how do you get your baby to sleep?

A lovely reader emailed me recently and asked me about how I encourage Percy to go to sleep. The answer is simple: breastmilk – for as long as he wants it.

I know, it doesn’t make going out to dinner or being away from the home all that easy. But these early years of mothering are best if I’m near. It’s the way I’ve always done it and it’s the way I’ll always choose to do it. I’ve fed all my babies to sleep from the day they were born to the day that they weaned. And after that? There’s an unsettled period for 3-4 days and then they succumb to the new rhythm of back rubs and stories and songs.

Percy has been my most unsettled sleeper and while it took a while to adjust to the middle-of-the-night screams and waking every two hours, I managed to move through that phase with a relatively level head. “This too shall pass” was mentally repeated come 3am and my days were slower and foggier than any I had experienced. I admit, there were some days when the exhaustion was overwhelming but generally I embraced the perspective that naturally comes with the third child; no use stressing about it, that will only make it worse.

But now? He sleeps quite well at night but still wakes two or three times for milk (sometimes more if he’s waking with teething pain). He’ll sleep in his cot during the evening and will come to bed with me at about 10pm so when he does feed I’m not always aware.

Night times are fine but day sleeps are probably my biggest challenge. Poet was never a great day-sleeper and Percy is following her lead. I realise that the noise of older siblings and getting in and out of the car for school drop-off and pick-up doesn’t make for long, settled periods to establish a long sleep rhythm but still….a few hours would be nice! He went through the very typical 45minute nap phase and seems to have moved passed that but generally he’ll only have two one-hour naps a day. My goal within the next few months is to gravitate towards one nap that sees him fall asleep late-morning and wake mid-afternoon (just in time for school pick-up). I’m aiming for the three-hour nap that Che took every day till he was three (he set my goals unrealistically high, that first child of mine).

I’m happy to answer any sleep-related questions you may have but first I encourage you to do what you have to do to get sleep – co-sleep (without shame – it’s completely normal and natural), breastfeed for comfort, play songs (we love this one), rub a little lavender onto little feet, follow a strict routine if you feel it’s best for you, ignore advice from well-meaning friends, embrace advice from well-meaning friends, ask your GP or maternal nurse for help, hire a sleep expert….whatever it takes.

But know this: the stress of not meeting your parenting expectations is often more exhausting than the sleep deprivation itself.

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Showing 16 comments
  • The Thrifty Fox

    I love hearing that other mums breastfeed their little (and not so little ones) to sleep and throughout the night. I have done the same with my girl and am so happy that suddenly she started sleeping through the night a couple of weeks ago (she is nearly 16 months). It felt like everyone was telling me she would never learn if I continued to feed her to sleep.
    Lovely post. I admire your honesty in your blog.

    • Jodi

      Thank you! I also have a lot to say about the misconception that co-sleeping = needy, clingy, always-in-your-bed children. I've found the complete opposite to be true! Che and Poet are very independent and once they turned two, transitioned to a bed very easily. Of course, they occasionally came into us during the night (Poet still does) but it doesn't bother us in the slightest x

  • Vic Hug Mac

    Hey Jodi! Both of my boys (now 1 yr and 2 yrs) are pretty good sleepers. They starting sleeping through the night at about 6 weeks old. Now they share a room, and we put them to bed by 5pm, and they wake up at about 6:30am. Our two year old doesn't nap during the day though (the moment he started crawling he wasn't interested in day naps). Our 1 year old has about a 20 minute nap in the morning.
    I think their sleeping through the night was a combination of a lot of pre-conception and pre-natal diet prep, a very consistent bedtime schedule, and some actual sleep training. We waited until both had gotten through a night on their own volition without waking, as I think it's important that they are not waking hungry, in which case they should be fed (for both of ours it started in a 7 hour stretch or so, and slowly as the weeks went on built up to 10 hours, then by 4-5 months 12 hours straight of sleeping). There was one book that influenced me a lot – Bringing up Bebe. My husband and I did use the 'French pause' a lot.
    We now have another baby on the way, so we will see how sleeping works with 5 of us in a small apartment. But I think I have to credit a lot of our sleeping success to my mum, a naturopathic doctor who really guided me during pre-conception, pregnancy, birth, and post, to eat certain foods, pre-biotics, pro-biotics, homeopathics, etc, to try to have a settled baby. I will say though, that our second baby was much tricker (he was a lot fussier) than our first, but we were able to work it out.
    I did write about it a bit in a blog I used to keep:


    • Kasandra

      I happily nurse my sweet boy to sleep every night. Both of my kids prefer early bedtimes between 530/6 with a wake up around 630/7. He sometimes wakes for a feeding sometimes not. I work overnights so 3 nights s week my husband will offer him a bottle of pumped milk otherwise I will wake to feed him as often as he needs. They are only little for so long. My question is about the 45 min naps during the day. My daughter did the same and j can't remember when it stretched longer- but this one sometimes takes two 30 min naps all day. He is not interested in going to sleep later so I don't know how to get him to sleep a little longer during the day- there's no break!! Sometimes he will sleep a little over an hr in the am but the next nap will be difficult and last 30 min then he's cranky, any advice???

  • my name is jane

    Hi Jodi – I seem to recall you writing once that Percy wasn't a fan of co-sleeping. Has this changed? I only ask because my 5 month old can't settle in the bed with us and has been sleeping in his cot from the start. I tried to get him into bed with us, but he just flails and we keep him awake. In a way it's good but I selfishly crave the cuddles!

    • Jodi

      Yes, for a couple of months there he settled much better in the cot…and I'm so grateful we got it because it means I can get things done around the house (and washing on the line) during his day sleep and know that he's not going to try and get off the bed if he wakes. The cot that we got transitions into a toddler bed so I think it will be a good investment for us x

  • Theresa Shields

    3 hour day sleeps??? Che really did set unrealistic goals.

    I have always put Mason to sleep via boobies and since we weaned about 15 months, we have done the cuddles and pats on the bottom till he falls asleep. Some days I selfishly crave a toddler that just jumps into a bed and puts himself to sleep. But then I think of how much I miss nursing him to sleep even when that meant I was the only one that could induce a sleep from him. He now sleeps in his cot, sidecarting our bed and rolls in most mornings for cuddles.

    We are 4 and a half months from baby number 2 and I am quietly nervous that this system may not work anymore. Any advice on this?

    • Lucy W

      Theresa this how we put our first down and when our second arrived when my eldest son was 22mths we continued the same routine it was just done in more tag team with my husband or if he was away I'd feed baby on the floor while patting the older one through the cot rails. I played music so the older one wasnt too disturbed by the baby noises. My older son's sleeping wasn't disturbed at all by number 2's arrival. Hope it's the same for you x

    • Jodi

      Don't fret about it, Theresa….honestly, it will all fall into place. Perhaps just move Mason's cot onto hubbie's side of the bed so that when baby comes he doesn't feel like he's "lost his place", so to speak. There are still some evenings here when I'm trying to put Percy to sleep and Poet is waiting for a story. Thankfully I've got a pretty awesome reader in Che so he takes over sometimes x

  • Jessica G.

    I love everything about this post. I am 2 months into life with baby #3 and I have been amazed how much more confident I am in my parenting decisions this time. I live in the US and here people are very pro sleep training and crying it out. I have learned to just keep my mouth shut because I don't have a problem being the comfort to my child at night or any other time. I realize it's just a season. I also realize that I am setting the basis for their emotional wellbeing for the rest of their lives.

    • Jodi

      Yes, their emotional wellbeing and having their needs (and cries) met! I don't know why this isn;t discussed more often x

  • Nic

    Our first boy set high standards for us too. I naively thought I'd just do what I did for the first to help our second boy to sleep. Number two was not having any patting, singing, humming, quietly talking, shhing or back/front/leg rubbing. He would drink and drink while asleep but as soon as I moved in any way he'd wake up. Eventually we went to a parenting centre for a couple of hours where I learnt I was doing all the right things. Then one day I just sat next to his cot holding his hand. And that's it. That's what works for now. He co sleeps with us at night which I love.

  • Jenna michelle Pink

    Oh I hear you. I have always breastfed my children to sleep and I am currently breastfeeding my 2 1/2 year old to sleep. Life is so much easier this way. I can't be bothered with night battles. My toddler can settle himself now although still chooses to have mama milk if I am near. "This too shall pass" is also my motto.

  • M

    I could cry reading this!!! Thank you so much Jodi. I have a 7 month old and a 3 year old and I always fed my 3 year old to sleep, I was ashamed to admit it and was met by a lot of criticism from well meaning friends when I said I was unable to attend a movie session or dinner until after 8pm, they would tell me I needed to get her into a routine.

    But here I am 7 months in with my son following the same pattern and I just fine it's easier PLUS I just think although at times it was hard it was such a beautiful time those night time cuddles. I feel like your story above reflects my own except only 2 babies on board my ship.

    Thank you so very much for sharing you've made my day, week and maybe even month to know that I'm not alone in my parenting methods!

    M x

  • Kildine

    Just, thank you!
    Percy = Liv, my 12 months old daughter. I'm following you for a while now, but reading your blog makes me feel good (even if we woke up 2 or 3 times last night!!!!!!)

  • Rae

    Jodi I've read this post 3 times now. I think your last sentence regarding parenting expectations is very true. I'm a new momma and raising my little one has been nothing like I expected… As in way harder! 😉 I appreciate your honesty and encouragement, thanks so much…

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