Is This a Sleep Issue or Nah?
I’ve been a super long time reader and fan of the site, and when I unexpectedly found myself with this kind of weird question, I figured I’d take a chance and write in to see if you had any thoughts!
My daughter is 15 weeks old today, and is the sweetest baby imaginable. After having some modest sleep issues with my now 7 year old son, I’ve been super careful to try and instill good sleep habits in my daughter from the beginning. She goes into her crib awake 4 times out of 5 and falls asleep on her own (both naps and nighttime), her room is dark, we use white noise, and she is still swaddled.
So my question is this: around 12 weeks she went from one, sometimes two wake ups per night to waking three times a night (about every three hours) and very occasionally 4, and from napping 1.5-2 hours to only napping for 45 minutes. At first I chalked it up to a growth spurt or possibly even the 4 month sleep regression coming early, but 3 weeks later there is no end in sight.
Do I actually have a sleep problem here? Is this normal and we just have to wait it out? Or does she need a little sleep training push in a few weeks to get her back on track? More importantly, when she wakes up now she seems genuinely hungry, so I feed her and she goes right back to sleep. But I also don’t want to be creating a habit of waking up at night that will be hard to break later, so am I doing the wrong thing by feeding her each time?
For background, she is exclusively breastfed, goes to sleep between 7:30-8 every night, wakes for the day between 7-8am, and take 3-4 naps per day that last between 45 minutes to 1.5 hours. She’s up between naps for about 90 minutes. She usually gets 15-15.5 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period.
Should I be doing something differently? Or am I just waiting it out for a few weeks until she starts dropping a night feeding on her own?
I go back to work in a month and I can handle two wake ups at night for a while, but three or more will quickly overwhelm me….
Thank you so much for any advice!
Your instincts here are all the right ones. It sounds like she indeed started the four-month sleep regression on the early side — which is perfectly normal, the regression can hit anywhere in the three-to-five-month range, and be kind of sloppy and non-clockwork-like. She is also still at an age where breastfeeding on demand is recommended, and it’s ALSO normal for exclusively breastfed infants to wake up to eat more often than their formula-fed counterparts. (Not the fairest deal, but there it is.)
So my advice is to wait this out if you can. Feed her when she’s hungry, but try to unlatch her before she falls completely on the breast so she can get more practice at falling asleep on her own, in her crib. Don’t stress if you miss that magic moment every time; just do your best to pay attention to her sucking and unlatch her when it no longer seems productive.
Now, I once got an angry letter demanding to know my “sources and justification” for the following advice, but Imma repeat it anyway: I don’t personally advocate sleep training until closer to six months. Many pediatricians will tell you to go ahead with CIO or an extinction method at three months, but I just…couldn’t. I can’t. A three-month-old breastfed infant still needs night feedings, and how are parents supposed to tell the difference between a genuinely hungry baby or one waking up for some comfort? (Especially in the middle of the night when everybody just wants to deal with the crying and be done with it.) I’m not comfortable with the idea of potentially letting a hungry baby cry herself to sleep (and she’ll probably just escalate until you’re all miserable anyway). I also don’t think that occasionally letting a baby that young wake up for pure comfort will completely doom her future chances of sleeping through the night.
By five/six/seven months, yeah. It’s MUCH more likely that your baby is past the big early growth spurt (when she’ll need to nurse a lot more) and can go longer and longer stretches between feedings. This is a better time, IN MY OPINION, to start trying out Ferber or whatever sleep training method you like. Now don’t send me anymore angry letters.
HOPEFULLY, she’ll drop at least one of those feedings once you’re back to work. If not, by all means have your partner handle one and give her a bottle! (Since I assume you’ll be introducing bottles anyway for her daytime feedings anyway?) That’s also, incidentally, a good way to tell if she’s genuinely hungry for these wakings. If she takes the bottle and drinks a few ounces, yep, that’s a perfectly normal waking. If she refuses the bottle, you might have a needs-to-nurse-to-sleep habit that will probably require a little training to correct. But really, of all the sleep problems I’ve been lobbed over the years, that’s not a super tough one to correct. Or one worth losing sleep over. (HAH I’M SORRY I HAD TO.)