Baby Sleep Training Methods + Advice for Newborns
Don’t know how to get your newborn to sleep? We’re sharing tried and tested baby sleep training schedules and methods for infants up to about 6 months old, along with tons of tips and advice, plus a list of all the products you’ll need to keep your baby happy and soothed.
This post is sponsored by buybuy BABY. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that make it possible for Root + Revel to provide free content and healthy living inspiration.
Congrats! You’re now a mom or dad and have a sweet little infant at home… now what?!
If your experience is anything like mine, you’ve probably had dozens of people tell you you’ll never sleep again. I found this profoundly annoying and… in reality…VERY UNTRUE!
Thank God! Turns out sleep deprivation is not the price of parenting, nor are you a horrible parent if you let your child cry. Why? Because healthy sleep is absolutely essential for both our babies, and for us. As Alexis Dubief says in Precious Little Sleep:
Endless exhaustion is neither necessary nor beneficial. The drive to help your child sleep well is not selfish but rooted in the knowledge that sleep is best for their health and wellbeing.
It seems like it should be so simple, but if you want to encourage good sleep habits for your baby (and get some much needed sleep yourself!), then you actually need to be very intentional about getting into a feeding and sleeping routine.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I read a ton of books on this topic and ultimately created my own plan by combining the tips from different sources that felt the best to me. I didn’t follow one single plan to a T. I’m a big believer in following your own intuition, so definitely do some research but, ultimately, you need to trust your gut and motherly instincts on what’s going to be best for your baby.
I like the way Elizabeth Pantley put it in her book The No-Cry Sleep Solution:
You can choose your approach from the proactive strength of knowledge and not the reactive weakness of ignorance. In other words, if you inform yourself, then you protect yourself and your family from the barrage of “should” and “woulds” that don’t fit you or your family and that may even have no evidence or supporting facts.
Dr. Marc Weissbluth expands in his book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child: “Parenting is the hardest work there is because there is no instruction manual that applies to ALL families.”
Before we dive into the specifics of what has worked for me with both my son (now almost two) and my newborn daughter (one-month-old at the time of publication), please take this to heart: some babies are naturally better sleepers than others. Yes, there are some things you can do to help, but each baby is unique and you may have a child who does not sleep without interruption or who is super fussy.
If this is your experience, I want you to know: you are NOT a bad mom. You do not need to feel guilty, wrong, or blame or shame yourself. That never helps! You are doing the best you can. I see you, mama, and how hard you’re trying. I truly hope this post helps you let yourself off the hook and gives you some new ideas to try and support your newborn.
Because we all know, if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!
Products You’ll Need for Baby Sleep Training
Before we get into the specific schedule and tons of tips, let’s talk about what you’re going to need for your baby’s sleep training to make them comfortable and feeling soothed.
I do a lot of my shopping at buybuy BABY, since it’s a one-stop shop for all things baby (gotta love convenience and saving time!). Plus, they have a great selection of non-toxic, eco-friendly brands as well (which is super important to me to keep my baby safe and healthy–no thanks, toxins!).
While I love online shopping, sometimes you just want to see and feel things in-store, so occasionally I go see things in person before I buy, because buybuy BABY’s massive store usually has whatever I need in stock.
So what are you going to need?
- A crib (obviously!). We have Babyletto Scoot 3-in-1 Convertible Crib. I was so excited when I came across Babyletto ‘s eco-friendly furniture! Not only is it incredibly affordable and super cute and modern, but their cribs are made with sustainable pine, and don’t contain harmful substances like lead and phthalate finishes. They’re also GREENGUARD Gold Certified, which means it has been screened for 360 VOCs and over 10,000 chemicals. Bonus: it easily converts to transform the crib into a daybed or toddler bed.
- Naturepedic Organic Crib Mattress: I adore this mattress made with organic cotton fabric with easy-to-clean, stain-resistant polyethylene waterproof surface. It’s got all kinds of healthy certifications and passes all flammability standards without the use of any fire retardant chemicals or chemical flame barriers. We went with the 2 in 1 Organic Cotton Ultra Quilted Mattress because it can grow with our little guy. The waterproof side is perfect for the diaper years, while the quilted side will give him a more luxe, cushy sleep when he gets older.
- Naturepedic Organic Waterproof Fitted Crib Pad Cover: This has proven to be a lifesaver! Jackson has thrown up or peed and it’s been such a relief that the messes didn’t leak through and ruin the mattress.
- Burt’s Bees Baby 100% Organic Cotton Fitted Crib Sheets: Adorable prints or plain jersey fitted organic crib sheets for only $19.99?! Yes please!
- Armsreach Co-Sleeper: This bassinet was a literal GODSEND. It basically allows you to co-sleep with your babe without having to bedshare. It makes middle of the night feedings a breeze, because, hey! He’s right there and I don’t even have to stand up. Easy to check on him, soothe him or pop his paci back in and it’s also pretty dang cute! And easily portable. Jackson slept in this until about 14 weeks old, when we moved him into his nursery into his crib.
- Halo Bassinet: This is what I used more recently with my newborn, Gemma. I love how it rotates 360 degrees so I can move her around to make tending to her that much easier. There are convenient side pockets for diapers and wipes and pacis, plus a ‘soothing center’ to pacify your baby complete with amber nightlight, amber floor light, two levels of soothing vibration, and four soothing sounds with volume control.
- Snuggle Me Organic Lounger: My favorite lounger–I actually put this right into the two bassinets above to help them feel snug and safe while they sleep! The hugging sensation calms and keeps baby gently wedged into place (no fear of them rolling over and not being able to breathe) for rest, and also makes a perfect travel mat (even just around your house).
- Hatch Baby Rest Sound Machine: I can’t believe how much babies respond to white noise to help them sleep. This one is particularly awesome because it’s also equipped with a night light and time-to-rise light and connects to your smartphone. I also just recently got the Baby Dream Machine and have been using this one with Gemma! It’s the first all in one device that uses a combination of scientifically proven methods such as night light, pink noise, red light therapy, humidifier, and ultrasonic aromatherapy to help your baby fall asleep and stay asleep. How cool?!
- Swaddles: My favorite swaddle brand is Love to Dream. Being able to just zip him up was so great! I also like Happiest Baby’s organic swaddles. Around 3 months old when we were transitioning out of the swaddle but still needed something cozy, we loved Baby Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit.
- Sleeping Clothes: For newborns, you need lots of cheap onesies (ideally organic)–they get dirty SO quickly unless you do laundry daily, so need a lot. Another must is footed jammies that are ZIP UP. Lots of snaps or buttons = a big pain in the butt!
- Pacifiers: Soft plastic teethers are typically made of PVC and are softened with phthalates–and even products marked PVC, BPA, and phthalate-free can have estrogenic properties. That’s why I opted for BIBS BPA-Free Natural Rubber Baby Pacifiers–these 100% rubber pacis are Jackson’s favorite! MAM is also a great brand.
- Books + Resources: Some of my favorites are Happiest Baby on the Block, Mom’s On Call, and the community Taking Cara Babies with awesome courses catered for babies, from newborns up to two years. A bit more about these books:
Moms on Call was recommended to me by SO MANY MOMS and once I got past the first half and realized that I’d never follow their advice when it comes to medications and introducing solids, it turned out to be an amazing resource for setting a flexible yet predictable schedule for Jackson’s feeding, sleeping and play/awake time each day. And I have to say, it really works. Partly I think we just got lucky and both Jackie and Gem are good sleepers naturally. But I have to credit this book with the rest–Jackson has slept through the night since 14 weeks (we’re talking down by 7 pm with no tears and sleeping until 7-9 am the next morning without waking). And before that, he only woke up once between 2-4 am for a quick feeding since he was 6 weeks old. Gemma gives us 4-6 hour stretches since she was 2 weeks old and I’m hoping in another month or two, she’ll be sleeping through the night, too. MOC also has a great Facebook support group that was invaluable when questions came up.
That being said, I didn’t love all of the advice in MOC and did find it to be a little too rigid and harsh at some points. And I’m nothing if not an information addict, research fiend and “I want to see all sides before making a decision” kind of gal, so I also read a few other sleep books that I loved, including Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night, and the hilarious and super practical Precious Little Sleep: The Complete Baby Sleep Guide for Modern Parents. In the end, I wound up taking pieces from each book and coming up with a plan that worked for ME, Jackson and our family. I recommend you do the same as what works for one family doesn’t always work for another. I have a full blog post all about healthy baby sleep coming up so stay tuned for that, too.
For more guidance on what items you ACTUALLY need for your baby, see our post on Baby Must Haves that I wrote when I was preparing for my second baby, after I had been through it already and knew what was important and what wasn’t!
Baby Sleep Training Advice: The Plan
Alright! Now that you’re fully equipped, let’s talk about what to actually do.
First, I’ve got to address your mindset one more time. Remember: be patient. This stage too shall pass.
It’s also important to be persistent and consistent. Babies thrive on routine, so if you’re trying different things on back to back days, then your baby is not going to get into a rhythm and know whether it’s time to eat, sleep, or play. Of course you need to allow for flexibility and not get caught up in being too rigid, but ideally you want a predictable routine.
The book Babywise taught me about setting up cycles of feed, play, sleep to help get your babe (and you!) into a good rhythm. So you feed your baby, then you play for 10-20 minutes, then they sleep; after the cycle ends, you start over. This works really well for us, and though I try to stick to roughly 3-hour cycles after they’re 2 weeks old and on, I don’t live and die by the clock. Baby is boss and if he/she is hungry before the clock says they’re supposed to eat, then so be it. Especially if you’re within half an hour of their “scheduled” feed.
In terms of the actual timing of the schedule, I created the below after reading Mom’s On Call; this is generally what we followed up to about 6 months old, based on those 3-hour cycles during the daytime:
- Early Morning Feed (6-7 am or when baby wakes up), straight back to sleep 2-3 hours
- Mid Morning Feed (9-10 am), play 10-20 minutes, nap 2 hours
- Lunchtime Feed (12-1 pm), play 10-20 minutes, nap 2 hours
- Dinner Feed (3:30-4:30 pm), play 10-20 minutes, nap 2 hours
- Bath (6-6:30 pm), massage, book, swaddle
- Bedtime Feed (6:30-7 pm), straight to sleep for 8-10 hours
- (Optional) Dream Feed (11:30 pm ish), straight back to sleep
- Middle of the Night Feed (3-5 am), straight to sleep for 3-4 hours
- Start again around 6-7 am
Newborn Sleep Training Tips
Now that you’ve seen the recommended schedule, you probably have a ton of questions of how to actually implement and what to do when things don’t go according to plan, or when your baby gets fussy.
Here’s what I’ve learned along the way!
Tips on the sleep training schedule:
- Don’t allow naps to exceed 2 hours at a time (3 hours is the absolute max).
- Follow a nightly bedtime routine. Ours was a warm bath, massage, feed, books, then swaddle.
- Put baby to bed early, between 5:30 and 7:00 pm is the ultimate goal. Work backwards in 15 minute increments if you need to set an earlier bedtime. It’s counterintuitive, but the earlier they go to bed, the longer they sleep. There is TONS of research on this, and anecdotally, I can say it’s absolutely true.
- The first 2 weeks of a baby’s life, there is absolutely no schedule, so don’t even try to start one until they’re at least 2 weeks old.
Advice on the methods and how-to:
- Put baby to sleep in a crib or bassinet at least twice per day and always at night.
- Put your babe in crib or bassinet before they fall asleep, but after they show signs of tiredness like quieting down, losing interest/looking away, rubbing eyes, glazed eyes, fussy, or yawning.
- Don’t let your baby fall asleep nursing–move them to the crib when they slow down and are relaxed or sleepy.
- Make sure daytime sleep looks different than nighttime sleep (as in getting used to light vs. dark).
- Develop keywords as a sleep cue, like: Night night, little Jackie. It’s time to go to sleep.
- Other sleep cues: white noise, pacifiers (sucking), swaddles….basically the 5 S’s from Happiest Baby on the Block, which if you haven’t read and implement will CHANGE YOUR LIFE! No joke.
- If you’re breastfeeding, do a full feed of both breasts at one time–burp halfway through, change diaper, undress, cool washcloth on their forehead, tickle their feet, etc. if they keep falling asleep. Or pump (or use the Haaka, my personal fave) on the side you’re not feeding on.
- Be careful not to overstimulate your baby during the day, especially when they’re super young.
- Help baby learn how to fall asleep without help:
- Introduce a lovey (stuffed animal) when you nurse, snuggle, and go to bed.
- Slowly move the bassinet away from your bed for two nights, then across the room, then into the nursery, then put baby into their crib.
When to respond to crying:
- Pay attention to the difference between sleeping sounds and waking sounds/crying. Babies make A LOT of noise when they sleep, and it’ll make everyone happier if you don’t rush to them the second they make a peep. Don’t respond too quickly!
- During the night, let baby attempt to self-soothe for 5 minutes at a time, before giving them the paci again, reswaddling and changing the diaper, if needed. Repeat 3 times, then let them nurse. This was the MOC advice… honestly, we usually went straight to nursing after 5 minutes because it ultimately lead to that and we all got back to sleep sooner when I did that. But we never let the babes cry for more than 5 minutes at a time until they were older (see next bullet), as I believed Dr. Weissbluth when he wrote in his book that “You cannot spoil a newborn. You cannot teach a newborn a crying habit.”
- Dr. Weissbluth, who says night-sleep rhythms emerge around 6 weeks of age, also encourages you to be consistent with whatever soothing method you choose, and I agree. “Going in to soothe sometimes and not going in at other times is called intermittent reinforcement, which is a powerful way to teach your child to cry louder, longer and more frequently at night, because he is sometimes rewarded by his effort to enjoy the pleasure of your company.”
- After your baby is 12 pounds and weeks, we started official “sleep training” and let them “cry it out”. Here’s the honest truth: it’s brutal. Hearing your child cry is unnatural and literally painful. It is hard. But with Jackson, we said we would put him to bed fed, dry and happy and then if he cried, we’d let him cry for up to 45 minutes before going into his room to ensure he wasn’t crying out of hunger, pain, or diaper needs. The first night, he went straight to sleep but woke up around midnight and cried on and off for around an hour. It was torture, but then he fell asleep for the rest of the night. On the second night, he cried for 10 minutes around the same time and then went back to sleep. On the third night, he slept through the night and has ever since. Night one is rough, but you can do this. Your baby needs to sleep, needs to learn to self-soothe, and you as parents, also need to sleep so you can best care for your babes.
As Alexis Dubief says in Precious Little Sleep:
These tears are about wants, not needs. Our job as a parents isn’t to meet every want our child will have, nor is it to prevent them from having sad or angry feelings. Withholding your assistance here isn’t being a bad parent–it’s being a conscientious one.
Dr. Weissbluth adds:
Perhaps crying as a signal system is not perfect: some babies cry even when they don’t need to cry, because their needs are being cared for, and other babies don’t cry but still receive the care they need. Crying may be a fundamental part of what it means to be a baby: birds fly, babies cry….It’s a simple but true statement that when the entire family gets more sleep, everyone feels better.
- We also allowed Jackson to cry it out for one hour during naps. He actually never made it to one hour, but our rule of thumb was that he was staying in his crib for 1 hour no matter what. After than 1 hour was up, if he was crying, I would go get him up. I imagine we’ll do the same with Gemma once she’s old enough.
Again, this is what worked for us… if it’s not for you, no problem. You do you, mama!
Ways to help baby fall back asleep:
- Do the 5 S’s (swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging, and sucking) until baby is almost asleep, then place them back in the crib. Gradually decrease the amount of time you soothe until they learn how to self soothe.
- Try Pantley’s Gentle Removal Plan (when you give your baby the pacifier, bottle or breast, but continually remove it until your baby finally falls asleep without it in their mouth).
- Don’t just place your baby in the crib and walk away. Keep your hands on their body and gently rock them first to ease the transition. Whisper your keywords.
- You can do phases: Comfort the same as above but without picking them up (touch is okay). Then without any touch, only verbal soothing. Then transition from outside the doorway.
Does it Work? Log Your Results
It’s important to actually write down your schedule and what’s happening so you can see what’s working, what’s not, and adjust as needed. Follow whatever plan you create for 10 days, then do a 24-hour log. You’ll want the log to be pretty detailed, like this:
- Time baby fell asleep
- How baby fell asleep
- Where baby fell asleep
- Where baby slept
- How long
- How many naps should he be getting vs how many he is getting?
- How many hours should he be napping vs how many he is?
Nighttime Wake Log
- How baby woke me up
- How long awake; what we did
- Time baby fell back to sleep
- How baby fell back to sleep
- How long
- Total # of awakenings
- Longest sleep span
- Total hours of sleep
Progress Log (compare first log to 10 days later for amount of change)
- Number of naps
- Length of naps
- Awake time
- Number of awakenings
- Longest sleep span
- Total hours asleep
- Any positive changes in at least one area?
- Where is the biggest change? Why?
- Where is the least change? Why?
- What have you learned?
- What parts of plan have best influence?
- What changes do we need to make?
Whew! I know the concept of baby sleep training likely feels like a lot at first, but know that you’ll find your way with it once you’re actually living it, and it will start to feel really natural most of the time. I was overwhelmed at first too, but I don’t know any expecting moms who aren’t at least a little intimidated by all there is to learn!
I’ve said it a few times, but want to reiterate again: you can do this. Be patient. Breathe. Follow your gut and intuition, and all will be well.
What baby sleep training routines have worked for you? Share your tips and advice in the comments below!
Photo Credit: Heidi Geldhauser
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