When Baby Won’t Go To Sleep On Her Own

Our five-month-old daughter has trouble going to sleep on her own. We put her down in her crib when she starts getting sleepy, but almost instantly she starts to scream until we pick her up. We have tried pacifiers, lullaby tapes, and rocking, but she insists on being walked. This is wearing us out. Help!
Marc Hall – Richmond, Virginia

When Baby Won't Go To Sleep On Her Own

Dr. Greene’s Answer:

Your darling daughter has worked her magic on your heart. Her smiles delight you, but oh, the despair that comes with her incessant crying. Hearing her cry, much less scream, will cause physical changes in your body as your muscles tense and your heart beats a little bit faster. On top of that, both you and your wife are probably sleep deprived by now. All in all, a very difficult situation.

If you want to change this pattern of behavior, you can. I will tell you, though, it won’t be easy. At about this age (3 to 6 months) most babies begin to occasionally sleep through the night on their own. As soon as your daughter has slept through the night at least once (after you have gone through the painful process of getting her to sleep), you can begin to teach her to sleep the entire the night in her crib — including falling asleep. If there is any question that she might be teething, getting a cold, or otherwise needing special attention on the night that you are going to initiate this process, wait to start it. If you are going to be successful, there is no turning back once you start. This is how it is done:

  • Prepare for bedtime as you normally would, making sure all of her physical needs are met.
  • Include all the things that she has learned to associate with going to sleep in her bedtime ritual, i.e. lullaby tape, special blanket or toy, etc.
  • When she gets sleepy, put her in her bed.
  • Position yourself so that you can gently pat her and make sure she remains lying down by gently applying pressure on her body if needed.
  • When she begins to cry, don’t pick her up — this will be extremely hard to do, but if you pick her up, she will learn to cry next time until you do again!
  • Continue to pat her, sing to her, tell her you love her –whatever it takes –even though she is crying. You will not be abandoning her, only teaching her to let go and fall asleep.
  • Ideally, you and her mother can do this together for mutual support.
  • When one of you can’t take it anymore, that one should leave the room for a while.
  • Keep singing, patting, and comforting her until she falls asleep.

This will work, eventually. The first night it may take an hour-and-a-half or even more for her to go to sleep. The following night she may go to sleep all by herself or you may need go to through the same painful process again. Either way, you will probably face about six crying episodes before your daughter learns how to go to sleep on her own. Each successive episode will get shorter than the one before it. Also, you can begin to leave her alone for a few minutes at a time during the crying and screaming period.

If you decide to tackle this problem head on, it is very important that you and her mother agree that this is the way you are going to handle it. No matter how hard it gets, you must follow the plan with two exceptions: 1) If your child is sick then, of course, you will want to take her out of her crib and give her the attention she needs. 2) If you are on vacation, or not in your own home, and your daughter is disoriented or afraid, you may want to hold her. If this is the case, she will be able to grasp that there is a special reason Daddy is walking her to sleep. Generally the nights following exceptions are rougher than usual, so leave extra time in your schedule to help her get back into the pattern of going to sleep on her own.

By teaching your daughter to fall asleep on her own you will be teaching her some very valuable skills! Although this is extremely difficult, it is really worth the struggle. To be successful in life she needs to learn how to put herself to sleep. When she does, she, and you will be much happier.

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com (cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site”), a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green. He appears frequently in the media including such venues as the The New York Times, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, & the Dr. Oz Show.

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  1. Jynda

    I bought the book “The Baby Whisperer Solves all Your Problems” (by Tracy Hogg) off of Amazon for like 5 bucks and it really helped with my almost 11 month old son. It suggests the e.a.s.y method for taking care of your baby.. This means eat, activity, sleep, your time. This worked well for me since I’m a new mother and initially had no clue what I was doing. Anything I wanted to know I found in the book and followed it as best as I could. Now I’m more confident as a mother and my munchkin sleeps well. From the time he was 3 months old he has been sleeping straight through the night. His bed time is 7:30 p.m. (or as close to that as possible, sometimes he stays up until about 8:30 or 9 but this is rare), and he doesn’t wake up until about 6/7 the next morning. I loved this book and would recommend it to all mothers.

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  2. Emilia

    How is this method different than CIO?

    My baby goes to sleep in her sling every night and it works, but it would be great if she would go down herself. I don’t have it in me to try this method though. I’m not okay with her getting so upset. She’s too little to understand at 3-6 months!!

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    • The “Cry It Out” method allows the child to be alone, and perhaps afraid, during the crying period. Often parents (with understandably broken hearts) break down and go pick up their baby after some period of crying. This teaches the child that crying long enough will result in getting the desired outcome.

      With Dr. Greene’s method, the parent doesn’t leave the room with baby crying. Baby is never afraid of being abandoned and is taught that crying will not get the desired outcome.

      Admittedly, it’s tough to do. Especially the first night. But typically the baby learns very quickly that they are safe even if they aren’t being held by a parent and can fall asleep without being rocked or held.

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  3. sara

    Help! My baby will not go to sleep in her crib. Crying it out doesn’t work. As soon as I see the cues I put her in her crib and she screams bloody murder till I pick her up, try a soothe her and put her back in her little bed next time ours! She needs to be in her own room. She’s 4 month preemie.

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    • Silvia

      Hi Sara,

      Why does she need to sleep in her own room?

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  4. sara

    Please help. Our 4 month old screams bloody murder while we try to put her to sleep in her crib. She can go on for hours. She sleeps next to our bed now. She hates bed time. Please advise. We do (try a) routine bath, feed, diaper and bed. As soon as you put her down she wakes up and screams. We’re exhausted. Any advice. Crying it out isn’t working.

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  5. zoe

    My 11month old son does not and will not sleep in his cot. He doesn’t even like being in the bedroom. ATM he is sleeping in his bouncing chair. He likes the movement of it as he wakes 20+times. I just gently rock him back to sleep. Since birth he has had so many problems with colic. We just did anything that soothed him, 11months on this is taking a toll! We are willing to try anything just to get a few hours sleep in my own bed instead of the sofa!! Help!!

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    • Silvia

      Zoe,
      Have you tried co-sleeping with your baby? My 10 month baby sleeps with us and we never had issues. We sleep the whole night and I had the chance to spend more time with my baby. I strongly recomend thIs.

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  6. Kristin

    My 10 month old sleeps well at night in crib, but during the day he will fall asleep in my arms and as soon as I try to let him lay down in his bed he will scream. I try to pat him and reassure him, but he gets really mad and will cry for over an hour! But if I were to leave him in my arms he will sleep for a couple of hours. Any suggestions?

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    • Vikki Armstrong

      I found to transfer my easily awoken daughter from my arms to her cot (or even from my bed to her cot if she falls asleep feeding) I put a heated wheatpack on her bed to warm it up, then remove it from her bed, make sure its not too hot just warm, and lay her down.

      The warmth is similar to your arms and body and it seems to comfort baby. Also stop rocking them before you put them down (maybe 5 mins before you put them down) because then they’ll wake because of the lack of movement. Wait 20 mins after they’ve gone to sleep. If you wait too long they’ll be in their light phase of sleep and are more likely to wake up.

      The key is to do it in their deep sleep. If the cot isn’t in your room then put something that smells like you i.e. a pillow case or singlet in their cot (or close to it depending on age) just be sensible as you don’t want to put something that could smother them. Hope this helps!

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  7. bobbie tree

    My baby is 13 weeks old and he will not sleep he sleeps in his chair but when its night time its a different story, me and my partner don’t no what to do, this is my Frist baby and he is teething as well

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  8. Sofia

    I’m a nanny for a 8 month baby boy. He is a very happy baby, but the one thing is he doesn’t like to sleep for very long. How often should you he be sleeping? We went from rocking to sleep to now mom want to self soothe him to sleep. I don’t see a different from rocking and patting in the chair from doing it in his crib. We need help .

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  9. Karen

    Hiiii…. My baby will be 12 months in January and still has not slept through the night. The more alert and aware the wise he becomes it seems. He takes a bottle to go to bed AMS wakes up an hr layer screaming, crying and won’t go back to sleep. I bring him downstairs for a while, bout 30 minutes before I try again. At this point he screams the secund I put him down and I leave the room..

    Helllllllppppppppp

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  10. elvia jones

    My 14 month old granddaughter will not sleep! She may take a nap about 5 pm and sleep anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Most days she will not nap during the day, when this happens she will fall asleep around 11pm and wake up around 2 am and stay awake till 7 or 8 am! Why is she doing this? I know she has to be tired from lack of sleep! What can we do to help her sleep besides hearing her cry! PLEASE HELP US!

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  11. Clara

    My 4 months old boy is different now. I saw his sleepy cue, put him down awake. He doesn’t not cry or scream, keeps sucking thumbs, rolling, but he doesn’t sleep neither!! I wait for 30-40 minutes then pick up this sleepy boy, swaddle and walk him, ok, he is out in 1 minute!!!

    What should I do?

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  12. Laura Cummings

    I want to try this but my baby cries so much she winds herself up starts screaming and often chokes.. She had also recently started to hold her breathe so leaving her crying does not seem to result in a self soothe at all.. Any suggestions…

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    • Nishma

      Hi! My daughter is 10 months old. This may be different for yours depending on how old your child is but I followed the book the whisper. She mentions to try and work backwards with your child and get him or her to forget the past and focus on the future. I rocked my little one so much that it was painful every night. I finally decided to change that and started holding her close to me but instead of rocking I walked with her. Then slowly I started to just hold her and then when she got use to that I would put her down when she was extremely tired. Of course each step was difficult and she would resist. But you have to keep doing it every day no matter how much they don’t like it. And eventually you will see that it will pay off. Take each step and work yourself slowly to the point where you don’t Rock them. Then eventually when they are really tired and when you put them down they may resist or cry but it won’t be for long cause they are tired and will give up soon. Today my daughter sleeps on her own and she sleeps all night. Keep it up! You can do it!

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      • Sonal

        Nishma – what book did you get this information from? We’re looking for all the help we can get without having to CIO, even while we are there.

        Also – how do you re-adjust once you’re home from vacation?

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