top of page

Skills for getting baby to sleep


It’s better for everyone if both mum and dad have the skills to put the baby to bed. If only the mum is able to put the baby to bed, it can make bedtime more stressful for both of you. When both parents are skilled at bedtime routines, it gives the couple flexibility and options.

How to get baby to sleep

Put yourself in your baby's place. There was a time - not long ago - when all his needs were met every second of every minute of every day. He was never hungry, never cold and he always held and felt snug, safe and secure. This was what life was like before he was born. You can sooth a fussy baby by helping him feel like he's back in that wonderful, comfortable place again.

Why babies can be difficult to get sleep

why difficult

Babies sleep often and for short stretches. The hard part is how much effort it can take to get them there and how short the time is before they wake and need attention again!


Things to understand about babies and sleep:

  • Babies’ sleep cycles are short (35-45 minutes) and young babies may only sleep through just 1 of these at a time; if they sleep beyond their regular sleep cycle, they are likely to continue to  sleep through the whole cycle (or even another one after that)

  • Some parents say their baby “sleeps through the night”, but people often don’t agree on what "through the night" actually means; it might mean five or six hours - which is a long time for  an infant

  • If your baby every sleep cycle, doesn't mean it's going to be like that forever; babies are always changing and so are their sleep patterns that eventually get longer

Getting the baby to sleep so that parents getting the sleep they want is probably the most a common problem parents with babies have. The result is that ...

  • There are hundreds of books, websites and blogs on babies and sleep

  • People will tell you what worked for them when their children were young

  • Sleep consultants are often a last resort for parents (who can afford one) and many people who have consulted a well-recommended one learn useful techniques

It may help to know that:


  • Babies don't know the difference between day and night until they are about four months old and there is no use trying to do any sleep training before then

  • Crying is a normal response to settling down at bedtime

  • The baby’s night time sleep is related to their daytime sleep routines and that them being more active and awake during the day (and fewer naps as they get older) may help them to sleep longer at night

  • Certain conditions (like a dark room and white noise) may help

  • Creating pleasant routines around bedtime helps a baby think going to bed is fun - parents need to use a routine they can do consistently (but doesn't wear them out)

  • What worked for your whanau or friends’ baby may be different from what works for yours

  • No matter how authoritative an author sounds or how enthusiastic the testimonials are on the cover, most books about babies’ sleep are based on the author’s personal experience and what they have found worked for them

  • While sleep consultants are expensive and - going to one may feel like you are somehow failing as a parent; you're not, you are sleep deprived, desperate parents who need help

You will need to experiment to find what works for your baby, including you and your partner's tolerance for hearing your baby cry.

Crying it out

A baby falling to sleep from exhaustion from crying is not good for them. A crying baby's brain is flood with cortisol, a hormone that should only be present occasionally - like in fight or flight circumstances and is not something babies should be fall asleep with. And leaving them to cry them self out does not "toughen them up".

The only time a baby should cry them self out is that if the parent can at their wit's end aren't coping. It is better to step away and leave the baby to it rather than over reacting and potentially damaging the baby.

Graduated crying at bedtime


There is a lot of debate about how long parents should leave their crying baby before going to them. This can be a very emotional and the mum and the dad may have very different tolerance about how much crying they can take before they can't stand it and feel they must to go to the baby.

"Graduated crying it out" is a common method that tends to work and that parents say reduces their stress. It's about leaving the crying baby in their cot for a couple of minutes (timing it) before going back to them. Once they stop crying, leaving them again. If/when they start again, go back to settle them (but not pick them up). When you go out this time, leave them for a bit longer if they start crying before going back in (say, three minutes and then four minutes). You won't harm your baby or your relationship with your baby by doing this.

Whanau and friends may have their own opinions which may range from never letting the baby cry, to leaving a baby to cry until they fall asleep exhausted. Most parents fall somewhere between these two points. What we do know, is that it is not good for a baby to fall asleep exhausted by crying often.

Have a look at this homemade one-minute video that shows how a dad soothes his baby. This dad never gets to the sucking part because the baby stops crying before he got there.

When you find it hard

cry it out

When you get frustrated - keep in mind that ...


  • It’s not your baby’s fault they aren't sleeping when you want them to

  • You are not a bad father nor is your partner is not a bad mother if your baby is hard to get to sleep, wakes often or doesn't "sleep through the night"

  • Ask for help from whanau, the midwife, your Tamariki Ora/Well Child service, sleep consultant

  • Although it may feel unbearable at the time, this difficulty will pass and your baby will learn to sleep

Myths & facts about babies & sleep

co sleeping

This is a good article on the common myths about babies and sleep. Getting on the same page about the baby’s sleep will help you both to parent as a team and support each another around the baby’s bedtime.


Babies are easiest to settle if they are not too tired. Best to catch them just as the first wave of sleepiness comes to them. That’s when rocking and lullabies work best. Babies love being sung to.


Some men enjoy going to their baby in the middle of the night because for some it is the only chance they have to be with their baby without anyone telling them what to do.

Here is a link to questions and answers page for parents who are having baby sleeping problems (from Zero to Three).


One day the miracle happens. The baby who never slept, suddenly does – all night.

The co-sleeping debate

A good thing or dangerous?

Babies sleeping in the same bed as the parents is a hotly debated topic. The NZ Ministry of Health's official line is not to do it. Plunket warns against it.


Arguments range from those who say that it puts your baby at risk of injury or death to those who say it is natural. It's a bit like the differences people (and agencies) have about bottle feeding. We think it's more useful to consider the facts rather than to just say "don't do it" or "it's okay".




The baby's lungs have only started up after they are born. There isn't much power behind them for a few months. If they were born prematurely and/or if the mother smoked during the pregnancy or the parents smoke after the baby is born, the baby's lungs will be more delicate and fragile. Secondhand smoke weakens a baby's lungs and can make them more vulnerable if they are in bed with an adult.

Adults in the bed being sensitive enough to wake when needed


Whoever is sleeping in bed with an infant needs to be sensitive enough to wake if the baby is quietly stressed and unable to breathe. Many parents develop an acute sensitivity to their baby. But some conditions can over-ride that sensitivity and leave the adult sleeping  when the baby in bed with them is struggling to breathe. These can be:

  • if adults are over weight

  • if the adult(s) in the bed are affected by sleep apnea

  • if the adults in the bed are affected by alcohol or other drugs


For safety and comfort, baby's bedding needs to be light

  • the best sleeping environment for your baby may be different than what is right for an adult. Bedding that adults find comfortable are generally too soft and heavy for a baby who is not capable of pushing them away from their face.

  • pillows should be not be near a sleeping baby


We recommend you investigate "co-sleeping" and consider if there are factors in your lifestyle or household that might affect any decision about co-sleeping with your baby. There are lots of websites with information that support both sides. There is a lot of opinion out there but not a lot of hard facts.

bottom of page