We pride ourselves in being unbiased gear experts. Learn more about how we research, expertly review and curate products here.
The first few months, or, let’s face it, the first year, can be tough on not only baby’s sleep, but your own. Whether you’ve just brought baby home from the hospital or your once good sleeper is starting to experience sleep problems, getting baby to sleep—and sleep through the night—is something most new and seasoned parents have to deal with.
If your little one is not sleeping well, you may notice:
- Overtiredness where they’re too tired to relax or fall asleep
- Missing naps
While we’d love to say we have the secret sauce to getting baby to sleep, we definitely don’t. And it’s something a lot of the parent’s at GoodBuy Gear have had questions about as well. That’s why we interviewed Carolynne J. Harvey, a baby sleep expert, author and the owner and founder of Dream Baby Sleep.
As a once sleep-deprived mom who broke every rule in the book, she’s been there, and she’s giving us all of her advice to one of the most common parenting questions: why won’t my baby sleep?
Common Reasons Baby Isn’t Sleeping Through the Night
To start, it’s important to keep in mind that “no babies sleep through the night right away and it’s totally normal if your newborn won’t sleep very long when they’re first born,” Carolynne says. “Newborn bodies are not born producing melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy at night, so their bodies are not telling them ‘night is for sleep!’ until they are closer to 16 weeks old. This makes sleeping through the night a tall order for young newborns.”
However, if your little one is out of the newborn stage or isn’t sleeping for more than 30 minutes at a time, there may be another sleep issue at play. While our kiddos may experience temporary sleep disruptions such as teething or sickness, there are some sleep issues that are harder to spot and fix. Carolynne weighs in on three common reasons your baby isn’t sleeping through the night:
- They’re hungry: “Newborns need to feed eight to 12 times each day, including overnight,” Carolynne says. “Your baby may be waking up hungry, and even if not, you’ll need to wake them for night feedings.”
- They’re experiencing the Moro reflex: “If your baby is a newborn and isn’t swaddled, they may be waking at night due to something called the ‘Moro reflex’ (also called the startle reflex), which makes babies feel like they are falling when they are placed on their backs,” says Carolynne.
- They don’t know how to put themselves back to sleep: Carolynne reminds us that “it’s important to be realistic about what ‘sleep through the night’ means; none of us actually sleep through the night, she says. “Your baby needs to learn how to put themselves back to sleep when they wake up, which is a skill. When they’re brand new, they’re too young to know how.”
Medical Reasons Baby Won’t Sleep Through the Night
In some cases, there are specific medical and developmental reasons that impact baby’s sleep. According to Carolynne, the most common medical reasons baby may not be sleeping through the night are reflux and the inability to gain weight well.
“If your baby has reflux, the discomfort can make it difficult for them to sleep, let alone all night. If your baby is not gaining weight well, it also may be medically advised to wake them more often at night for feeds, meaning they don’t sleep through the night,” she explains. If your little one is experiencing either of these issues, contact your Pediatrician for the best solution.
Environmental Reasons Baby Won’t Sleep Through the Night
Just like adults, your baby’s environment and bedtime routine can impact whether or not they sleep through the night. Noise, light and temperature are all environmental factors that can prevent your little one from a good night’s sleep.
To mitigate these disrupters, Carolynne recommends checking the below before baby’s bedtime:
- Check their room temperature: “Too hot or too cold may cause your baby to wake up uncomfortable. The ideal sleep temperature for a baby’s room is 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit,” Carolynne says.
- Make sure the room is dark: “You also want to make sure the room is very dark, particularly in the early morning hours—even a crack of light at 5 a.m. can make some babies think it’s morning. Invest in some good blackout shades to prevent this,” she recommends.
- Limit noise: Carolynne suggests a white noise machine for baby’s room. “Not only can this cover-up sounds in your house so a sudden noise doesn’t wake them, but it can also remind them of the sound when they were in the womb, which can help comfort them for sleep.”
What if My Baby Won’t Sleep On Their Back?
“Placing your baby on their back is the safest way for them to sleep,” says Carolynne. “You should not be placing your baby in their crib on their stomachs or sides.” Having baby sleep on their back is the best way to prevent infant sleep-related deaths like SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
According to Carolynne, the best way to get your little one to sleep on their back is to practice. “Try getting them nice and sleepy rocking them, then placing them down. It may take some time, but it’s the best way to keep them safe,” she explains.
How to Get Baby To Sleep Through the Night
Getting your little one, especially your newborn, to sleep through the night is not easy. Lullabies and cuddles only go so far. Here are Carolynne’s top tips for getting your baby to sleep through the night:
- Tip #1: “The first thing I’d do is make sure their weight gain is on track and they are getting adequate daytime calories, so that it is developmentally appropriate for them to go overnight without eating,” she suggests. “They should be eating every 2-3 hours during the day to ensure they’re eating enough to go long stretches at night. Talk to your pediatrician if you have questions about their caloric intake.”
- Tip #2: “Next, it’s important that your baby learn how to put themselves to sleep, so that when they do wake up, they have the tools to learn how to go back to sleep independently. At Dream Baby Sleep we use four gentle sleep training methods to teach them this skill, and any of them will work,” she explains. “But you do need to wait to start this process until their little bodies are ready, about 16 weeks old, as that is the age when their bodies start producing the sleep hormone, melatonin, on their own.”
On top of that, it’s important to not overstimulate or wake your little one during night changes or feedings. Some night wakings are inevitable, so if they do wake up for breastfeeding or a nighttime change, stay calm and speak softly to avoid them becoming overstimulated.
Should You Ever Let Baby Cry it Out?
Yes, you can let baby cry it out as long as it works for your family. “Cry it out is an option once your baby is developmentally old enough for sleep training (usually about 16 weeks, adjusted),” says Carolynne. However, you may not be comfortable with letting them cry it out, and that’s okay.
According to the AAP, letting baby cry it out can help them learn how to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own. Start by letting your little one cry it out for a few minutes and then extend the time frame from there. Of course, this does not apply to diaper changes, feeding times or if they are sick.
How to Get Baby To Sleep During the Day
Baby naps are a lifesaver for new parents. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, newborns sleep around 16-17 hours a day, usually at one or two-hour intervals. If your little one is not sleeping during the day, Carolynne recommends trying out the below tips to get them back on a solid naptime sleep schedule.
- Tip #1: “Go outside while they’re awake! Exposing them to sunlight will help their bodies as they learn to produce that melatonin. Activities out of the house can also help tire them out for their next nap,” she suggests.
- Tip #2: “Offer naps frequently, and if naps in the crib are a struggle, it’s okay to have a few naps a day be out and about in the car seat, in the stroller or while babywearing,” she says. “You can choose one nap per day to practice in the crib: for the rest, just focus on making sure they’re not getting overtired.”
Sleep Considerations By Age
Sleep habits will vary by age. Here are the most important sleep problems and considerations Carolynne says to keep in mind at each stage.
- Newborn phase, 0-2 months old: “Remember this catchphrase: sleep begets sleep. Some parents are tempted to reduce daytime sleep thinking it will make their baby sleep more at night, but this is the opposite of how sleep actually works. The more well-rested they are, the easier it is for them to fall asleep the next time, although you should not let any single nap last more than two hours (this is to make sure you have adequate time for daytime feedings). You also want to be doing lots of tummy time! Start on day one at home,” she explains.
- 3-4 months old: “You may run into the dreaded four-month sleep regression. They may start waking more often at night. Refer to our survival guide to get through this period,” she says. “But know the most important things are that your baby is probably learning to roll, a huge developmental leap, and in order to let them practice that skill, you really want to maximize tummy time.”
- 5-6 months old: “At about five months of age, naps should improve and your baby should be on a three nap schedule, with naps at roughly 9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 3 p.m.,” she says.
- 7-8 months old: “At this stage, babies drop their third nap and transition to a two nap schedule, with naps around 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.,” she explains.
- 9-10 months old: “During this phase, watch out for babies who are learning to pull up to stand. They may want to practice this skill in their cribs,” Carolynne says. “Keep your sleep routines the same and it should pass.”
- 11-12 months old: “When your baby is almost a year old, there is a 12-month sleep regression that often hits,” she explains. “ Don’t assume it’s from the two daily naps and drop to one nap too early—it’s best to delay the one nap transition until your baby is between 14 and 19 months old.”
Expert Recommended Products to Help Baby Sleep
Here are the top baby sleep products Carolynne recommends for better sleep.
- 4moms MamaRoo Sleep Bassinet: “This bassinet is a safe sleep environment that provides gentle motion, which is great for babies who sleep better when they are moving. It also has built-in white noise! It can be a great tool in teaching your baby independent sleep, as it creates an ideal sleep environment,” Carolynne explains.
- Yoga Sleep Hush Portable White Noise Machine: “This is great to keep with you in your stroller or diaper bag for on-the-go naps. The white noise is a great cue for babies to tell their brains it’s time to sleep,” she says.
- Ollie Swaddle: “I love this swaddle because it’s adjustable for babies of any size, fits snug tight and is a cinch to close even when you’re exhausted,” Carolynne recommends.
Honorable mentions from the GoodBuy Gear Experts:
- Magic Merlin Sleepsuit
- Ingenuity Foldaway Rocking Wood Bassinet
- Lullaby Earth Healthy Crib Mattress
- Nuna SENA Aire Travel Crib
Remember: newborns aren’t born producing melatonin, so sleep issues are to be expected when you first bring them home from the hospital. If your little one isn’t sleeping through the night right away, that’s OK. “Baby sleep can be tricky, but that doesn’t mean sleepless nights and #tiredasamother is a badge of honor. If you're struggling with sleep you're not alone,” Carolynne says.
Try some of the tips above to help get baby’s sleep (and your own) back on track. And, make sure you’re equipped with the right sleep gear to make bedtime a breeze.
If you'd like to book Carolynne, she can be found on TotSquad.com.