Help! My Baby Won’t Sleep
You came home from the hospital armed with great advice: sleep when the baby sleeps. For some families, it really is as simple as that. But for many parents—up every hour or so with the baby all night and then having to be alert for work, to parent older kids, or just to function—it doesn’t take long before things start to feel desperate.
Is this normal? Is there something wrong with my baby? How can I fix this so we can get some rest around here?!
Whether this is your first baby or your fourth, sleep issues can throw you for a loop. Sorting through advice can be really confusing because unfortunately there isn’t a one-size-fits-all sleep solution. Here are a few tips to help you find the right answer for you and your unique, precious-but-wakeful baby.
Know that everyone understands.
Most parents have run into sleep problems at one time or another. We may not be in exactly the same situation you are, but we get it. Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re a little (or a lot!) sleep-deprived; people will appreciate that you’re doing your best. Your colleagues, neighbors, in-laws, and others mean well—take their advice if it seems to fit, or just smile and say thank you and then do what's right for you.
Rule out physical causes.
Chances are your baby is just fine. But there are some physical causes that could be keeping him up at night. Use your best judgment and, when in doubt, call your pediatrician if you suspect something might be up with your little one.
- Growth spurt: Is the baby waking up a lot and rooting, or inconsolable until he gets a bottle or nurses? He could be having a growth spurt. Try feeding him more—and more often—during daylight hours until things get back to normal.
- Discomfort: Some babies are super sensitive to wet diapers, damp pajamas, scratchy tags, and temperature. Think about the fabrics and textures around your baby while she sleeps. Temperature—especially if the baby isn’t sleeping in your room—could be something you want to keep an eye on.
- Colic and reflux: If your baby is crying for several hours at a time, or seems otherwise inconsolable, colic or reflux might be the culprit. If you notice crying patterns or observe your baby gagging, or if he cries more after spitting up or after eating, call your pediatrician. Most of the time colic and reflux are minor issues, but a timely intervention can really help your sleep—and your nerves!
Soothe your anxiety.
The baby stirs and you startle awake, holding your breath to analyze each tiny movement and squeak to see if she’s ok. Sound familiar? It’s totally normal to have a heightened sense of anxiety about your baby—after all, that’s what keeps her safe! The key is to find ways to safely handle that anxiety so you can get some rest.
- Get help from your partner. If you live with your partner, try trading off who is “on call.” If one of you is a night owl, maybe that person could keep the baby in another room while the other sleeps, and vice versa for the early morning hours. Or perhaps you could trade off nights. Even nursing moms can get a break for a few hours—experts say healthy babies can sleep 2 to 3 hours between feedings—so let your partner handle the baby between nursing sessions, or try a pumped bottle for one nighttime feeding.
- Call on your network. Do you live near extended family? Have good relationships with friends or neighbors? When people offer to help, take them up on it! Sometimes having someone else hold the baby for a couple of hours so you can nap makes a huge difference.
- Use smarter tools. Even if you don’t have a strong network nearby and don’t have the budget for a professional baby nurse, you can opt for tools that give you more peace of mind. Babies have shorter sleep cycles than adults (about 60 minutes versus our 90), and many parents wake up when babies stir in the lighter sleep between cycles. Whether the baby is sleeping in your room or in the nursery, a smarter monitor can give you the peace of mind to relax until baby really needs you.
Know that you’ll get through this—and it’s so worth it.
It’s hard to savor the moments of parenting when you’re exhausted. Do what you can, try what seems best for your family, and remember that this parenting thing is an adventure! There are crazy times, frustrations, and setbacks, certainly. But it’s also one of the most amazing and rewarding things you’ll ever experience.