Getting Baby on a Sleep Schedule

Checking in


If your baby has almost always been nursed to sleep, then Daddy should put him to bed when you decide to try to get him to sleep on his own. Your baby will want to suckle if he even catches a glimpse of Mommy. To avoid upsetting the baby further, Daddy needs to go through the bedtime routine and do all the checking in, at least for the first week or so.

An increasingly popular alternative involves periodically checking in to let your child know you're still there and to make sure he's okay. After saying good night and leaving the room, stay away for a set amount of time--say, five minutes to start. After the agreed-upon time has passed, you or your partner should go in, check on your baby, and try to soothe him without picking him up. Instead, offer kind, soft words and perhaps a pat on the back.

Don't stay for more than a minute or two. Then whisper good night and head out of the room again. Continue to check on him every five minutes, but never for more than a minute or so, until he stops crying and falls asleep. On the second night, hold out a little longer, maybe 10 minutes this time. Over the next week or two, gradually increase the amount of time spent away from your baby's cribside before you return.

With enough parental resolve, this method also seems to work most of the time. The only problem is that it may be worse torture for your child to see you every five minutes only to have you refuse to pick him up than to not see you at all. Your baby may cry louder and harder each time you leave. Eventually, however, the crying will stop.

Fade to Black

If you want to ease your baby into sleeping on her own, turn the lights out after her bedtime ritual, put her in her crib, and then sit with her for 5 or 10 minutes. You may want to rock in a chair where your baby can see you, or you may choose to sit right next to her crib and stroke her back for a few minutes. When she seems groggy but not quite unconscious, get up matter-of-factly, whisper good night, and leave. If your baby immediately pops up and starts crying, however, you'll still need to resort to one of the methods described previously: total withdrawal or periodic check-ins.

Still too cruel for you? Well don't do it unless you're convinced it's the best thing for your baby (and you). If you are unable to maintain your resolve, you will send mixed signals to your baby. If you break down and pick her up, she may end up "learning" that if she cries long enough or hard enough, she will ultimately get what she wants.

A Refresher Course: Nap Time

Your baby doesn't get all the sleep he needs at night. To get the other two to six hours of necessary rest, most six-month-olds still take two to three naps a day. The lengths vary from one to three or even four hours. Toward the end of the first year, though, your baby is likely to cut down to just one or two naps a day.

If your child resists taking a nap no matter how tired he seems, then follow a routine similar to your bedtime ritual. First, set the mood by drawing the blinds and/or shutting the curtains to darken the room. Make sure that your baby has a full stomach and a clean diaper. Then play, sing, or read quietly to relax your baby. When you're done with the ritual, leave the room. If you have decided to let your baby cry himself to sleep, use the same method you've chosen for nighttime slumber, but don't let it go on as long. You've got all day, so you can always try again later when he seems more tired.


Feel free to let your baby nap regularly in a stroller or a car seat as long as it's not the only place he can fall asleep. You may find it easiest, especially if your baby tends to resist naptime, to sandwich a nap into long drives or extended walks with a stroller.

Keep in mind that your baby needs the sleep he gets during his naps. Too much napping can sometimes interfere with nighttime sleep, but don't deny your child a nap when he's tired during the day. If your strategy is intended to make bedtime easier and help your baby sleep soundly through the night, it may backfire. An overtired baby tends to sleep much more restlessly than a well-rested one. In addition, overtiredness tends to cause crankiness and may lead to more accidents. If you deny your baby the daytime sleep he needs, he may conk out at bedtime, but he's almost sure to rise sooner and more often during the middle of the night. Instead, try limiting the time he naps to three or four hours (unless, of course, he's sick). It may seem like a sin to wake a sleeping baby, but you're going to need your sleep, too.

It's Crying Time Again: Midnight Wake-Up Calls

Every baby (and every adult) wakes up during the night. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which involves lots of dreams and movement, often ends with a brief awakening. Waking, however, isn't the problem. It's the inability to fall back asleep that causes all the trouble. Your baby needs to learn, as all adults have, to fall back asleep on her own when she wakes briefly in the night.

To learn how to do it, your baby needs you to give her a chance. Try to stop yourself from jumping up at the slightest whimper or sound. Instead, go to your baby only when she cries loudly and steadily. When you make a midnight visit, don't try to entertain your baby. Just be there and try to calm her down. If she's hungry, by all means feed her. But try to maintain conditions conducive to sleeping: relative quiet (whispers and soft lullabies), darkness (don't turn on the lights), and calm (the middle of the night is for sleeping, not playing).

More on: Babies

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Bringing Up Baby © 1997 by Kevin Osborn. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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