Transitioning Your Baby to Self Sleep


Dear Young Mama,

You’re going to be o.k.

You’ll find your way.

Give yourself time, it all takes time.

Your jeans will fit again.

Things will be different, but your new normal will probably surprise you in a good way…eventually.

Your baby will sleep through the night and these sleepless nights will be a distant memory.

You might believe all of these, except the last one! 🙂

Sentiments might feel trite in the moment when you’re bone tired with bags under your eyes that are a color you’ve never seen before. It’s right about this point that I’m not sure what all the fanfare with pregnancy was (special parking spots, doors being opened, offers to help), it’s the postpartum period when I really was struggling because I NEEDED SLEEP.

In the first few weeks, all bets are off when it comes to newborn sleep. You do what you can. For me, that meant letting 3/4 of my babies sleep on me. (Despite the fact that I KNOW I’m not supposed to and bad things can happen). No matter how you’re doing it…baby on you, baby in the swing, baby in the carseat…eventually they’re going to have to sleep on their own, in a device meant for sleeping. Well, how do you transition newer baby to self sleep?

Today I will not just offer you (totally sincere) trite phrases. I am trying to dig back in the recesses of my sleep deprived state to remember how I got my babies to sleep on their own.

I think I usually worked on the evening routine first. Once you can establish a bedtime where the baby doesn’t scream being put down, it’ll help in the middle of the night too.

The steps to getting your baby down at night…

1. Give the baby a full feeding.

2. Swaddle the baby. People say babies don’t like to be swaddled because they always try to get out. I don’t buy it. They were all warm, cozy and smooshed in the womb; I think they like being swaddled for the first few months.

3. Put the baby down at a consistent time between 6 and 8 pm in a crib/bassinet. I used the Fisher Price Rock and Play up until 4 months.

4. Consider elevating the head of the bed to combat reflux (the spitting up issues). I like the Fisher Price Rock and Play because it’s elevated and helps new babies with their reflux issues. You can also put a blanket under the crib mattress to slightly raise it.

5. Once the baby is down in the crib/bassinet, you can try to  help soothe them towards sleep. I started by putting my hand on the top of the baby’s head and/or slightly over one of the eyes/forehead region and gently moving my hand. I totally found this by accident with my first baby, have never read about it anywhere and absolutely love using this trick because with all four babies, it helped soothe them. My theory is that babies heads have the feeling of pressure on them in the womb and it’s a comforting sensation for them. I also shooshed them at the same time.

7. Try to comfort them until they are mostly sleeping.

8. Then leave.

In the beginning of the transition, the baby will probably cry.***

9. Let them cry a bit and then go back to look for problems/comfort them. Hudson, my most recent baby, usually had an extra burp. If I picked him up, burped him and put him back down, he’d often cry just a couple more minutes and then fall asleep.

10. Leave again, let the baby cry a little longer.

11. Repeat 9 and 10 per your comfort level, always putting the baby back down to sleep in their crib. Try to let intervals between crying and comforting get longer and longer. The longest I let a baby cry was probably around 45 minutes?

12. If you’ve tried everything and are sick of it, in the early weeks, wear the baby until they fall asleep (I used an Ergo) and then put them down in their crib when they are sleeping very soundly.

13. Plan on a 1-4 week transition, depending on your baby. By transition I mean, you can just put the baby down in their bassinet/crib and they go to sleep on their own without problems or excessive crying.

Other ideas:

Stay calm- A crying or fussy baby drives even the most grateful and loving parents to become anxious and distraught. Take turns with your spouse. Go on a walk for a few minutes.

Know what you’re committed to. Do you want to go through the frustration of hearing your baby cry to get to better night sleep for you both more quickly? If yes, you’ll probably have a few trying evenings to get to that point. If you’re not ready for the crying, wait until later.

Burp- Whenever I put my small babies down to sleep and they fussed a lot, I picked them back up for another burp. It seems like there’s often one stuck in there and so I never underestimate the power of a good burping.

Massage- When my babies seem to be crying for “no reason,” especially in the evening hours, there were often gas problems. You can help sooth a baby’s gassy stomach by lightly tracing the intestinal tract (go from the bottom of the baby abdominal area on the left in a clockwise motion). Pumping the legs like they’re peddling a bike and then squeezing both up towards their tummy at the same time works very well. I tried to do this before I put them down.

Once evening routines were going pretty well, then I focused on putting the baby back down at night after after night feedings. Sometimes my babies would do that naturally, other times I had to let them cry. I gave myself a lot of grace. I stayed pretty committed once I decided to let them “cry it out,” but sometimes I couldn’t do it. Sometimes in the early days, it was back on my chest after a 4 a.m. feeding. Eventually, it just happened less and less and I got more consistent and they got older.

***Ever heard the term, the 4th trimester? The first three months out of the womb (for full term babies) is one where they don’t quite have the neuro or digestive system maturity that they need to feel content on their own. They struggle with reflux and colic and other frustrations they’ll usually eventually grow out of and sometimes they cry for no reason. They basically would probably love to be held all the time, which isn’t a bad thing, except to be loving parents, we also need to sleep. So even though crying feels terrifying to a mother’s ears (and heart), if everything is o.k., the baby might have to cry a few minutes to fall asleep to learn to sleep on their own.

I hope some of these things help… let me know if there are more specific questions and hang in there young mama!