What to do when your baby doesn’t want to sleep

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According to my mother I never slept as a baby. The way she tells it, I never even closed my eyes, not even for a five-minute power nap. I think she must have muttered “wait until you have kids” under her breath a million times a day because none of my four children slept.

The boys were better and they got the hang of it after about 18 months but the girls took a little longer; Kiara was five before she properly slept through and Emma (who is four) co-sleeps because then we know she will sleep. Over the last 16 years, I’ve learnt a few things about getting your babies to sleep which hopefully will help those of you struggling with babies that don’t love to sleep.

“It does feel, in those early weeks, like you will never sleep again but you will and so will your baby.”

  1. Routines help. I have always been pretty flexible with daily routines, but we had a strict night-time routine with all the kids when they were babies. Bath time was at the same time, then bottle and into bed. Often, actually getting the baby to sleep can take some time, but I found having the set routine did help a lot.
  1. Do what feels right. We tried a few different methods over the years; some of them felt completely wrong, so we stopped them. I had friends who were doing the same things that didn’t work for us with success and that is okay. Every child is different, every family is different. You have to find what works for you.
  2. Get help. Don’t try to do it alone. Sleep deprivation is destructive and can be dangerous. My husband and I would take turns to get up for the kids at night. When Emma was a baby he did travel, which was tough, but I had an amazing nanny who took over during the day, so I could at least recharge. There is no shame in asking for help.
  3. Shut out the noise. The minute I would tell people my baby doesn’t sleep, I was hit with a barrage of tips, ideas and advice on what I should do. Stop breastfeeding, start solids, let them cry it out, try Gina Ford, put them into your bed, medicate them, get a night nurse and so it went on. Find one or two people whose advice you trust and turn to them. There are so many conflicting ideas on how to get babies to sleep, it can be as overwhelming as the sleep deprivation.
  4. It does get easier. I can say with certainty that it does get easier. The baby that kept me awake for six weeks straight is now a teenager who has caught up on all those missed hours, and then some. It does feel, in those early weeks, like you will never sleep again but you will and so will your baby.
  1. Look after yourself. When it is your first baby you can quickly become so caught up in tending to the needs of your little one that you forget you are a person as well. Make sure you are eating regularly and drinking enough water, especially if you are breastfeeding. Get out of the house, meet a friend for coffee or just do some grocery shopping alone.

General tips and tricks that we tried. Some worked, and some didn’t:

  • Swaddle your baby. Wrapping them up tightly makes them feel safe and secure (and nice and warm in winter).
  • Massage your baby after their bath with some safe baby oils that contain lavender.
  • Play some white noise for them in their room.
  • A night light offers gentle, soft light and may help if you are struggling with older babies.
  • Blackout curtains can help if you live somewhere where the sun sets late.
  • Give them a comfort toy/taglet. They will come to associate this with sleep.

Every baby is different and it is often a game of trial and error to try figure out what works for your baby. The good news is that it doesn’t last forever; your baby will sleep through and so will you.

laura-kim le roux harassed mommyLaura has four children ranging in age from 16 to four. She runs her own business from her home in the mornings and in the afternoon, she turns into mom’s taxi and takes her many kids to and from their various afterschool activities. In-between all of that she blogs over at HarassedMom about her journey as a mom.

Also read:

How to swaddle your newborn baby
Why is sleep training such a heated debate?