If you missed part one of the sleep routine (newborn to four months), go HERE!
In my last post I went into the routine of Eat, Activity, Sleep and the basic routine that will bring you well into toddler hood. By four months your child should be eating every three hours and napping three times a day, with a small catnap before bath. Your baby will be able to stay up for longer periods of time and will (hopefully) be able to sleep an entire nap time without waking up. I say should, but there will be days when they will wake up and you will need to teach them to get back to sleep again (without feeding them to sleep), and stay asleep. Every day will be different in terms of how well they do, and some days your routine will go as you hope, and other days it will all go to hell. The KEY is to just keep plugging along until it works. And it WILL.
My first baby didn’t have any routine at all until she was three months old, so it was harder to start from there. I would say it took about two months to get her to nap when she should and be able to put herself to sleep (with my help shhh-ing/patting and setting the scene by swaddling.) My second child I started with the routine at day one and he could sleep longer and through the night quicker than his sister. The later you start this (and it can be started at any age), the harder it is. I don’t want to discourage you, but I am being honest here. Older babies (older than three months) are set in their ways and it takes time and PATIENCE to reset them. You have to be strong for them and know that what you are doing is teaching them how to sleep, and on their own. You’re not letting them scream alone in a bed, but teaching them to sleep and eat at routine times. This will comfort them and they will come to expect this from you. Children love knowing what is coming next, even young babies.
At around four months your baby will be ready to switch to a four hour schedule. I’m not going to lie, this is a tough transition because you have spent a lot of time getting them to operate on a three hour feeding schedule. This is the routine that you will stick to until they are over one and drop their morning nap, whichever comes first;)
At around three and a half months old I started to shift their awake time longer. The first couple of days you can only keep them up for five additional minutes or so. They will be sort of hard wired at this point to sleep at certain times, so keeping them up longer is TORTURE. Try for five minutes (then ten, then fifteen, then twenty, etc…) more or so couple of every couple of days until they are awake for the extra time. This always took me a couple of weeks to get to this point. I would usually start about two weeks before they were four months and it would take maybe a month total to switch them over to the four hour schedule totally. This involves going to crazy shenanigans to keep a baby up that doesn’t particularly want to, like running around the house singing with them, and other such fun activities, but any amount of extra time up is good. The POINT is to slowly program them to stay up and eat/sleep on a four hour routine.
It looks like this:
7am: Wake up and eat. At this point your child may breast or bottle feed at 7am, and then eat solids at 8am. I liked this timing as it broke up the activity time a bit and gave them time to digest their liquid meal before eating something solid.
7:45-10am: Activity time. The awake time is longer for older babies ,and this is your time to do fun stuff with them, run errands, etc. I tried to get out and come back quickly at a younger age as it was a problem if they fell asleep in the car (they didn’t transfer well), so just know your baby and figure out how much time you have to get out during this time. With my second baby, we would often go to the park, or to playgroup and he would nap in the stroller. If you have more than one child you need to be more flexible with your time. I always gave my kids one good nap in their cribs (they both took naps at the same time in the afternoon), so the early morning nap could be more on the fly. With my first we almost always stayed in and did all crib naps. I had more time then;)
9am-11pm: Nap time #1. The nap routine itself doesn’t change, you still bring them in their rooms, change and swaddle them, and shhh/pat them till they relax. Make sure you aren’t putting them down fully asleep or too awake, but just on the edge of sleeping. The important part of this whole routine is to teach your baby to fall asleep on their own. Don’t feed them to sleep, or rock them fully to sleep, or they won’t learn. Of course every day is not perfect, we all fail and try our best and need desperate measures some days. Just get back on track with the next nap and continue on.
Now at this age you can try a little crying it out if they wake up during nap time. You do this in small increments, never leaving a baby alone crying for long periods of time. You are just teaching them to start to soothe themselves and fall back asleep. If/When they wake up, wait 2 minutes before going in and soothing them (shhh/pat.) Then leave. The next time, wait 5 minutes before going in, then 10, 15, 20 and so on until nap time is over, or they sleep (whichever comes first!) Some days you WILL be going in this much, and it gets worse before it gets better. I would say it always took 2-3 weeks of timed crying it out before my babies would both either sleep the whole time, or wake and cry 5 minutes and fall back asleep. The best moment? When your baby falls asleep and stays asleep for two hours at a time and you have some time to yourself to regroup. BOTH of my kids did this by 6 months and it was my saving grace.
11am: Eat. This is the same as before, you are just repeating the same routine over and over again throughout the day. Again, you can bottle/breast feed them at 11am, then feed them solids at noon.
1-3pm: Nap time. Again (!) Repeat the morning nap routine.
3pm: Eat (again.)
3:45-5:00: Activity/Awake time.
5-5:30: Small catnap. At this age, a baby four or five months may still need a little cat nap to power through until bedtime. If I remember correctly, both of my kids did this for quite some time, maybe 7 months? This can be less rigid than the morning and afternoon nap routine, possibly in a baby seat while you cook dinner, or snuggled up in a baby carrier. Whatever works for you.
5:30: Eat. You can either do a little mini feeding to help tank them up for the night, or do a little more solid feeding.
6:30: Activity/Bath. I mentioned this yesterday, but I love giving a baby a bath every night. It sets the tone for bedtime and helps fill the long hours of the (typically) crankiest time of the day for little ones.
7pm: Bottle or breastfeed.
7:30: Bedtime. This is the same routine as naps, just at night instead (obvi.) Swaddle, read a few books, turn off the light and kiss them goodnight. At this point they should be able to sleep almost all the way through the night with a dream feed, after 6 months I think they definitely should.
10pm: Dream feed time. Get them up, but keep interaction minimal and lights dimmed. Feed them while they are sleeping and put them right back in bed. My kids both took minimal amounts at this feeding, but every ounce counts towards filling them up until morning. I liked to change them first, then swaddle them up tight and feed them, that way I could put them right back down after they finished.
Note: at 7 months you can start taking away the dream feed, by taking one ounce out of the bottle (if you breastfeed you can pump and do a bottle for this, it’s easier), and replace that extra ounce in the morning feeding. Move the feeding up 30 minutes every three days or so, and taking the ounces away one at a time. By the last day you will be feeding them about two ounces at 8:30pm and it will be WEIRD, but at the end the dream feed will be done with and all ounces will be added to each feeding (solid or liquid), and you will now have a baby that sleeps 12 hours per night. Amen.
10pm-7am: In my opinion, babies older than 4 months, but especially 5-6 months and up, are capable of sleeping all night. If they are waking up and eating it is because they are conditioned to. Take a moment and think if your child older than 5 months wakes up at the same time each night. If they do then consider this a habit. They only get up and eat because they are conditioned to and because they are fed when they do.
This is a hard thing, but a mother’s initial reaction when they hear a baby crying at night is to assume that they are hungry. If you are following a routine in the day and feeding them sufficiently, they shouldn’t be. If they routinely sleep long hours in the day and skip feedings, then they will make that feeding up another time, like at 3am. Once you get the daytime schedule and feedings down, the night feedings will lessen naturally. BUT, it’s up to you not to feed them every time they wake. Try soothing them at night by shhh/patting them, given them a paci, etc, but don’t feed them. They will often go back to sleep and not need to be fed. Try your hardest to get them back to sleep without feeding them. Sometimes what you end up doing is stretching their feeding time longer, and that’s a good thing. Go with your instincts. If your baby is screaming and sucking on their fists and looking hungry, feed them. I’m just saying to try other methods first to rule out hunger.
Getting a baby to sleep through the night is not exact science, but it does take discipline on your part ,and a willingness to not go the easy route. Most of our children’s issues are from us, we cut corners and create impossible situations for our children and wonder why they don’t sleep well. (I’m guilty.) The real answer is this: we have to teach them how to. I did the same thing with my first, I honestly thought she would just learn this all on our own, but she didn’t. I had to lead her there, and it took a lot of hard work, but we did it. Now I have two kids who have always slept great from six months on, and THIS MAMA gets her rest. It’s a win/win;)
Tell me, do you have any questions? I’m happy to help or explain any of it;)