The Art of Nursing a Baby to Sleep

Putting a baby down for a nap or to bed seems like an easy thing – and it is – so why do so many people have a problem with kids who don’t sleep?  I don’t know, but I’ll let you in on my technique, from a Mom who full nurses and has one kid who still naps at 4, and another who slept 7-hour nights at two weeks of age.

Step 1.  Determine that your child is actually sleepy and not just fussy because she has to poop, is hungry, or has some other necessity.  Signs of sleepiness are rubbing eyes, yawning, laying head down on floor, crying, and clinginess, among other things.  My daughter would lay on her back and raise her feet up in the air before thumping them down again, as well as get the hiccups, when she got tired.  My son’s signs are less obvious than her’s were, he just gets fussy and clingy.

Step 2.  Sit in a quiet place with your baby, where you will be undisturbed for 20-30 minutes (I said it was easy, I never said it was fast (actually, my best guess as to why some people’s kids don’t sleep is just that they don’t give the proper amount of time to the child to actually get asleep and stay that way)).

Step 3. Nurse your baby until he falls asleep.  You may choose to sometimes read a book or magazine, or use a muted digital device during this time.

Step 4.  Once the child is asleep on the breast, let her stay there for approximately 7 minutes, or until she stops sucking but continues to chew (for lack of a better word).  The baby will not chew continually.

Step 5. Once your infant seems completely relaxed and chews in spurts, try to remove the nipple from the his mouth.  If he tries to latch on again, let him.  If you pull the nipple out while he tries to get it back, you will wake him up, which is the last thing we want.  If he has latched back on, let him chew 2 more times (aka: chew, relax, chew, relax).

Step 6.  When she relaxes the second time, pull the nipple out.  This time if she has relaxed enough, she will probably let you.  If the child tries to latch back on again, play it by ear.  If she seems too tense, let her latch back on and give her another minute or so before trying to remove the nipple again.  If you feel she is relaxed enough, you may be able to kind of pull the nipple out though she make a go for it again (this can be a little uncomfortable, so you may prefer to let the baby get gooood and relaxed before you try to pull the thing out).

Step 7.  Now that the baby is off the nipple, let the him continue to lay as he is in your arms without moving him for another 2-3 minutes.  This will allow the baby to relax into sleep a little bit more.

Step 8.  Next, reposition your infant onto your shoulder.  This is key.  By propping the baby up, you help her remove gas taken in from feeding.  If your baby is younger than 6 months old, you will need to keep her there for 10-20 minutes, as well as rub or pat her back.  If your baby is over 6 months old, DO NOT hold her in this position for more than 10 minutes.  I say this because if you hold her for more than 10 minutes, she will fall into a deeper sleep, which you will jolt her out of when you stand up or place her into the crib, which, as we have said, is not what we want.


Step 9.  After the alloted amount of time, gently place your baby in his crib and silently leave.  If your infant is younger than 6 months, I would encourage you to occasionally choose to not put him down but rather to hold him while he sleeps, which is wonderful and makes him feel loved and secure.  If your child is over 6 months, never hold him for long periods of time after he has fallen asleep, because, though it makes him feel loved and secure, it also makes him want to be held EVERY TIME.

Step 10.  Unfortunately, no matter how patient you are, even if you have done every step right and have your child perfectly asleep, sometimes she will wake up.  When this happens, I don’t get frustrated because I know it’s not my fault, I’ve done everything right.  Rather, I know that my baby has some other issue that is preventing her from staying asleep.  If your child wakes up when you set her down, you have 4 choices: 1) Leave her there and leave quietly.  Wait to see if she does fall alseep on her own.  2) Sit down with her again and re-offer her the breast. 3) Dance, rock or walk your baby until she falls asleep.  4) Try later because she may have some other matter that needs to be resolved first, like being hungry for lunch in her seat, or an impending bowel movement.

Tips and Troubleshooting

T-1.  The most important aspect of this procedure is being patient.  If you try to speed things up, or are noticably impatient, your child will pick up on that, and probably won’t sleep for you.

T-2.  Remember that every child is different, so what one child may have done, another may do totally the opposite.

T-3.  If you are having trouble getting your child to relax enough to sleep, consider what is going on before you try to put him down.  It’s never too early to start a winding down routine like stories or rocking in a rocking chair before following the steps outlined above.

T-4.  I don’t advise driving your child around to get her to sleep.  This only becomes a habit that is expensive and just as time consuming as taking the half an hour to sit quietly with her.  If your child falls asleep while in the car when you are going from here to there and back again, by all means, let her sleep, but I would never choose to do it just for the sake of putting the baby to sleep.

T-5.  If your child is staying awake well past his (or your) bed time, you may need to let him work it out all by himself occasionally. Letting my child cry until he exhausts himself and fall asleep is one of my least favorite things to do, especially at bedtime when I will have to wait hours before I see him again to apologize for abandoning him.  At about 6 months of age though, some babies will decide that they don’t want to sleep, or only like to be held, though you have stuck to the routine since day one, and they will need to re-learn to put themselves to sleep on occasion. I think of this as almost a reminder that I could make him do this alone every night.  Remember too that if your infant consistantly does not sleep when you put him down, the more trouble you will have in the long run with both getting your child put down and staying asleep, and the harder it will be on the both of you for him to learn this habit.

T-6.  On that note, it is worth trying to lay your child down alone when you are sure they are tired, just to see if she can put herself to sleep quietly, which is a habit she will need to master by the time she is one and a half at least.  It is especially wise to start this when she is less than 6 months old, as it will teach her to be in her crib alone for a bit, as well as fall asleep without being nursed.  Periodic reinforcement of this habit is encouraged.

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