How to Get Your Baby to Sleep on Their Own Without a Fight.
Baby sleep is a widely discussed topic – and it’s something everyone seems to have an opinion on. While new parents may have questions like, “is my baby sleeping too much?” “how can I get my newborn to sleep alone?” “what is infant sleep training?” and “how can I get my baby to sleep when they’re overtired?”. Baby sleep problems are a real thing, and they’re certainly not a fun thing to go through.
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My biggest question, as a new mom, was “how can I get my baby to sleep?” (and I did frequent searches on “how to get your baby to sleep on their own” because our son would sleep okay when he was being held, but NOT when he was in this). See, our son likes to fight sleep. He will fight it until he hits a point of exhaustion, and once he hits that point it’s nearly impossible to get him to sleep. (Spoiler: overtired babies DON’T sleep well.)
It’s not a fun place to be.
So, to avoid that, I’ve started looking for the very first signs that he may be tired (we’ll talk more about baby sleep cues in a bit), and as soon as I see them, I start getting him ready to go down for a nap or down for the night.
⭐ (This is the baby sleep book I’m reading to learn more about baby sleep, while I help my son put himself to sleep. So far, I’m very impressed with the things they teach. While I don’t follow everything exactly as they recommend, I’ve taken what works for us and left what doesn’t – and I’ve been able to create my baby’s sleep method according to the things I’ve learned here.)
Some babies will sleep better than others, and my husband and I got (blessed with) a baby who didn’t sleep well. From the moment we had him he had his nights and days mixed up, and unlike most babies who get their nights and days figured out in less than a week, it took our son several weeks to get his figured out, then after he did learn that night was for sleep, he was still waking every two hours to feed.
Which isn’t terrible.
Except that he would then stay awake for an hour after each feeding – and then would be awake an hour later. He was tired and he wanted to sleep, and my husband and I both wanted to sleep, but we didn’t know what our son needed to fall asleep because it seemed like nothing we did worked.
After a couple more weeks of extreme sleep deprivation and postpartum hormones that were ALL over the place, I finally found something that worked to get our son to sleep, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
I don’t plan on making any changes until this gentle sleep training method I discovered no longer works.
Keep in mind while you’re trying to rock your overtired baby to sleep that compared to other mammals, babies are born incredibly prematurely. Ideally, babies would like to stay inside the womb for another 3 months to finish maturing. But, if babies did stay inside us for another trimester, their brains would be too big to fit through the birth canal – therefore, they have to be born before they are actually ready.
The fourth trimester and babies
Since babies are technically born 3 months early, us moms should treat their first three months outside the womb as another trimester of pregnancy.
Do you ever wonder why your newborn needs to be held and will scream the second you put them down? They long to be close to you. Do you wonder why your newborn doesn’t sleep well in a quiet room? Contrary to what many people believe, the womb was actually quite a loud atmosphere for your baby (therefore, babies like the sound of white noise).
Does your baby fare better in a room with a night light? Inside the womb isn’t as dark as you may think – streams of sunlight flow through our skin and uterine walls to our baby.
To make those first few months with your baby easier, think of your baby like they still need to be inside the womb, but they had to come out (due to the size of their brain). They need extra care and extra cuddles that first trimester outside the womb while they transition to life apart from everything they’re used to (far earlier than they want to be).
All this to say, if you get frustrated because your baby only wants to sleep in your arms, is waking up many times at night, and needs to constantly be nursing or just near you, give your little babe a bit of grace – they should still be inside the womb, but they had to come out, so it’s up to you to help them feel safe and warm, just like they were when you were pregnant with them.
You can learn more about the fourth trimester from the Happiest Baby, here. You can also read their book, which tells you how to soothe your newborn baby and get better sleep, all based on the fourth trimester, here.
Help! My baby is tired but won’t go to sleep
I know the feeling of sheer exhaustion, frustration, and bitter tears from hours upon hours of rocking a baby in the middle of the night that just won’t go to sleep. I know what it’s like to sit on the couch at 3 in the morning, crying, because you don’t know what to do to soothe your, also crying, baby.
It’s difficult, emotionally and physically exhausting, and more draining than anything else you’ll ever do.
You KNOW your baby is tired, but they just won’t go to sleep (or they keep waking up). And you’re stuck wondering “how to get an overtired newborn to sleep?”. (I’ve been there too – Googling all the things.)
If you can obviously tell that your baby is tired (yawning, red eyes, fussier than normal), there’s a good chance that your baby is past just tired and is now into the state of being overtired.
And, as brutal as it is, overtired babies just don’t sleep very well.
Well-rested babies sleep far better than over-tired babies, so to avoid running into this problem again, at the very first signs your baby shows that he/she is getting tired, start their bedtime/naptime routine and put them down to sleep before they’re too tired, even if you don’t think they’re ready to sleep yet. (You’d be surprised!)
(If you don’t know when to put your baby to sleep, this guide explains everything you need to know from awake time between naps, length of naps, and number of naps a day according to your baby’s age.)
I got into the bad habit of waiting until our son was wailing before I put him down to sleep. I would hold and play with him, and even though he would yawn here and there and rub his face, I ignored these signs in an attempt to keep him up just a little bit longer (the longer I keep him up, the longer he’ll sleep… right?).
Then, by the time I noticed he was tired, he wasn’t just tired. He was overtired.
And then it would be a fight to get him to sleep.
Eventually, even though when I was pregnant I swore we wouldn’t do it – if our son just wasn’t sleeping at night, I would bring him into bed with us and we would co-sleep. But, after co-sleeping for a few weeks and realizing it was just a temporary solution to a problem that would continue to persist if we didn’t nip it in the butt now, I started desperately trying to find out how to get baby to sleep in the crib after co-sleeping.
Anytime we tried to get him to sleep in his crib he would cry and cry and we assumed it just wasn’t going to happen – but we didn’t know why. (Later we learned that part of the reason why our son never wanted to sleep in his own bed was because he did NOT like the cradle we had him in. After we switched him to a bassinet, he slept much better. This is the cradle we used that he didn’t sleep well in. Could that be the reason why YOUR baby is sleeping poorly?)
For weeks we struggled with this, and it wasn’t until I learned to look for his early signs of being tired and start getting him ready for his nap right then that we finally stopped having such a hard time with bedtime.
So do yourself a favor and learn your baby’s early signs of being tired and get them ready for bed then, not later. If you aren’t sure what your baby’s early sleep cues are, here are a couple common ones to watch out for:
Some baby sleep cues include:
💜 rubbing eyes/face
💜 pulling at their ears
💜 zoning out/sleepy & glazed over eyes
💜 long blinks/heavy eyelids
💜 making grunting noises
And, of course, once they’ve shown some early signs of being tired, one of the most noticeable signs of tiredness is:
Try to get your baby into bed and asleep before they get to the crying stage of tired. Doing this will make your, and your baby’s, life so much easier.
✅ Before you start ANY form of sleep training (or unsleep training), you should have this on hand.
Baby sleep was always a fight for us
For weeks upon weeks, we struggled with getting our baby to sleep. Baby sleep seemed impossible to us. I spent my 3am hours researching how to get my baby to sleep while he screamed in my arms. I tried everything I found but couldn’t find anything that worked for our son.
We spent hours in the rocking chair, I spent many sleepless nights walking and jogging around our house in an attempt to get him to settle down and stop crying, we got this night light (which, if nothing else, made those middle-of-the-night changes and nursing sessions a lot easier rather than trying to find everything in a pitch black room), I bounced him around the kitchen and laundry room listening to the sound of the dishwasher and dryer in an attempt to settle him. But nothing worked.
Later, my husband and I found out that our son struggled with colic, which made us realize that it wasn’t the fact that we were doing something wrong that was causing him to cry all day and night which helped us be able to start looking into new ways to soothe and comfort him.
One day while searching everywhere possible for some kind of solution, I finally found something that worked to settle our son enough for him to fall asleep.
And not just fall asleep.
But fall asleep ON HIS OWN. In his own cradle. (We use this kind of cradle because it rocks, so if he gets fussy in the middle of the night we can gently rock it and he will usually fall back asleep. UPDATE: We later learned that our cradle was part of the problem of our son’s bad sleep!)
What I started doing didn’t solve all our problems. Our son was still colicky, but we were finally able to get him to fall asleep easier and faster, which resulted in him getting longer naps, allowing me to get some more rest, and making the countless nighttime feedings and all the crying a lot more bearable. (Everything is 100 times worse when you’re sleep deprived.)
The one thing to do to get your baby to sleep without a fight
What I started doing to get our son to fall asleep without being held, rocked, or nursed to sleep, was lay him down in his cradle when he was still awake but quite drowsy, and walk away.
When people talk about baby sleep they usually leave you there. “Lay baby down awake but drowsy”, as if that will make your baby fall asleep on their own.
Maybe it works for some babies, but not ours. As soon as I would walk away our son would start crying.
When he started crying, I would set a timer on my phone for 1 minute. Once the timer went off I would go into the room and roll him onto his side in the cradle and pat his back in a heartbeat like rhythm (one, two, break, one, two, break) and make a “shhhhhhh” sound next to his head (be sure not to blow into your baby’s ear when you do this).
I would do this until he stopped crying, then I would leave the room again (even if he wasn’t asleep yet).
Then, as soon as he would start crying again, I set another 1-minute timer. After a minute I go back into the room and repeat the same steps (heartbeat rhythm patting on his back along with making a “shhhhhh” sound next to his head). When he stopped crying I would leave again.
I repeat this process as many times as it takes until he falls asleep. Sometimes I could leave his room and he wouldn’t make a peep for 10 – 15 minutes, so I would assume he was asleep, but then he would start crying again, so I would go back in and repeat the process.
Eventually, he would fall asleep.
And that’s how I get our son to fall asleep on his own in his own bed. That is my form of infant sleep training. I chose this form of sleep training because I didn’t want to let our son cry it out – especially at such a young age. Every time you do this form of gentle baby sleep training your child should take shorter times to fall asleep. When the first couple of days it might be an hour of going into their room, patting their back and “shhhhhing” them until they settle down, it should take less and less time each day after that, when they start to get used to the routine.
I know this kind of baby sleep training won’t work for every baby – but if you’re desperately looking for something to get your baby to sleep on their own, without crying it out, I would suggest giving this a try!
I don’t do well with listening to our son cry, so if he would start crying too hard, instead of waiting 1 minute before going in to his room sometimes I would only wait 30 seconds.
Alter this sleep training method to work for you and your baby, and give it a shot. In my experience, this is the best way to get our baby to sleep on his own.
How to get a newborn to sleep without being held
To recap, here’s how to make baby sleep on his own, and the best way how to get your baby to self soothe to sleep:
Let your baby relax in your arms/somewhere they enjoy until they are drowsy but not sleeping, then lay them down in their bed and leave the room. Then:
💜 when baby starts crying, set a timer for 30 seconds – 1 minute
💜 go back into the room and pat baby on the back in a heartbeat rhythm (one, two, break. One, two, break)
💜 make a “shhhhhhh” sound next to baby’s head
💜 once baby stops crying leave the room
💜 repeat these steps until baby falls asleep
If you’re wondering “when can babies fall asleep on their own?” the answer is: right from birth! With this gentle sleep training method, you’re not letting your newborn cry it out until they cry themselves asleep (crying it out for newborns is not recommended). However, what you are doing is using these newborn sleep tips and teaching them to put themselves to sleep, with a bit of help from you.
Using this baby sleep training method is the best way to prepare your baby for better sleep. No, it won’t stop your newborn from waking up in the middle of the night for feedings – that’s just normal newborn sleep patterns – but it will help your baby learn from a very young age to fall asleep on their own.
Baby sleep training books
If you’re interested in more things regarding infant sleep training, here are a couple of my most recommended sleep training baby books to help you get your baby sleeping soundly through the night in no time.
(PS – if you’re wondering what age can baby sleep through the night, most experts recommend that the baby be about 3 months old, or at least 12 pounds.)
Sleep training baby books
💜 The SleepEasy Solution: <—- (this is the one we’re using) the exhausted parent’s guide to getting your child to sleep from birth to age five
💜 The Happiest Baby on the Block: The new way to calm crying and help your newborn baby sleep longer
💜Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child: a step-by-step program for a good night’s sleep
💜 The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle ways to help your baby sleep through the night
💜 Twelve Hours Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old: A step-by-step plan for baby sleep success
💜 On Becoming Babywise: Giving your infant the gift of nighttime sleep
If you tried this gentle baby sleep training with your baby I would love to hear how it went for you! Do you have other gentle sleep training tips for babies? I’d love to hear from you!