How To Get Your Baby to Sleep; Help from Expert Hadley Seward
We recently spoke to sleep expert & consultant Hadley Seward from Bonne Nuit Baby. In our live Q+A on Facebook she answered your questions about baby sleeping problems, with advice on how to help them sleep well.
If you missed it, then here are some of the most commonly asked questions and answers - we hope you find something helpful so you can make sure your little one is sleeping through the night.
Meral: Hi Hadley, my baby boy is 8 months old. My struggle is with night time sleep. He has never slept through the night since he was born. I've been exclusively breastfeeding. I started weaning him when he reached 6 months but still breastfeeding him on demand because he is not eating much food yet.
He goes to bed around 8pm and then wakes up every 2 hours till 4 am for feed, he doesn't drink too much though, it's more like to help him to go back to sleep, after 4am he wakes up every 45min - 1hr till 6.30am and that's when he wakes up. During the day he naps every 3 hours, in total he has around 3hr sleep. But during the day he never sleeps anywhere else but on my lap. When I put him down to his bed, he wakes up and starts crying. It's so draining and exhausting as I've been having broken sleep for the last 8 months. Would love some advice, thank you! ( I also want to add that he started teething when he was 2 months and by the time he was 6 months he had 8 teeth)
Hadley: Thanks for your question - sounds like it's been a long and exhausting 8 months for you!
First, sleep schedule: At 8 months, your little guy should be on a 2-nap schedule (first nap around 9am and second nap around 12.30/1pm) with bedtime 3-3.5 hours after the last nap - less if he has a sleep debt. If he's too tired at bedtime, it's almost guaranteed that he'll have trouble overnight.
That being said, it sounds like his main issue is not being able to fall asleep on his own or self-soothe in between sleep cycles. In this case, I would recommend some form of sleep training (notably the Ferber or chair method) in order to help him to learn these important skills. You mentioned that you're EBF so I do want to note that sleep training doesn't automatically mean night weaning. You can schedule in an age-appropriate amount of feeds based on what your paediatrician tells you is necessary.
"Sounds like he may be going to bed too late, which would cause a lot of overnight wake-ups due to his body being so overtired by the time he settles for the night."
Jacqui: I have a 5.5 month old baby, wakes up for the day around 7.30/8am and takes three/four naps throughout the day (varying in length from about 45 mins to 1.5 hours). Was a champion night sleeper but since four months we've been having all sorts of trouble, many many night wakings (on a good night there is three between about 9/9.30pm and 5.30/6am, and on a bad night we are up every two hours. We taught self settling at 3 months but the only thing we find that works at night is nursing back to sleep. Sometimes he has big feeds so I'm assuming he's hungry, other times he just needs a cuddle and a suck to get back to sleep. Would love some advice on what we can do. Bed time is 7pm following a bath and breastfeed. Sometimes his last nap of the day will start at 5pm which I know is late but just can't stretch him until bathtime.
Hadley: Sounds like he may be going to bed too late, which would cause a lot of overnight wake-ups due to his body being so overtired by the time he settles for the night.
I don't know his nap schedule, but would aim for something like this: awake by 7am. First nap at 830/9am. Second nap at 12:30/1pm. Third nap 2 hours after the second nap. (Awake by 5pm). Bedtime 2.5 hours after the last nap - but no later than 8pm. If he skips the third nap, then you do a SUPER early bedtime whenever possible. That will help him to avoid building up sleep debt over time.
You mentioned that at 3 months, you worked on self-settling. Great! I don't know what method you used, but it may be time to revisit that if he needs to nurse in order to fall back to sleep overnight.
"I don't want to say that a baby who nurses to sleep NEVER can learn to fall asleep on her own, but those that I have worked with usually need some prodding."
Karen: My baby is now 5 months old and I'm struggling with alwwp regression that started about 4 wks ago. She used to wake only once time twice per night but now it's more like 7 or 8 times and she can't seem to stay asleep more than 1.5 hours. My questions would be - What's your opinion on sleep training before 6 months old?
How far into 4 month sleep regression should you consider that you need to try some sort of sleep training rather than waiting it out?
Can babies who feed to sleep learn to get to sleep on their own? If so, which method is best to try and at what age?
What can dad's do to help with nighttime sleep issues for a baby who will only settle when nursing?
Hadley: The 4-month sleep regression is VERY challenging and can result in everyone not getting enough sleep! Here are answers to your questions:
If you're considering sleep training, I would recommend speaking with your paediatrician to get his/her thoughts on whether or not your baby is ready for it. That being said, I've worked with many babies starting at 4 months (usually after the regression!) and it is definitely possible.
If it's been a month and you're still struggling with sleep, it's more than a phase. It's probably time to work on building healthy sleep habits and, possibly, unlearning bad habits that may have crept up. Take a look at her sleep schedule (is she on a solid 3-nap schedule? Is she going to bed early enough?) and any sleep associations she may have (e.g., eating to sleep or unable to self-soothe in between sleep cycles).
If your baby is nursing to sleep at sleep time and overnight, then 5 months is a great time to start moving away from that. You could consider sleep training (see above) - the method you use totally depends on your parenting philosophy + your child's personality. I don't want to say that a baby who nurses to sleep NEVER can learn to fall asleep on her own, but those that I have worked with usually need some prodding.
Great question about how dad can help! If you do want to stop nursing to sleep each time she wakes up overnight, you can send dad in to soothe her. Oftentimes it's easier when dad does it, since baby knows that milk doesn't come from dad. Obviously, you should go in to her when it's time for her eat overnight!
Celia: My baby is 15 week's old. He has had terrible reflux and so is only just starting to feed less frequently - now every 90min to 2hrs during the day. Also, in the last few weeks he has started to catnap more during the day. It's a struggle for him to get enough daytime sleep so he is often overtired by 5pm. If he wakes during the night, is often hard to re-settle him from 5am onwards. This is partly because we have an unavoidable nappy change and partly because he will start vomiting again.
He sleeps in our room still and we use a MORI Swaddle Bag (one arm out), a sleepyhead and white noise if unsettled. He is EBF on demand. I have 3 questions: 1. How can I start to implement a sleep schedule when his morning wake up time varies from 5-7:30am? 2. Have you any tips for re-settling back to sleep in the early morning. 3. As he is more sensitive to light/sound now would you recommend moving him into his own room.
Hadley: At 15 weeks, he's almost ready for a clock-based schedule but not quite yet. I recommend using awake windows for a bit longer. The first (morning) nap usually starts to develop around 16 weeks so you should start to see that soon.
Because he's used to eating more frequently, his body probably isn't used to long stretches of sleep during the day. You might try putting him down a tad earlier than 90 minutes to see if he's too tired by naptime so it's hard to settle. Oftentimes that can work wonders, especially if he's built up sleep debt - shorter awake windows can help to chip away at that chronic overtiredness.
For early morning wakings, ensure that his sleep environment is SUPER SUPER dark and quiet (great job with the white noise!) If you go in to settle him, treat it as an overnight waking - he doesn't "know" it's morning, so act like it's not. I would recommend keeping him in his crib until 6am and when you go in to get him up for the day, open the curtains to let in light and make sure he understands the DAY is starting.
In terms of when you move him into his own room, that's really a personal question for the parents. Some like to move their baby as soon as it's safe to do so, while others feel more comfortable having him closer for longer. Talk to your paediatrician to see what he recommends in terms of the SIDS risk and trust your mama instinct on this one!
"Most babies around this age (10 weeks) can't comfortably stay awake for more 60 minutes between naps."
Mel: My 10 week old usually only wakes for a feed 1-2 times a night but doesn't seem to want to nap during the day, is there anything I can do to help her take naps during the day? I also wondered when is a good time to start introducing a bedtime routine, at the moment I put her to bed after her 10am feed as she seems to have her longest break between feeds after that, otherwise she feeds around every 2 hours during the day.
Hadley: Most babies around this age can't comfortably stay awake for more 60 minutes between naps. Without knowing her current schedule, ask yourself if she's getting overtired between naps -- that can make it very difficult for her to settle down enough to fall asleep. I would try to stay within the 60 minute awake window period and, if you see tired signs before then, get her down even earlier. When I had a newborn, I would set the timer on my phone once he woke up from a nap so I wouldn't lose track of time. It was a lifesaver!
In terms of a sleeptime routine, you can absolutely start that now! Since you'll be putting her down often, it doesn't need to be complicated: just feed her, change diaper and/or into her swaddle/sleep sack and then sing a song or two. Do this before each nap/at bedtime and she'll quickly begin to associate the routine with sleep.
"Around 8-10 weeks, you'll notice that her nighttime sleep will become more consolidated. I'm not promising a proper overnight, but definitely more than now."
Bethan: My daughter is only 2 weeks old. She doesn't settle very well to sleep at night but we will possibly get her to sleep by 1am. She naps well in the daytime but currently she won't settle at night in her crib and only next to us in bed in her bubnest. Do you have any suggestions as to how and when to transfer her to her moses basket and possibly how to settle her earlier in the evening? We try creating a calm and darkened environment to relax her and that sometimes works. But it also means that we end up sitting in the dark all evening with no tv and limited conversions in order to not disturb her. Also any tips as to how to burp her at night without disturbing her sleep/relaxed state. Any advice would be great 😃
Hadley: At your daughter's age, there is still day/night confusion. Usually this sorts itself out by 8 weeks but in the meantime I would recommend exposing her to lots of natural light during the day (when she's awake) and darkness at night. Babies this age usually aren't too bothered by sound while they sleep, so you may try to watch tv or chat with your partner - it may not bother her after all! My husband and I used to huddle in bed with our iPad, sharing headphones, so I know what you're going through!
At her age, she probably need to nap every 45 minutes or so during the day -- keep your eye on the clock (or consider setting a timer on your phone) to avoid putting her down too late. Naps are a great time to try putting her down in her bassinet so she gets used to it -- if she protests, take her out after a minute or two. The important part is that you try consistently and that she spends some time there.
Around 8-10 weeks, you'll notice that her nighttime sleep will become more consolidated. I'm not promising a proper overnight, but definitely more than now. You're in the hardest period right now - but it will be over soon! Hang in there, mama.
"The MORI swaddle bag is brilliant -- it keeps the baby's upper body snug but allows lots of movement below the waist so there are no concerns about hip dysplasia."
Anzhelika: I’m currently expecting and I have a real fear my newborn baby might suffocate if the blanket shifts. I also don't want him to be cold throughout the night. Is it perhaps best to dress him in one of the sleeping bags?
Hadley: I absolutely recommend using a swaddle or sleeping bag for your newborn. In order to lower the risks of SIDS, you should *not* place any blankets or loose objects in your baby's crib. A swaddle bag is always the safest (and easiest!) option.
The MORI swaddle bag is brilliant -- it keeps the baby's upper body snug but allows lots of movement below the waist so there are no concerns about hip dysplasia.
Aparajita: When is a baby typically ready to drop a nap and come down to just 1 nap? My baby is almost one and naps twice so just wondering. :)
Hadley: Most babies keep the two naps until 14-15 months. Some will drop it earlier, but definitely not before 12-13 months. You'll know it's time to start the transition when she either starts to refuse the morning nap OR when she takes a long morning nap and then no afternoon nap. If she starts doing either, give it at least two weeks before dropping the nap just to be sure it isn't a nap strike.
"If you want to stop using the dummy altogether, the most direct method is just to stop offering it to her."
Alana: My daughter is 14 weeks, we gave her a dummy as she had colic and reflux, it's better now so I would like to stop using it, however at night she likes it to settle if she wakes, how do I go about stopping using it at night?
Hadley: I’m so glad that the colic and reflux have improved - I imagine they created a lot of sleep challenges for you.
If you want to stop using the dummy altogether, the most direct method is just to stop offering it to her. Some parents like this approach because it's easy to be consistent, but it will most likely result in some crying as your baby figures out another way to soothe herself.
If you don't want to go that route, you could continue to offer it to her at bedtime (or, if you are going in overnight to feed/change her) but don't replace it if it falls out and wakes her. Again, she will protest this but will quickly learn another way to soothe herself (this is when many babies discover their fingers!).
"Usually if a baby can roll independently onto her stomach to sleep, it means that she has enough neck and back strength that stomach sleeping doesn't pose a risk."
Olivia: My baby is 11 months old. She likes rolling onto her front, is this dangerous if she is sleeping?
Hadley: Usually if a baby can roll independently onto her stomach to sleep, it means that she has enough neck and back strength that stomach sleeping doesn't pose a risk. Some babies start to do this as early as five months! If yours can roll from front to back (and back to front) without much problem, I wouldn't worry about her sleeping on her stomach. But if you're concerned, it can't hurt to check with your paediatrician.
We'll be hosting monthly live Q+A sessions with Hadley over on our Facebook page, so you can get your baby-related sleep questions answered. Until then, you can drop Hadley a message herself on Bonne Nuit Baby & she'll be happy to offer further advice.