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Baby Sleep Questions Answered

2-3-4 Nap Schedule & Fake-Out Wakings

By Amalah

Dear Amalah,

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.


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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 Ama...

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 [email protected].

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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  • Claire

    November 4, 2015 at 10:12 am

    Urgh, the sleep regression with my youngest is one of the main reasons there will not be a third child…!

    Fwiw, until the sleep regression is out of the way I wouldn’t bother trying anything new. Put her to bed earlier because it gives you more of a break – I found that ours would happily sleep fine 6pm – 11ish it was from that point onwards they would start waking so I at least had some ‘down time’. I wasn’t always asleep but it’s a break at least.

    Dummies helped to break the nursing to sleep, as did putting her in her own room (from 8 months) because we were all disturbing each other. Stopping co-sleeping and putting a distance between us was the only thing that helped. That and the fact she actively wanted to be left alone – crying didn’t always mean she wanted company (it took months to figure that one out). But she was 1 by the time we figured all this out!

    Good luck either way – I hope you come out the other side soon.

  • IrishCream

    November 4, 2015 at 10:39 am

    Love Amy’s 2-3-4 advice! Neither of my big kids even nap anymore but it brings back fond memories. (Because I am blocking out the misery of trying to get them on that schedule.)

    I found that once my kids were on a good sleep schedule, nursing to sleep was not an issue. They both nursed to sleep until they were toddlers, but we did sleep training to eliminate frequent (REALLY frequent) night wakings that taught them how to put themselves back to sleep without the boob. I enjoyed the ease and cuddliness of nursing them to sleep, and they both outgrew it on their own with no effort on my part. 

    YMMV, but you might find that breaking the nursing-to-sleep habit isn’t necessary for good sleep all around!

  • Caroline

    November 4, 2015 at 10:48 am

    I loved the book the 90-Minute Sleep Program and it works well with my 7-month old although it sometimes takes 15-30 minutes of nursing/winding down before naps happen. I would love to try the 2-3-4 schedule but he gets cranky way before then. I’m still nursing to sleep and hoping to break that cycle soon too!

  • MJH

    November 4, 2015 at 11:35 am

    I was you, minus the boob! Our kid would not go to sleep without being held for up to an hour (figured out we were putting her to bed too late). Once we got her bedtime routine going around 7 pm, she started going to sleep quickly, but we still had to hold her.

    Same with every night wakeup. We had nights of multiple wakeups, nights of two wakeups, nights of one wakeup. Every night it was a bottle at wakeup. 

    But eventually the holding wasn’t working and the bottles seemed unwanted (she was barely drinking) and so it was time to sleep train. (She was a little older than 6 months). It was not a linear process! But it appears (she says hesitantly) to be working. She is almost 8 months old and seems to understand that lying in her crib means it’s time to sleep. But there’s no way she understood that at four months, so she still needed our help to go to sleep. It’s just crazy how much they change, but our sleep was A MESS from about 3.5 months on.

    (Don’t even talk to me about naps. The 2-3-4 schedule is impossible when your kid only takes 45 minute naps.)

    Anyway, rest assured that even though it sucks right now, things will change rapidly and you will know what to do when it is time to do it. And you will know when your kid “understands” what bedtime is (at least my husband and I did). 

    Keep a solid bedtime routine and keep trying. Eventually it will work. Until the next sleep regression, anyway.

  • Karen

    November 4, 2015 at 11:50 am

    I nursed my middle kid to sleep every day for almost two years, then we weaned off it and it was no big deal. Now he’s almost four and goes to sleep great and has since we weaned off nursing. I don’t believe it sets up bad long term habits. If it works, it can be an extremely effective way of putting babies and toddlers to sleep for quite a long time. Neither of my other two nursed to sleep, their “choice” not mine, and they go to sleep fine too. Except when they don’t. It’s all good.

  • Jodie

    November 4, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    +1 that you might be able to nurse to sleep for awhile.  We did for a long time with our oldest until it didn’t work.  After three kids, it’s true – they are all totally different.

    Also, just wanted to chime in that my experience differs from Amy in that naptimes were not consistent for any of our three until they were getting a consistent and solid chunk of sleep at night.  Usually once they were getting a 6-8 hour stretch consistently, the daytime schedule would start to emerge.

  • Carole

    November 4, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    I nurse my 7 mo to sleep as often as I can. It is so nice to have this quiet downtime just him and I aside from our normal loud household chaos. I am still at work 3 nights a week when he goes to bed and my husband has found his own routine that works to get him to sleep and he also gets a separate bedtime routine at daycare 2 days a week. So as long as it’s a consistent routine the caregiver is doing, I believe the kids figure it out. He is so much easier and faster to put to sleep than my older daughter who was a non nurse to sleep baby. 

  • J

    November 4, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    For my daughter, an hour difference between waketimes was too much, and she couldn’t handle being awake four hours at four months either. I think it was more like 2-2.25-3, and she would be up at least twice in the night for a full feeding at that age. Eventually I found this chart, which has pretty much matched my experience with nap timing, though we did find she did better with a slightly longer awake period in the evening: 

  • Annemarie

    November 4, 2015 at 8:55 pm

    I found the 2-3-4 routine didn’t really stick until the 7-8 month range – before that, my three all were solidly in the “no more than 2 hours between naps, 3 naps a day” land. I’m also a big fan of nursing to sleep because it seems so instinctual, and I treasured those snuggles. I did gradual extinction from nursing to sleep with all three at 9 months and they were able to sleep through the night quite consistently from then on.

  • Ali

    November 4, 2015 at 10:53 pm

    My favorite book on sleep is Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.  The main thing I learned from it was until 6 months, you really shouldn’t have awake times of more than 2 hours.  For my boys, at 4 months, I’m guessing they were never awake more than 90 minutes.  Around 6 months, they were capable of going a little longer, but I’d say it was a 2-3-3 schedule.  

    If nursing to sleep isn’t a problem for you, i say do it.  I am all about using the magic of nursing to get babies to sleep!!!

  • Elizabeth

    November 4, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    In regards to the whole “I’m sleepy but still nursing” thing: have you tried un latching her with your pinkie finger and letting her suck on that for a minute as a sort of transistion? Like when she is clearly done eating but still wants the comfort. That was the first step my son needed to break the whole “I must nurse to sleep” cycle.

  • Erin

    November 4, 2015 at 11:57 pm

    At four months old my son was on a more 2-3-2-2 schedule. He took 3 naps during the day (mostly like Amy describes but with a 45 min nap in the late afternoon) and was never awake for more than 3 hours at a time. I think I also read somewhere that babies under six or so months really shouldn’t be awake for more than 2-3 hours at a time. He naturally transitioned to the 2-3-4 schedule around six months and we stuck with that until he dropped the morning nap around 12 months. I found that once we had a schedule down it was easier to drop the crutches, ie nursing/rocking to sleep. I also really paid close attention to his sleepy cues and put him down at the first sign (who knew hiccups were a sign that baby is tired?). Again I think this helped ease the transition off the sleep crutches because he wasn’t overtired and fighting it when I was getting him to sleep. Good luck! 

  • K

    November 5, 2015 at 11:23 pm

    Like a lot of commenters, our son did not adhere to a 2-3-4 schedule at 4 months. He was usually awake for about two hours at a time, with little catnaps of about 30-45 minutes after each waking period. He is a very “scheduled baby” in that he was predictable except during the 4 and 9 month regressions…or growth spurts, or crazy teething…so, actually, I think what I’m saying is babies aren’t predictable sleepers a lot of the time! I wouldn’t worry too much about instituting a schedule yet or nixing nursing to sleep (unless it’s causing serious problems for you). My thought is that we kind of did whatever it took for the first six months, and then started gradually diminishing how involved we were with sleep (boob to pinky to crib, then boob to book to crib then book to crib when we were done nursing, and then sleep training (gently, low cry method) when it became apparent that he needed help understanding that bedtime and nap time are for sleeping.

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