How To Get Your Baby to Sleep

Advice from the real experts on shut-eye.

Nothing brings a smile to a parent’s face like the cherubic look of that parent’s sleeping baby. And nothing brings on the tears like an overtired, not-so-cherubic child who can’t or won’t go to sleep.

I spent the first couple of years of my babies’ lives in a twilight daze brought on by lack of sleep— mine and my children’s. Even with a couple of academic degrees in child development, I didn’t have a clue how to get my little angels off to Snoozeville. This elusive secret simply wasn’t covered in the clinical textbooks I had studied.

These days, there’s a plethora of expert advice on the subject, some of it conflicting, leaving parents overwhelmed, confused and still sleepless.

It wasn’t until I began teaching parenting classes that I learned the sleep secrets understood by the real experts: experienced parents. I started collecting the tips that sleep-savvy parents shared, knowing many droopy-eyed parents remained in need of help. While experts are certainly trustworthy sources, perhaps no one has more expertise than parents who have earned their M.O.M. or D.A.D. degree as late-night sleep consultants.

If to no avail you’ve tried the old stand-bys, such as taking baby for a car ride, singing lullabies, giving baby a soothing bath, even letting baby cry— which may go against your instincts— then it’s time to step up your efforts. Here are the top ten tactics for getting a baby to sleep from parents who have walked a mile in your slippers and have practical advice.

  1. Singing often lulls a tired baby to sleep. But when your usual karaoke bit isn’t producing results, try this trick from Isobel C. “I sang to my baby using different accents— British, Southern, French. The Scottish one was his favorite; it got him to sleep every time I sang ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ with the accent.”
  2. Try recording a number of soothing sounds or white noises and playing them for your baby at sleep time. “I found my baby often nodded off while I dried my hair, so I made a tape recording of the sound of my hair dryer,” reveals Susan W. “Then, after putting my baby in his crib, I would play the tape.”
  3. Sometimes you need a distraction, not just the fussy baby. “When I’m desperate, I call my mother, and we talk on the phone while I hold and pat my baby,” says Vicki S. “My Mom calms me down, and soon my baby is asleep.”
  4. If you’re a talker, share daily tidbits with your baby as Barbara S. does, and watch what happens. “I talk to my daughter in a quiet voice and tell her everything that’s going on in my life. I get to vent, while she gets to sleep.”
  5. When the ball’s in your court, use it to bounce your baby to sleep. “I hold my baby in my arms all snuggled up, then I sit on a big inflated ball and gently bounce,” says Connie P. “My baby goes to sleep, while I get a good workout.”
  6. Here’s a strange one, but it worked with Anne G.’s baby. “My baby would only go to sleep if you patted him on the back, slower and slower, for what seemed like a long time— then he’d wake up when I stopped. I discovered I could put a small book on his back to imitate the feel of the hand, and he’d fall asleep. When I was sure he was out, I removed the book.”
  7. Kay A.’s baby found comfort with a simulated heartbeat. “I wrapped a clock in something soft and placed it near my baby so she could hear the muffled ticking,” says the proud parent. “The sound must have reminded her of my heartbeat when she was in the womb.”
  8. To coax your child to sleep, often you can fool your baby into feeling comfortable and secure. “I’d put my baby on the robe I wore when breast-feeding,” says Rebecca M. “The smell reminded him of me.”
  9. It takes Dad’s low voice and song choice to do the trick, according to Geoff P. “I sing ‘99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall’ to my son, and I’ve never made it to one.”
  10. Attempt this method, popular in India, Iran and many other countries, as suggested by Lilly G. “Make a leg cradle by stretching out on the floor, then set a pillow on top of your legs, place baby on the pillow, and rock your legs back and forth.”

A Checklist to Help Baby Sleep Safely

  • Confirm with your doctor that your baby’s sleep problems aren’t caused by any medical or physical reasons.
  • To prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), always put your baby on his or her back to sleep. Studies have shown that having babies sleep on their backs cuts their risk of SIDS in half.
  • Confirm your baby’s crib is safe, free of lead paint and approved by the National Safety Council. If your crib was built before 1974, measure that the slats are no more than 2   inches apart. Otherwise, your infant may get his head stuck between the slats. The mattress should fit snugly in the crib without any gaps, ensuring your baby does not become trapped.
  • Don’t give your baby any alcohol or adult medications to get him or her to sleep. Check with your doctor to see if a baby medication, such as Infants’ Tylenol, might help your child to sleep safely and soundly.
  • Don’t let your baby go to sleep with a bottle of juice or milk, which may lead to tooth decay. Instead, give your baby a pacifier if it’s wanted.

Soothing Sleep Products for Baby

Luckily for the sleepless parent and baby, there are a number of products on the market to break that wakeful cycle and get baby to sleep soundly. The following list was provided by experienced parents.

  • Baby Sleeping Bag. Slip your baby into a baby sleeping bag— half sleeper, half bag— to keep your child from kicking off the covers and getting cold during the night.
  • Slumber Bear. Provide a stuffed bear that plays lullabies, heartbeat sounds, even digestion noises, reminding baby of the womb.
  • Swaddle Blanket. Try a preformed swaddling blanket to wrap up your baby and calm him or her down.
  • White-Noise Machine. Turn on a white-noise machine that masks other sounds. It relaxes your baby, soothing him or her to sleep.
  • Baby Massage Kit. Make massaging your baby fun by using kits that come with oils and massage techniques. Concoct your own massage oil by combining two tablespoons of safflower oil and five drops of lavender-essence oil.