A couple weeks ago, I introduced you all to Jessica Begley of The Baby Sleep Geek. (If you missed it, read about her here.) We asked for your baby/toddler sleep questions, and you all submitted some great ones. I'm SO excited that Jessica (a certified sleep consultant) is back on the blog today tackling these questions for us! Even if you didn't submit a question, I highly recommend reading through these... she offers some
great info and tips! Below you'll find the questions from Mainely Mama readers along with the answers from The Baby Sleep Geek:
My 5 month old has been sleeping through the night for the past month, 7:30ish to 6am-ish. He is pretty easy to put down, good at falling asleep on his own. Our problem? Naps!!! He is so inconsistent, mostly not taking them, or taking a very short one...30 minutes. I gave it my all this past weekend and got his room pretty dark, put his sound machine on, gave him a bottle, and rocked him till drowsy. The second he goes down, he screams. We did this for 20 minutes with no avail. Finally I let him cry and just rubbed his head and it took about 10 more minutes, but he did fall asleep. Only to wake 20 minutes later. I know he is tired, he gets cranky, rubs his eyes, etc. We end up going out and running errands because he always sleeps on the move. How can we get him to nap without having to leave the house every time? Another note, he goes to a small in home daycare (two other babies there), so I do not have much if an opportunity to get him on a napping schedule.
TBSG: We need to ensure that he is on an age appropriate schedule. If he is tired or being put down at a time that is not in sync with his body clock, he won’t fall asleep easily or stay asleep long. If his schedule is appropriate, then there are a couple of things I would focus on given that he is 6 months old.
First , no more naps on the go. You need to provide a consistent sleeping space so that it can become his cue to sleep. Sleep on the go is less restorative at his age
because motion can make it difficult to fall and stay in deep sleep. It’s like
sleeping on a plane. It sounds like you have a great sleeping environment
The second thing I’d work on is getting him down into his crib more awake. The 30
minute naps you are seeing are a result of him waking after just one sleep
cycle, which ranges from about 30-60 minutes. He then stirs, which is common,
but can’t get himself back to sleep easily because he hasn’t had the practice
of doing so independently. If he is getting quite drowsy in your arms then
being put into his crib, it’s almost like a rude awakening. Instead, get him “ready for sleep” but not drowsy and place him down. Use a confident voice and
tell him it’s time for sleep. He may not be happy about it the first couple of
times, but this will allow him to practice going from awake to asleep on his
own which he will then be able to do after his short naps. Short naps take
longer to come together than night sleep and take persistent and commitment!
My 22 month old son wakes most nights. For a while I was so tired, I brought him into bed with my husband and me. We have been able to break that habit and he sleeps in his crib. I go into his room and talk to him. We are down to 5 minutes or less of interaction, but I'd love him to be able to fall back asleep without my aid. He uses a pacifier and rubs his ears for self-soothing, and has a white noise machine. Any tips are so appreciated! Thank you!
TBSG: Great job using a very gently method of moving from co-sleeping to crib sleeping! It sounds like his new sleep association is simply having a quick check in from mom or dad in the middle of the night. Some parents are OK with this, others are not, especially if this is happening more than once per night. Here are some tips:
If you find that he’ll fall back to sleep after popping his pacifier back into his
mouth, it’s probably time to ditch it. If you can sprinkle 5 or so around his
crib and if he can find and replace it on his own, you can certainly go that
route. You could also give it to him at bedtime but refuse to replace it after
that. But the best plan for long term success is to ditch it all together. He
might not be happy about it, and the night wakings may increase before they get
better, but they will get better.
If the paci is not to blame, then it could simply be that he has become dependent
on that quick visit from you to help him fall back to sleep. My son was like
this. It only took a quick tuck in, but it was happening 5-7 times a night.
Just not acceptable in my house! Instead of going to him immediately open
waking, you can slowly extend the amount of time between when he wakes and when you do that check until he no longer needs you to fall back to sleep. He may
become more upset during the interval of time before the check, but this is
normal. Remember, consistency is key.
My 4 month old daughter slept through the night (7pm-4am) up
until last week. Now she is back to getting up every 2-3 hours. She has been
napping well during the day, and going to sleep on her own (very drowsy after
nursing/rocking). How can I get her to sleep through the night again? I'm back
to work now and need my sleep! Thank you!
TBSG: And cue the 4 month sleep regression! Actually, the 4
month sleep regression is not really a regression at all in that while it does
result in a worsening of sleep it does not generally improve on its own
(sorry!). At around 4 months our baby’s sleep starts to mature and become more
adult-like. Instead of falling almost immediately into deep sleep, they drift
slowly through light sleep first, and then into deep sleep. So while a newborn
can be rocked to sleep and put down without waking, you’d have to rock your 4
months old for much, much longer, upwards of 45 minutes, before she falls into
deep sleep. But while it takes her longer to fall into deep sleep, she actually
spends more time in deep sleep than she did as a newborn. This means when she
has partial arousals between sleep cycles, she is more aware of the change. This
makes those pesky sleep associations more addictive! I’d start by moving nursing
to the very beginning part of her bedtime routine and put her down more awake
than drowsy. Then, while she may have been able to go 9 hours at night without
nursing before now, it may not be a realistic expectation. Many breastfed babies
need to nurse up to 2 times per night. Pick 2 times when you are willing to nurse her, say after 5 hours the first time and 3 hours the second. We almost always expect the first stretch to be a little longer. This is all assuming that her schedule is appropriate as well. During those other wakings, I would try to calmly soothe her with your voice or a quick pat unless you are comfortable with more liberal sleep-training at this age. I did sleep training with my daughter at 4.5 months and it worked like a dream but not all parents or babies are ready at that age.
As I'm sure many others are wondering, what is the best way to help a baby sleep without nursing? My 7 month old son goes down in his crib on his own with very little issues, but then he wakes up 3 hours later and the only way I can get him back to sleep is nursing him, which basically turns into nursing all night and very little sleep for everyone involved!
TBSG: The first thing I would suggest is moving the pre-bed nursing to the very first part of the bedtime routine, and if possible even to before bath. This helps to naturally remove the nurse-to-sleep association and sometimes is enough to help a baby learn to fall back to sleep without nursing without any sleep training at all. Although most doctors and many sleep consultants would say that he doesn’t need a night feeding at all, I think it’s perfectly reasonably that he would need one night feedings, but I would try to hold him off for at least 6 hours from his last feeding or until after
Midnight. If he wakes at a time that doesn’t mean those cut offs, then you’ll have to decide what approach you’d like to do. You could try to soothe him in other ways, but at 6 months I think using some gentle sleep training is appropriate.
I’ve been nursing my baby to sleep for months but I'd like to have someone else be able to put her down. How do I stop without doing full cry it out?
TBSG: The book The No Cry Sleep Solution has some ideas for slowly removing the nurse to sleep association. I have not used these strategies with my clients because many of my clients come to me after trying them unsuccessfully on their own for months. They find that they are too difficult to implement consistently and take too long to see results, which ultimately ends in more crying, not less, and certainly not no-crying as itclaims. But if done consistently with patience, they can work.
I think your first step is to move the nursing session to the very beginning part of the routine and if possible to before bath. Then work on getting her down drowsy but perhaps by rocking and not by nursing. This often works for babies younger than 5 months. If you have an older baby, the nurse to sleep association may be a bit more engrained and harder to break. If this is the case, you are probably going to see some crying. Babies cry. Period. It’s their own way of communicating that they don’t like change and what you are doing is implementing change. How much your baby cries will depend on your baby’s temperament and how consistent you are. But you can be right there with your baby, responding to her cries with empathy and respect, and still set these bedtime limits. It’s not easy, but it’s an important process and one that
applies to all aspects of parenting. Keeping your baby well-resting on an
age-appropriate schedule will also reduce the crying because a well-rested baby
falls asleep easier, sleeps more soundly, and sleeps longer.
The technique that you use will vary on your parenting style and
could be something as gentle as the “pick up, put down method”. This method
works really well for babies younger than 5 or 6 months. Unlike other sleep
consultants or some physicians, I don’t believe the mantra that you can never
pick your baby up during the sleep training process. Using a more gentle method
like this certainly takes longer and more commitment, but for many families it
is the best fit.
I'd love to get your thoughts on how to determine the right bedtime for a baby. Our daughter is 2 months old and if we put her down around 9-9:30 PM (after bath and nursing), she's sometimes up 45 minutes later wanting to nurse again, then goes down for good between 10:30 - 11:30 PM. She's sleeping through the night so I'm very lucky on that front, but we'd love to shift the bedtime earlier for our own sanity. Any tips?
TBSG: This waking you are experiencing, what I call the “45-minute intruder”, is a very good sign that she is overtired. A 2 month old is unlikely to be able to stay awake for longer than an hour without becoming overtired, so after her last nap of the day, which is likely a catnap around dinner time, immediately start her bedtime routine with the goal of having her asleep by the 1 hour mark. By ensuring the she doesn’t stay awake for longer than an hour between naps and before bedtime should really help. My philosophy is that bedtime will always be flexible based on the quality and length of naps. So while a “set” bedtime may work for an older child who takes very consistent naps, a younger baby whose naps are still developing a rhythm may have a bedtime that varies by an hour or more every night.
My five month old is most definitely a spirited sleeper! From day one he has fought sleep. As a very newborn, he could only sleep on me. Then bouncing on me or my husband in the ergo. He remains swaddled and still sleeping in his rock and play type chair (macleran foldable reclined chair) which sits in the cosleeper next to the bed. He wakes usually 2-3 times a night still and still likes to nurse. He fights falling asleep so hard, we still have to do a lot of cajoling to get him there. I know he's little but are we creating habits that will be detrimental later? He desperately needs sleep and at this point we will do whatever works to get him there but am curious if you think we should be handling sleep differently? I would love it if we could get to once a night wake ups (or.... none? gasp!) Thank you!
TBSG: Five-months is a great age to begin developing his sleep
habits. While it’s never too late to shape sleep, the earlier you begin with
healthy habits the easier it is to implement them. I know. I had to implement
healthy sleep habits with a walking, talking, negotiating preschooler—it’s
tough! Waking twice a night is quite common for a 5-month old but many babies
are down to 1 night feeding by 6 months so this is not completely out of the
question! I think your first goal needs to be getting him sleeping flat because
as he becomes stronger and more aware of his surroundings, swaddling and
sleeping sitting up in a swing or rock and play becomes a hazard. If it is
taking you longer and longer to get (cajole!!) him to sleep, this is a good sign
that what you are doing is no longer working for him and he may need less
parental intervention than more. The first step in helping your baby sleep
better is to make sure that he is on an age appropriate schedule, which for 5
months would be 3 naps a day and a bedtime less than 2-2.5 hours from when he
wakes from his last nap. That, coupled with an environment that is very
conducive to sleep, and a consistent sleeping space should help you get started.
I have a 2 1/2 year old that is a horrible sleeper. It didn't start this way. She was my
first to sleep through the night. As she got close to her first birthday,
through teething and colds it seemed to gradually changed and since then she has
been up multiple times a night. She falls asleep fine and sometimes asks to go
to bed. She has no pacifier or other sleep props. When she wakes up at night she
does not seem upset or distressed. She walks into our room wanting a drink. I
did put water by her bed. The problem is the tantrums she throws when we put her
back...she often wakes other sleeping kids. She is very manipulative in trying
to keep us in the room. (Ex. Asking for water and the refusing to take the water
bottle) We have tried changing her bed to a regular one. We have been using
essential oils. We have tried crying it out. She has amazing endurance and can
cry for hours. When she wakes it is not uncommon for her to be awake for a
couple hours. I know sleep is very important and try to gage her naps around
getting her at least 11 hours of sleep but it doesn't seem to help her. It is
beyond frustrating. Any thoughts?
TBSG: Wow this is me 3 ½ years ago. And let me tell you, the older they get, the harder it is. At this point it is a simple parenting issue rather than a sleep issue. She
has figured out what is going to push your button (asking for a drink and then
refusing it) and is using it as a stalling tactic. I’d start by having a family
meeting, with everyone in your family, and talk about how important sleep is. If
she doesn’t sleep, mommy doesn’t sleep, and that means mommy is too tired to
bring her out to do fun things! Create a chart of the bedtime rules and the
bedtime routine. Include in the routine every single thing that she might
request and check them off as you go through them each night. This way you and
she both know it has been done and there is no discussion or negotiating in the
middle of the night. Then my next concern is of her safety. If she can walk to
your room, she can roam the house. I know this from personal experience. I found
my son spray painting my kitchen at 4:00am when he was 4 years old! I would
allow her to decorate a baby gate with markers and stickers and then put it up
in her doorway. If she calls for you in the night, you can walk her back to her
bed and tuck her in, but there shouldn’t be any negotiating or discussion. As
hard as it is to not respond to a kicking and screaming toddler, any interaction
in the middle of the night just reinforces the behavior. If this doesn’t greatly
reduce the middle of the night requests, I would take even more drastic
measures and do a simple check if she calls for you, no returning to her bed.
With either approach, you need to stick with it for as long as it takes….and
toddlers are persistent. But giving in will only provide the intermittent
reinforcement that she needs to try again the next night. I used this approach
with a 2 ½ year old little girl from Michigan when I first started out as a
sleep consultant and she fell asleep by her gate the first night but quickly
realized that her bed is much more comfortable and within just a few nights was
sleeping straight through without waking mom and dad at all.
We are about to transition our 5 month old from her rock and play (she refused to sleep flat even in the hospital the nurses had to hold her at night for me to get even
2 hours of sleep and then at home there were sleepless nights before we found
rock and play) to her crib. Currently we have a solid bedtime routine that has
been in place for nearly 6 weeks and she sleeps 6pm-5am typically waking 3-4
times to either nurse or just to be settled back down. We are very nervous to
move her to her crib (which is also in her own room whereas she has been in our
room since day one) but she is growing out of her cradle so we really have to.
She does not have acid reflux or anything else - just never liked laying flat on
her back. Any suggestions or thoughts would be so hugely appreciated! Thank you
TBSG: This is always much easier than parents think it will be! I definitely
agree that she needs to be out of her rock and play. Those are
wonderful for helping to establish independent sleeping but they can be
dangerous once baby can sit or roll. You will likely have some crying the first
night or two, but is usually short-lived. Crying is just her way of expressing
that she doesn’t like the change (can you blame her? That rock and play looks
comfortable!) but you can respond to her crying with empathy. Remember, as a
parent it’s not your job to always stop the crying. Sometimes the crying is
needed in order for your baby to work through emotions. You can respond to her
crying with empathy, by using a very gentle soothing technique such as the “pick
up/put down” method. The gentle methods take consistency and time, but they
work! When I transitioned my daughter form the rock and play to her crib I
didn’t have the luxury of using a gentle method because my son would have had
too much time on his hands to get into trouble. We went cold turkey and my
daughter cried at bedtime for over a week which was so tough to hear! Once she
adjusted she hasn’t looked back. She reaches for her crib now and waves bye-bye
to me. As much as I hated to hear her cry (who likes to hear their baby cry
anyway?) I knew I was doing the right thing for my family. So, regardless of
which method you choose—gentle or more liberal—there is always at least some
crying. The more consistent you are with your method the less the crying, which
is why it is important to design a plan that you can follow through with.
My son is 29 months and has alsways been a "good" sleeper and only wakes when sick or teething. Lately he has been crying at 2am almost on the dot. As soon as he
hears the floor creak(aka us walking) he stops. We go and talk to him but he is
wide awake. We end up letting him fuss but it stinks hearing him say mommy and
daddy! Any advice? Will he be "scarred" for us letting him cry? This also makes
us nervous to ever transition to a bed!
TBSG: He absolutely will not be scarred for life. There was a study published in the
journal Pediatrics which showed no long term effects of sleep training, so put
that fear aside. The crying at 2am is no different than crying because you won’t
let him chew gum or eat candy for dinner. The first thing I would consider is
whether there has been anything upsetting him during the day? A new daycare
provider, a new movie he’s been watching or any other disruptions to his
schedule? Sometimes these mysterious wakings are actually the result of
something that has changed during the day, or a new cognitive milestone that
needs to be mastered. This can absolutely cause night wakings, but how we respond to them is what creates the unsustainable sleep association. If he hasn’t worked through this on his own in two weeks or so, then you may need to do some retraining.
What I might actually try first, since these waking occur at approximately the same
time every night, is a scheduled awakening. Go in and gentle rouse him about 30
minutes before he would normally wake up. You don’t need to fully wake him up,
but enough to bring him out of deep sleep and into light sleep. This will then
create the need for his body to reset his sleep clock, and hopefully eliminate
the 2:00am waking because he will have fallen back into deep sleep by that time.
Eventually you can move the check further and further into the morning until the
check is no longer happening before 2:00am and it can be dropped all together.
Of course this approach is very intensive on your part and the method with the quickest response would be to just not go to him at 2:00am when he calls for you. You could respond with a quick “Night-night. Go back to sleep”. He may not be happy
about this since he has become used to your crib-side visits, but it would
certainly eliminate the wakings fairly quickly because there would be nothing to
reinforce them. But listening to a 2 year old cry in the middle of the night is
night easy, so I’d go with the scheduled awakening first!
Curious about swaddling and when we should stop? Our 2 month old will only sleep (both at night and naps) swaddled, and just wondering if there is a time that we should wean?
TBSG: Swaddles can be a magical thing when it comes to stifling that startle reflex,
but they can also become dangerous if used too long. You should begin
transitioning your baby out of the swaddle once your baby shows signs of
beginning to roll. If your baby rolls in the swaddle he could roll over onto his
belly in his swaddle and become stuck which greatly increases his risk of SIDS.
Although 2 months is much too young for sleep training, if you haven’t ditched
the swaddle if and when you do use sleep training, I recommend you do it at the
same time. Allowing your baby access to his hands and his ability to move around
and find a comfortable position is key in helping him practice self soothing.
I have a baby boy who is 16 weeks old. He will be 4 months old next week. At around 2 months of age, he began sleeping for 8 hours, sometimes 9 hours straight and I thought I was soo lucky that he slept so well and for so long! But, about 2 weeks ago, he began waking up twice, sometimes 3 or 4 times a night. Last night wasn't as bad, but it was not great! He fell asleep at 8, woke at midnight, ate, fell back asleep until 4:30. I tried giving him the pacifier at 4:30 but it kept falling out and he was back awake every several minutes. I have heard/read that by 4 months of age, babies should not need a nighttime feeding. So, I am worried that by me nursing him, I am setting him up for bad sleep habits. I also just stopped swaddling his arms 2 nights ago, thinking he would be better able to self sooth himself back to sleep...not happening yet! My questions are 1. How do I know if he needs to eat or just needs help falling back to sleep? 2. Why this sudden regression in length of sleep? 3. Should I feed him each time he wakes or is the pacifier ok?
TBSG: Hi! I think your little guy still sounds like he is sleeping quite appropriately for
his age but there are some things that you can do to help him along. First I’ll
answer your specific questions.
1. It’s common for a baby whose 4 months old to need 1 or 2 night feedings in a 12 hour night. The first stretch is typically the longer stretch, and for 4 months old
I would expect this stretch to be about 5 hours. He then may need to eat again
3-4 hours later. Telling if your baby is waking from hunger rather than habit
is a bit of trial and error. First consider if he has gone an age appropriate
amount of time between the last feeding. Second, when you do give him a night
feeding, does he clearly nurse efficiently or is he simply suckling and falling
asleep after just a few minutes. If he is falling asleep after a few minutes,
he may just be nursing as a way to get back to sleep.
2. Its is very common to have a regression around four months of age. At
around 4 months our baby’s sleep starts to mature and become more adult-like.
Instead of falling almost immediately into deep sleep, he drifts slowly through
light sleep first, and then into deep sleep. So while a newborn can be rocked to
sleep and put down without waking, you’d have to rock your 4 months old for
much, much longer, upwards of 45 minutes, before he falls into deep sleep. But
while it takes him longer to fall into deep sleep, he actually spends more time
in deep sleep than he did as a newborn. This means when he has partial arousals
between sleep cycles, he is more aware of the change. This makes those pesky
sleep associations more addictive!
3. If he’ll take a pacifier and go back to sleep, then you certainly can do this. If
he is truly hungry, he will spit it out and call for you again. But what I might
encourage you to do is to instead of immediately popping the pacifier back into
his mouth, give him a couple of minutes (or fifteen!) to see if he will settle
on his own.
You may also want to consider moving his bedtime a little earlier. Bedtime should be 2 hours or less from the end of his 3rd nap for a 4 month old. You may
find this really helps cut down on night wakings. And finally, try moving the
last nursing session of the night to before the bedtime routine begins. Many
times moving the nursing out of the routine is enough to help a baby begin
sleeping longer stretches. But again, for his age, one or two night feedings is
Thank you all for participating and huge thank you to Jessica for helping our Mainely Mama readers! Follow The Baby Sleep Geek on Facebook for more great tips and info on all her offerings, appearances, and classes etc.
I'm Rebecca, a Maine mom of three energetic young boys and wife of a lobsterman, living in my favorite place, the coast of Maine. You'll find me here talking about my parenting journey, mom style, recipes, running and exercise, travel, stories from our life in Maine and so much more! Most days I'm just figuring it out as I go - Thanks so much for stopping by!