How To Get Your Baby To Sleep & Other Essential Advice

  • Mums & Bubs

By: Marie Ashworth, ellaslist

Yawn…it’s only 10am and I need another coffee! Sleep deprivation, as any parent will vouch for, is a form of torture. Sleepless nights come with the territory but fortunately the experts like Pinky McKay, bring a fountain of knowledge and experience to encourage more sleeping than waking for your baby (and you!).

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You Asked. She Answered!

Pinky took time out of her busy schedule to help our ellaslist readers with their sleeping and settling challenges. It’s insightful and I know I’ll be trying some of the ideas myself!


Q/ My 2 year old still sleeps in his cot in our room. Any advice to transition him to a big bed in his own room would be appreciated. He often still wakes for a bottle – Josephine 

A/ The mantra for making changes is ‘gradually with love’, so you can make a fuss of setting up a bed in his ‘big boy bed’. Let him help you choose a doona cover and set up his room. Then help him feel comfortable in there playing and starting with day sleeps. Once he is happy with day sleeps in his big boy bed, then move to night sleeps as well. Some little ones get so excited that this may only take a day or two, others will transition more slowly. Make bedtime a calm relaxing time, sitting with your little one while he falls asleep in his big bed, then when you feel he is happy with this you can tell him, “I just need to get in my pyjamas/feed the cat (whatever) and I will be right back. Then keep your word so he learns to stay in bed and wait for you. Gradually leave for a longer time and soon he will be able to fall asleep with less support.



Q/ When my 2 ½ year old son wakes up in the night he requests a bottle of milk to get back to sleep. I offer water but he only wants milk so I give it to him. Any advice on knocking this habit on the head? – Mia

A/ Milk can pool around your little one’s teeth and cause decay so it is important to help him give up bottles of milk in the night. Start by making sure your son isn’t hungry when he goes to bed. Then reduce the amount of milk in the bottle or you can water down the milk over a week or two so that eventually you are just giving a drink of water.



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Q) My nearly 3 year old wakes up several times a night. He comes to our room, wakes me if I’m not already, I take his hand, put him back to his bed, tuck him in and walk out. There are no tears, no words. Some nights he will do it once, others, maybe 5 times. Not sure what to do to stop it? – Nicole

A/ Seeing he doesn’t seem to be upset, just needing some reassurance, it would be worth trying to work out what is waking your child. Reasons for waking at this age can include bladder awareness – a full bladder will wake a child. To see of this is the reason, try lifting your child and taking him quietly for a ‘dream wee’ before you go to bed. This may help him make it through the night. Another reason can be dreams – at around 3, children’s imaginations are really coming on board. One lovely thing to try now is meditations at bedtime. I explain how to do this in my book Toddler Tactics. If you need more inspiration, have a look at the meditation books by Maureen Garth.


Q/ Do gro clocks work or do you have any other suggestions for early mornings? We have a serious early riser – it was 5am this morning. He’s 22 months and the early mornings are killing me – Polly

A/ You can try a gro clock but at 22 months your child is probably too young to understand that it isn’t time to get up yet. Consider, what time is your toddler going to bed? It may help to move his bedtime a wee bit later – say, in 15 minute increments over a couple of weeks and see if this helps him sleep later. You can also try playing some gentle music on a very low volume overnight and see if he will stay asleep as the morning noises begin outside – eg traffic, birds. If there isn’t any change, you will need to go to bed earlier yourself a couple of nights a week so you have the energy you need to keep up with your child.




Q/ I’m thinking of putting my 11 month old baby girl and 2.5 year old daughter in the same room. Is it a good idea? Who should go down first? – Serena

A/If both of your children are sleeping well, you can try them in the same room. If it turns out that they disturb each other you can always take the baby out for a while. In regards to who should go down first, it depends on who is easiest to settle. For example if your toddler’s bedtime stories disturb your baby it may be best to spend time one on one with your two year old then when she is asleep, pop the baby into bed. Or if the baby needs to go to sleep earlier, read to your toddler and have cuddles with her before you take her to the bedroom.


Q/ Any advice for an 18 month old who is waking up at 3am every 2nd night like clockwork and not going back to sleep…we have tried bottles, fresh nappies, self settling to no avail….starting to feel like a nocturnal! – Terry

A/ It’s really stressful that your baby wakes every second night – if it was every night you could try gently ‘waking’ her (arousing her with a cuddle) at around 2.30, then each night wake her around 10 minutes later. This way you would change the sleep cycle pattern. But seeing it’s every second night it may pay to look at things like diet – some children are restless due to sensitivity to foods that are high in salicylates. These are in foods such as berries, grapes, tomatoes, citrus and apples (there are others, so have a look at Or, because its every second night could this be due to constipation? It’s always more helpful to make changes is you try and work out what is causing the wake ups and deal with that.




Q/  My 12 week old doesn’t like to sleep in his bassinet during the day. He will fall asleep in my arms & then I will put him down & he’ll sleep for 5-10 mins & then wake up crying. He is fine at night (at the moment) so I’m just confused about why he won’t sleep in the day! Any advice? – Amy

A/ At this age many babies need more help to sleep during the day. They seem to find it difficult to block out stimulation and feel more secure being held. At night you have different components in your breast milk that make babies more drowsy and there is less stimulation to arouse them. Check that your baby is well fed, and try warming his bed with a wheat bag (just take the chill off – don’t risk overheating) to help him make the transition from your warm body to his bed. You can also try stretching a t-shirt that you have worn (so it has your smell) over his mattress to help him feel you are close. It is hard work though so you may like to try ‘wearing’ your baby in a carrier or wrap so you can get things done while she is sleeping. Take heart, he will find it easier to sleep longer in a few more weeks as his little nervous system matures.




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Q/ All of a sudden, my almost 2 year old does not want to be left alone when going to sleep (previously self settled by herself). My husband puts her to bed and it was always very easy for him she’d just let him walk out of the room. Now she starts to cry so much when he tries to leave. I don’t know whether to go back to the self-settling method, or maybe she’ll get over it. What do we do? – Tammy

A/ Please stay with your little one while she is going through this stage. It’s important to help her feel secure, not to have a stressed bedtime. If she becomes stressed at bedtime, those pesky stress hormones can mean she will start waking at night. Little ones can experience separation anxiety for a variety of reasons – as they are falling asleep, in their little minds, they are temporarily leaving you so this can feel scary to them. There is so much pressure on parents to make their child independent but really, they are still very small with big imaginations and they need help to calm down and settle. Enjoy the cuddles and try to see the time you spend with her at bedtime as an investment in your relationship with your child – as children grow, bedtime chats are the way you find out so much that is happening and what is worrying them.


Q/ What time should my 3-year old go to bed? She desperately still needs a day sleep but when she does, she doesn’t seem tired enough to go to sleep until about 8:30pm. Seems so late. She is usually up again by 6am – Lisa

A/The best time for children to go to bed is when they are tired and what suits your family – this can vary from one to child to the next. If your three year old has a nap, 8.30 pm is a perfectly reasonable time to go to bed. It sounds as though she is getting enough sleep so enjoy the evenings as a family.



Q/ I’m looking into gentle and loving options to help my nearly 5 month old have a better night time routine and to sleep a bit better overnight- he generally wakes every 1-2 hrs overnight. – Rebecca

A/ It’s lovely to hear you are looking for gentle options. At this age babies can become distracted from feeds during the day so they often become a bit more wakeful overnight to catch up on feeds. They are also going through some big developmental leaps – finding their toes, babbling, rolling. Because they process information in their lighter sleep, this can wake them too. Try feeding your baby in a quiet place with no distractions at least for some day feeds, encourage cluster feeds in the evening if she seems to want this. You may like to introduce some gentle music on a low volume at bedtime then leave it on to help him sleep a wee bit longer. To help your baby get used to ‘sleepy music’ you need to play this at every sleep time for about a week for your baby to become accustomed to it. If your baby is waking because he is rolling over and waking himself you may like to look at using a safe-t-sleep wrap to help him feel secure.



Meet Pinky!

Pinky will be making an appearance at the Bio Oil Seminar Stage at this year’s Essential Baby and Toddler Show in Sydney! Pinky will take to the stage to offer baby sleeping and settling techniques, and to discuss the emerging research suggesting that some approaches to ‘teaching babies to sleep’ has long term, adverse affects on their brain development. Her best selling books and Boobie Bikkies will also be available on the day, as well as her priceless advice that is sure to make you feel more confident when getting bub to sleep- so don’t miss out!



Register now for your FREE Baby and Toddler Show ticket and save $20!

Where:     Royal Hall of Industries & Hordern Pavilion
When:      23 – 25 September 2016
Cost:         FREE entry through ellaslist

For more information, visit the website.