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How I got my baby to sleep through the night

Fat Mum Slim /

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This is one of the questions that I probably get asked most from readers, in person and in email. I’ve kinda avoided sharing the story on the blog because I think every baby is different, and every parent is different… and I just know how disheartening it is to hear someone’s story, try it yourself and have it not work.

But I also know how awesome it is to get sleep, and if this helps in even the slightest way… then maybe that’s a good thing.

First of all, this is the post I wrote before I got help with Luella’s sleep. Things weren’t good. I felt hopeless and I was so exhausted I couldn’t see straight. So I got help. Before I was even pregnant with Luella I’d seen a local woman on TV sharing how she’s helped loads of children. Her name is Elaine. So one Saturday I emailed her, and it was probably a desperate email, because she called straight away and organised to come later that week.

Now, in hindsight I can see some of the things I was doing wrong. Well, I was doing a lot wrong. And I don’t mean wrong as in ‘smack me, I’m a terrible mother’. Because I was just doing what worked, and what was getting us by. But I kinda needed a reset button to start afresh, but that just feels impossible when you’re getting no sleep.

I didn’t have a routine. I bathed Lulu whenever I wanted to. I’d usually bath before dinner {because she was so cranky around 4pm and she loved baths so I did what I could to make her happy}. I fed her whenever she was cranky, which was all day long, and all night too. I let her sleep in my arms, or where ever worked. And I was anxious, so whenever Lulu slightly whimpered I’d run to her and pick her up assuming that she was awake or ready to be awake, and feed her. I wasn’t giving her a chance to resettle.

Once Elaine arrived we implemented a few things:

♥ We put a sheet up on the cot {as you can see in the first photo} so that when I was sitting by her bed settling her she couldn’t see me.
♥ We put up a blockout sheet on her window. Luella’s bedroom is really light, so we wanted to stop light getting in. I think I’ll probably try taking that off soon because, well… it’s ugly {evidence below}.
♥ We introduced a sleeping aid. I had a little lamb I bought for Lacey to try and get her to sleep, so we used that.
♥ We used a video monitor so I could see and hear everything, and also monitor the room temperature. We just bought a cheapish one on eBay.
♥ Through monitoring the temperature, we could work out which sleeping bag was best for each night.
♥ A dinner/bathtime/bed routine, with Lulu being in bed every night at some time between 6pm and 7pm.

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For about 6 weeks, for every sleep I’d sit beside her bed and put my hand under the hanging sheet and pat her off to sleep. After a while she started to dislike me patting her, so I’d pat the mattress instead which would soothe her off to sleep. After that 6 weeks of patting her for every sleep {and I’d also pat her to resettle if she woke in the middle of the night} she became frustrated with it. So I let her put herself to bed.

I’m an anxious mama, so the thought of her putting herself to bed freaked me out. I thought she’d scream and cry. But instead she wanted to put herself to sleep. She went straight to sleep. I was probably annoying her with all the patting!

For the first two and a bit months, I would dreamfeed her at about midnight. A dreamfeed is where you go in while they’re sleeping and feed them. I did this for longer than I probably needed because I didn’t want her to be hungry.

Once I stopped the dreamfeed she slept through the night. If she wakes, I watch her {through the monitor} and let her grizzle for a bit but she usually just puts herself back to sleep. If she gets upset I go in and settle her myself, and usually I find the next day that she’s unwell or something, so there’s a reason why she’s not sleeping. I go off my routine when she’s sick and feed as much as she needs overnight and as well during the day, and then get back to it when she’s healthy and happy again.

Doing a routine has meant that we’re home a lot. She has two sleeps a day and the first one is almost always at home and the afternoon one has more flexibility. But I have a happier baby. She was craving sleep, but I hadn’t taught her how to sleep. I’m happier. And therefore I’m a better mama and a better wife. Sleep is good.

So, that’s how we did it. I feel like I need to do a disclaimer because I know everyone parents differently, but this is what worked for me. I know I could have continued on the way we were, and yes I was tired, but it wasn’t so much about me, it was about Luella and my family. I knew that if I kept doing what I was doing Lulu might never learn to sleep {like Lacey still doesn’t}, and I thought she deserved a chance at good sleep, and my family deserved a mama and wife that wasn’t losing her mind. It was the best investment I made in my family {I paid around $700, but you can get Elaine just for the dinner/bed/bath routine, or over the phone – I need help all night because I’m a softie and wouldn’t stick to any plan I was given. I needed to be able to listen to Luella’s signs and act accordingly}. I honestly would recommend Elaine to anyone, because she just gets it and tailors plans to each individual child/baby and parent. You can check out her site here.

Mamas, do you have children that sleep?

  • Chantelle, I wish I had’ve called in help when I had Max. He didn’t sleep through at night until…. well…. he’s 5 1/2 now & I am getting up bad dreams now, rather than hunger/stirring, on average maybe 3-4 nights a week. We now have a miracle bub on the way & Max & I have been talking about how I’m getting very tired, so when he wakes up, he tells me I can keep sleeping. Bless him & bless your fairy Godmother! If number 2 is like this, I’ll be calling in back up! *bookmarking Elaine’s website..*

    • I’m actually going to get help with Lacey next because I’m still up with her once a night, a couple of times a week.

      I hope your miracle hub is a great sleeper. 🙂

  • Its always good to hear other people’s stories.. I have a 14 month old who is having rough time sleeping through the night… she is great at going to sleep all by herself, never a fuss, but she wakes and needs a bottle in the middle of the night… plus because of where we live she has to be in our room… so i’m thinking the sheet on the cot is a great idea!! and also i used to dream feed maybe i’ll try that again… so thank you for sharing!!

  • I’m in sleep hell right now. We’re doing what we need to do to get by, but something has to change soon. I had used the excuse “after Queensland I’ll do something” and now it’s “after Queensland” and I need to do something. I’m not sure what that something is yet! Thanks for sharing your experience, it’s uplifting to read about other people who have managed to sort sleep issues out.

    • Oh gosh, you are so like me. I’d do that all the time and then when the time rolled around, I couldn’t do it. I was too exhausted to deal with it.

      I hope you get sleep soon. xxx

  • Jen

    We just got back from sleep school in Melbourne, best thing ever! Similar to you guys, we’re still patting to resettle though. Still have good days and bad days, he’s getting four teeth at the moment so can’t expect too much!

    Great post!

    • Ah yes, I think it’s always 10 steps forwards and then a few back when they’re teething or sick… but not as bad as it could be.

      I hope the teeth hurry along!

  • My 2-month old sleeps well at night, but it’s the daytime naps that are the issue. She self settles and usually will be asleep within 5 min of being put in her cot. But she always wakes up from her nap after one sleep cycle, so after about 40min and she can’t resettle. So I end up carrying her her around so that she can have more sleep during the day. I will give patting technique a go to teach her how to resettle during the day.

    • Oh bummer. Sometimes Lulu will sleep for 1 hour and others 2 hours. I haven’t quite mastered getting longer day sleeps. She always wakes up cranky in the day, but sometimes I’ll leave her for a little bit and she’ll lie back down and go to sleep. It’s like a miracle.

  • My son has been a good sleeper since he was born. never a real issue unless he was teething or has nightmares. He’s been sleeping in a cot bed since the age of 2 1/2 months. Best thing ever. The first night he fell sleep himself…
    He is 2 now since last week and we are still in a bad habit for the last year if not even longer to get him asleep. he always gets his bottle before bed and then he goes to sleep but it isn’t that easy. as stated in your post I wouldn’t want him crying himself to sleep plus he would be at curtains, blinds etc. So the only way to get him asleep is in a rocking chair. He will be moving into a bed by Christmas I am hoping and trying to change his routine then. I have blogged about it on my blog (www.janineslittleworld.com) but unfortunately I can’t seem to get my blog out there and therefore haven’t got any advice yet.

    • Oh no. I hope you can get it sorted. I think I might keep Lulu in her cot forever. Will pop over to your blog to read. x

  • I’m so glad you found something that works. Well done! My first slept fine. Sleep was her default state – I had to wake her for feeds. So when #2 didn’t sleep, I was totally lost. Routines were there, but he’d still wake twice at night. Then it became once, but with a marathon 2-hour resettling routine most nights. The only reason he sleeps through now is that when he was 13 months old, I strained the AC joint in my shoulder and literally couldn’t pick him up. So he cried himself back to sleep. The first night it was one hour and 40 minutes. The second 20 minutes. The third? Not a peep. And only once or twice since (in four months). I still feel guilty sometimes, but he’s a happy happy boy and still loves me, so I guess there’s no permanent damage done.

  • Jo Sutton

    I used Elaine’s program too and it was a lifesaver. I had a 3 month old very unsettled baby when I found out I was pregnant again. I was terrified that I was no good at the whole parenting thing and I was crying all the time. Elaine came and gave us great support and advice. Turns out our boy was hungry and craving sleep ! It is hard to ask for help but it is out there and makes the world of difference.

  • My daughter is now 21 months and we’ve ruined her with bad habits lol co sleeping & she still comfort nurses to sleep. Yep… Hard habits to break but she has always been in tune with our lifestyle needs of bed later and sleeping in for her dad on nightshift so not all bad 😉

  • How did you go during the day with an older kid and trying to teach bub to go to sleep? I have an 11 month old daughter and her sleep has gone downhill since the 6 month mark. But if I try to settle her in the cot my poor 3.5yo son gets bored and comes looking for me (which then wakes bub up completely lol). And nights are hard as hubby works them too.
    You give me hope though that the patting etc does work! I have never done controlled-crying, but in moments of desperation of trying for hours to get the baby to stay asleep I must admit I wonder if it’d work :/ 🙁

    • Shaunery

      Shan, your 3.5 can also benefit from their own routine! Let your little one help, like fetching a blankie, or choosing a book to read to both of them. I use to put my 3 year old down in her cot and would have the baby in her sling. I’d read outloud and sing a lullaby from my rocker next to her cot. Then as my 3 ur old settled, I’d take the baby to her bassinet in my room… A 7:00 – 8:00 pm bed routine isn’t a bad thing for the wee one and with two, you can get a few extra zzzz once they’re down!

  • Michelle Doehnert

    I was putting up with hellish nights and little Belle until about 5 weeks ago when I had Jordan’s appnt with the health nurse. He’s been sleeping through since 8 weeks and we spoke mainly about Belle.

    For the last 5 weeks she had been sleeping through. Every. Single. Night! I can count on one hand how many times I’ve actually gone into her. Once because the cat wanted to snuggle and she didn’t.

    Before the health nurse stepped in Belle went to be at 7. And our problem was we had no routine. I did whatever it took us to do but she was in bed at 7 and awake hysterically crying between 9-10 THEN we slept on the couch with her on my chest.

    So I agree it all comes down to routine! Dinner must be served no later than 5:30. Bath is at 6. Bottle by 6:30. Book and bed then in bed by 7. And crazy thing too, I now have Autumn in bed 1.5 hours earlier than previously. It’s amazing. I have my nights back for me time.

    As you say it doesn’t work for everyone but it certainly worked for us.

    Now to work on Jordan, he’s woken nearly every night Belle has slept through.

    You’re doing a great job mumma. xx

  • I’d think twice before removing the blockout blind. You’re absolutely right that they’re ugly, but they’re also very effective!

  • shaunery

    Congratulations! And good for you! This routine will have many “bonus” features later in your sweet babe life. My children still (12 & 15) still unknowingly follow a very similar routine. We start at 6:30 pm after supper with baths, lavender lotions and “beauty regimen”, 7:00 pm med and Jammie’s (dd #2 is autistic), 7:30 getting the bed just right ( blankets, teddies and etc) and 8:00 pm lights out. We stick to this routine all week long, including weekends. Now from 8:00 pm to my bedtime, I have ME time!! Youngest is asleep and eldest is reading or doing homework until 9:00 pm. It’s been a blessing when school started with early morning routines, it’s awesome on holidays, they’re falling asleep quicker in hotels. When hubby wasn’t working nights we’d have adult conversation with no interruptions, or movie nights at home… Yes we stayed home a lot BUT I have better tempered well rested children! Stick to your routines moms!!! And ask for help when you need it! We all need help!!

  • Amanda

    I am a huge advocate of routines for babies! We used two fabulous books to help us out – Save our Sleep and the New Contented Little Baby Book – and have recommended them, with great success, to all of our friends. Our children (now 5, 7 and 8) started sleeping 8 hours a night from 6 weeks and 12 hours a night from 3 months!! Other than the first few weeks with a newborn, I can honestly say I never suffered from lack of sleep. And the fabulous sleeping habits have continued – we pop them in bed and most nights they are asleep within ten minutes. Yes it can be tricky in the beginning, having to work around sleeps and feeds, but all the hard work has definitely paid off!

  • I hear you about routines! We were quite routine oriented since the Little Mister was pretty much a newborn! Of course we were flexible when need be, but it was important to us to give him the security of a routine, so even if we broke it, he knew how to get back to normal. My little catch cry is that we make the rules so we can break them without it throwing everything out of whack! I don’t think we can take all the credit for him being a good sleeper, but I’m so glad it works for us too. I think we have a similar approach 🙂
    So happy for you. I know how amazing it is to make some progress!!! Like with all rapidly growing little ones, there are always going to be hiccups – illnesses, growth spurts, etc and we’ve had our fair share!
    We were lucky that we had some great friends who warned us before our Little Mister was born that routine saved their lives! I took it to heart and it’s been kind to us.

  • This was similar to what I did…kind of. I was having a really hard time getting my son to nap and although he did sleep through the night from time to time, it was not regular. I actually turned to SuperNanny Jo Frost and her website for some help. I used her 5-10-15 technique. I would put my son to bed for his nap and inevitably he would cry but I would tuck him in, give hugs and kisses and pop out of the room. According to Jo’s technique, you wait 5 minutes and go back in to reassure the child that you’re near, tuck them back in and then, leave the room again. Actually, for the first few weeks, I would sit on the floor by the door where he couldn’t see me and just count to 60 five times cuz for some reason, it was comforting to me to still be in the room in case he needed me. At the five minute mark, I would go back in (or stand up), tuck him back in, reassure him gently, kiss and hug and then, leave (or sit back down). This time, you wait ten minutes. After the ten minutes, go in (stand up), reassure him again, and then, leave. Now you wait fifteen minutes before going back in and every time after that until the child settles down and falls asleep. I did this for nap times and at night, either at bedtime and during the night. Within three days, this routine went from 30-40 minutes each time to only 5-15 minutes. My son learned to essentially settle himself down and put himself to sleep. Within a week he was sleeping through the night consistently and napping twice a day. What a happier baby a rested baby makes! And what a happier mommy too! 🙂 Now, I have a three year old who sleeps through the night just about every night and if he doesn’t, it’s typically because he is sick. As a mom, you just need to try a technique or two and find one that works for you and your baby!

  • Baby 1 slept through at 7 weeks.
    Baby 2 at 13 weeks.
    Baby 3 is 16 months & still doesn’t sleep through.
    Baby 4 is 4 months old & not sleeping through.

    I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong with the last two but I do know I am very very tired.

  • It’s funny, I remember when my kids were babies and people telling me that routines weren’t good for babies as they’re not robots. The thing is everyone loves routine, whether you call it that or not. All humans have their little rituals before they go to bed (and all through the day), it’s comforting. My eldest really, really needed a routine and I didn’t know how to give it to her. She still needs routine now or else she doesn’t cope with life too well.

    As I’m sure you know, I had three non-sleepers (to varying degrees). I’m not a believer in just living with it. I really believe that getting help is essential for everyone’s health, the whole family. I think it’s really important for later down the track too. My husband was a terrible sleeper as a baby/child and his mum just kind of lived with it. To this day he struggles with sleep issues and it can be quite debilitating, I some times wonder if things would be different if he’d got help as a baby.

  • caitlinshappyheart

    I think it’s great that you have shared this. Yes, every parent is different, but there are some principles that seem to work for not all, but most parents, and I think you have definitely outline some key ones here with self soothing and routine. I’m over the sleepless baby stage, but I was in deep doo doo when I had sleepless triplets for 12 months, so I really empathise with sleepless mothers.

  • Rebecca

    Thank you for sharing, great tips! Yep, lots of time at home here too, but routine is the only thing that has worked for sleep at night for us. It’s a short time they are small, I just have to keep reminding myself of that when I go insane with cabin fever 🙂

  • madhmama

    My daughter was very similar. She got to a point where she didn’t want us to pat her down and she wanted to put herself to bed. It was my husband who had the most trouble with this new independence, since he tends to baby her more. When he was away for 3 weeks, I started to let her settle herself and she slept through the whole night without any problems. When my husband got back, he came back to such an independent girl, he was impressed!
    I knew she wanted to settle herself because she cried MORE when she was coddled. Sometimes it is us parents who are more scared.

  • This has been something I’ve battled for years. Mine all sleep through but none of them did until they were at least 1!! Right now O is in our bed EVERY night from about 2 or 3am – it’s habit we’ll have to break but we’re off to NZ soon and the habit will get broken then. I have to say I kind of like it at times because he’s very snuggly! x

  • So good to read about the help you got for sleeping, and to read about your bedtime routine. Sleep is so needed when we are Mums, yet so hard to come by!
    out of our five boys we only had one good sleeper! And it was our fourth son – he liked to put himself to sleep from day one. Our youngest was the worst sleeper – luckily he is now 8 and sleeps better. I so would have called anyone to come and help out when he was little….but I was too sleep deprived to realise that we needed help 🙂

  • My 14 month old has just started to sleep through in this last week. I have read your posts about sleep troubles and winning the battle and drawn hope from them. Living sleep deprived is one hellish existence. I have not been the best mother, wife and friend so I’m really relieved and happy to say I’m on the way up from here. I hope. Thanks for sharing the realities of mothering x

  • iF

    we have a black cloth over our bedroom windows to block the light too so that our 6mo would sleep longer! but we co-sleep cos i cant bear to sleep without her next to me #separationanxiety
    thanks for sharing your story by the way!

  • That’s sounds great but without wanting to insult, I do believe your second one was an easy-going baby with no medical issues, which made it easier for you to settle her into a routine. I tried routines with both of mine but wasn’t as “lucky”. One had reflux, the other had leukaemia. So no routine ever helped.xx

    • Hey lovely. I’m sorry you’re going through a hard time. I didn’t say it was a fix for anyone, I’m just sharing my story with my baby {who wasn’t an easy baby, which is why I had to get help}.

      All the best with your sleep. xxx

      • Sorry if I sounded harsh. I didn’t mean it. Just trying to make other new mummies aware of the fact that it is not always a matter of routine, many times it is nature’s fault, so to say. My sleep is better, baby passed away in July..xx

        • I’m so sorry to hear that. It’s truly heart-breaking. x

  • It’s funny how some kids just eventually want to put themselves to sleep. My youngest, I would spend ages trying to get her to go to sleep, rocking her in my arms, and she would just get more worked up and it was exhausting. Then one night my eldest was sick and needed me right as I was trying to put Zee to sleep so I had to just put her down while I went to Punky. I could hear Zee grizzling for about 5 minutes and by the time I got back to her she was sound asleep! Next night I tried just giving her a little cuddle and rocked, during which she whinged, and then as soon as I put her down she rolled over and put herself of to sleep and has been doing it ever since. It was such a relief, as we spent many, many months trying all sorts of things with Punky, so to have Zee just kind of figure it out before I even did was amazing!

    So glad to hear that you’re getting some sleep and things are getting easier. There is nothing like sleep deprivation to ruin the days xx

@Fatmumslim