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Sleep Regressions & Early-Early Wakings

Dec27

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Dear Amy,

I am typing this at 5:30 a.m. with a snoozing babe on my shoulder. My 7 1/2 month old son has been waking up at 4 a.m. the past few weeks, and I don’t know how to make it stop! He used to be a great sleeper. Slept in his own crib from about 1 month, started sleeping 6-7 hour stretches around 2 months. There were mornings when we’d have to go and wake him up at 6:30 because we needed to get ready for work/daycare.

Now all that seems like a long time ago. His bedtime used to be around 7:30/8ish, and we have always followed the routine of jammies and nursing while his dad reads to us, then lights out with soft music (“Green Arrow” by Yo la Tengo on repeat, every night of his life). When the early wakings first started, I tried shifting his bedtime up earlier, having read your advice about 2/3/4 naps. (At daycare, he usually naps for an hour or so late morning, then another hourish in the afternoon, waking around 3:30. He doesn’t seem to nap very much longer at home.) I figured he was needing MORE sleep, so now we try to get him in his crib by 6:30, if not earlier. By the 2/3/4 schedule, 7 was supposed to be a good bedtime, but he’s usually rubbing his eyes and looking ready to sleep by 5:30. The early bedtime worked for… a night or two? It’s hard to remember. And he still would wake around 1 or 2am for a feeding and went right back to sleep. I even tried dreamfeeding before I went to bed at around 11, but he still woke up at 2 and then again at 4!

Our new reality is: early bedtime, at least 1 night waking, then up at 4, when he will eat and then play for an hour before he gets tired and fussy again. It’s the tired and fussy that is telling me that something is just not right. We’ve tried treating 4 a.m. as another night waking and just keeping the lights out and soothing him without talking or stimulating him, but he just screams (SCREAMS) after he’s done eating until you break down and let him play because it’s 5 a.m. and your alarm clock is going off in half an hour anyway.

A side effect of all this is my pumping schedule is thrown off. I used to feed him on one side in the morning and pump the other, and I would get a whole 4-5 ounce feeding from one boob! Now, he is eating more, and I’m not getting that feeding, which means I’m eating into my freezer stash. I have not introduced formula, and kind of don’t want to. He gets three 5-ounce bottles of breast milk at daycare, plus 4-8 ounces of solids. At home, I nurse on demand and he usually gets another 4 ounces of solids if he is awake when we eat dinner. Is that enough??

Developmentally, he’s been crawling and pulling up on things for a month and a half now, and really likes to stand up. I assume that’s a contributing factor?

I know there’s probably no magic bullet, but I would like for things to simmer down before my family comes to visit this Christmas. 4 a.m. wakings are bad enough without worrying about disturbing houseguests, even ones who are contractually obligated to love your terrible baby.

Please help!

Sleeeeeeeep regresssssssion.

And that’s about all I can help with, really. This is classic later-stage sleep regression due to brain development and milestone leaps in motor skills. There’s so much going on in his little skull right now and his body is doing all these new! major! exciting! things and it’s all messing with his sleep cycle. Hence your realization that something ain’t quite right here. However, I can assure you that everything you’ve described sounds perfectly “normal” and is not the result of you doing something “wrong” with his schedule. The only way through a sleep regression is through.

Infants usually have a sleep regression that hits right around the 3.5/4 month mark. You say your son started sleeping through the night at two months, but perhaps if you really think back you MIGHT recall a stretch of nights — maybe one or two, maybe a week — where he did wake up every now and again. Maybe you blamed teething or a cold and maybe it all ended as quickly as it began so it didn’t really register. Sadly, not all babies who let you coast through the 3/4 month regression will be so kind and sensible when the later one hits.

The “later one” can hit as early as 7 months and as late as 10, usually. It’s not really an exact science, as it’s a result/culmination of a baby’s individual developmental pace. Sitting up, pulling to a stand, scooting, cruising (not to mention language acquisition and learning to sort/stack/knock over toys) (and oh yeah, teething)…there’s so much going on, his brain can’t EVEN with it all right now.

And so sleep suddenly goes off the rails, in some form or another. Some babies suddenly demand extra nighttime feedings. Others boycott naps or start fighting bedtime tooth and nail. One of my boys was prone to pulling himself to a stand in the crib while half asleep and then wailing piteously because he lacked the good sense to just lie back down, for God’s sake. Your particular baby has decided to add a 4 a.m. waking/feeding that is completely counterproductive for a household that needs to wake up at 5:30 a.m. Classic baby! Just classic, classic baby.

Can you bring him into your room and nurse him while lying down and then give him some (quiet) toys/books to amuse himself with afterwards (right on the bed, in between you and his dad, or in a play yard next to you)? So you can maybe doze a bit before the alarm goes off? No pressure for him to go back to sleep but also no need for you to completely miss out on that last crucial hour of NO NO I DON’T WANT TO GET UP YET STAAAHHHP.

My main advice, though, is to not really change anything. Do what you gotta do to not lose your mind, but overall, just do everything you were doing before the weirdness started. Keep his day and bedtime schedule the same, since it was working for you. Basically, keep him on the schedule you want him to return to, once the developmental spurt calms down. Too many people immediately rush to “fix” sleep regressions with regressions of their own — returning to the unsustainable habits of newborn sleep, like cosleeping/all-night rocking/nursing to sleep/stuff that you probably aren’t going to be happy doing long-term. (Note that it’d be one thing if his sleep was a mess before the regression hit, but it sounds like you guys had a good schedule and routine going, so I don’t think a normal sleep regression is necessarily a sign that you need to overhaul anything.) And even though it might not feel like it right now, keeping things consistent and predictable for him will make him feel better and safer, and hopefully that will translate into him getting through the regression faster.

I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get to this question before Christmas, by the way, and I hope your guests understood that hey, sorry. You’re at a house with a BABY. And sometimes babies like to up and change all the rules and make things difficult and loud/screechy in the morning. This is not your failing as a parent. This is simply because your baby’s brain is just too dang brilliant and amazing right now. SORRYNOTSORRY.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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16 Responses to “Sleep Regressions & Early-Early Wakings”

  1. Betsy Dec 27 at 2:20 pm Reply Reply

    Could a dinner nap help him get through the evening and then push back bedtime?  My 7 month old takes a short nap every night at 5 or so, and then goes to bed around 7:30.  It’s great for cooking dinner but sad because she spends half an hour of our 2 hour evening family time sleeping, but it’s worth it that time to be pleasant for now.  

  2. Shannon Dec 27 at 8:54 pm Reply Reply

    My baby just went through this at 11 months. For about 2-3 weeks, she started waking up fully around 4am & nothing could get her back asleep. So she would need a nap at 7am, when she’d normally be waking up for the day. Luckily, things went back to “normal” which for her is still 1-3 wake-ups/night but at least she resumed sleeping until 6:30-7ish.

    As for pumping, not sure if you are familiar with kellymom.com (an evidence-based breastfeeding resource website) but they recommend sending one ounce of breastmilk for every hour you are gone at daycare, and no bottles bigger than 4 oz. You should be able to cut down the amount you send if you are worried about pumping less, esp if baby is eating solids & drinking water now.

  3. Autumn Dec 27 at 11:32 pm Reply Reply

    I’m convinced sleep regressions are designed to keep us parents from getting comfortable with how things are going.  

    At around this age, we started having my husband go in for additional wakings.  I would deal with and nurse for the first one, but he got up for the next ones because he couldn’t nurse.  Kind of like “well you can’t give me what I want so I guess sleep seems better”  Might be worth a try, especially as your child gets older.  

    Right around this age my daughter started dropping nap #3, so we pushed back the start of the earlier naps to compensate/keep her on our schedule.  

  4. Erin Dec 28 at 12:52 am Reply Reply

    OP here.  Thanks so much for answering my question!  

    I figured it was developmental in nature, but it’s hard to think clearly when faced with not a lot of sleep!  My husband and I decided to try sleep training, and we settled on Ferber as a method we could stick to.  It worked like a charm for those middle of the night wakings, but 4 am is proving to be a harder habit to break.  We decided that we would not take him out of his crib until 6(ish), and if he wakes a lot earlier than that, we will treat it as a night waking and do the sleep intervals a la Ferber.  Another thing that has helped is pushing bedtime back to the normal 7:30/8ish, and if he needs a little snooze before then, well, he snoozes.  

    Going back to our original schedule, along with the Ferber, helped get us through the sleep regression from hell.  By Christmas, he was sleeping until almost 6!  A Christmas miracle!  Now he is napping for crap, but the nighttime sleep, I will take it.

  5. Katie @ Pick Any Two Dec 28 at 12:05 pm Reply Reply

    Sleep regressions are TOUGH! I think the advice to not really change anything too drastically is solid. When my son went through a sleep regression, the moment we thought we couldn’t take it anymore was the moment he went back to being a good sleeper. It’s hard, but just keep reminding yourself that everything is a phase. 

  6. mel Dec 28 at 10:57 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve got nothing to add about the sleep, but it sounds like your baby is being overfed, unless you are apart longer than it seems from your letter. He should get 1 to 1.25 oz per hour that you are separated, and in smaller bottles, to mimic breastfeeding. Also, that is a LOT of solids for a 7mo. I highly recommend checking out the research on Kellymom’s website and FB comm to give you some recommendations on feeding the BF baby at day care. Slowly bringing him to a more appropriate bottle amount will make it easier to maintain your BF relationship long-term. Anyway, hope that helps you!

  7. karen Dec 30 at 3:25 pm Reply Reply

    Happy sleep training worked for you, never worked for us. But I think you are sending too much milk to daycare. 3 oz bottles are totally sufficient but there is no need to introduce formula for a late age infant. Just send what you pump to meet his min need. If you start sending formula he’ll just be overfed and like others have said, it will be much easier to maintain your nursing relationship. And when my kiddo wakes before the alarm, I just bring him to bed, nurse, and we all go back to sleep for another hour or two. It’s glorious extra sleep and doesn’t have any effect on his night sleep.

  8. Erin Dec 30 at 5:27 pm Reply Reply

    It is interesting to hear so much advice about the daycare bottles.  When he started going at 3 months, I was sending 4 ounce bottles.  His caregiver suggested I up the amount because he “seemed really hungry” afterward– she wanted 6, but I felt like 5 was plenty.  There were a couple of incidences early on that made me feel like he might not be getting enough.  Once, he got his noon bottle fed by the morning caregiver, who forgot to log it, so his afternoon caregiver gave another bottle at 1.  He ate almost 8 ounces!  Kid does not have an off switch when it comes to bottles, apparently.  It’s nice to know I can start tapering those back down.

    Karen– I’m jealous that the bring-the-baby-to-bed thing works.  When I tried it, he did NOT go back to sleep as planned!  He would just chew on our faces and then spit up on our pillows.  Babies! So charming.

    • karen Dec 30 at 7:26 pm Reply Reply

      Mel’s suggestion to read through the Kellymom section on feeding a baby at daycare is great. and read about paced bottle feeding on the google-net. Imagine a 3 month old nursing – suck, swallow, breathe – for 20 min or however long. They need a little extra? They stay on the breast a little extra and they stop when they are ready – the beginnings of self-regulating their feeding. It’s soothing and satisfying. Then imagine swallowing 5 oz straight down – swallow, swallow, etc. with a bottle tipped down into your mouth. Like eating lunch in a rush versus a leisurely sit-down. After their quickie lunch, most babies would still be unsettled and looking for a little extra something before they call themselves done. Maybe a little extra holding or sucking (since sucking is their primary self-soothing mechanism at that age) or whatever. But daycare providers only have bottles of milk to soothe, they can’t nurse the baby and most group daycares aren’t really setup for caregivers to spend extra time with every single baby in their care (at least my daycare people couldn’t) so the caregivers ask for more milk because they can give bottles fast and eventually the babies are so full, probably too full, they conk out or stop expressing that they need something more and everyone is happy again except mom who can’t pump enough to keep up.

      If he’s eating spoon-fed purees, and since he’s such a good eater, you might think about introducing things he can self feed to help him do some more self-regulated intake of regular food to a rate that allows him to eat more slowly. Daycare people are loving and caring but they are so into getting food into kids, sometimes a bit too much.

      Remember, the best measure of whether a breastfed baby is getting enough pumped milk is adequate, consistent weight gain and output (stools/peeing), not how much they can drink from a bottle or eat from a jar…

    • CeeBee Dec 31 at 12:36 am Reply Reply

      My first was formula fed and his daycare person and I went head to head a few times over how much formula he was drinking. He was on the ready to feed Alimentum which is PRICEY stuff (dubbed it “unicorn tears”) and sometimes he would drink up 12oz in a feed or eat every two hours at 8 months. Often he was drinking an entire day’s worth of formula in the six hours I was gone. I said “no way lady”. He didn’t eat like that for me at home. So as Karen pointed out, baby fusses and all daycare can do sometimes is give more bottle.

    • leslie Jan 10 at 2:36 pm Reply Reply

      I’m way late on this, so I’m guessing I won’t see much response, but here it goes anyhow. My daughter is 8 months today, and she takes 17 oz. of BM per day at daycare! Generally speaking she does two 6 oz. bottles and one 5 oz. bottle. She also gets two solids feedings…about 3 oz. each. Are we way overfeeding her? According to the guidelines mentioned above, she should only be having 10-11 oz. (She’s at daycare for about 9-10 hours but away from me for about 10.5 – Daddy does the schlepping to and from while I’m commuting.) Here’s the thing…she’s tiny! Like only 15th percentile on the growth charts…so it’s never even sort of occurred to me that she’s eating too much. The only thing I’m thinking is that maybe she eats so much during the day b/c she doesn’t do a night feeding (we are very lucky in that she sleeps 12 hours straight every night). So she only gets two breastfeeding sessions from me during the week…first thing in the morning and right before bed. My mind is blown by how little BM she “should” be drinking.

  9. T Dec 30 at 9:33 pm Reply Reply

    I’m another in the ‘that sounds like a lot of milk’ camp. Definitely take a look at kellymom – and don’t let the daycare ladies pressure you into sending too much! My daughter and I were apart 10 hours, and I always sent two 4oz bottles for that time (and nursed her right before leaving, and right on picking her up). I had to politely say quite a few times times, “Sorry, that’s all I can pump, it’s all I have. She’ll nurse more at home if she’s still hungry – feel free to give her her pacifier if she wants to keep sucking.” I saw them pressure another nursing mom into sending 8oz bottles of milk, and I felt terrible for her, knowing how hard/impossible it was to pump that much. 

  10. Christina Jan 02 at 10:01 pm Reply Reply

    I hate when (25 year old) daycare teachers ask for more milk. They know nothing aboit pumping or infant nutrition.

    I asked ours to do something called paced bottle feeding. There is a YouTube video on it. It really helps us preserve our nursing relationship. It mimics nursing with a bottle and helps baby feel hunger/fullness cues makng large bottles obsolete.

  11. J Jan 03 at 11:48 am Reply Reply

    Definitely agree that is a lot of milk to send in. My daycare lady kept pressuring me to send in more, but I know my son will throw up if he’s overfed. Sure enough, they overfed him and he threw up. What I started doing was bringing in a one ounce bottle, that way when he’s tired he will drink the one oz and it helps him fall asleep.

    I also had the same thing with baby falling asleep early and waking early. We introduced an evening catnap, around 5:30 or so. He snoozes for about 30-45 mins while I cook dinner. Depending on how long he’s down, he’ll be awake until 7:30 or 8, long enough to eat, play/have a bath and then back to dreamland.

  12. KR Jan 03 at 1:09 pm Reply Reply

    I just want to speak up in the “too much milk” conversation and suggest that some babies just eat a lot.  

    (Granted, I’m no nutritionist and my only expertise comes from my own babies, so take it with a grain of salt).  But for both of my daughters, from the day they were born, they wanted way more food than is “normal”. Whether breast or bottle, they were just BIG eaters who would SCREAM if they didn’t get enough but be perfectly happy and healthy with more food.  As context, my husband is a big strapping dutchman and both he and I have always had super high metabolisms, and we have tall, solid babies, so their big appetites were not a surprise to us.  

    In any case, I find that amount of food less alarming than others do.  I hope your sleep troubles work themselves out quickly and wish I could give you a hearty, empathetic hug because UGH sleep deprivation sucks.

    • V in Maine Jan 27 at 4:03 pm Reply Reply

      I know it’s WAY late to weigh in here, but I also have a baby who eats a ton. From almost the day he was born he just ate a lot and people were constantly telling me that he didn’t need to eat that much (we wasn’t able to latch early on, so I was pumping for the first few weeks). But then they’d say, well, if he’s really hungry, don’t let him go hungry. It was really unhelpful! We knew about paced bottle feeding, and kelly mom, and having these discussions with daycare, and hunger signs, and he just drank a lot of milk.

      I eventually called our doctor and had a long conversation and they confirmed that he was just fine.

      He’s 13 months now, we’re still nursing (pumping while he’s at daycare) and it’s fine.

      Daycare might be overfeeding him. Or you might have a baby that eats a lot. Or he may be a phase in which he’s eating more. Sometimes I needed to add in a pump session, and sometimes things just stabilized on their own.

      Babies vary!

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