Are you a desperately tired new parent that’s learning how to get a baby to sleep? Maybe you’re a veteran parent, but this baby is a different beast than the last one, or two, or three. I myself was a sleep-deprived parent whose baby would fight sleep ALL. THE. TIME. Some nights it would take 2 hours to get him down, and naptimes were a complete crapshoot.
During the day, I had no time to myself, and, in the evenings, my husband and I never had time together. I felt like I spent most of my day and night bouncing, rocking, nursing and pacing my baby to sleep.
It may go without saying, but my new mom life was rough, until I found an easy way to get my little one to sleep: a bedtime routine.
After I established a bedtime routine, otherwise known as a ritual, to transition my baby from playtime to sleep time I found my baby fought less, and I had more time to myself.
So how can you apply what I learned to yours and your baby’s sleepless life?
I’ll first explain the significance of a routine for your child, then give you an uncomplicated ritual you can start today, so you too can learn how to get a baby to sleep!
The Importance of Routine for Kids
I want you to think back to when you were in grade school. Do you remember how your class acted when there was a substitute teacher? It wasn’t the best, in fact, it was probably far from it.
Why would a seemingly well behaved class turn into the spawn of Satan when a sub arrived? It’s because kids love routine. They don’t know it, but they do. So, when a substitute replaced the teacher, the daily rituals became askew, and with it, their behavior did too.
With this background knowledge and firsthand experience, I do not know why it took me so long to apply that same logic to my baby.
In desperation, I started to research my problem and found that my baby needed some further guidance to fall asleep!
By 3 months old my baby was no longer considered a newborn and, according to life-saving book The Happiest Baby on the Block, he could start learning to self-soothe. I knew then would be the appropriate time to make a change.
As a side note, if you are a new parent trying to learn more about your newborn’s sleep habits, you need to get yourself a copy of The Happiest Baby on the Block. The book really changed my life during those first months as a tired new mom, and gave me tips on how to change it! It even comes equipped with swaddling techniques!
How and Why a Ritual Can Help Your Baby Sleep
I found that one way I could help my baby sleep better was to establish a set of rituals to do with him prior to each bedtime.
Important to Note: These rituals should be paired with the proper wake time window. For more information on this magical trick to get a baby to sleep, check out my post on wake times, here! (You can thank me later!)
The routine is straight-forward and mirrors the concept of Pavlov’s Dogs Theory, otherwise known as classical conditioning. Basically, this guy, Pavlov, would ring a bell each time he fed his dogs. Eventually, he found that when the dogs heard the bell, they began to salivate before seeing food because they now understood it was time to eat.
Although your baby is NOT a dog, he or she can be trained to understand it’s time to sleep when your ritual begins.
The routine is a series of things you would like to do with your baby before sleep. Make sure it’s something fairly short that you can consistently keep up with, as sometimes you may be doing this ritual 6-8 times per day.
Although feeding can be part of the routine, you should wait at least 15-20 minutes after feeding to lay your baby down for bed. This time gap can help avoid any feeding and sleep association problems that may occur later on.
What a Sleep Routine Looks Like
Here is a sample of the nap routine I use. Of course, yours can be adapted to better fit your situation!
- Schedule sleep based on wake time window for appropriate age
- Feed baby (I feed 15 minutes prior to the start of the sleep routine)
- Change diaper
- Read a book or two
- Close blackout curtains
- Turn off lights
- Turn on white noise
- Sing two lullabies while holding baby (can bounce, rock, walk, whatever works!)
- Lay baby down directly after songs
- Give pacifier (I place several in his bed)
- Leave the room
*As seen on Shark Tank, the Zipadee Zip is an awesome swaddle transition we use for our baby after he learned how to roll. You can check it out here! I seriously swear by this thing. Read my review of this product here.
What If Baby Keeps Crying?
After I leave the room, I’ll watch my baby on the monitor. When first implementing the routine, he would often cry and fuss and still does from time to time. Typically, I wait about 5 minutes before “coming to the rescue,” as I believe it’s important for him to try to soothe himself first (or at least learn how).
If I do need to intervene, I do not pick him up, make eye contact with him, or talk to him. I know, I feel pretty stone cold, but these actions can re-engage him. I will comfort him by rubbing his back or belly, while making a suuushing noise.
By the time my baby was 5 months there was a lot less crying… a LOT LESS. Now, if he does cry, I wait 10-15 minutes. He does know how to self-soothe, so I try to wait it out as best as possible. By 6 months, he does not cry at all and typically falls asleep in 5-15 minutes for each sleep time.
Is this routine a perfect system?
Absolutely not! We live in baby world now, and you never know what’s going to happen there. Sometimes patting his back is just not enough. If this issue occurs, I pick him up, rock him, cuddle him, and/or feed him, and that’s okay with me! I just don’t make a habit of it. After months of completing this routine, I know what is normal behavior for my child, and you will too!
If your baby is new to the routine and just not getting it after 20 minutes, take a short break, and try the routine again later. With such a large gap between the ritual and trying to fall asleep, it will be difficult for them to make the conditioning connection. During this break, I’ll hang out with him in his room and try to keep it quiet.
After your baby is already trained, it may take them 20-30 minutes to fall asleep. If they’re not crying, leave them alone and wait to see the results.
Success Takes Time
This ritual is a commitment. Just like Pavlov’s dogs, it will take time and consistency before your baby can make a connection. The more you stick with it, the easier it will become. Quite honestly, If I have to sing Mary Freaking Had a Little Lamb 6-8 times a day, then sing I shall, because this is how to get a baby to sleep!
After much patience and dedication, I am shocked with how easy it can be to put my little one to bed. I also love how much more time I have to myself. He now embraces his sleep, usually chatting to himself for awhile before heading off to dreamland.
I have time to myself during the day while he naps, and my husband and I can enjoy our dinner and watch our favorite shows without having to do a crazy dance with our baby before bed. In other words, the ritual SAVES LIVES… well, at least your social life.
The Bottom Line
Kids respond well to routines. Even babies! If you are having trouble with how to get a baby to sleep, try to incorporate a ritual that you consistently do prior to bed times. Your baby will eventually become conditioned to understand that these actions mean it’s time to sleep. Eventually, there will be less fighting on your baby’s part and a lot less bouncing, rocking, swaying, nursing, and pacing on yours!
What will your routine look like? Comment below and share the love with other tired parents who need their new baby’s to sleep!