How to get a baby to sleep through the night

Getting a newborn baby to sleep throughout the night is one of the major problems facing new parents. A baby demanding constant attention during the night leads to sleep deprivation, and sleep deprivation can have the same effect as being drunk. You wouldn’t look after a baby whilst drunk (would you??), so it is important for you, and baby, to get a good sleep at night.

Early on, baby will not physically be capable of sleeping all the way through the night, she will need feeding and changing every so often, so, in the early days at least, you will have to accept that baby will not sleep through the night, no matter what you do. As time goes on, however, there are things you can do to give your baby the tools required to sleep an entire night.

  1. Have a bedtime routine. This may be as simple as giving baby a bath and a feed just before bedtime. Once baby learns the routine, she will soon understand that the time to sleep is coming.
  2. Put baby in her own bed from day one. Don’t let baby sleep with you, even though this may be easier for you when it comes to breast feeding during the night. Baby needs to get used to her own bed, and, later on, after 6 months or so, her own bed in her own room, separate from you.
  3. When you do get up during to night, to feed baby or change her nappy, try not to use the main light in the room, it is bright, and baby will probably get confused and think it is daytime. Instead, use a lamp or a dimmed light of some sort. I used a lamp which was placed behind another object just to dim it. Baby will get the hint that it is still night and you are only changing her nappy or giving her a feed before putting her back to bed.
  4. The last feed of the day should happen as close to bedtime as possible, and try to get baby to drink as much as possible. I found a big feed last thing at night kept baby going for (almost!) long enough for me to recover my senses after a hard day of childcare.
  5. As baby gets older, try not to respond to her cries as soon as she makes them. Give her 5 minutes before rushing to see what the matter is, and, as time goes on, gradually increase the time you give her before you go to her. This serves 2 purposes. Firstly, baby might find a way to get herself to sleep (thumb sucking, for instance), and secondly, it lets baby know that you are not at her beck and call and that she needs to find a way to settle herself back down. Hard as this may seem in the short term, the longer term benefits for both baby and you are worth it.
  6. When you do go to see baby, spend as little time with her as possible, especially if she doesn’t need a nappy change or a feed. Gradually decrease the amount of contact by not picking her up for as long, then not picking her up at all and just stroking her and singing soothing rhymes. Although it can be hard to do this if baby is going nuts, so I’ll forgive you if you can’t keep this one up!
  7. Only change a nappy at night time if it is dirty. Don’t pick baby up to see if the nappy is dirty, pretty soon you will develop finely tuned smelling senses that will let you know when baby has pooped. As long as you use sudocrem baby shouldn’t be troubled to much by nappy rash.
  8. As the time between feeding and nappy changing gradually increases, resist the urge to get up at 6 in the morning just because baby is awake. Once baby realises that you get up at 6, she’ll think that that is OK and will come to expect it. If you do not get up and do not provide stimulation for baby, they are less likely to want to get up at silly times in the morning.
  9. Make sure baby is warm enough. In summer, this is easy enough, but as the winter nights draw in, you might have to experiment with the central heating settings and timings to ensure that baby is warm enough in the morning. A cold baby is not a happy baby.
  10. Avoid dummies. I made the mistake of offering my daughter a dummy to get her to sleep at night, and looking back I realise it was just a quick solution to the problem (give me a break, she is my first child!). Now she only goes to sleep with a dummy, and at some point, there is going to be hell to pay when she stops getting it. My saving grace is that she knows she only gets the dummy at sleep time, though I suppose this is now ingrained as part of her routine.

Update (24/01/2008) : I finally had the chutzpah to stop giving baby a dummy at night… Read about it here.

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