Where should you start when you’re trying to get your baby to sleep well? Their sleep environment. Like all newborns, L could sleep anywhere, anytime for about the first 3 months. Then gradually she became more and more sensitive to her sleep environment. You can solve a lot of your baby’s sleep issues, like we did, if you know how to create the ultimate setting for sleep. Here are all of the components of a good sleeping environment, which will set you up with the perfect foundation to create excellent sleepers.
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1. White Noise
We purchased a white noise machine when we set up the nursery and have an app on our phones. The idea behind white noise machines is that the womb is noisy so most babies have a hard time sleeping when it’s quiet. The noise is similar to the noise they hear in-utero.
You can actually get a lamb that mimics utero noises with a heartbeat to add to baby’s crib, I didn’t learn about this soon enough to make use of it with L, but some friends of mine have had success with it. The second reason behind white noise is that it cancels out all of the noise and voices in the house that could jolt baby out of sleep. Be aware of how loud your machine is and ideally place it on the opposite side of the room so it isn’t damaging your baby’s hearing.
A well-regulated temperature is a must. If you are hot or cold, you throw a blanket on or off. A baby can’t do this. In fact, I think it isn’t until about 3 years or older that they understand this. I was always struggling with this. I would either dress L too warm or too cold. A sleep sack is tremendously helpful to keep little ones warm without overheating. In fact, not getting your baby accustomed to a sleep sack now could cause sleep issues as a toddler, because they won’t be used to wearing anything while sleeping. They come in sizes newborn to XL for toddlers, I highly recommend trying one.
Another tip is to use footie pajamas with inverse zippers. I was so happy when I found some. When you change baby in the middle of the night, it is so nice to only have to unzip to their tummy and then pull aside the pajamas. When the zipper is the traditional way (bottom to top), you have to unzip the full zipper and then rezip, which takes more time. The biggest advantage to the inverse zipper is that by only unzipping to the tummy, they stay warmer and are less likely to get upset/wake up more.
3. Feeling Secure
Using either a swaddle, Magic Merlin Sleep Suit, or a sleep sack AND a lovey will help little ones sleep. These outfits are a great way to keep baby at a good temperature and helps them feel cocooned and secure. We went from the swaddle (0-3 months) to the Magic Merlin Sleep Suit (3-7) to the sleep sack (7 and on). You can also use a sleep sack from 0 to 3 if your baby doesn’t like their hands trapped. However, I still highly recommend the Magic Merlin Sleep suit from 3 months on because it does such a great job to transition baby to a crib. The Magic Merlin Sleep Suit did us wonders however I don’t feel it is ever recommended enough with how well it works. I talk about our experience with the Magic Merlin Sleepsuit here.
Between months 6-10, baby will attach to a lovey. A lovey promotes independence because eventually in the middle of the night if the child can find their lovey, they usually can fall back asleep. It is important to not miss this window as your baby will attach to something at this age and if they don’t have something it could be YOU or YOUR HAIR. The AAP does not recommend having a lovey in the crib until 12 months. Like everything, use your best judgement. All kids reach milestones at different ages. Do only what you are comfortable with. Here are some options:
- Nurse with the lovey. Even if you don’t allow baby to sleep with the lovey, nursing with the lovey will start that association of comfort and the lovey will smell like you and milk.
- Do the lovey test: Once your child is asleep, place the lovey on their face and see what they do. See if they grab it and move it off their face. Try this a couple of times.
- Include the lovey in your bedtime routine, nurse with it and read stories with it so baby associates the lovey with bedtime and you.
- Allow baby to fall asleep with it but watch on monitor to ensure baby is safe, then once baby falls asleep remove it. Then once baby is 12 months, you can go ahead and switch to them having it all night.
We are giving away a Magic Merlin Sleepsuit to one lucky follower right now, learn more.
4. The lighting in the sleeping room
The lighting in the room that baby sleeps is important. I would highly recommend purchasing blackout curtains. These are our favorite because they work well and come in awesome solid kid colors. Blackout curtains allow you to darken the room for naps and for bedtime when it might still be light out as most babies will go to bed as early as 5 or 6 pm.
However, I suggest to add a dimmable nightlight specifically near the changing table for two reasons. One is that most babies don’t like complete pitch black. The second is when baby wakes during the night, it is important to keep the environment calming as possible. You don’t want to have to turn on lights to change a diaper (or nurse) and really wake baby up.
5. The lighting of ANY room after dinner time
You want to ensure that the rooms that you are in are becoming darker as the sun sets. This helps baby to start to settle down and get ready for sleep. They follow the sun like clockwork and being in a bright stimulating room only hurts your efforts to put baby to sleep. We would usually do a walk around the block and put baby in an Ergo Carrier after dinner to start our bedtime routine. Being outdoors would always sooth L (as it does most babies) and the world around her would naturally darken.
6. Check your emotions and attitude towards bedtime
Baby knows when you are anxious or frustrated. I know it is challenging but take a deep breath and try to convey to your baby that going to bed is a wonderful thing. You want baby to feel safe, calm and happy about sleep and they will mimic your feelings. Smile at your baby and show them that sleep is a not something to be afraid of. If you become very anxious and have a look of worry on your face every time you put them in their crib, they will associate their crib with fear and naturally scream and cry.
7. The Crib or Not the Crib
As always ensure the sleeping “bed” is safe for baby, whether this be a co-sleeper, crib or bassinet. In addition to safety, as baby gets older continually check if the “bed” might be the issue. For instance, L was a big baby. She was wearing 2T before 12 months. She also moved a ton at night and as a result the crib was actually causing a good number of wake-ups. She would either get an arm or leg stuck or just bump into a side and it would wake her.
The solution? We moved her to a Pack n Play where the sides are mesh. She LOVES it and sleeps better than she did in her much more expensive crib. If you don’t already have one, I highly recommend getting a Pack n Play. Not only are they great for babies who move a lot at night but are also great travel cribs. Another bonus is when you are traveling and the sleeping environment is new, the “bed” won’t be and baby will be comfortable in the Pack n Play. Test out a few options and see what baby likes best, some babies do better in the crib.
When choosing Cribs, Wayfair is a fantastic option as they sell cribs that are Pottery Barn quality but actually at reasonable prices. We also used them when L needed a Toddler Bed.
8. Make the crib a pleasant place
Have baby spend a few minutes each day in the crib outside of nap and bedtime. Add a fabric book to the crib or a few loveys to choose from or put a mirror up on the side. Another good addition is a mobile that sings. Our favorite one is also portable and was wonderful in the car.
Once your baby is older, around 6 months or so, and can crawl or sit and start to play a little, give them a few minutes when they wake to play independently in their crib. Then when you go to get them, make sure you are just as happy as when you put them to sleep even if you are frustrated their nap was short. Remember positive associations with crib and sleep are important.
9. What to say at night
Try to limit talking to your baby especially after the bed time routine. Only say one or two words. Pick something like goodnight, I love you, night night or time to sleep. Even for diaper changes and nursing during the middle of the night, this helps baby know it’s still time to sleep.
10. Diapers matter
As a newborn you can expect baby to be waking up for diaper changes. Diaper changes are also a good thing because baby is hydrated and healthy. What you need to determine is: when are diaper changes causing unnecessary wake ups? If your baby has a diaper rash, the rash could be bothersome to baby when the diaper is wet and could be causing a problem. Try to clear it up with some good cream applied with a baby bum brush or check with your pediatrician that it isn’t a yeast infection.
Second, if you are using cloth diapers or diapers NOT ideal for night, then you might be costing yourself some sleep. Cloth diapers are great but if you have a child who pees high volumes, cloth diapers just can’t compete with regular diapers on keeping baby’s skin dry and rash free. I would try regular diapers overnight and just cloth during the day.
The best diaper I have found are Ultra Guard Luvs. We had a lot of issues with rashes until we switched is Luvs. We have since received some other brands of diapers from friends when their kids outgrew a size and if it isn’t Luvs, L always ends up with a rash. I absolutely using Amazon Family through Amazon because we save money 20% on diapers by using a subscription, and we also don’t have to remember to restock. L hasn’t had a rash since we started using them in over 15 months. Better yet, when we switched from cloth to this diaper, L went from waking four times a night to only twice a night.
Looking for more ways to make bedtime less stressful?
The best thing I did to increase my time during the evenings was to have dinner ready on demand. Doing this made the whole night less stressful, and it was only possible because of freezer meal prep. Read Alli’s guide on freezer meal prep to get started, once you start, you won’t believe how many hours you wasted prepping dinner every night. It’s life changing. If you’re expecting, it’s a great nesting activity that will allow you to eat healthy, get your body back and keep your sanity once baby arrives.
How have you created a sleeping sanctuary? Let me know in the comments.
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Dr. Trina Fitzpatrick is a wife, mom, blogger, and a breastfeeding advocate. She is the co-author of the Week-by-Week Bump Smart Course, the Nesting Planner and the Breastfeeding Handbook. She attributes her success at breastfeeding her own children into toddlerhood with working with lactation consultants in the hospital in the early stages and on a weekly basis afterwards. By writing at MomSmartNotHard, she educates mamas-to-be on all things pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Read more about Trina.
Courtney Milgrim says
Hi Trina! I found this to be so incredibly helpful. You definitely brought up some great ideas that I will be trying out. My son is almost 14 months old and still waking a few times every night. Not hungry, just wanting to be comforted. I feel like I have tried everything and am slowly going crazy! He has been in his crib since day 1 and in his own bedroom since he was one month old. Around the 6 month mark is when his sleep started to become a real issue and I haven’t been able to figure out why. Same bedtime routine nightly. I keep a lovie, cup of water, and teddy bear in his crib. I am starting to wonder if his white noise machine may be bothering him. It has a blue light that cannot be turned off and through my many nights of baby sleep research I read something about blue lights messing with baby’s sleep, that red light is recommended? I was curious if you knew anything about that or if you could tell me what type of nightlight you use. Thanks so much!
Trina | MomSmartNotHard says
Hi Courtney, I can definitely sympathize with the feeling of going crazy due to lack of baby sleep. You’re right about the blue light, this article goes into some more detail about why blue lights are bad for bed time. I wouldn’t go and buy a new white noise machine, way too expensive, simply grab a roll of electrical tape or even duct tape and put that over the blue light on your noise machine. As for the night light, we have one of these in our daughter’s room. We really like it because we can have it sort of bright during put down and then dim it more once she falls asleep. I hope that’s helpful advice, I can’t promise that the light is what is causing your son’s sleeping issues, but at least you can rule it out if you make the change. Please reach out if I can be of any more assistance. Trina 🙂
Love your advice! However, they do make pocket cloth diapers with doublers meant for keeping baby’s bum dry and overnight wear. Just wanted to clear that up for all the cloth diapering mamas. I have a heavy wetter and have never had an issue nor a diaper rash from overnight wear. I use Alvababy pocket diapers with a microfiber insert and hemp insert behind it. The pocket system keeps baby’s bum completely dry! They are amazing! ☺
Trina | MomSmartNotHard says
We also tried a few different doubler options for cloth diapering at night but it still wasn’t enough. Additionally, the doubler added a lot of bulk to the diaper and made it difficult for her to lay comfortably on her back. I really wanted it to work but L didn’t sleep till we switched to disposables designed for night. The change was so dramatic so it was worth it. I never realized that diapers at night were such an important consideration until we were on a trip and used disposables. I’m glad the doublers worked well for you and might work for others, so thanks for adding this.
I don’t really know how I stumbled across your post as I don’t need sleep advice: my young school aged kids grew to be good sleepers; however, like you it took a great deal of work.
I appreciate your efforts.Your tips are amazing, well written, logical and easy to follow. I was reflecting how I should have recorded tips for my own kids to consider as parents some day. Now I don’t need to! Thank you.
Apart from the Merlin, I discovered the same tips as you. The Merlin sounds incredible: we managed with a complex combination of a sleep sack and additional baby quilt swaddle that they wouldn’t passs safety standards but at the time we justified that our kids were big and strong and put them to the test when the kids were awake.
Some further considerations:
(my first born sounds like your L; she too could not handle cloth a night even with organic bamboo doublers etc; could last a night or two but vacation deemed that one diaper day was better for our environment)
1. 0-6 m – second born needed fresh air before bed ( after nursing: put in sleep sack, then swaddled on-top: went outside for 5 min to watch leaves on trees; when the season got cold, we’d still stand at the front door and get a couple breaths; maybe this was the only way that I was able to calm myself so that my kid would feel calm
2. Baby Massage: Rub your own hands together and then set on baby’s chest saying: I love you and looking into her eyes. The warmth is soothing. (See note #3)
3. 2-4 m: as young as possible, separate sleep from feeding; we put baby on pack n play diaper change area that was adjacent to the crib and hung out there before being soothed into bed (called sleep purgatory by some!): baby rub, soother attempt etc. It was my attempt to later make dad’s job easier. I failed to initially trust that dad will make his own special bedtime magic happen without mom’s orders. 🙂
4. Consider Lavender spray: no Merlin miracle but an added sleep cue for our #2 kid. Eventually, we could just spray the stuff outside the crib before nap and baby would yawn. In a short time, he could nap for anyone. (Night was more complex)
5. 2-3 mo. Begin to nurse with lovey between you and baby: how can baby decline a little stuffy/lovey that smells like milk. Pay close attention to what textures baby is attracted to. One of my kids liked the feel of my shirt weaving his hand along the fabric: at 4, he still favourably fondles the square fabric that surrounds the little stuffed head on his lovey rather than his mom’s shirt!
6. Daddy at 4 months! Couldn’t agree more!
Teacher Mom Talks says
My friend just shared this with me. It was a refreshing reminder of the things I did with my first, forgot about, and now need to start doing again with my second. Thanks so much! I need sleep!!!!!