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What You Need to Know About Sleeping Through the Night Part 2

teaching baby to fall asleep

There are many big challenges with a newborn baby: figuring out the soothing thing, unbreakable swaddling, learning how to feed a baby, wrestling them to sleep, etc. Usually by the 3 month mark, those hurdles have all been conquered. You are now a confident parent rocking the baby play groups, champion of navigating the grocery store with a baby, and chilling with other parents at Starbucks.

Champion parents will also have already read What You Need to Know About Sleeping Through the Night Part 1. It’s long and not particularly funny but it will explain the single most important thing you need to know to stay the course towards sleeping all night long. Go read it and then come back when you’re done (I’ll wait).

Now you know why it is so critical that you teach your baby to fall asleep without you (nursing, rocking, cuddling, etc.).

Note: A small percentage of babies will continue to sleep well even if they are being nursed, rocked, etc. until they are fully asleep. If you are the parent of an older baby who is sleeping like a champ (then you probably aren’t looking for answers for sleep problems on the internet but….) then you may have one of these rare babies who CAN be nursed, rocked, etc. until they are completely asleep without any problems. YAY!

For the other 98% of babies, failure to teach them to fall asleep on their own leads to many sleepless nights and days filled with short crappy naps.

Putting Your Baby Down Awake

By the time your baby is ~6 months old (give or take 2 months) you need to have figured out how to put your baby down awake and have them fall asleep without your assistance.

If you have already mastered the ability to put your baby down to sleep awake, good for you! Now stop gloating and please go away, the rest of us are still struggling with this.

Every parent has read that it is important to put your baby down to sleep awake. And every parent has tried this at various points in their newborn babyhood. Some babies are pretty cool about the whole thing and after a few minutes of futzing about, fall asleep. Most babies aren’t as keen on this plan and express their displeasure loudly and at length. So you fall back on whatever technique has been working successfully for you up to that point (rocking, nursing, etc.) and you continue about your business. Until this stops working. In a big way.

How to Put Baby Down Awake

There are three primary techniques to put your baby down awake and help them fall asleep on their own.

1. Use the Baby Swing

If your baby is under ~6 months of age the baby swing can be an excellent tool to help your baby fall asleep without your personal assistance. Further, if you are currently rocking, bouncing, or wearing your baby while walking around to help your baby fall asleep then your baby is telling you that they really need motion to fall asleep.

You can choose to ignore what they are telling you and try to force the crib. Or you can hear this message and embrace, temporarily, the baby swing.

Even if you are not rocking your baby to sleep, baby swings offer soothing motion that most babies respond to regardless of how you are currently helping your baby fall asleep. So this is also a great alternative if you are nursing your child to sleep or are currently co-sleeping and are ready to transition baby to their own bed.

If you’re going to try to use the swing to help your baby fall asleep on their own make a commitment to work with the swing for 4-7 days. Often parents will put baby in the swing for one nap, it won’t work well, and they’ll write the experiment off as a failure. You’ve spent months teaching your child to fall asleep in a specific way, and now you’re asking that child to adopt to a new method. It may take a little time for her to figure it out.

Once baby is happily sleeping in the swing, gradually decrease the speed of the swing (6-5-4….). If your baby continues to sleep peacefully great! If lowering the speed results in shorter naps or difficulty falling asleep, then your baby still needs the speed. No problem, you can try again in another week or so. At this age babies are developing so rapidly, what didn’t work this week can work like gangbusters next week.

Eventually you’ll find yourself with a baby who is sleeping in a non-moving swing. At this point the transition to the crib is relatively painless. Put the non-moving swing NEXT to their crib for at least a few days. Then, keeping everything else the same (sleep routine, white noise, etc.) just put them down to sleep in their crib. They may grumble for a few minutes but most babies accept this transition without much drama.

For younger babies, or babies who are motion junkies (love to be bounced, rocked, etc.) the swing is my favorite method for teaching them to fall asleep alone. Bar none.

2. Make it Gradual

This is one of the most challenging methods and the easiest to mess up so let me say this first: take a good look at you and your partner. How are you guys doing? If you are ground to a pulp (sleep deprived, just recovering from the flu, stressed out, have little/no support) then skip this method, it’s not for you. On the other hand if you’re feeling fairly chipper, read on.

Basically your job is to take whatever technique you are using to help your baby sleep and gradually make itty bitty modifications (typically over many weeks) to slowly wean baby off this technique. By the way, this is pretty much the entire message of The No-Cry Sleep Solution (minus the guilt-inducing part that makes you feel like a failure if you can’t pull it off). So there, I just saved you $10.

Take co-sleeping as an example. Your baby is now used to falling asleep in your bed, next to your body, and the routine probably involves nursing. To gradually wean off this you might put the crib in your room, put a futon mattress next to the crib, drop the side of the crib and replicate (making sure that the scenario is safe for baby) the co-sleeping environment only now the baby is sleeping in her bed instead of yours. Of course you are now sleeping on a futon next to the crib but hopefully this is temporary.

Over weeks you might work on nursing baby until she is drowsy but not asleep, gradually moving the futon away from the crib, putting the crib side back up, etc. Your goal is to do this so slowly that baby barely registers the change.

This can be difficult. Babies can be remarkably observant about your efforts to monkey with their system. Also illness, teething, etc. can all interfere with your progress. And if you are tired and frustrated it is FAR TOO easy to simply fall back to whatever works for you and let your baby nurse to sleep or pull her back into your bed, undoing all the progress you might have made.

Baby and Mommy Sleep in Chair While Nursing

For these reasons I suggest this method is really challenging. Thus my initial question – how beat up are you? If you and your partner are shuffling zombies your chance of success is low. You are welcome to try, and I encourage you to come up with a plan and give it a go. But don’t beat yourself up if, after a few weeks, you’re feeling frustrated by the lack of success.

Note: This method can be extraordinarily challenging if your baby uses a pacifier to fall asleep. Most pediatricians recommend loosing the pacifier by 6 months of age because this little tool which was so helpful for baby sleep when they’re little can become the bane of your existence when they’re older. I have never found a gradual way to remove the pacifier as they seem very binary – either you give them a paci or you don’t. If anybody has any “gradually loose the pacifier” methods, please share in the comment section!

3. Cry it Out

1. If your baby is older than 6-8 months old and…
2. she’s sleeping poorly (waking up frequently throughout the night, taking short naps, fighting naps, etc.) and…
3. you’ve tried the other two techniques, or for whatever reason, they didn’t suit, you’ve pretty much landed in cry it outsville.

Cry it Out is a big topic and you can lots of information about how, when, why, and why not in this sleep training resource page. But I want to briefly make a quick distinction here: cry it out is a technique that forces babies to learn to fall asleep on their own. And frankly, if done right, it’s a really effective technique. Cry it out is NOT the best way to get out of night feedings (another topic of an upcoming post). Parents often mistake these two issues.

If your baby has been consuming lots of milk/formula all night long and you decide to go cold-turkey and simply stop night feedings, both you and your baby are likely to have a pretty miserable time of it. Also there are more effective and gentler ways to night-wean. I would suggest you consider cry it out as a method to help your baby fall asleep solo at bedtime but that when they wake up at their regular night-feeding schedule, you go and feed them.

If you have stumbled upon some other way of helping babies learn to fall asleep on their own NOT covered here, please share in the comments! Otherwise it’s time for the final step on sleeping through the night, read up on how to gently finish night feeding your baby.

If you haven’t already done so you may also want to check out the other posts in this series:
What you need to know about sleeping through the night: Part 1 and Part 3.


717 Comments


  1. Please help! My 7mth old will not nap more than 20 mins during the day. She sleeps her nights (12hrs) with occasional wake-ups. She goes down no problem at night. We darken the room, use white noise and rock her for 2-3 mins. We do the same for naps and when she just starts falling asleep, I put her down but she fully wakes instantly and wants to play. I can’t let her CIO cause she doesn’t cry, she just kicks and plays and talks and is happy as can be. I know if I leave the room, she will just play and never get any sleep, then is cranky at the end of the day. What can I do to teach her to fall asleep on her own?

    TIA
    Jamie

    • My daughter is 7 months now. And when she has a hard time falling asleep or is taking cat naps, I find taking her outside for some sun time gets her tired and she sleeps at least for 2hrs (naps). You know how the sun can get you tired sometimes? Well same works for her. If you are able to, try it. Might work. Good luck.

  2. My daughter is 4 months old and went from 1-2 wake ups over 12 hours to MANY wake ups over the same period.

    I don’t own a swing – and the advice for CIO is fo babies 6+ months, and the gradual shifting (strategy #2) isn’t recommended cause it can be challenging especially if illness/teething comes into play….so – what should I do with a baby of this age if you don’t own a swing?

    Thanks!

  3. Our daughter is 12 weeks old. I currently rock her to sleep at night, at which point she sleeps for 3-5 hours then wakes 3-5 more times throughout the night. She currently screams if we try CIO and we are not ready to do that just yet and would like to transition her slowly using her swing (which she loves BTW and we actually used for about a month for her complete nightime sleep as it was the only place she would sleep). I’m wondering if I can be in the room when she falls asleep in the swing and we gradually lower the speed as I think she should be able to do that, or will this be counterproductive as the idea is to get her to go to sleep on her own without us there? Also, she currently takes 5 naps a day of only 30 minutes each( which I rock her to sleep for ) no matter what I do. Do you recommend having her fall asleep on her own for naps now too or tackling that after nightime sleep has improved?

  4. Hello
    My daughter is almost 1. We did the CIO method around 6 months and it worked beautifully. She falls asleep on her own and just about anywhere for naps and bedtime. The problem is she wakes up every night between 11-2 AM screaming and crying. My husband hates to hear her cry and brings her into our bed. What should we do to stop the co-sleeping? Do we have to let her CIO in the middle of the night (again)?

    Jennifer

    • Hi Jennifer! Is this a new problem or has she always been doing this? Is she used to feeding overnight? Is she awake long enough prior to bedtime? Is she wide awake when put into crib or almost very close to sleep?

  5. My little guy is 6 months and we have always struggled with sleep. We always put him down awake and some days he goes right to sleep and takes nice long naps. Most days however he cries for an hour and still doesn’t sleep! Then his whole day and night is ruined. I don’t understand it. I try to put him down same time every day but it only works about twice a week. He also still wakes up 1-2 times per night now even though he slept 12 hours through two weeks in a row. Help please!

  6. Hello,
    My 5.5 month old sleeps amazing in his rock and play but is getting too big for it. I am trying to transition him to the crib and as soon as I put him down in his crib he is wide awake. The rock and play makes him feel secure so I tried the swaddle and rolling towels under the sheet to make it feel like the rock and play. I have tried letting him CIO in 5 min cycles going in to let him know its ok and go back in every 5 min. I would love some type of suggestion to let me know how I can help him feel secure and comfortable in his crib.

    • Perhaps some snuggly toys around him would help? And a thicker blanket around him so you can really tuck him in tightly?

    • We had this same problem at the same age when we transitioned from the rock-n-play in our room to the crib in the nursery. We ended up elevating the crib mattress (with thick blankets or books) so she is more inclined like the rock-n-play. We also rolled swaddles/ towels under the sheet to create a little nest. She sleeps in her crib for long stretches (occasionally through the night), but still wakes up 1-2 times. But this helped eliminate the immediate crying when we put her down.

  7. Hello!
    I have an 11 month old son – Jake – who has been sleeping beautifully throughout the night from about 4 months old… however in the last 2 weeks (10.5 months this started) he has been waking up maybe 6 times a night? He is usually sitting upright but incredibly rigid and refuses to let me lie him down again – and if I do manage to get him down he crawls right back up to the seated position and cries.
    In the last week he wont sleep anywhere but in his pram during the night, and we aren’t sure whats going on?
    Tonight we are trying the cry it out until he falls asleep initially, but any advice on what to do when he wakes later would be hugely appreciated!
    Should we be trying something different when we put him down?

    Look forward to the advice – and huge thanks in advance! x

  8. Thanks for all the helpful information. My 3 month son is a motion junkie. He slept great in a rock n play from the start but once he outgrew it he just didn’t do well in his crib despite raising the head of the bed and mimicking a snuggly alcove around his head (under the fitted sheet). He would constantly wake up and need to be rocked back to sleep. He was previously going to bed around 7/7:30 and walking up about 2-3 times a night with his first waking not anytime before 10 pm.

    We decided to try the swing and he’s still using it a high speed. He does great with it for most of his naps going down with either no protest or fussing for a few minutes. At bedtime he always protests for 5 minutes or so but then goes down but like clockwork within an hour he’s awake and I’m pretty sure its not due to hunger as he generally still cluster feeds in the later afternoon/early evening. I give him another 5-10 minutes but he doesn’t go down. Its like he wants to be rocked to again be placed in his swing. We usually give in go pick him up and then place him back down sleeping and then repeat this every 1-2 hours all night, with feedings in between of course as well.

    I’m just not sure what it is about night time sleep. At night I do use a sleep sack with swaddle as I think its warmer and I unzip the bottom so I can safely strap him in. In the daytime I use a miracle blanket but watch him like a hawk since he can’t be strapped in. I’m not sure if its the different in swaddle/blanket but at night I’m just not sure how to strap him in while still keeping him swaddled.

    Open to suggestions. He also naps and sleeps in the same place – in his room by his crib.

    • The Zippadee Zip sleeper is a wearable blanket that is often used as a swaddle transitioner. It is also of a shape/style that allows for buckling in swing, car seat, etc. I buckle our LO right over top of it in the swing.

  9. My 6month old daughter has always hated her sleep night or day she is not a fan of it, we joke by saying she has FOMO (fear of missing out). The last 2 months have been rough she turned 4 months old and was waking up every night at 1am and then you have her up every hour, I thought it was that sleep regression that every one says happens. Now she is up every hour from the minute we put her down. Now she has been sleep trained, I put her down awake but drowsy and she goes to sleep for naps and bed time. She is on 3 solid meals with 1 snack with 4 bottles in a 24 hour period. (she is a big girl at 9.7kg and eats well). I can’t seem to get her to sleep through the night she wakes up to play not to feed or be changed how do I break this naught habit.

  10. Hello — I have a question about my 3 month old. I have been rocking him until he’s sleepy – but not quite asleep – and putting him down in his bassinet. He will typically drift off on his own (sometimes he’ll wake right up and I need to do it a few times). My point is – from what I read, we should not be rocking the baby to sleep. But what if I rock him until he’s tired, and then he falls asleep on his own after I put him down? Is this ok or does rocking need to be omitted altogether?

    • For now, this is perfectly fine. In the next few months (by 6-ish months usually), you’ll want to try putting him down more and more awake. But at 3 months, the fact that he’s able to fall asleep on his own after you rock him is great.

  11. The swing option sounds awesome, but isn’t sleeping in a swing a SIDS risk?

  12. My daughter is 8-mos old, and a stinker. She’s totally learned how to fall asleep on her own at daycare (they don’t even rock her anymore, just put her in the crib, and tell her to go to sleep). But when she’s home? She SCREAMS BLOODY MURDER every time we try to transfer her to her crib (asleep or otherwise). We’ve been bed-sharing for the last few months (a series of unfortunate decisions), and now I just want her to sleep in her crib at home the way she does at daycare. What am I doing wrong?

  13. Help. My 6month old is killing me. She will only fall asleep in the carrier and if I set her down she instantly wakes up and freaks out and won’t calm until she is back in carrier. When she naps in the carrier during the day it’s 30 minutes tops! She somehow stays asleep when I transfer her at bedtime into my bed with me but wakes every hour or 2 tops! Even putting her to sleep in the carrier is torture lately. it takes a long time and some serious body swinging/bouncing for me to calm her to sleep. Even just holding her during awake time she struggles and whines. Also I’m not sure how to set a comfortable routine for her during weekdays because I have a toddler to take care of too that I can’t leave to tend to baby. Please any advice??? I’m so tired!

  14. Hi, my 3 month old has a soother. She sleeps ok at night (could be better but I’ll take it) butbshe isna crappt napper! 30-40 minutes max. I kmow ots bwcause she wakez ip without her soother. And I also know that I will.most likely need to let her cry it out because there is no weaning with a soother.
    Unfortunately she will be going to daycare next month and I would like to kick the habit while I’m home with her. But it says that cry it out is for babies 6m+… can I still try it? How long should she cry and what are signs that she is self soothing? Please help I feel like a horrible parent

  15. Please help!! My son is 11 months old almost one and still isn’t sleeping through the night some nights he gets up to nurse and the past couple of nights he’s been waking up and if I put him down he cries till I hold him then he goes right back to sleep! Please help this momma needs sleep

  16. If doing the swing experiment, does it matter where in the house the swing is located? Because of space constraints, our swing is located in our rec room. Should it be in a bedroom? What about other considerations like dim room Vs natural light? Thanks!

  17. Hi, my daughter is 4 months old and has very short naps and wakes up frequently at night. She sleeps swaddled in a bassinet next to my bed in a dark room w/ white noise and a pacifier. For naps and bedtime i do the same routine..I swaddle, give her pacifier, white noise, and lay her down awake and then leave the room. She falls asleep just fine. But her naps last 30-40 min and then she is tired an hr later. She ends up taking 5-6 naps a day and she wakes up frequently during the night. Sometimes at night I just pop her pacifier back in and she goes back to sleep, sometimes she needs to eat.

    I’m wondering, is the pacifier the problem here? How do I wean her off of it? She loves/needs to suck and can’t fall asleep without it.

    How do I get her to sleep past the 30-40 min mark to get a longer nap?

  18. Hi , my baby is 6 months and a half .. and she has been nursed to sleep every time and i tried sleep training when she was 4 months old and it didnt work .. she wakes up every two hours for feeding sometimes between 2am till 3:00 she wakes up wanting to play .. am very exhausted sleepless … longest stretch is 3 hours.. would the swing trick work now or its too late ? She is 8 kgs she still fits in her swing ..

    • Hi! you could try the swing and give it a shot. But it may not work at this age. Why didn’t sleep training work earlier? What does her bedtime routine look like?

      • Hi sam ,
        She was 4 months old i went for consultation she gave me a schedule to follow for naps and night sleeping.. i got exhausted forcing the naps on time and bed time was not rational at that time.. my baby kept waking several times for breastfeeding at night. My baby refuses to take a bottle or a pacifier though she kept taking them till she became three months. Plus it’s my first baby and she didnt advise me not to breast feed her till she sleeps ! And when i read your blog esp part 1 i felt shocked how no1 ever told me that i should put her awake to sleep. When you explained why babies keep waking it just hit me hard…
        The only advise i get from ppl is let cio and i cant at all do that. I dont know where and how to start again … we both are exhausted .. i tried the swing last night but it was a disaster.. she cried alot.. maybe because she was too exhausted ill give it another shot after a day or two ..
        I really don’t know whats my next step ..

    • Hi sam ,
      She was 4 months old i went for consultation she gave me a schedule to follow for naps and night sleeping.. i got exhausted forcing the naps on time and bed time was not rational at that time.. my baby kept waking several times for breastfeeding at night. My baby refuses to take a bottle or a pacifier though she kept taking them till she became three months. Plus it’s my first baby and she didnt advise me not to breast feed her till she sleeps ! And when i read your blog esp part 1 i felt shocked how no1 ever told me that i should put her awake to sleep. When you explained why babies keep waking it just hit me hard…
      The only advise i get from ppl is let cio and i cant at all do that. I dont know where and how to start again … we both are exhausted .. i tried the swing last night but it was a disaster.. she cried alot.. maybe because she was too exhausted ill give it another shot after a day or two ..
      I really don’t know whats my next step ..

  19. Hello, I am absolutely at my wits end. My 8 month old is draining the life out of me. Her sleep schedule is so random and different every night. The routine before bed has always been the same: around 8pm we start dimming lights and quieting down play time or she gets a bath. After bath or changing and getting lotioned up if no bath, she gets an 8oz bottle of formula and sits with me in the rocking chair. Sometimes she falls asleep, sometimes she doesnt. I then take and put her in her crib, usually waking her up if shes asleep, I rub her back for a minute, give her a kiss and she goes to sleep. She will usually sleep from 9pm-midnight without any problems, just like the article said. Then at midnight, it all falls apart. I am usually up every hour and 40 minutes with a screaming baby. Sometimes she will eat and go back to sleep only waking once more, or not at all…other times it’s brutal. I maybe get 2 night’s a week when she will sleep from 9-4am thrn like 430-730ish. So I know she is capable of this… I just don’t know what I’m doing wrong the other night’s to have this drastic change. I am physically getting sick and cry a lot simply from exhaustion. I don’t know what else to do.

  20. I have found with my 9 month old that if I take his paci away from him all day even during nap time and only give it to him when he goes to bed then take it away when he is drowsy. He doesn’t rely on it much anymore. I have started giving him a blanket to replace his paci to have something to be attached to. We have been doing this for about a week now and it seems to be working great.

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