children who don’t have time to get used to the idea that something fun is about to end, can break-down into floods of tears which turns bedtime into a nightmare!
After their bath, dry your child with a nice big fluffy towel – making it lots of fun! Make sure your child’s pyjamas are in the bathroom or close by and dress your child, talking all the time about snuggly bedtime, or the bedtime book you are going to read together.
Keep using the word bedtime, or sleepy time to encourage the idea that this is in fact bedtime – not playtime!
Bedroom calm time: In your little ones bedroom – snuggle together with a book (babies will usually have their bedtime milk/feed at this point but a story is a lovely habit to get into even from a very young age.) After the story get your child into bed, tuck them in and say goodnight.
Older children: At the end of storytime and they have got into bed, avoid entering into a conversation about another story/ I need a drink/ I need a wee/ I want to play with my toys!
It’s not being unkind – it’s helping them to settle into sleep mode. By entering into conversations, you are stimulating them into more chat, their calm and sleepy state from the story works up to wide-awake time.
My two in particular love bedtime, but they also love their stalling tactics. We have the ‘Three awesome one rubbish’ chat. It’s a way for them to ay anything they want to before knowing it’s now quiet time.
We start with one rubbish thing about the day, then end on a happy thought so talk about three awesomes that happened. They then settle and think about those as they drift off. It’s a lovely way to end the day and for school age children – you’ll often find out more about what they’ve been up to then, than at any other time of day!
Gentle and happy Baby Bedtime techniques
No need for tears: The cry-it-out (or timed-comfort as it’s often disguised) is offered as a magic, quick-fix solution to sleep. The method works quickly (it’s not new and certainly not unique) but it can be upsetting for parents, and very upsetting for your little one.
I’m not a fan of the technique because I believe bedtime should be a happy place, somewhere your little one feels safe, happy and secure – not somewhere they scream or cry themselves to sleep. If you teach sleep to be a positive and happy thing – it’ll always be a happy and positive thing.
Babies don’t manipulate – they communicate! Don’t make bedtime a struggle by making it upsetting and sad. It may work for a little while – but you’ll find wake-ups will come back when they are older.
I like to offer gentle techniques and these two feature in my Baby Bedtime Book.
My Shh-Shh-Pat technique
Pop your baby in their crib or cot and stand nearby. (If it’s an older child, do the same by their bed.) If they start to whimper, simply say Shh-Shh very gently. Don’t pick them up if they make a noise. It’s natural for them to make a sound as you put them down – It may They are not crying just stirring. Remember – it’s a new thing for them to be put into a cot awake – they are figuring it all out!
If they begin to cry, simply lean over and say Shh-Shh and at the same time gently pat their back. You can stroke if you prefer, but remember – you’re not doing this to get them to sleep, just to calm them.
Now move away from the cot and wait. If they stir but don’t cry, leave them. If they cry, repeat the shh-shh-pat-pat technique. Again – try not pick up. Just Shh-shh-pat. Having said this – if they are very upset – please comfort them. This is designed to be a gentle calming method.
Don’t use any words. It’s especially important with older babies not to enter into a conversation. Just ignore and repeat – Shh-shh-pat-pat.
Keep repeating until they are almost asleep. The important thing is to not pat them to sleep because then you are just replacing rocking/feeding to sleep with patting. Use this method if they wake in the night.
Don’t lift them unless they are distressed, wet, soiled, hungry or poorly. It’s important to listen to the sounds they make. Is it a whimper? Are they just making noises in their sleep? Will they settle? Help them to settle themselves gently, happily and calmly with no need tears and you’ll teach them to love their bedtimes.
My gentle Bedroom bottom shuffle technique
Don’t laugh! The bedroom bottom shuffle is what it is; bottom shuffling! This is one of the favourite techniques that I recommend among the parents who come to me for help. It’s a lovely, gentle way and, although it takes much longer to achieve a full night’s sleep, it works well. It works with babies in cots and older children in beds too – so it’s also one of my favourite techniques.
Now, many parents, like me don’t like either the controlled crying techniques and that is fine. As I have always said as a professional and a mum – it is your baby; you know your baby and know what will work for them and you best.
If you want to try the technique as well, sit by your little one’s cot when they are unsettled and calmly say, ‘shh’ and hold their hand. You can also stroke their arm or head or pat them.
The idea of this is pretty much the same as the Shh-Shh-Pat-Pat technique, but you stay with your baby until they fall asleep. As before, you must try and avoid stroking them to sleep, but instead just ‘be there’ if you can.
The majority of parents who use this technique tell me their babies learn to self settle in less than 10 days. They weren’t stroked to sleep. They simply fell asleep knowing their parent were beside them. It’s all about reassurance and kindness.
As the days move on, you can move further and further away from the cot until you are near the door. Your baby will still be able to see you at this point. It is surprising, in my own experiences and those of others, how quickly this works.
Eventually you move outside the door still saying, ‘shh-shh’. You will find there is no need to stay in the room.
It’s a very long-winded self-settling technique but it works and it’s so much nicer than listening to your baby cry and scream.
Other gentle methods
There are many other sleep training techniques and advice that I offer to parents including dealing with nightmares and fears in the night, early risers and frequent wakers of al ages. All these feature in my new Baby sleep book ‘The Baby Bedtime book – say goodnight to sleepless nights!’ You can ore order a copy from Amazon here or Waterstones here.
Using these sleep training techniques (if followed correctly) should leave you with a happy sleeper not a nightmare napper within only a few days.
When it all goes wrong – and it will do some nights even with a perfect sleeper, try and think what could be wrong.
With babies it’s more difficult because they can’t communicate. Here’s where this little baby bedtime checklist comes in handy! And what’s awesome is – it spells out thinner! (Not that thinner is a winner – I just quite like a good mnemonic!)
My top tips to saying goodnight to sleepless nights!
1- Are they too hot or cold? Check your childs sleeping area is comfortable, at the right temperature (not too hot or too cold) and that their room is a happy place to sleep.
2- Are they comfortable? Ensure your child is in comfortable clothing – try a sleeping bag to avoid kicking off of blankets in the night – a common problem of waking! Socks! I see this repeated everywhere yet so many parents don’t realise that babies get very cold feet- this can wake them up! Pop some socks over their pyjamas!
3- Are they hungry? – Ensure your baby child has had a good last meal/feed (older children good portion at tea and light snack and drink before bed, babies good milk feed/formula portion.)
4- Routine is the magic key! A Good bedtime routine -Bath, Book, milk, bed and a good daily routine, really is the magic key to a god night’s sleep.
5 – Always comfort night terrors/poorly poppets – Night terrors come and go. It’s essential to always comfort a child who has had a bad dream or night terror, but to avoid getting them out of their bed or room. Simply reassure them, a nice cuddle then back to sleep. Avoid night terrors by avoiding Childrens scary books or TV programs before bed and look around the room for things that may trigger worries such as dressing gowns hanging on doors, open cupboards, (remember when you were little- the things that frightened you?) The same applies to littlies suffering with poorliness or teething. Don’t use any sleep training techniques and offer comfort always.
6- Preperation is the key! Make bedtime a nice time not a grumpy ‘I don’t want to go to bed’ time by always preparing little ones in advance that activities are coming to an end and the bedtime routine is starting.
I hope these tips help you, like hundreds of other parents into gaining a happy sleeper and a happier night for all.
‘The Baby Bedtime Book – Say Goodnight to Sleepless Nights!’ has ALL 5* reviews and is available here.
Watch my top sleep tips tutorial here: