So, you’ve survived your baby’s 4 month developmental milestone and emerged with a baby who is engaged with the world around him. Congratulations! You probably noticed this fussy period lasted longer than other developmental phases (at least so far). From this age on the skills your baby is mastering are more complicated and he’ll take more time to adjust.
In fact, at 4-months, studies have shown dramatic changes in your baby’s brain waves and a significant increase in head circumference. After two to three weeks of “Mr. Grumpy” you are probably questioning if you’ll ever get your smiley, happy, predictable bundle of joy back. Hopefully you’re starting to see routines reestablished, and your sleeping and feeding schedules are back on track with a baby who is able to enjoy his surroundings.
Your baby has probably discovered all sorts of new tricks, such as grabbing objects and passing them from hand to hand, putting things in his mouth (oh the joy!), manipulating objects, responding to his name, making new sounds, and maybe even rolling over (although this is considered early, so don’t fret if your baby isn’t there yet). He’s learning how to communicate some of his needs, for example: stretching his hands when he wants to be picked up and finding other fun ways to get your attention. You’ll notice his personality is really starting to shine through, and you may notice him gravitate to favorite toys, games, and activities.
With all these wonderful, new discoveries you may feel that you have picked up a few poor habits along the way that will not be ideal long-term. With increased night wakings and difficulty at naptimes, you may have relied on methods that work for now but that you don’t want to be using for the next couple of years. And that’s ok! Habits can be changed.
In fact, any sleep coaching or behavioral shaping (especially if it involves crying) is not worth investing time and energy into before four months. Not only does your baby lack the skill to self-sooth at this young age, any progress you may have seen will likely be thrown out the window during the four month sleep regression and will need to be re-established.
The best time to teach your baby long-term sleep habits and skills is after his brain and central nervous system have matured past this four-month mark (at least 2-3 weeks past the start of the 4 months sleep regression). Many books and experts suggest that six to eight months is the perfect window to work gently with your baby to teach him healthy sleep habits and self-soothing skills. However, it is fine to wait longer.
Learning sleep skills may be a little more challenging after 12 months and especially after 18 months but it will not be impossible. We successfully work with children up to age six to improve sleep.
So, where to start?
Now that your baby is beginning to understand cause and effect, routines begin to mean something. Establishing a bedtime routine will help your baby know what is coming up next…bedtime! Keep your bedtime routine simple, around three activities in the same order every night, one of them being a feed. Some additional bedtime routine ideas would be a massage, story, snuggles, or song.
Between six and nine months your baby may be beginning to consolidate his nap schedule into three daytime naps. Remember to respect daytime sleep and be aware of your baby’s drowsy signs and cues. At six months, your baby will generally be awake for up to two hours at a time and will need an average of about 14 hours of combined daytime and nighttime sleep. Don’t forget that while you are establishing daytime nap routines you also need to maintain regular feedings during the day.
Bedtime for babies at this young age is usually between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. An earlier bedtime will prevent your baby from going to bed overtired (a problem linked to more difficulties than you may realize!).
Recognize that your baby will still need to eat during the night and it’s important to create a sleep friendly environment. Now that your baby is older he may have difficulty shutting out outside stimulation. A quiet, dark room, perhaps with a white noise machine will help teach him that it’s time to sleep, not time to play. At each night feeding keep lights, stimulation, and interaction to a minimum. You can even try a dream feed before you go to bed; offer him a feed without completely waking him up and hopefully this will stretch out the time before his next feed.
Sleeping longer stretches is dependent upon your baby’s ability to soothe himself back to sleep should he wake up during his active sleep phase. Knowing your baby’s self-soothing techniques will be helpful in recognizing when your baby is trying to get himself back to sleep. Some examples of self-soothing are: kicking, raising and dropping his legs, rubbing his head back and forth, using an attachment object or lovey, and sucking. It’s not uncommon for Babies to have quiet breaks between fussiness as they soothe themselves back to sleep. Please note that fussiness is not the same as crying and you do not need to let your baby cry it out. If needed, you can employ a gentle, supportive sleep coaching strategy such as The Sleep Lady Shuffle, once your baby is ready for sleep coaching.
As you get to know your baby’s sleep patterns you may find that you can catch him as he cycles into an active sleep phase and gently ease him back to sleep by lightly patting him on his back or with a quiet shushing noise before he fully wakes up. If he wiggles and squirms after you put him down you can use the same methods to help him settle into a deeper sleep.
Above all, remember that you and your baby are a one of a kind team. Children will outgrow the need to feed during the night at different ages, and that’s okay. Applying one set of rules to every child will not take into account the emotional or physical needs of your baby. Teething, illness, growth spurts, and developmental milestones will always be there to throw you a curve ball, but you can create a healthy sleep environment and teach your baby self soothing skills that he can use when he’s ready.
Article By Andrea Strang, KinderSleep