Teaching baby to sleep on their own and through the night

The biggest challenge in the initial days (and months!) with my firstborn baby was teaching him to get to sleep on his own. After that, it was getting him to sleep through the night.

I do not know if it’s him or is it just us or the combination, my son will never ever let us put him down alone on the bed. He will cry the house down. He may fall asleep in our arms or on our laps but any kind of transferring to bed will result in a full wake up and meltdown. 

Sleep became the main topic around our newborn son until he was 8 months old! He was just the kind of baby that takes a little longer and a lot more effort to learn to sleep on his own, not to mention through the night too. 

Based on our experience, the few common problems we faced with our baby’s sleep were:

  1. Baby refuses to sleep in the cot or on their own
  2. Baby sleeps only for short naps if lying down by himself
  3. Baby prefers to sleep in the carrier, and close to mama or papa
  4. Baby cries the house down during bedtime routine
  5. Baby wakes multiple times throughout the night for feeding/comfort
Teaching baby to sleep on their own
Teaching baby to sleep on their own. Photo by Felipe Salgado on Unsplash.

How to get babies to sleep

Around 3 months old, after my son passed his dreaded witching hours evening of the second month, we still find ourselves unable to put him to bed at night without us. 

We followed a sleep program and cut down his nap time drastically. This improved his bedtime, though we still needed to rock him to sleep each time. We then gradually weaned him off the rocking, but he still had all sorts of sleep crutches like feeding to sleep or swaying in my arms.

To the young mums and dads out there, don’t be disheartened, as I believe my son is one of the harder cases out there. He only finally slept through the night at 8 months old. 

He may have done it earlier, but we were traveling the whole month before and with the constant environment change, I just kept to feeding him to sleep and comfort him each time he woke. 

The key building blocks to the success of teaching the baby to sleep on their own and finally to sleeping through the night are:

  1. Keep a consistent nap and sleep routine
  2. Make sure baby is getting enough feedings in the day
  3. Remove sleep crutches and introduce sleep associations instead. I was recommended to use white noise, and it did help to calm the baby. It is also something really easy to wean off when the time comes. We took away the white noise after my son turns 15 months old, and he did not even miss it.
  4. Prepare a conducive sleep environment. It is recommended to have pitch black room, especially when the baby is still very young, to let them feel safe and continue to sleep. The room temperature plus the baby’s sleep clothing is important too.

I recommend trying out the LittleOnes sleep program which we used. It helps to take the guesswork out of baby sleep schedules and sleep needs. Besides, you can ask and discuss your individual baby sleep issues with their experts in their forum. I find this the most useful feature of the program. After all, every baby and every mother is different, and we all need a little guidance sometimes. 

Teaching baby to sleep through the night
Teaching baby to sleep through the night. Photo by Reynardo Etenia Wongso on Unsplash.

How to get a breastfeeding baby to sleep through the night?

I know many claims that a baby can start sleeping through the night as early as three months and that most babies will sleep through the night by 6 months. 

It may be true in most cases, especially if breastfeeding ceased, but it was not true us. I was still breastfeeding my son, and he still woke 2 to 3 times a night for feeding at this age. 

He might have been able to at month 7, but we were busy travelling then. We did a quick training when he was about to turn 8 months old and viola, he sleeps through the night from then on. 

We even sneak him into his own little room in the same week! 

How did we teach our 7 month baby to sleep through the night?

In the weeks before, my son was still waking around 1 to 2 times a night for his comfort feeding. My mother instincts told me that they are just comfort feeding and that he doesn’t really need it. We need to trust ourselves on this one. 

For a long time, my son used to wake 3-4 times a night, sometimes seemingly with a genuine hunger, but since 6 months or so, it feels like he is just waking out of habit or for comfort. 

So after we settle back at home after the long travel and got his sleep and feeding routine back on track, we decided to let him try to sleep through the night without any feeds. 

We had to let him cry a little on the first night when he woke for his feed. I sent the father to console him since he would not remind him of milk. It took a bit of consoling, and then he went back to sleep. The next night, he cried again around the same time and once papa came to him, he turned around and goes right back to sleep. He is learning! The third night, he did not wake up anymore. 

Some babies might take more days to finally get the message that there will be no more milk in the night before they continue to sleep through the night. So stay consistent and do not ever turn back, else it is not fair and confusing to the baby.

Moving baby to own room
Moving baby to own room. Photo by Marie Despeyroux on Unsplash.

Baby Sleep Solutions book

Katrina, a fellow mother, shared with me her baby sleep solutions book, which claims to help you get your baby to sleep through the night with 6 easy steps!

What I like most about this book is its coverage of the basic and important things related to baby’s sleep

  1. Schedules – You may already have heard of the eat-wake-sleep cycle, but this book will show you how to establish it. It also has samples of eat-wake-sleep schedules for babies (for every month!) that you can start with. There are also tips on how to troubleshoot if a given schedule is not working for your baby or your lifestyle.
  2. Feedings – This is an important key to the baby’s sleep because sometimes we missed feeding our baby fully during awake time, resulting in them waking during sleep out of genuine hunger. This book gives you tips on how to encourage full feedings. It also gives you confidence and what to look out for in case you are worried that your baby is not getting enough. As an advocate for full breastfeeding in the early days, also if you yourself do not want to rely on formula, I suggest that you find a local breastfeeding expert to help you out!
  3. Routines – As we all know, a good nap/bedtime routine helps to cue your baby to sleep. In this book, you will get samples of routine for you to start implementing right away.
  4. Sleep associations and sleep tools that you can use and how to avoid sleep crutches.

The gold of this book is the chapter “How to Tackle Nighttime Wakings in 6 Easy Steps“. You can implement them with your baby from as young as 4 months! I like that it is written concisely and clearly what you need to do to get your baby sleeping through the night. Which is the goal of every new parent!

The only thing which I did not completely agree with in this book is the recommended nap times, as my son, a surprisingly low sleep need child, would find the schedule having too much sleep. That was what happened to us, my son was refusing bedtime always because he just had too much nap in the day. Only after we cut down his nap times drastically did it improve, so I am pointing out here that you might need to tweak the schedule by observing your baby. Good thing is that there is a section in this book about identifying and managing schedule changes.

There are other useful tips on sleep associations, handling short naps and nap training too. Overall, I recommend you to get this book if you want concise and all-rounded information about your baby sleep in one place.

Moving baby to own room

After extended research, I took up this tip on how to move baby to own room gradually. First get the baby accustomed to the new room during his nap time. In this case, when things go wrong, it will only affect a short nap and there is the next one to practice again! 

At this point, my son is sleeping in a cot with a detachable side, next to my bed. During nap time, I closed up the cot and rolled it over to his new room. For a whole week, I consistently had him nap there. 

Then we chose the weekend to try this transition so that papa, who was working, can also help if there is a fuss during the night. On Friday night, we did our bedtime routine in the new room and then just leave him in his cot to sleep and lucky us, that was just it. There was no fuss or anything!

But if your child does make a fuss during sleep cycles transition, go in for a quick comfort check and leave, each time increasing the length before returning for comfort.

Using the same cot that he has been sleeping in all these while helps with the transition. At least the changes were not too much, and he had the familiarity of his cot even though it is in a new room. 

Co-sleeping with baby or newborn
Co-sleeping with baby or newborn. Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash.

Getting baby to sleep tips

Co-sleeping with baby or newborn

Initially, I was stressed out about the danger of co-sleeping, but looking back, it was really unnecessary. In the early days, co-sleeping actually helps the baby and the mum, after all the world is a scary place and the baby needs its assurance. 

Just make sure you follow good co-sleeping precautions, then trust your mother instinct to keep your baby safe.

We also use a Babybay next to our bed. At first, since our baby refused to sleep on it, it acted as a barrier to protect my baby from rolling off the bed. Later when my son got older, I consistently lay him back down on the Babybay co-sleeper, but I do get to sleep close by his side to hold or snuggle with him. 

I really recommend getting this bed extension to keep baby safe with some independence, while still allow for co-sleeping comfort easily when needed.


Babybay Co-sleeper Cot

Should you swaddle a baby?

As we live in Germany, I noticed that swaddling is not a common practice here. In Malaysia, where I was from, the babies are swaddled right from birth in the hospital. Here they have my baby packed in a baby sleeping bag. 

I would not say that you should or should not swaddle your baby. It really depends on you and also your baby. In my case, I did not swaddle my son in the first two months. Then I noticed his flailing arms woke him up, and sometimes he hit the side of the Babybay. This resulted in a lot more crying during sleep. 

So I ended up swaddling him waist up, to lock his arms in, but I left his legs free. This often caused the swaddle to come loose during picking up and laying down, so I would recommend going full swaddle if your child finds comfort in it. My sister claims that all her babies only sleep well with the swaddle, and she has three children under her belt!

We use Aden+Anais swaddle, which comes highly recommended by my sister and many mothers. They are super soft for the baby and durable for constant use.


aden + anais Swaddles

Baby sleeping bag

Especially later, after the baby leaves his newborn stage, a baby sleeping bag is a must for a good night sleep. Not only will this become the baby’s good sleep association, it will also help to regulate the baby’s temperature better and keep the baby safe compared to a blanket.  

The sleeping bag that we used since my son was born is the Alvi 3-piece all-season sleeping bag. Reasons to get this sleeping bag are: 

  1. This sleeping bag is super comfortable, fully lined with cotton.
  2. It has a roomy rounded design, so that baby has ample space to kick around. 
  3. The full zipper also made it easy to change diapers.
  4. The buttons allow the sleeping bag to grow with your baby for 2 whole sizes! 
  5. The combination of one outer sleeping bag and the two inner sleeping bag allows baby to sleep through all seasons.

The investment in this sleeping bag is really worth it with the long usage thanks to the adjustable buttons and the usage through all seasons! I cannot recommend this sleeping bag enough. My son used the Alvi sleeping bag until he was 2 years old, where he outgrew the largest size available! 


Alvi 3 pieces all-season

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