Help! I need help to help my baby sleep. How to find help and what you MUST ask first.

There is so much pressure about having a baby who sleeps ‘all night’ , is it any wonder you worry whether you are doing some sort of harm to your baby if he doesn’t sleep ‘enough’ .

Often, the pressure to ‘teach’ (read ‘make’) your baby sleep can add another level of exhaustion as you second guess everything you are doing in case it’s influencing your baby’s sleep, or lack of it.

You worry:

When will he sleep all night?

By the way, ‘all night’ is defined as five consecutive hours in baby sleep studies, not eight hours or twelve hours, as some people would have you believe.

How do I teach him to ‘self settle’ ?

Even with very young babies, there is pressure to ‘teach your baby to self-settle’ – to fall asleep without any help from you.  The truth is that babies under four months(and often for many months longer), need a lot of help to fall asleep: newborns enter sleep through an active sleep phase and they have a strong startle reflex that’s likely to jerk them awake just as they are dozing off.

Besides, what’s the big deal about having some extra cuddles to help your baby relax and go into a lovely sound sleep? Consider, what environment helps you sleep best – do you simply hop into bed, lie down and fall asleep? Or do you have a nice warm drink, read a book or cuddle your partner before drifting off? Do you have nights after a busy day, when you find it more difficult to switch off and fall asleep? Do you sometimes wake with a fright from a scary dream that seemed real for a few moments? Do you doze off all snuggled up to your partner then just as you are almost asleep, do they poke you and say, you need to self-settle, move over to your own side of the bed or we will create bad habits?

And, the big one – am I creating ‘bad habits’?

Since when did needing cuddles become a bad habit? Your baby needs touch and movement to help his tiny brain develop healthy connections and structures for later learning and appropriate emotional responses; he needs reassurance and responsiveness to help him develop trust and a strong connection with you –that lasts a lifetime.

Looking for gentle, respectful ways to help your baby (and you) sleep without compromising breastfeeding or the beautiful bond between you and your little one? See my book Sleeping Like a Baby. (it’s available on Audible too if you don’t have time to read) .You can download the first chapter FREE HERE.

Your baby is learning, you are there for him, you are his safe person, he can come to you whether he is a baby, a toddler a school aged child or a teenager and you will listen and help him. And if anything you are doing becomes really difficult, please take heart, you can make gentle changes, gradually with love – without tears (for you or your baby!)

There is a lot of noise out there creating fears about a lot of perfectly normal baby behavior. However, when you are exhausted, knowing what’s normal doesn’t give you a sudden burst of energy. Sometimes you do need help so you can get some much needed rest, just so you can make out the woods from the trees. But, how do you find help ?

There are a few options to help sleepless families:

Family members– can you call your mum , sister or aunt to come and stay for a few days or can you go and stay with a family member who will support you as you catch up on some much needed rest? Please don’t worry about feeling judged because you aren’t ‘coping’ . Most people are only too glad to be involved with a family baby and, if they have had babies themselves, they will understand. You may even be giving them an opportunity to speak about how hard it was for them in their own early days.

A post natal doula – if you can afford hired help, a post-natal doula can be the next best thing to having your mum to help. And, because you are paying her, you can say what you need done without feeling you are imposing. A doula can come in for a few hours to ‘pack you together’ and watch your baby while you catch up on some uninterrupted sleep. She can cook a meal, hang out washing and make you a cuppa – just like your own mum.

A Mother Baby Unit – if you want to make some changes to the way your baby is sleeping, you may want to ask your GP or baby health nurse for a referral to a mother baby unit or “sleep school’. Just like any sort of help, you will need to do your homework: ask questions about anything that is concerning you. For instance, what do they do? Will sleep training involve leaving your baby to cry? Will you and your baby be checked for any health issues? Will you and your baby sleep in the same room or will you be separated?

Some mother baby units take a very gentle approach and encourage you to respond to your baby at all times, others will implement a fairly rigid ‘one size fits all’ controlled crying regime. They may use a less confronting name for whatever they do but it can still be a version of leaving your baby to cry. Remember, this is your baby, you don’t have to do anything that doesn’t feel right for you. You can negotiate with staff and expect to have explanations for anything they advise. And, if it’s not for you, you are free to leave.

A private baby sleep consultant: There are people who will come to your home and help you. This is where you need to really take care. There is a plethora of online courses in baby sleep training that give their ‘graduates’ certificates; there are baby sleep trainers with no qualifications in early childhood or infant health; there are baby sleep trainers who will come to your home overnight to ‘teach’ your baby to sleep who have been found sleeping on the sofa while the baby has been left to cry.

Consider, this person is coming into your home, she is meeting your child, she is advising you on your baby’s well-being. You need to be very clear about what you need and what you are prepared to allow before you hire this person.

  • Is there a problem in the first place? If it’s not a problem for you, it’s not a problem.
  • What professional qualifications and experience does the person have? Ask and check carefully what ‘certified’ means. Can this person assess your baby’s feeding to see whether this is impacting your baby’s sleep? Will she do a history that includes any health issues for you and your baby or does she see sleep as a ‘behavioral’ problem?
  • If she suspects an issue that requires help from another professional, such as infant reflux, possible allergies, breast-feeding problems or developmental issues, will she refer you to an appropriate resource?
  • Will she support and respect you and your beliefs?
  • Can you relate to the person you are hiring? Will you feel comfortable and accepted by this person when you are un-showered, in your dressing gown and crying?
  • YOU are the expert about your well baby.  If she gives you explanations that sound ‘reasonable’ but have you doubting yourself, try the filter: is it safe? Is it respectful? Does it feel right? And if anything feels stressful for you or your baby, step back.  This is your baby and your home – you have every right to protect your own energy and safe space by questioning advice. You also have every right to ask somebody who isn’t respectful to leave.


Pinky McKay is Australia’s most recognised and respected breastfeeding expert and gentle parenting advocate. She’s an Internationally Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and best-selling baby-care author of Sleeping Like a Baby, 100 Ways to Calm the Crying and Parenting by Heart. See Pinky’ s books, baby massage DVD /video and recording programs HERE. 

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  • in bao bi

    thanh you the post. i like

  • cambrila

    As a mother, i will rate your article as the best article i have ever seen on the web.keep writing for mothers….

  • Laura

    Oh Pinky, thank you for being the voice of reason between “suck it up” or “cry it out”. Thank you for acknowledging that sometimes families need help with sleep, and suggesting ways to do this respectfully and safely.

  • Heather

    I love all your posts. I am wondering though, what if it takes hours of bouncing and ATG squatting to get baby to sleep? I don’t want to do CIO but my husband and I are at the end of our tether. For 6 weeks now ( baby is 4 months+3 weeks ) we have to bounce around like yoyos to get the baby to fall asleep. Only to have her wake 20 minutes and repeat the process. I’m praying for my legs not to give out as I squat with her for the 50th time. She naps 3-4 x / day 45-60 minutes and shows tired signs constantly. We put her to bed at 5pm because its usually 1 1/2-3 hours after her last nap. She sleeps in a swing. Gosh we have screwed up so bad I don’t even know how to fix this whatsoever. I feel overwhelmed every day because I’m terrified of seeing her sleepy signs all day and of the bedtime battle every night. What am I doing wrong??

    • Liv

      Did you ever find a solution heather? This is my Bub now (I feel like I could have written this post word for word)

      • Poonam

        Did you ever find a solution as I am going through the same

  • Ethan

    First of all Thank to author because give me some opportunity to writing about Baby sleeping. My opinion , Right after “Is it a boy or a girl?” and “What’s his/her name?,” the next question people invariably ask new parents is “Are you getting any sleep?” Unfortunately, the answer is usually “Not much.” In fact, studies show that approximately 25% of young children experience some type of sleep problem and, as any bleary-eyed parent will attest, it is one of the most difficult challenges of parenting.

    Drawing on her ten years of experience in the assessment and treatment of common sleep problems in children, Dr. Jodi A. Mindell now provides tips and techniques, the answers to commonly asked questions, and case studies and quotes from parents who have successfully solved their children’s sleep problems.

    Unlike other books on the subject, Dr. Mindell also offers practical tips on bedtime, rather than middle-of-the-night-sleep training, and shows how all members of the family can cope with the stresses associated with teaching a child to sleep.

    • Doctor Arafat

      Thanks Ethan for your addition with Pinky Mckay information so good

  • cambrila@BabeeList

    One of the most common problems with parents is making baby to sleep while they sleep. For some strange reasons babies have the habit of staying awake late till the night. So, here are a few tips which perhaps could make the babies fall in line in the literal sense of the term, as far as sleep is concerned.

  • sarkar

    My baby always cry at night.. It’s a great article .I hope it will help my baby to sleep well.

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    If you want to improve your familiarity just keep visiting this
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  • Shae

    You mean there’s such a thing as a sleeping baby? The first three months are the hardest and it gets better after that.

  • Mike Danpe

    If I may, I’d like to share that I have found my children to sleep very peacefully with the crib warmer mattress pad from I was a bit skeptical of using a non-electric mattress warmer because I wasn’t sure how well they would work but apparently both of my infants really enjoyed sleeping on the mattress pad. I would recommend the product to anyone who is trying to create or break sleeping schedules!

  • Thinking

    I’ve never heard of “A post natal doula”. You learn something every day! Great article.

  • Teghan

    I really like your approach to babies in general, sleep and feeding etc. could you explain the difference between responsive and non responsive sleep training? I know of sleep training where you are encouraged to respond to every cry of your baby, while also with the aim of encouraging them to be comfortable sleeping in their cot.
    My baby has terrible reflux and while we were happily co-sleeping and feeding to sleep I can no longer do so as she is so unwell lying flat and being burped and on an incline. I would like to try responsive sleep training but I’m worried it will be harmful to her.

    Please help!