putting baby to sleep

Having trouble putting your baby to sleep at night? You’re not alone! It’s not uncommon for babies to cry at bedtime, and for it to be tricky to get them to go to sleep. This struggle to fall asleep can be due to anything from hunger or a wet diaper to colic, gas, or illness. Sometimes, you may not be able to pinpoint exactly why your little one is wakeful or fussy. Read on to discover how to put your baby to sleep.

9 Ways to Put Your Baby to Sleep

It's helpful to know about steps you can take to soothe your crying baby in the moment, as well as strategies you can follow consistently over time to get your little one settled by the time bedtime (or naptime) rolls around. Try some of the tips below to see what works for you and your little one.

1. Make Sure Your Baby’s Comfortable

Before putting your baby in her crib, check that she doesn’t need a diaper change or a feeding; that she’s dressed warmly but not overdressed; and that the room temperature is cool but comfortable. Go ahead and darken the room by turning off the main lights and drawing the shades. You may like to turn on a night-light so there’s a little light, or play some soft music or white noise if this helps calm your little one.

2. Swaddle Your Baby

Many newborns and young infants fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer when swaddled. Newborns lack motor control and often flail their arms and legs during sleep, and this movement can wake them. This is why swaddling can be a good solution — it gives them a feeling of comfort and security, and keeps their arms and legs secure. Here are some tips when swaddling:

  • Use a lightweight cotton swaddling blanket or sleeping sack to help prevent your baby from overheating

  • Be sure to leave plenty of room for your baby’s hips and legs to move, as swaddling too tightly can lead to future hip problems. Use this helpful swaddling guide to see exactly how it’s done.

  • Stop swaddling when your baby starts trying to roll over on her own, which often happens at about 2 months or a little later.

3. Establish a Sleep Schedule

Sticking to a schedule can do wonders for helping your older baby get to sleep, as babies tend to love consistency and routine. A sleep schedule can help ensure your baby is sleepy when bedtime or naptime rolls around. Around 6 weeks old is a good time to start your baby on a sleep schedule, according to experts, but keep in mind that it may be many more months before your baby can actually follow a schedule consistently. If your baby is still a newborn, read up on newborn sleep patterns here. Newborn sleep is quite unpredictable, so trying to establish a consistent schedule early on may be futile. Once your little one is ready, you can start training him to adapt to a sleep schedule by putting him down in his crib for naps and at bedtime while he is still awake, but slightly groggy. The more practice your baby gets being put to sleep in the crib (as opposed to falling asleep in your arms, for example), the easier the process of eventually falling asleep on a schedule will be for him. Tracking your baby’s sleep to see what patterns emerge can also help you establish a predictable schedule. You can keep track in a notebook or in the notes section of your phone, or by using an app.

If you’re looking for an easy way to track your baby’s sleep, check out the Lumi by Pampers Smart Sleep Coaching App. It uniquely combines expert sleep coaching (like this Fundamentals of Baby Sleep Class) with effortless tracking tools to help you stay one step ahead of your baby’s sleep!

4. Shower Your Baby With Attention During the Day

Experts say that your baby will feel calmer and more secure when you provide her with a good amount of attention during the day. This won’t spoil her! Go ahead and hold her, cuddle her, play with her, and talk to her. Your little one may be more likely to settle and sleep better once she’s gotten her fill of love and attention during the hours when she’s awake. The only exceptions are those middle-of-the-night feedings and diaper changes. Keep these interactions quiet, brief, and “boring” so that your little one learns to associate the night with sleep as distinct from the day when exciting things happen.

5. Establish a Bedtime Routine

As early as 6 to 8 weeks old, you can start a soothing bedtime routine with your little one. Your routine can include anything you like, but two things are very important:

  1. The routine should be calming and relaxing, so avoid anything that's active or too stimulating.

  2. The final part of the routine (at least the last 10 minutes) should take place in your baby’s bedroom or your room (if you are room-sharing). This helps your baby associate the bedroom with positive, tranquil activities, where he can spend quality time with you as he drifts off to sleep.

The point of a bedtime routine is to wind down and to signal to your baby that the time for sleep is coming. Here’s a list of some things you could include in your bedtime routine:

  • A warm bath

  • A baby massage

  • Dressing your baby for sleep

  • Brushing teeth

  • Swaying, swinging, or rocking (in a rocking chair or glider, for example)

  • Dimming the bedroom lights (you might like to leave a night-light on)

  • Reading a story together

  • Singing a lullaby

  • Playing soft music or white noise, such as with a fan or a sound machine if music or white noise relaxes your baby

  • Counting to 10 or singing the ABCs (with your older baby)

  • A goodnight hug and kiss

  • Swaddling (for infants).

6. Place Your Baby in Her Crib When She’s Drowsy But Not Yet Asleep

Doing this will help her form a positive sleep association, equating the crib with sleep. By the same token, if your baby always falls asleep in your arms, she may struggle to fall asleep in her crib, as that will be unusual for her. It may also result in your baby crying until you pick her up when she wakes during the night, because that is how she will be used to falling asleep. To know when it’s time to put your baby in the crib, look out for sleep cues such as:

  • Drooping eyelids

  • Rubbing of the eyes

  • Fussiness.

7. Offer Your Baby a Pacifier

Research has shown that a pacifier can help calm your baby at night and reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). If you’re breastfeeding your baby, wait until he’s about 3 to 4 weeks old before offering a pacifier. If your baby’s pacifier falls out while he’s sleeping, there’s no need to put it back in his mouth. Sucking the tip of a clean finger can also serve as comfort. However, don’t give your baby a bottle of breast milk or formula to fall asleep with. The milk can pool in his mouth, and this can lead to dental decay and ear infections.

8. Work With Your Baby’s Preferences

Although this might not sound like an appealing option, accommodating your baby's night owl or early bird tendencies might actually work. Consider adjusting your baby’s sleep schedule to take advantage of those periods when she’s naturally feeling sleepier. This gives your baby the opportunity to sleep when she’s already feeling sleepy, but doesn’t force sleep when she’s not really that tired and will be more likely to protest.

9. Be Attentive But Not Over-Attentive to Your Baby’s Needs During the Night

If your baby fusses and wakes up in the middle of the night, try not to go to his side immediately. Instead, give him a chance to self-soothe and fall back asleep on his own. (Read about baby sleep training for more on this topic.) If he continues to cry and fuss, he may need a feeding or a diaper change. In these cases, go in to take care of his needs but do so quietly without turning on the bedroom lights. Keep things quiet and calm. After you’re done with the feeding or diaper change, put him back in his crib for sleep. If you think your baby is fussy because he may be sick, check to see if he has a fever or any other symptoms of illness, and contact his healthcare provider as needed.

The Bottom Line

It can be hard when your baby won’t snooze no matter what you try. Following these tips may help get your baby to fall asleep, and might help her get into a sleep routine over time. Consider things like creating a soothing bedtime routine, adjusting bedtimes and naptimes so that they coincide with when she is naturally tired anyway, and giving your baby lots of love and attention when she is awake. These could all help make bedtime go more smoothly. Hang in there! Getting your baby to sleep is a common challenge of parenthood, but sooner than you know it your baby will be sleeping like, well, a baby! (And, with any luck, you’ll be getting more sleep, too!)