Sleeping babies Q & A

I received the following questions from Cari, and thought that others might want to add their own advice.  I didn’t ask, but assumed she had already read my old post about training babies to sleep through the night.

Q. Do you put your newborn on a feeding schedule?  (I have never done this, but am reading Managers of Their Homes and they schedule their newborns nursings and sleeping…)

A. I don’t schedule my newborns, but I do find that they generally settle into a loose schedule on their own after a few weeks.  I also try to avoid the opposite end of the spectrum – I don’t feed every single time the baby fusses.  I feed when they are hungry, and put them to bed when they are tired.  This is what has worked best for us, and all of our children have been very good sleepers from a very young age.

Q. You say that you encourage ‘thumb-sucking.”  We haven’t done this with previous children, although we are open to new ideas.  Our concern is that the baby/toddler won’t give up thumb-sucking.  Have you found this to be true and how do you get them to stop?

A. All of ours have given up the habit on their own, usually by 2 or 3 years.  A few persisted to 4 or 5, mostly when they were very tired.  In general, once they mature past the desire to suck (nursing babies/toddlers) we think it’s often a security issue. Every child is different but in our own experience, confident, secure children tend to quit on their own with minimal help; shy or insecure children need more encouragement.

Q. How do you comfort a baby in the middle of the night?  It seems that our babies are up quite frequently.  I have usually nursed them or tried to comfort them.  Do you let them cry if you know that they have been fed, changed, etc.?  I guess letting them cry is very difficult for me, but I also know that I need to be sane for our growing family!!

A. When our babies wake in the middle of the night, I wait for a good solid cry before I respond.  I wait longer for older babies.  I don’t generally let them “cry it out” but I just want to make sure that the baby needs me and isn’t going to fall right back to sleep on her own.
If the baby still wakes up regularly for feedings, I keep it short, quiet and dark.  No diaper changes unless absolutely necessary, no playtime, no socializing, no rocking to sleep. I also try to keep the feeding itself as
short as possible in order to begin to train the baby’s digestive system to wait for morning.
If the baby typically sleeps through the night, I go to her but leave the light off.  I talk softly and soothingly, and I might rub her back, but I avoid picking her up. Usually she will quiet down and go back to sleep.  If not, I will go back once or twice.  If  the baby is older and I’m sure she has no needs (diaper is clean, ate a good dinner and shouldn’t be hungry now, not sick…) then I might let her cry herself to sleep.

Q. Do you have any other tips or books that you might recommend?

A. [I’m afraid I totally left Cari hanging here.  Anyone have a suggestion?]

I think one key to raising good sleepers is simply consistency.  If you don’t want something to become habit for your child, don’t start it in the first place.

I’m working through it once again with our newest baby.  She’s a new puzzle for me: sleeps fabulously at night, very little during the day and is an utter crank by afternoon.  But we’re figuring each other out, and settling into a schedule of our own.  Every child is different.  🙂


  1. Kim:

    I am interested in your experience with weaning a child from a night feeding. I have a 6.5 month year old that in the last few weeks might want more help with getting back to sleep than to feed. I noticed that her night feeding has gone from sucking down 6 oz to a slow feed (sometimes taking 45 mintues) to eat 2 – 3 oz.

    I would like to try to wean her next week, instead of letting her CIO due to an upcoming move and lots of travel this month I would like to take a softer approach, my husband or I (she is bottle fed) will go to her for the feeding after a heavy cry only and stop the feeding as soon as the suck/swallow becomes a steady and slow suck/suck/suck/swallow. That sounds similar to what you did to sleep train your children.

    Did that extinguish any unneeded feeding within a few days? I am considering adding a water bottle after 2 or 3 nights if she doesn’t stop crying for a feed but isn’t really eating…so that she really gets the point that she needs to get herself back to sleep. Have you heard of anyone doing that to extinguish a night feeding?

    She is an excellant sleeper besides the night feeding. We just think that the feeding is becoming more of a habit of a nightly “visit” instead of a real hunger need.

    • Sarah,
      I think you’re on the right track. I’ve never heard of using a water bottle but it makes good sense in theory. If she really needs the nourishment, she won’t be satisfied – or she’ll wake again soon. If she doesn’t, then you’re a step closer to nixing the nighttime feeding altogether.

  2. Christie,
    I put my babies to bed on their backs, but once they start to roll by
    themselves they always seem to prefer to sleep on their backs.

  3. Christie says:

    You say you rub her back. Does that mean you let her sleep on her tummy? Although the doctors say to have all kids go to sleep on their backs, I was wondering what people really do.

  4. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth has been a very helpful book for us. I only have two children so far (slowly working up to the rest of you!) but both have benefited greatly after I read the book and are now great sleepers. What a blessing that is! We also swaddle at night until they get big enough to protest…seems to help them get into the good habit of sleeping longer stretches at night right from the start. Thanks, Kim, for sharing your life with everyone…I really enjoy your blog.

  5. Dear Kim, I rarely discuss our feeding/sleeping ideas with others because it seems that all too often people want to complain about how badly their children sleep but don’t want to hear any advice. I constantly hear that I am “lucky” to have such good sleepers but it isn’t luck at all. We have six children and they have all slept through the night between 6 and 12 weeks. Yes, they are all different BUT they have all slept 12 hour nights by 4-6 months old. We use the book “On Becoming Babywise” . Listen, if you’re opposed to the philosophy of parent directed feeding then you’ve probably never tried it. I never speak against attachment type parenting philosophies because every family is different and we all love and want the best for our children. As for me and my family, we need a mommy who gets a good eight hours at night asap after the new birth!! The basics of babywise are these: begin to practice an eat-awake-asleep cycle as soon as possible after birth…lay the baby down to sleep on his own without sleep aids…the cycle stays the same all day which means there is a nap between EVERY feeding and feedings are scheduled in a flexible way. It works! Get the book and check it out! It produces happy and healthy babies who are very secure and attached to us! God bless you all as you seek to raise children for His glory! All for Him, Whitney in Ca.

  6. Kristi,
    I feel the same way about sleeping with our babies. I love to snuggle with them, but I get sore if I can’t move around during the night. That’s why our babies sleep next to my bed right from the start. I like them in arm’s reach but not in my bed.
    I would suggest you start training from the beginning. There’s no need to let a newborn “cry it out” but it seems harder on the baby to start out with one set of rules/habits then do a switcharoo when the baby reaches the magical age of 6 weeks.
    I have found that our babies sleep best if we wrap them in a blanket and tuck a pillow firmly against their side. I think they feel more secure this way, rather than lying in a great expanse of empty bed. Infant seats also seem to make for good sleepers, though some say it’s not a good idea to leave babies in them for long periods.
    You might not want to take a chance on letting the baby wake the 19mo during the night, but if his sleep habits are well established he should go right back to sleep, and might even quickly learn to sleep right through it all.

  7. Melanie,
    This sounds a lot like the pattern that we fall into with our babies, and it’s worked beautifully for us too. I’ll have to check for that book at Paperback Swap.

  8. Melanie says:

    “The Baby Whisperer” is a fantastic book I got when my oldest (now 6) was an infant. I can’t remember the author’s name, sorry, but I’m sure it’ll come up if you google the book title. I loaned my book out and it apparently got lost. =(

    Basically she uses the E.A.S.Y. method: Eat, Awake, Sleep, Your time

    It’s not a schedule (I hate scheduling!) but pattern that babies easily fall into anyway. Being prepared helps avoid the pitfalls and bad habits that can form when the baby wants to fall asleep at the breast etc.

    Good luck! The EASY method has worked well for me with all my 3 children.

  9. I have co slept with all of our babies, taking them to bed with me and sleeping with them all night long. Often they’ll fall asleep on the couch while dh and I are in the living room in the evenings, and then they’ll be ready to nurse soon before I go to bed, and I’ll just take them to bed with me. I’ve always enjoyed this, and stil enjoy the cuddle time, but I’d rather get some stretches of sleep on my own now after doing this for several years (all of our babies have been moved into their OWN beds around 9-10 months with no problem whatsoever)

    But now with our newborn baby #4, I’m hoping to do things a little differently. Your point about not starting habits is a good one, although we’ve been taking our newest little guy to bed with us already (he’s 3 weeks old)….I’ve heard you shouldn’t try any actual “training” before they’re 6 weeks, would you agree with that? I’m wondering if now, at only 3 weeks, I should start trying to “train” him to sleep for longer stretches? Often when I try to lay him down on his own, he’ll sleep for an average of an hour. Ugh. When he sleeps with me, he’ll do great all night long, but my back and shoulders get tired of laying in basically the same position all night, and I’d rather not get him in the habit of nursing all night long, but I know that when they’re this young they probably need the nutrition in the middle of the night if they’re waking for it.

    Just wondering on what your opinion would be. How do I encourage him to sleep for longer stretches? Because of room arrangements, our 19 mo. old still sleeps in our room in a pack-n-play, so we can’t really let the baby cry it out.

  10. Melissa says:

    I’m an avid reader and fan of yours and I don’t think I’ve posted a comment before. I have a 2 year old and a 6 month old.
    I find your posts so thoughtful and inspirational.
    I do some different parenting styles but thought i’d post my favorite book. I’m a big fan of Dr. Sears, “The Baby Book.” Both my children are high need and would not sleep on their own. Being only 25 and considering myself an Attachment Parenting activist I get lots of looks when I tell people that I tandem nurse and cosleep with both my children.
    But just as you say, EVERY child is different and it is what works best for each family that is important.
    For me, I could not function if it wasn’t for cosleeping and I’ve found the Sears books to be supportive and helpful in my difficult times.
    Wishing you and your family well,

  11. Stetophanie says:

    I know it has been said already, but I think it is so important to remember that EVERY CHILD IS DIFFERENT, even within the same family and along that line, books can be a great help and guide but don’t get dicouraged if things don’t go like the book says they will. Just seek what works for that child. Let’s face it, parenting a newborn is trial and error. You try one thing and if it doesn’t work you try something else. I am not trying to make light of these issues either. But we just had out last baby 4 months ago. And if there was one thing I could do differently it would be to worry less about the sleeping and the “habbits” and just enjoy those first few month/years of life. I didn’t know any girls in college who wet the bed, sucked their thumb or struggle to sleep. We have 5 and this last one seems to want her thumb instead of a pacifier. Can I ask why you say the thumb and not a pacifier? My other 4 took pacifiers and I was very glad b/c I could take them away. You can’t take a thumb away. :). Just courious.

  12. “Babywise” worked great for us (flexible schedules). Our first child also slept well at night, but was awake most of the day. When he turned 3 months, he started napping well during the day too.

    “Solving your child’s sleep problems” by Ferber is another good book for parents who don’t have newborns anymore.

  13. Grafted Branch,
    I think you missed my qualifiers: …it’s often a security issue; shy or insecure (not shy equals insecure) children may need more encouragement; every child is different
    Also, we started worrying about breaking the habit much later than you; our approach was more like that of Lois. Public thumbsucking was discouraged if it persisted past 2 or 3; private and sleepy-time thumbsucking was allowed later. I didn’t mean to suggest that a sleepy, relaxed 6yo who occasionally slips her thumb into her mouth is an insecure child.
    However, we have known children who continued with thumbsucking to the age of 10, 12 or later: these particular children were insecure, and we felt the thumbsucking was a symptom of other problems in the home.
    Does every 10yo thumbsucker have security issues? I sincerely doubt it; I just presented it as one possibility that we have observed.

  14. Amanda E. says:

    Swaddling has worked amazingly well for us with our last 2 children – the only ones who we swaddled correctly, and the only ones who have been good sleepers from the start. The book, “The Happiest Baby on the Block” has much that could/should be left out, and I think the information that is helpful could be delivered in a short pamphlet, rather than a book, however, it has proved really helpful for our last 2.

    The trick to swaddling, as we have found it, has been to wrap baby TIGHTLY, with arms straight down by the sides. He may fuss for a few seconds, but really likes the comfort of feeling snug. Our 2-week old is so happy to be wrapped up that he doesn’t even need a paci.

  15. Lois Groat says:

    Re: the thumb sucking “habit” – I also encouraged thumbs, rather than pacifiers. Only one of mine persisted with the habit past age 4. I did for him what my mother did for me. I gave him full permission to suck his thumb in bed, but discouraged it out of bed. Putting the thumbsucking child down for a rest, or saying “you are welcome to go suck your thumb IN BED”, is a good way to do this. My son stopped sucking his thumb all on his own, at age 8, just like I did. (Public [and by public I mean anywhere but in his bed] thumb sucking was totally gone before age 5.)

    If you are worried about teeth – I believe that those who need braces, need braces, and those who don’t, don’t. I was the only thumbsucker in my family, and the only one who DIDN’T need braces. My dentist still comments on my “beautifully straight teeth” every time I go for a cleaning. My son needed braces, but it was because his teeth slanted inward, not outward. I asked the orthodontist about thumbsucking, and he said it would not have changed a thing in his case. He would have needed braces no matter what.

  16. I consider my son an excellent sleeper, even though he still gets up once in the middle of the night to eat. He’s a week away from 1 year old, so we’re trying to break that now. But he eats and goes RIGHT back to sleep so is minimally invasive. And I hate to leave him hungry all night because I think he SHOULD be sleeping through… So we still are willing to wake up once given that he is such a good go-back-to-sleeper.

  17. Kim,

    Thanks for the tips. I have a son who is, at 9 months, a TERRIBLE sleeper. We’ve done all the things you’re “supposed” to do, according to a wide variety of experts. It is actually nice to hear people say what they did and be able to tell myself “Okay, I’ve done those things. My kid is just different!” We’ve not given up by any means, but we’ve chosen to recognize that our son is not easy at night and not beat ourselves up over it. He has, however, always been a good napper, so I guess 1 part out of 2 isn’t horrible…

    Have you tried carrying Bethany in a sling? I guess it could fall into the category of not wanting to start if it could become a bad habit. For our son, when he was a newborn, he’d nap really well in a sling and I could get things done. Once he got older, he transitioned very easily into napping in his own bed. It worked for us, but is certainly not the key for all babies!

    Thanks again!

  18. I must respectfully disagree with you on the issue of thumb sucking. You state…

    “shy or insecure children need more encouragement”

    The trick is getting them to tell you from the beginning if they are going to be shy! And I don’t agree that shy equals insecure as you have supposed. I won’t smack such a horrible label on my baby so early. Or ever.

    Thumb sucking was good and easy in the early months; I never once awoke to help my 3rd baby find her pacifier–but she’s 6 now and still holds onto the habit–mostly when she’s relaxed and comfortable; never because she’s nervous.

    I’m afraid she’ll remember that it’s what her and my relationship has been about for the 3 years between 3 and now. “No thumbs, Cuddlebug.” 🙁

  19. “Shepherding A Child’s Heart” by Ted Tripp and “Train Up A Child” by Mike and Debi Pearl (you can get it inexpensively, as well as find some great past articles from their newsletter at Though these books are not specifically written for infants or specifically about sleeping, they both talk about training early, desiring to build character in your kids hearts rather than just demanding actions, etc. I think, for me, being in that mindset very early on helps me make better choices with my infants.

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