So you’ve been reading stuff about how to get a child to sleep – how they should go into the crib ‘drowsy but awake’ and learn to self soothe.
But when you try all that, it doesn’t go well and you don’t know how to make it better. It feels like there’s a lot of pieces of the puzzle missing.
So you end up rocking them off to sleep and feeling bad about it.
Please don’t worry about it.
You’ve got a little one and they haven’t learned to sleep like an adult yet. Which is pretty normal, when you think about it.
They probably can’t climb a ladder or make a cup of tea either.
It’s totally normal to rock or nurse your baby to sleep
Whatever you hear from people in your life and on the internet, it’s totally normal to help your child fall asleep when they’re little. Ask a few people around you and see what they say.
And it’s normal to lie with them – or at least stay in the room – once they’re a little older.
For sure, you want to set them up for great sleep with a solid bedtime routine early on. But it doesn’t automatically follow that your child must fall asleep alone when they’re still very little.
So if you’re thinking about the here-and-now and you just want to get your child to sleep – soon – these tips are for you.
Let’s talk about what you can do to get your baby or toddler to fall asleep without crying. Or at least without leaving them to cry – some nights your kid’s gonna resist bedtime and that’ll probably mean tears but you’ll be right there with them.
Rocking to sleep
Yep, rock that kid to sleep because movement helps us fall asleep as anyone who’s taken a sleeper train knows.
Warm and secure in your arms they drift off to the motion of your movements – or wriggle and yelp like a trapped animal until they finally give in.
You can rock side to side while they’re little but as they grow you may prefer to rock your entire body. (Those little people get heavy fast.) Squatting gently up and down or repeated forward leans (watch your back if you try this one) also worked well for one of my babies.
And frankly, there’s no perfect way to get a kid to sleep and whatever you do they’ll resist sometimes so be prepared to keep going even when they seemingly won’t settle. They will.
Nursing to sleep
Are you nursing? Breastfeeding your baby to sleep is a very relaxing way for them to drop off – and if you’re still nursing into toddlerhood it doesn’t need to stop until you want it to.
The only thing to say about nursing to sleep is to be sure your baby’s safe. If you’re very tired, lying down to nurse might not be the best idea in case you doze off and roll on top of your little one. And also ensure if you do lie down to nurse to sleep that there’s no duvet or other item that could find its way over your baby’s face – and also that they won’t fall off the bed.
With all that said, nursing to sleep can also be a way for a new mom to grab some much needed rest.
Pacing to sleep
Realistically, beyond a few months old, rocking isn’t really possible in your arms unless you’re blessed with wopping biceps. Once it starts to hurt your arms or back, switch to pacing so your child’s weight is on your whole body and not just your arms.
Pacing’s walking to and fro, or even better, round and round in circles and allowing the motion to lull your child to sleep. Walk about with them in a sling or leaning on your shoulder – and just keep going until they accept that it’s bedtime. Some little ones will wriggle for a long while before settling but you’ll get there in the end.
Try saying, “I’ll pace for 200 steps,” then reassess where you’re at after the 200. Are they close to sleep? – keep going. Or still writing like a trapped squirrel? In that case, maybe switch to rocking briefly or try laying down with them.
Snuggling to sleep – lying with your child
What if your child’s no longer breastfeeding or never breastfed or they’re too big to rock and carry around?
In that case, your best bet’s gonna be lying next to them until they fall asleep. For many parents, this isn’t just a way to get your child to sleep – it becomes a special part of the day where you can chat and giggle with your toddler until they’re ready to settle and then lie beside them until they drift off.
They get the comfort and security of your presence and you get quality, unhurried time with your child that you might be missing if you work outside the home (and even if you don’t.)
If you lie them down beside you and they cry or fuss, try shushing quietly until they settle or gently pat or stroke their tummy to reassure them.
Go for a ride
Does this one feel like cheating? If it does, remember that there are no rules – just what works for you. And a ride in the car or stroller is wonderful for persuading unwilling tiny humans that it’s time to sleep. Like rocking and pacing, the movement does the work for you, gently lulling your child to dreamland.
But then what? You can’t leave them in the stroller or car seat all night because of the suffocation risk to babies. And with toddlers, you still want to get them into bed so they know that’s where they have to sleep at night and not anywhere else.
Tips for transferring a baby or toddler who’s fallen asleep in the car or stroller
With that in mind, here are a few ideas to help you avoid the disaster of your newly sleeping child waking right back up when you move them:
#1 Prep their bed in advance
Have their bed ready for them to go straight into before you head out. If you can, place a fleece blanket in there as a sheet – because fleece feels warm right away, unlike cotton. I don’t know how many times my babies woke up from landing in a cold cot before I figured this out.
Also have the curtains closed and white noise prepped if you’re using it.
#2 Change diaper and put cardigan on
Unless you live somewhere really warm, you’ll want an extra layer on your child before you head out. A cardigan can stay on in the crib and will help keep them warm if putting the baby sleeping bag on’s too risky.
#3 Find your magic moment for transferring to bed
There’s a perfect time for your child to be asleep in the car or stroller before you try to transfer them. Too soon and they wake right up – too late and they also wake right up. And unfortunately the only way you’ll figure this out is by trial and error.
Make sure you give them long enough after they doze off to get into a deep sleep, even if you’re just sitting on the drive counting down until you can take them inside.
#4 Go directly to bed
Once you decide it’s time to transfer your child to the crib, do it quickly. Squeeze ’em tight as you move them and tuck any blankets down safely. If they stir, shush them a little and wait to see if they resettle. Switch on the white noise and monitor – and go.
Final thoughts on how to get your child to sleep without sleep training
It sounds so amazing – get your baby to self soothe and you’ll be able to chill out all evening. Who wouldn’t like that? And sleep training works for a lot of people – but what if you’re not comfortable with the process of getting to that point?
There’s two things here:
Number 1: It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks if you’re happy with what you’re doing and your kid’s sleeping well.
This idea that teeny tiny people falling asleep alone is the norm and better isn’t helpful to moms and dads who prefer to rock / nurse / snuggle.
Your choices are valid.
Number 2: The only thing you should do is what works for your family and the particular child.
Does sleep training feel like the right course? Then go ahead and do it.
But if it doesn’t – if you’re okay with bedtime taking a while, then follow your instincts. Those tiny-arms cuddles are just the best.
What to try next?
Nope, it doesn’t ask you to cry it out either.