Recently I got a call from a mom desperate for sleep. She told me “I’m so tired and my baby used to sleep fairly long stretches, maybe even 6 hours, but now it’s rare that she sleeps longer than 3 hours at a time! I’m a mess! And I’m afraid we’ve missed the chance to sleep train her. Help!” I told this mom, “You’re only at the starting point, not the finish line. Don’t stress!”
I think it’s wonderful that parents have so many choices to educate themselves about parenting, sleep and the health of their children. The downside, however, is that many of us feel guilty if they don’t have the goal of sleeping through the night down by 4 months of age. The variability in newborns is great and depending on weight, medical history, home environment, feeding, experience and temperament some babies are not ready to sleep long stretches until they are solidly 6 months, sometimes even later.
Medical conditions such as reflux, both normal and GERD, can plague babies at this early stage. Laying down flat may be nearly impossible for a baby with bad reflux and he or she may need to be held to sleep for some time after feeds and for sleep. Dairy intolerance, commonly undiagnosed, can also cause sleep disturbance and may not resolve until dairy is eliminated from a nursing mom’s diet or a dairy-free formula is introduced.
Some babies actually hit a well-documented sleep regression between 4-5 months of age. I often get calls from parents who cannot believe that their child slept better as a newborn and is actually sleeping less as they are maturing. The burst of cognitive, social and emotional development babies go through during this time can often be the culprit. Is your baby up babbling at 3 am, happy and content, but not sleeping? He or she could just be going through a developmental “leap” of being social. (“The Wonder Weeks” is a great resource to check out)
Many babies between 4-5 months just won’t nap well until they are slightly older- they just aren’t ready. If your child has a hard time with daytime sleep I always recommend that naps be as long and regularly timed as possible, regardless of how they are accomplished. They will eventually fall into place and we can nap coach with more success starting around 6 months.
Lastly, I encourage parents to minimize crying as much as possible at this young age. Studies show that the more soothing responses a baby receives in these early months the more easily they calm later in their life. It’s as if the wiring is set in place to calm when we respond in a caring manner early on. (Click HERE for an article about the Science of Baby Bonding)
A mom I worked with recently said it the best: “Now that our son is 6 months I see that he’s ready to sleep more and do more self-soothing because we didn’t let him cry a lot in the first few months. He calms more easily on his own.”
So be patient with your little one and yourself. With gentle sleep strategies you and your baby can get through this often challenging time and come out stronger both in your developing relationship and getting ready for sleep success around the corner.