How to Help a Baby Sleep Through the Night:

By Let Mommy Sleep. July 23, 2017

We're reprinting this sleep plan outline to help all the parents who ask "How can I get baby on a schedule?!" and "How can I get my baby to sleep through the night?!"  We understand there are many, many ways to care for your baby and don't advocate any parenting style,but we do want to provide concrete answers to this question.  Our sleep plans were written by our Registered Nurses using the guidance of our Medical Advisory Board.

                                                                                                                         image via unsplash, by @jamesmayer

Sleeping Independently Through the Night – 4 Steps

  1. get pediatrician's okay that baby is able to sleep 8 or more hours without needing to feed
  2. give consistent daytime feeding. 4 larger feeding sessions during the day of 6-7 oz per feed, plus a dreamfeed of 2-3 oz = 28oz. This is usually enough to fill baby's belly to sleep through the night but again that is up to parents and pediatrician.
  3. wean overnight feeds while increasing daytime feeds.
  4. implement formal sleep training using the Slingshot Method

After parents get the pediatrician's blessing that baby is healthy and able to sleep long stretches without feeding here's one wya to get baby to sleep through the night:

Consolidating Feeds During the Day to Help Baby Sleep Through the Night

The most crucial first step to getting on schedule and getting baby sleeping restfully through the night is ensuring that he is taking larger, consistent feeds during the day. This means giving 4 consistent feeding sessions (milk every 4 hours) with one last “dreamfeed” around 10:00p.

With 4 feeding sessions of 6-7 ounces plus a final dreamfeed, we’re giving enough calories to get through the night.   In other words, if he is getting 28 ounces in a day up to and including a 10p feed, we can expect him to have enough calories to sleep long stretches at night. (Getting him to actually do it takes some teaching, which we will discuss below). We are not taking away ounces at night, we are simply “repositioning” them to be taken in during the day.   Eating larger meals at predictable times means baby will also anticipate rest at predictable times instead of just eating a bit, sleeping a it, eating a bit, sleeping a bit.

 So how exactly do we consolidate feeds and transition baby to a 4 hour feeding schedule?

  1. Upon waking in the morning, give as much milk as he wants at feeding time.
  1. For the next feed, hold off for as close to the 4 hour mark as possible. THIS WILL BE A GRADUAL PROCESS and may take 1-2 weeks. We of course do not want baby to get to a state of frenzied hunger so it is absolutely okay if you can only hold off feeds for 3 hours and 15 minutes on these first tries. You will not see a perfect 4 hour schedule emerge on the first day. It will take 5-7 days of consistently working toward 4 hour feedings, before you see a 4 hour feeding schedule. You’ll see he’s able to go longer and longer stretches with each feed until after several days, he’ll be doing the larger 6/7 ounce feeds every 4 hours. 

While you are transitioning to feed only during the day, baby will still wake up during the night because the full transition time will take several days and we have not yet addressed formal sleep training.   During this time you are still doing your normal overnight feeds but gradually giving less and less overnight, since he is taking more during the day.  

To wean overnight simply give ½ ounce less in his bottle over the course of 2-3 nights. It's okay to use a pacifier to help baby go to sleep during this time. 

Once we know baby does not physically need milk overnight, we can address…

SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT

One of the key components of a child sleeping through the night is learning to fall asleep for the night at their bedtime of 7:00/8p on their own.   Putting baby down awake but drowsy at bedtime means that he already has the tools to put himself back to sleep if he has a middle of the night waking.

A key component to helping baby get ready for bed and in the “drowsy but awake” state is to instill an average of a 30 minute wind-down routine. It doesn’t matter what the wind down is; just that it is the same 2-3 quiet things before bed every night so he can switch gears and can physically and mentally wind down for sleep.  Baby cannot fall asleep using anything outside of his control; he must control how *he* gets himself to sleep.  In other words, no pacifier, no falling asleep while feeding and no rocking to sleep. These 3 things are controlled by parent and not baby so baby can't find out how he gets himself to sleep.   

When baby wakes for a bottle during the first wake up window, we find the more formal sleep training technique of the Slingshot Method is helpful. Slingshot -where a parent stays in the room while baby learns to go back to sleep- can be the least jarring method of sleep training.  You may choose another method though and that's fine!

Here is how Slingshot works:

  1. During the first few nights, stay next to the crib and reassure with your voice and touch. You can try patting or singing, but try not to pick baby up when he fusses. You are showing that you are there to comfort and support, but baby is the only person who truly knows how to get to sleep. It is okay to sleep in the room during the first nights. 
  1. During the next few nights, sit (sleep) a little further across the room and just soothe with your voice. If he continues to fuss, you can get up and reassure with touch but try to wait a bit longer in between each time. During the next few nights, sit even further away from the crib near the doorway and soothe with your voice. The next few nights you should be in the doorway or even into the hall. The object is to slowly and gradually do this so that it is a gradual change for your baby. 
  1. Employ Slingshot for night waking as well. We define a night waking as any wake time between 10p – 5:30a.m   Once he is able to fall asleep independently at 7:00, he will also be able to soothe back to sleep during the night wakings. If baby wakes for the day rested and happy at 6:00a, then you know that that is his natural wake up time.

The most important thing to remember in helping a baby sleep through the night is consistency. If you are sure, and the pediatrician agrees, that baby is able to sleep through the night without waking to feed, the only way sleep training works is to see it through. Twins sharing the same room should be kept together for sleep training since they will need to learn to sleep through each other's wake ups. 

For example, if he cries for 10 minutes and you give him a bottle, he has learned that crying for 10 minutes = bottle.

To help with this transition from dependent to independent sleep, you can make the atmosphere as comfortable as possible by incorporating dark blinds and shades and a small nightlight in the room. Calm activities during the afternoon will also help pave the way for a calm bedtime.

Here is a sample schedule for a 4 month old, based on an average 7:00 awake-for-the-day time:

Sample Schedule for a 4-6 Month Old

7:00                    wake up, change

7:15 or 7:30        5/6 oz. milk

8:30                     solids: grain or grain + fruit

9:30                     wind down

10:00                       nap

- 4 hour cycle repeats upon waking up –

11:30                       5/6 oz. milk

12:30                       solids: grain or grain + veg (when lunch is introduced)

12:00 – 1:00             activity

1:00 – 1:30               wind down for nap

1:30 – 3:30               nap

- 4 hour cycle repeats again upon waking from nap, but with a third short nap*-

3:30                      5/6 oz. milk

3:30 – 4:30           quiet play, try to stay around home and stick to calm activities

4:30 – 5ish           nap

5:30                      dinner of solids (this is appropriate whenever you want to begin the addition of an evening meal---we are only including it so you can see what it looks like to have a 3 meal per day schedule)

6:15 – 7:00           5/6 oz. milk, bed

10pm                       Dreamfeed of 4/5 ounces the last feed of the night, baby does not have to be fully awake for this. It is just a small 2-3 ounce feed to be sure he has gotten all of the ounces in for the night. You do not have to wake baby, simply hold the bottle to him and he will instinctually take in what is needed. When he is done there’s no need to burp but he may need a quick diaper change at this time.

There will be 3 “blocks” of 4 hours.  The last block includes only a short nap since it is close to bedtime.

***Nap #3 in the late afternoon will disappear in month 7. You will see your baby or twins sometimes takes the nap and sometimes does not until over the course of about 3 weeks, it eventually drops altogether.

Each block begins with milk and the last block ends with milk, so feeding times are at: 7am, 11:00am, 3pm and 6:30pm.   There will obviously be some adjustment time where the schedule is not perfect, but it will likely last 5-7 days.

The above is only a sample schedule.  It might not work for you and that's okay! There are a lot of right answers. Tell us what works for you on Twitter or Facebook!