How to stop your baby fighting sleep

What to do when your baby fights sleep

Your baby is showing all of the signs of being tired, but when you come to put them down for a nap they fight sleep with all of their tiny strength. 

It can be so frustrating and upsetting to see your baby distraught and unable to get themselves off to much-needed sleep. It’s also confusing. Why can’t they sleep if they’re so tired?

I struggled to get the hang of naps with both of my babies. The first one took a dummy and that solved the problems after about eight weeks. 

The second baby struggled with naps for the first few months. It was hard work, and I worried I wasn’t helping her to get enough good sleep. 

Through it all, I learned that there are a few things that you can do to help your baby get to sleep. Part of my struggle with my second baby was that while I knew what I needed to do to help her sleep, I had a toddler who demanded my attention too. 

That was a real challenge and as a result I ended up doing a lot of her naps while we were out walking. This is something to really consider if you are struggling with sleep and your second child, because the motion just helps to soothe them off to sleep and meanwhile you can entertain your toddler with a nice walk. 

If you are looking for help to stop your baby fighting naps, you want to have a better idea of when your baby needs to nap and you want fewer tears at bedtime, then these are the tips you need to know: 

Look at your daytime routine 

The biggest reasons for fighting sleep is either that your baby is not tired enough or they are too tired. It’s confusing isn’t it? If only they were born just figuring it all out for themselves!

Looking at your daytime routine is the number one thing to start with. If you understand the points of the day when your baby will be tired, then you will know when to start settling them for a nap. This way they won’t be overtired by the time you come to put them to sleep. 

Problems in your daytime routine may be that your baby is taking smaller power naps throughout the day, rather than several longer naps. 

They may be awake for just a few minutes at a time then nodding off for five minutes and repeating the cycle all over again. 

As a rough idea, a newborn baby is likely to sleep for most of the day, with awake times of roughly 30 minutes to 45 minutes at a time. 

At a few weeks, your baby should be able to cope with awake times of around 60 to 90 minutes. These awake times should be broken up by naps of at least an hour. 

If your baby is favouring power naps of just a few minutes, then try to keep them awake for a little longer to encourage longer spells of sleep. 

Check out my post about daytime routines and helping to settle babies down for a nap in their own bed for more information. 

Encourage your baby to sleep in their own bed

If you want to co-sleep, that’s great. Totally up to you, it’s very much a personal choice. If you do decide to co-sleep, remember to read up on the safe sleep guidelines to reduce the risk of cot death. 

However, if you would prefer your baby to sleep in their own cot, you can encourage this by helping them to learn how to self-settle. 

Some parents will prefer to rock their baby to sleep and then place them down in the cot. That’s totally up to you, there’s no rules saying you have to do things one way or another. 

Check out my tips on the fourth trimester (where babies only want to sleep on you) and how to encourage your baby to sleep in their own bed. 

Know their sleep cues

Some babies are quite hard to decode, but most will rub their eyes, become less wriggly and stare off into space once they’re gearing up for sleep. 

Once they start crying, it’s gone beyond the point of a bit sleepy and they’re now overtired. At this point they can be harder to settle. 

Try to read their tired cues before they become overtired. This is a bit of a learning curve, but you will get there if you keep trying to read your baby. 

Keep an eye on the clock

Some babies are happy to be awake for two hours, while others will struggle after 90 minutes. 

How long your baby can cope with being awake will vary. 

Try keeping an eye on them closely for a day or two and see if there is a pattern to when they starts showing their tired cues. 

Reduce stimulation

Once you can read the signs and see your baby is tired, help them get to sleep by moving them to a darker room and keep the noises to a minimum. 

Don’t wave toys in their face. Keep your own voice quiet and soothing. 

Stay calm

If you’re well into the fourth hour of screaming and crying it can be difficult to keep your cool. 

If you are finding it difficult either hand the baby over to someone else, or put them down somewhere else and leave the room for a couple of minutes to take a few deep breaths. 

It’s really hard to keep calm when you’re exhausted and faced with a frustrating situation, and none of us are perfect! Don’t be critical of yourself if you do feel stressed out and at the end of your tether, it’s not easy coping with a new baby. 

Try a dummy 

Using a dummy appeals to your baby’s suckling instincts. My youngest preferred to fall asleep on my boob and rejected every dummy we tried, however my eldest used a dummy at every nap.

You may have to try a few different types of dummy before you find one that your baby prefers.

Introduce it from around four weeks when you’ve established breastfeeding, although it can be introduced earlier if you’re desperate.

Be sure not to use it to replace feeds. Babies will feed frequently in the first few weeks and you should let them have as much as they want.

Keep an eye on your baby’s weight if your baby is using a dummy to make sure they aren’t missing out on milk.

Don’t be afraid of rocking them to sleep

Many will say this is setting you up for bad habits in the future, but I just don’t agree with that.

I had to rock both of my babies to sleep at one time or another and they both now fall asleep on their own, in their own beds every night.

Don’t let yourself be scared into thinking you shouldn’t cuddle your baby to sleep.

Use white noise 

If you use white noise, or a toy that plays lullabies and other soothing sounds, at every nap and bedtime, your baby will learn to associate it with going to sleep. 

White noise can also help to soothe your baby, as it’s similar to the noises they heard in the womb and it can help them to drown out other stimulus. 

Have a bedtime routine 

It’s never too early to introduce a bedtime routine, although it won’t make much difference in the early weeks.

A bedtime routine is a nice way to bond with your baby and teach them the cues for when it’s time to go to sleep in the evening.

It usually includes a bath, book, bottle and then a last cuddle before settling down to sleep in their cot. You can read my post about establishing a bedtime routine here.

Remind yourself that everything changes quickly 

If you’re struggling to cope with your baby fighting sleep and becoming tearful, try to remember that it won’t last forever.

Babies change so much in the first year and beyond. Even if it doesn’t seem like it right now, your baby will eventually sleep through and manage to get themselves to sleep. It takes time and patience, but it will happen.

If you’re looking for more tips on getting your baby to sleep without a fight, check out these posts:

Gentle baby sleep training

25 tips to improve baby’s sleep

How to stop your baby fighting sleep
How to stop your baby from fighting sleep

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