My Baby Won’t Sleep, What Can I Do?

So often I hear the cry “my baby won’t sleep, what can I do ?” Often this phrase is to do with baby not sleeping at night but often it can be when baby won’t settle to sleep for his daytime naps. So let’s have a look and see what the different issues can be with baby not sleeping.

my baby won't sleep

They all go to sleep eventually

My baby isn’t sleeping at night-

My baby won’t sleep in the day-

My baby won’t settle without me-

My baby won’t sleep all night any more-

My baby won’t sleep in her/his cot-

My baby won’t sleep on his back-

My baby won’t sleep unless I hold him-

My baby will only sleep if I feed him to sleep.

These are often questions that I am asked when parents call me in desperation because the whole family are so sleep deprived- and baby is often so unhappy and miserable and overtired.

For more in-depth information about sleep routines and how to cope with year one, check out my latest release of, The Baby Book.

Don’t worry if your baby won’t sleep

There is really one thing that is most important and that is to make sure your baby is fed well at every feed. A hungry or slightly hungry baby will usually not settle to sleep easily and if he does drop off to sleep will wake soon after his feed and be unsettled. If you are breast feeding it is important that you wake him up if he goes to sleep on you- as most breast fed babies will do! Change his nappy if he is very sleepy then put him back on the same breast if he hasn’t finished that side, or put him on the other side. If baby has finished the first side you may well find he gets cross when you put him back to that breast, so put him on the other side and feed him until he won’t take any more- until he is tanked right up! Wind him, swaddle him and tuck him down. I always swaddle a baby with one hand up so that his little hand is under his chin and the other arm down on his side. Tuck him down in his cot on his side – with his hand that is up under his chin on the mattress side, so his arm that is tucked down on the side of his body that is facing you. Rub his body and shush him and leave him to self settle.

How do I know when he’s had enough milk?

If you are bottle feeding you will know how much your baby is taking, if he appears hungry after the feed then top him up with another 25mg/1oz or so. Then follow the settling pattern as for breast fed babies. For the first few weeks after your baby is born he will only be happy to be up and awake for about 1 hour, this will gradually increase to about one and a half hours by the time he is about six weeks old. Be flexible on this but you will get to know when your baby is ready for a sleep as he will be grumpy and look pale and turn his head from side to side. They are the signs that he needs to go in his cot or pram.

Don’t worry if your baby seems unsettled

When you put your baby down to sleep if he is unsettled and chatty or even having a little shout, this is perfectly normal and all part of self settling. Don’t worry if your baby does this sometimes when you put him down for his nap in the day or for his evening and night sleeps. Try not to pick him up as soon as he shouts, try and leave him for five minutes. If he is really shouting and looking uncomfortable and you are not sure if he has wind, pick him up and check him for wind. If he is rooting, turning his had from side to side and looking hungry then put him back on the breast for another five to ten minutes or if you are bottle feeding top him up with another 1 oz /25 mg or so. Then wind him and resettle him. Often babies will have another little shout before they settle, this is all part of the natural sleep cycle. If baby is shouting and then stops and has his eyes closed don’t pick him up as you will probably find he goes to sleep quite quickly.

Don’t be tempted into rocking baby to sleep

It is important if you want to teach your baby good sleeping habits that baby is tucked down in his cot or pram after each feed. Also that you don’t always rock him to sleep in your arms – or that you get into the habit of feeding baby to sleep. These habits may seem fine in the first few weeks but as baby gets older you will find he won’t settle on his own and then it is more tricky to teach him to self settle.

Having a flexible baby routine

I am also a great believer in a flexible routine. If you are bottle feeding this is easier to do at first as you know how much baby is having at feed. If you are breast feeding it is a little more tricky to do but is certainly possible. Having a flexible routine is a great asset to teaching your baby to sleep. If you are demand feeding, which might suit you well, especially in the early weeks, but you may well find that when baby is a few months old his sleeping patterns are all over the place and he is sleeping in the day but not at night! So a  gentle flexible routine will enable you to teach baby to sleep well.

Babies who are in a flexible routine will very often drop the middle of the night feed by the time they are two months old. So if you are four hourly feeding baby will then be having five feeds a day instead of six feeds.

Time for solids?

If your baby has been a good sleeper at night and is waking early for feeds especially first thing in the morning. If baby is about 14 lbs in weight and about 4 months old then he is probably ready for some solid food. Waking early for feeds and being unsettled is often a sign of needing solids – so don’t be afraid to start some purses with baby rice. There is a lot of pressure to put off solid feeding until baby is six months old and then do baby led weaning, but I prefer to start baby earlier if he is ready. Most babies are ready by the time they are four months old.

So with all the questions on how do I get my baby to sleep, I believe there are two vital areas. The first is that baby has a good feed at every feed and the other is that you try and get into a nice flexible routine that suits you and baby and family life.

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