2-3-4 Nap Schedule & Fake-Out Wakings
So I’ve been reading about the 2-3-4 nap schedule and trying desperately to get my 4 month old to at least start something similar to it. She used to sleep pretty well, down by 8 pm in her crib, awake at 11 (and in bed with us), 3 and then usually up around 7 or 8. But she has started the 4 month regression and has started waking up at 11pm, 1am, 3am, and 5-6 am and wanting to nurse each time. She is addicted to the boob. I’m exhausted. She normally likes to fall asleep for another hour from 7-8 am, so do I start the 2-3-4 schedule from her ‘first’ wake time at 5-6 am or the ‘second’ at 8 am??
I’ve also tried getting her to sleep on her own after a feeding but even if she is drowsy and ready for a nap or for bed she refuses to go to sleep and will start crying uncontrollably until she gets back on the boob. Any suggestions on helping her to go to sleep on her own??
Let me begin with a caveat on the 2-3-4 nap schedule: The only child o’ mine who was successfully on that schedule full time before the age of six months was my firstborn. And that was because I went back to work temporarily after 12 weeks and left him in the care of Daycare Wizards. They got him on a nap schedule within a week and to this day I have no idea how they did it. I might not technically want to know. All I know is that it was glorious, we reaped the benefits on the weekends, and yet I personally fumbled with the execution every time when I was left to my own devices.
Eventually, we got it. EVENTUALLY. And it was a great framework to work towards, especially after those messy first few months with a newborn where “sleep” and “naps” just sort of happen at random times around the clock, with a few witching hours of cluster-feeding mixed in. If you have no idea how to plan your baby’s day and make sure 1) he/she’s getting enough sleep, and 2) said sleep is happening in a more predictable routine, the 2-3-4 sleep schedule is great. But it’s not always an exact science or overnight solution.
IN OTHER, FAR FEWER WORDS, your baby is only 4 months old, in the middle of a sleep regression and used to being nursed completely to sleep. You’ve got a few things to untangle here before you’ll see success with 2-3-4. That’s NOT to say you should give up, just adjust your expectations that it might take a few more weeks/months.
As for the logistical question about which waking should “count,” that depends on how long she’s awake in between them. If she’s waking 5/6am and staying awake until 8am, that’s your two-hour awake window, right there. It’s typical for the morning nap to be on the short side, so if she sleeps for another hour until 9, you start the three-hour clock at that point. Second nap happens around noon and hopefully lasts longer — a couple hours at least. Let’s say she naps from noon to 3 p.m. That puts her bedtime at 7 p.m., which is a good solid bedtime for this age. If her second nap is shorter than three hours, her bedtime should be moved even earlier to make up for the missing sleep overnight.
If there’s less than two hours between the first and second waking, that shifts everything later. Like if she wakes at 6am for a quick feed but is sound asleep by 7, I might not count that. I’d aim for the first nap of the day to be two hours after the second waking. But again, this isn’t an exact science! It will depend on her morning and how it goes. Play around with it, see what works. If she doesn’t fall asleep easily two hours after the “first” waking, give up and try again timed to her “second.”
Either way, you’re probably going to end up with her bedtime moved earlier than 8 p.m., which is fine. It might actually reduce the number of times she wakes up at night, as “sleep begets sleep” and all that. (I KNOOOOWWW BUT IT’S TRUUUUE.) Babies wake up more often when they’re overtired, rather than waking up because they’re just sooooo well-rested and ready to partay at 3 in the morning. (Although at four months the need to nurse at least once at night is still there for most babies, particularly those in the growth-spurt-regression-stage.)
As for the second part of your question: How to get her to sleep without the boob? Welp. That’s a tougher one. I am not an advocate for sleep training this young, but I do believe that parental extinction from the falling-asleep process is very important for long-term, healthy sleep habits.
So how to gently begin the extinction process? You can try unlatching her after she’s mostly asleep at first, once you no longer hear her swallowing. Don’t rush her into the crib, but keep holding/rocking her before transferring her to the crib. Basically go in baby steps — she can’t nurse completely to sleep, but she can stay with you until she’s asleep. If she wakes and fights you, put her back on the boob but then try again to unlatch once there’s no active nursing. Maybe start singing at that point or turning on a crib soother. (They come with REMOTES now. My mind is BLOWN because that’s BRILLIANT.) This can maybe become her new sleep cue, with enough repetition/routine.
Once you’ve gotten her used to being rocked to sleep (or lulled with music/white noise), you can start the “in the crib while drowsy but awake” process. I don’t think you’re going to be able to achieve that quite yet without some crying or sleep training, since she’s been conditioned to expect a boob in her mouth until she’s sound asleep. (Which is not some terrible thing that you should never have done all is lost what were you thinking!! We’ve all done it! It’s how little babies work until it stops working for us, the utterly exhausted parents who are about to drive into a mailbox!)
If you find you simply can’t break the nursing-to-sleep habit on your own, I’d definitely recommend getting a few sleep books that cover a few different methods (No-Cry Sleep Solution, Happiest Baby, Ferber, Weissbluth, etc.) and see if any of them feel like a good fit for you guys. THAT SAID, for a lot of babies, the daytime sleep comes first. Find your routine there, figure out how much sleep she’s getting during the day (and thus how much more she needs at night), figure out the sweet spot bedtime four hours after nap number two, and you might be rewarded with fewer wakings at night. At least, once she’s out of the four-month regression/growth spurt, because it’s ALSO entirely possible that she’s honestly ravenous at night. Just do whatever you can to get her asleep near the boob but not necessarily on it, for better days and nights post-spurt.
Published November 4, 2015. Last updated October 29, 2017.