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Bottle Weaning, Sleep Training & Other Baby Battles

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I’m not sure if this is appropriate for the Advice Smackdown or Bounce Back – but was hoping that you could point my sleep-deprived ass in the right direction on sleep training. I, like you, have two boys – one is 4 1/2 and the other just turned a year (OMG!). We were so lucky with our first – he was a GREAT sleeper from about 10 weeks old. We had the occasional hiccup due to growth spurts, teething, etc., but he always got back on an all night schedule with little intervention from us. So – of course, when #2 came along, we were all smug – like, “oh we totally make great sleepers – no need for sleep training here!” Such ignorant asses!

Baby #2 started out with such promise! Sleeping through the night at about 12-14 weeks, an early riser, admittedly, but would go back down after a 6 a.m. bottle. Ok, no problem, I can handle that. Except – it has gotten so much worse and I don’t know how to even begin to sleep train, because, of course, we never had to deal with it before. I’ve looked at some of the books out there, but they don’t seem to get to the point – I just want directions, not a bunch of up front rhetoric about whyyyy the baby isn’t sleeping – just tell me how to FIX IT! (ok, maybe a little irrational – it is the lack of sleep!).

Anyway – back to the matter at hand. Baby #2 started waking up multiple times during the night – probably due to teething, as his two front teeth have been threatening to come in for weeks (we can see them, but they still haven’t cut through). And we are struggling to get him to go back down w/o a bottle. Of course, this started in the midst of some super stressful work times for my husband and I, and getting sleep is the only way we are able to get through it all right now, so we started just giving him a bottle in his crib, which puts him back to bed (longest sentence ever). But – I also know that is a terrible habit, is bad for his teeth, etc., and now we are struggling to break it and I just don’t know where to start. Things have gotten a little better in that he only really wakes up once in the middle of the night, but he is full on awake, hysterical and un-soothable – all at once with no warning squawks that can alert us so we can head it off with a paci or anything. The ONLY thing that calms him down is a bottle. The other issue we are dealing with is that we live in a super tiny house, and my boys’ rooms are separated by a J&J bathroom, so if the crying goes on for too long, it wakes up my older son, which, no…just, no.

He goes to bed consistently at the same time every night, we keep the room as dark as possible and make sure he is not too hot or cold, and keep the outside noise as minimal as possible. And he tends to be waking up at the same time too (right now it is around 4:30 a.m.). I am assuming that this is just a hellacious growth spurt, combined with prolonged teething, and we have to just ride it out, but really want to stop the middle of the night bottles, heck, even the pre-bedtime bottle should probably go too.

There are so many sleep training books, sites, fountains of advice out there on this topic, that I was hoping you could give me some ideas on how to start? Tips that work for you?

The upside of this is, my son sleeps at daycare with no bottle (not even a paci), so I know he can do it. We just have to break the at-home habits.

Can you help?

Forever in your debt (if this works),
J

Ah, sleep training. The LEAST one-size-fits-all parenting topic of all time, with an added scoop of CONTROVERSY on top. Hooray! Let’s see if I can avoid stepping on any land mines here.

We never committed to one single particular book on sleep habits either — like you, I was somewhat overwhelmed by all the choices (and the LENGTH, I mean, if my kid isn’t sleeping, I probably don’t have the time, energy or focus to devote to a 700-page tome ABOUT SLEEPING), and found that too many authors turned sleep into a moral high ground. This isn’t just something to try, this is The Way To Do It. Everything else is wrong, cruel, stupid, or all three.

The best theory on sleep, however, that I ever heard was via Ask Moxie: there are two kinds of babies. Some release tension through crying, while others escalate their tension when they cry. It made sense to me with Noah, who was a tension-releaser. It made even more sense to me with Ezra, who is a tension-escalator. (Well, he’s not an ESCALATOR, like at the mall, but…oh, you know what I mean.)

A tension-releaser is the “fuss-it-out” baby. I would put Noah down in his crib and he would protest. I would walk away and hear him cry, but if I immediately went back to pick him up, it was like I reset some clock and BAM, he’d be wide awake but overtired and MAD AS HELL. But if I left him alone, his cries would never turn into wails or screams, but would instead decelerate into sniffles, then some low whining, then silence. This process never took more than five or 10 minutes. If it did take longer, it was a sure-fire sign of teething or a growth spurt.

Ezra, now. Ho ho ho. When he cries, he ramps up from zero to HOLY CRAP WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE OF BLEEDING EARDRUMS in no time. There was no putting him in the crib and walking away…at first. He required weeks and months of a carefully calibrated routine. Bath. Swaddling. Breast. Song. Rocking. A careful walk down a darkened hallway into a darkened room, into the crib at that perfect not-totally-asleep-but-not-fully-awake state, along with the perfect combination of familiar toys and loveys and music. If anything went wrong along the way, there was little to be done except start over and head back to the rocking chair. We tried pacis, white noise machines, arm-free swaddles, no swaddle, massage, teething tablets — anything to help ensure that once he was asleep he’d stay asleep. Because once he was up, he was UP. And LOUD.

Like you, we occasionally resorted to bad habits — that bottle in bed is so easy! so tempting! — and were always more tempted to give into them whenever Ezra hit a teething jag or growth spurt that caused middle-of-the-night wake-ups. And you should have seen our pediatrician’s face when I admitted that Ezra still took a bottle at bedtime (even though we’d eliminated the rest) at 13 months old. Every full month of bottles — even just one bottle a day — past 12 months, she lectured, averaged into one cavity by three years old. Babies falling asleep with bottles by themselves in bed: EVEN WORSE. Full-on bottle rot tooth decay. Just do it, she advised sympathetically. Like a Band-Aid. But that was pretty much the extent of her advice. How we eliminated the bottle was up to us.

Now. There are two main schools of sleep training. Those who think that crying is okay and natural and part of the learning process…and those who think that parents should never, ever let their babies cry. I am…somewhere in the middle, because I’ve had BOTH kinds of criers. Noah needed to fuss, and sometimes that fussing did cross the line into crying, but not really. Rushing to his side over every squawk prevented him from sleeping. That said, I cannot imagine attempting to sleep-train a very young baby, nor could I allow my baby to cry to the point of hysterics. So I guess we go for a low-cry solution.

The The No-Cry Sleep Solution is a very popular book, and I agree with a lot of it. It’s a really gentle, good place to start, if you can tolerate a little bit of the “reasons and theories and whhhhyyyyys” behind difficulties in changing up baby’s sleep routine. Your baby thinks he needs to suck on that bottle to sleep. He is convinced of it. With every bottle you give him at night, you are reinforcing this belief. You need to show him that he doesn’t, while recognizing that the desire to suck and receive comfort ARE normal, healthy things that should not be denied. My problem with it only comes when you’re dealing with a hellaciously stubborn baby who will accept every tip in the book…and then still freak out and cry as soon as you leave the room. Eventually, by focusing on the whole DO NOT LET YOUR BABY CRY EVER aspect, you may buckle and cave and end up kind of being inconsistent. (I did, anyway.)

So…look, I’ve spent too long detailing our situation because while I think your son and Ezra are similar, they are still different kids with different needs and causes to underlying sleep issues. You could definitely be dealing with a terrible teething/growth spurt convergence of terror and the only way through it is through it. But…it is time to cut out those bottles. You know it, so…here comes my totally non-professional advice on bottle-weaning a tension-escalating baby….

During the day, offer all liquids in a sippy cup — preferably one that is the least like a bottle you can find. Straws are better for their mouth muscles and early speech, so if you’re still using spouted cups, try getting him to use a straw instead. Some soothing milk or formula before bed is fine — in a cup, and brush those teeth and gums. Always put him in his crib while he’s still awake (bedtime and naptime) so he gets plenty of practice at putting himself to sleep.

When he wakes up in the middle of the night, offer a bottle of water. (We skipped this and offered a slightly bottle-like sippy cup of water because Ezra was very particular about ONLY accepting milk in a bottle at this point.) If he refuses the water, try a pacifier. We just leave the water in the crib, but the The No-Cry Sleep Solution makes a good point about pacis (Ezra is a thumbsucker) — they fall out and the crying starts again. Let him suck on the paci until he’s calm and about to fall asleep, then break the seal and remove it, thus working towards that goal of self-soothing without any aids. Don’t make a lot of noise or fuss over him — say simple stuff like “Night-night” or “goodnight.” Turn on a soother toy that he can also activate himself or hand him a lovey.

Now, here’s where we personally deviated from the strict no-cry aspect. Wait outside the door with a stopwatch. With Noah, we gave him five minutes, then 10. Ezra…got shorter increments at first, like one or two. The idea is to remain firm that there will be no bottle but to still get in there and distract them before the crying escalates to hysterics. Go back in and repeat the same motions. Offer the water, paci, back pats and night-nights. Leave again. Wait three minutes. Repeat. Continue, upping the time each round.

I won’t lie. He’s going to (seemingly) HATE YOU. And life, and the universe, and everything, that first night. You may make more trips into his room than you thought possible. (Therefore, my advice is also to start training on a Friday night, when you have nothing to do and nowhere to go on Saturday and Sunday.) You will want to cave and give him the bottle, because he’s upset and you’re exhausted. It’s hard, because you can’t explain to him about the effect of lactose sugars on his oral health and that self-soothing and healthy sleep habits are important life-long skills that he will be grateful for. You just have to explain it to yourself.

We did the middle-of-the-night feeding first, then the bedtime bottle. You might want to do the bedtime bottle first, since you’ll be more awake/alert/patient to deal with the fallout. The middle-of-the-night one was worse for us, but we really only went through two nights of constant attempts at milkless soothing before turning the corner. It helped that Ezra HAD proven that he could sleep through the night without it, then had a teething/growth spurt regression right after he weaned from nursing, so the bottle habit wasn’t super-ingrained. (I remember Googling sleep stuff at one point and reading message boards full of parents attempting to justify why their four-year-olds still took bottles at night and practically tossing every bottle out the window right then and there, because NO THANK YOU.)

Moving his bedtime up by one hour earlier seemed to help immensely, as did putting a light-up/musical toy that he could turn on himself (without standing or sitting up, like something attached to the crib slats). Noah was the opposite, though — he slept better with a later bedtime and never had a blanket or special toy, and only loved his crib aquarium. No matter what sleep training method you “choose,” there’s going to be a lot of refining and trial-and-error for your particular baby. (I’m sure I’ll get flamed for even suggesting ANY crying, though I hope I’ve made it clear that I’m not talking about withholding any and all comfort while they sob hysterically through the night.)

By the way, I was convinced that the bedtime bottle was going to be a battle. I mean, the ROUTINE! He needed his ROUTINE! The ROUTINE was all that stood between us an newborn-like round-the-clock wakings, right? But I did what our pediatrician told us to do — like a Band-Aid. We offered milk in a sippy cup during our song and bedtime story, then brushed his teeth and put him to bed. And…it was totally fine. The war I’d braced myself for never really came.

He still takes his water to bed, and needs his Taggies blanket, BlaBla cat AND musical seahorse (Update on 3/1/14: watch this news report about potential safety hazards for this toy http://www.abc15.com/news/national/no-recall-of-soothe-and-glow-seahorse-toddler-toy-despite-fire-safety-concerns?autoplay=true). I’m sure one day we’ll be fighting to curb the thumbsucking habit and then one day after THAT we’ll be explaining why it’s time to give up the loveys.

But in the meantime, I’m just gonna go ahead and enjoy some guilt-free uninterrupted nights of sleep.

 

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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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Someone Being Me
Guest

Ugh. My 8 month old is up a minimum of 2 times a night but here lately it has been more like 5. I got lucky with my first too and I am clueless on how to fix this.

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

For the record, I’m 24, with a live-in boyfriend and a dog, and I STILL sleep with the teddy bear I’ve had since I was 6 months old. Not always necessary to give up the lovey. (IT JUST FITS BETTER UNDER MY ARM THAN THE BOY OR THE DOG.)

Susan
Guest

I finally buckled and called the pediatrician when Snackbox was about 9 months old to ask how to get him to sleep through the night – without resorting to major CIO. We had stopped feeding him in the middle of the night around 7 months (that was fun for DH because he had to go in to comfort him – if I came within ten feet of the nursery Ryan was all “I smell boobies!”), but after that weaning I would still go in and pick him up and hold him while bouncing gently on a fitness ball to get… Read more »

Janice
Guest
Janice

Jessica, have you tried a soft night light? We found that if our little guy can see where he is when he wakes during the night (even if it is dimly), that he will put himself back to sleep.
One book I read (can’t remember which one) said that absolute darkness might scare them when they wake in the middle of the night, as they feel they don’t know where they are.
Good luck!

Kari Weber
Guest
Kari Weber

My 4 1/2 year old went without the middle of the night bottles from a pretty close to 1 year old age… but the wakefulness in the middle of the night… oy. I think I had my first full complete night of sleep (like 8 hours) when he was 2 1/2… seriously. He is the total “I need a snuggle” waker. I had to pick my battles… I knew that he could put himself to sleep as GOING to bed was a breeze. It was WAKING in the middle of the night that was killing me. He just took longer… Read more »

Jen & The Amazing Trips
Guest

OK, So I had our triplets sleeping through the night when they were around 4 months old and I – just recently – was able to get (convince??) our almost 2.5 year old to sleep more than eight hours at a stretch. Why? Why?? WHY DID IT TAKE SO LONG?! Yes, kids are different. But in the case of our triplets – they had absolutely no choice BUT to conform to the schedule that I had in place that existed simply so that I could survive. Because with multiple babies, it’s all about SURVIVAL. With our singleton, I nursed him… Read more »

Jenna
Guest

Thank goodness for your does of sanity! I’d be surprised (and I’m curious!) if you get flamed for this one. We just VERY GENTLY sleep trained my 7 month old last week. She had been sleeping well (11 hour stretches most nights) and then got sick and was waking up and then got better and was still waking up. I took her to the doctor (a very important first step in sleep training, just to make sure all is well) and then took a hard look at all aspects of her sleep and then did just what you suggested above,… Read more »

Olivia
Guest
Olivia

I also don’t see the need to stop a child from sleeping with loveys at any time. Many adults sleep with body pillows or like to have their dogs on the bed; not really different from having a favorite blankie. I’m going to try very hard not to get preachy, but I want to ask Jessica why she feels her baby (1 year old is still a baby to me) has to sleep thru the night? This really flummoxes me. As an adult, I still wake at least once during the night, so I don’t expect my baby to sleep… Read more »

France
Guest
France

We had similar problems with our second child who would wake up multiple times a night. Like you, we were very stressed about it because she shares a room with her older brother, and we didn’t want him to wake up. This made matters worse for all perspectives, because we tended to go and see her more quickly than if she had been in her own room, just to avoid her waking up her brother, which, in turn, did not help her learn to go back to sleep on her own. Anyhoo, after near depression due to sleep deprivation, we… Read more »

Cristin
Guest
Cristin

Olivia,
I don’t think anyone expects a baby or toddler to sleep the whole night through without lightly waking. I wake up about 2x a night. The issue is whether or not they can settle themselves back to sleep without crying, fussing, wanting a bottle, etc.
I think it is extremely important to learn how to self soothe. I am not a CIO fan but there has to be a happy medium, like Amy demonstrated.

Jessica V
Guest

Thanks Amy and everyone else – I’m feeling better about tackling this situation…just needed a boost in the right direction! To answer the one question I saw from Olivia, the baby (he’s totally still a baby!) does wake up sometimes in the middle of the night, squawks a bit and then goes back to sleep on his own. The issue has been that he has gotten into the habit of needing a bottle at 5:30 a.m. every morning…full on awake, talking, screeching (mandrake screeching is the best description ever!), etc. So this is a habit we admittedly started, and now… Read more »

Ms. Krieger
Guest
Ms. Krieger

@Olivia Yes, I agree. Who says that babies need to sleep through the night by themselves if most adults don’t actually do that? A not-quite-a-year old baby who wakes up once or twice a night to nurse or whatever is normal. Yes, my kid does that. Yes, I work a 40+ hours per week job. So I go to bed a little earlier than I would otherwise. Not a big deal. Having little ones who wake up in the middle of the night calling for us will be such a short stage of life; treasure it. That’s how I look… Read more »

Jessica V.
Guest

Oh, and a second update to my first one…I looked back at my original question to Amy, and realized that a few things have changed since I originally submitted the question (kids change quickly!). We seem to be past some of the really bad hysterical middle of the night waking up (for now at least), which is awesome, so our big focus is breaking the habitual bottle habit at bed time and in the early a.m. Just wanted to clarify since so many of you had such great tips and were so nice to respond with your advice. Thanks!

Camille
Guest
Camille

Not to hijack Jessica’s question, but our 9 month old is an escalated crier who will. not. be. put. down. awake. We probably caused this because she was so difficult to get to sleep when she was tiny (and we were stupid). Ferber’s progressive waiting approach seems so logical and we tried it this weekend, but it did not go well at all. I don’t think any of us have the emotional fortitude for it (and if its that traumatic it doesn’t seem like the right approach)….I think we have temporarily scarred her because until this morning she would cry… Read more »

Maria malliou
Guest
Maria malliou

I know this comment is a month old but this is EXACTLY what we went through about a month ago.  My daughter would start crying in her bath (which she loves) after about 5days of ST.  it was traumatic for everyone I think and I agree it was not right if it’s that traumatic. We stopped after 10 days.  If I put her down in her crib, or on the bed she gets really worked up and won’t quit until I nurse her or pick her up.  So yea I’d like to know too, are we screwed?  Or will we… Read more »

E's Mommy
Guest
E's Mommy

Both of my boys took multiple bottles at night past the age of 1 (they were both internationally adopted and needed lots of night feedings at first for catch-up growth, but then they got to be a habit). We got rid of middle of the night feedings by watering the bottles down a little more every night until they were almost completely water. One of our sons let us replace the bottle with a pacifier when he woke for a feeding after the bottle had been watered down for awhile and the other let us just quit nighttime feedings after… Read more »

julie w
Guest
julie w

Amalah is hardly suggesting hard-line Ferberizing. You know yourself and your child. When it is time to help your baby sleep you will know it. At 9 months our twins had terrible sleep patterns. And it was mostly our fault for always rocking them to sleep. Followed by Waking up every 40 minutes for the first few hours. and then at 2 am and then at 4. We were at our worst in sleep deprivation. We started putting them down sleepy but awake in their cribs. Staying by their side and singing/shshing them ala the sleep lady. 50 minutes of… Read more »

Ms. Krieger
Guest
Ms. Krieger

@Camille I’m sorry to hear your 9 month old doesn’t like to be put down in her crib. There’s lots of kids like that – a lot just don’t like sleeping alone. From what I hear, though, the escalated screaming isn’t your fault, and it does go away. Eventually. Definitely by 2 years old. I don’t know what you mean by “screwed”…you aren’t going to have a teenager who screams if you won’t let her sleep with you, for sure. Ha ha. You might have to give her extra love and attention until she gets old enough to reason with… Read more »

wallydraigle
Guest

Gah. Our champion sleeper became a horrible sleeper out of NOWHERE around nine months. We had sleep trained her from the beginning (gently, people–nothing horrible here), but none of those techniques worked on a baby her age. We’ve since figured out that it was just one thing after another: maturing digestive system (if you catch my drift), teething, growth spurt, developmental milestone, and then start the cycle all over again with some more teething (thankfully the diaper rash from hell only happened that one time). After a few months, she was just in the habit of waking up in the… Read more »

Susan
Guest
Susan

@Olivia and Ms. Krieger – to echo an earlier responder, no one expects a baby to sleep like a rock all night long – the value lies in them being able to put themselves back to sleep without waking the rest of the household. Once Ryan was sleeping eleven hours – or, to rephrase it – settling himself repeatedly with no help from Mama or Dada, he was a MUCH happier, well rested child during the day – and he napped better, too. Camille, Ryan went through a phase for a couple of days where he didn’t like his crib… Read more »

Nicole Johnson
Guest

Ah. This brings me back. My son was SUCH a challenging sleeper! It took me so long to get him sleeping well and after I finally did, I made it my MISSION to help other tired parents solve their sleep problems much faster than I did! Another full-length book? Yeah right! Because you’re already tired enough. Mostly, parents need to know about 2 things: 1. Sleep associations – http://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/sleep-association/ 2. Changing sleep associations with as few tears as possible. There really is a lot between PUTTING your baby to sleep and leaving the room to let him cry it out.… Read more »

Jaymee
Guest
Jaymee

I didn’t read ALL of the comments but I read ALOT of them. I think I am in the minority here, but I let him cry. I would put my son to bed almost asleep and the very second I put him in his crib he was wide awake screaming at the top of his lungs. Even if I gave in and put him down when he was already asleep he still woke up immediately after being put in his crib. So I let him cry/scream. Sometimes it would take almost 20min but he eventually would calm down and go… Read more »

Olivia
Guest
Olivia

My son knows that if he needs something he gets it, but if he is just crying because he would rather be held to go to sleep instead of going to sleep on his own he can just cry it out.
Yeah, see babies can’t tell the difference between a need and a want. So, when he cries because he wants to be held while he goes to sleep? That’s totally a NEED to him, and not him trying to manipulate his parents.

Camille
Guest
Camille

Thanks for your input! @Ms. Krieger: by screwed I meant not getting a night’s sleep any time soon without the frequent kicking and hitting by an infant who does cartwheels in her sleep! We have been co-sleeping (and love the snuggles), but my husband or I don’t sleep well with her there. We’d like a happy medium where she starts in her bed and we can get some rest, and bring her into our room when she needs it. I oscillate between being cranky because I’m tired, and embracing the fact that she wants to be with us (knowing that… Read more »

stacy
Guest
stacy

My experience is pretty much Susan’s comment and so I won’t rehash it here. What I do want to say is — you know yourself and you know your child. You know if they are resilient enough to do a little crying, or if they are fragile and need more reassurance. Mine was somewhere in the middle, and frankly I personally just couldn’t handle any more than the “I’m kinda unhappy” type of crying. When it went to full on wailing then I was finished, game over. I just didn’t have the constitution for it. She’s 9 months now, and… Read more »

rubidoux
Guest

My husband, myself, my six year old and my 10 month-old all sleep in one gigantic bed (king and a twin pushed together) and when people ask me whether my little one sleeps through the night, I must admit that I don’t know — because I do sleep through the night. I am sure that he does wake up and nurse, I have a hazy recollection of it sometimes, but he doesn’t cry or wake me. Everything he needs is right there. I just cannot understand why it’s so important for a baby to be able to put themselves to… Read more »

Olivia
Guest
Olivia

@rubidoux, your sleeping situation sounds so cozy and wonderful! We just put our queen mattress on the floor this weekend to make it safe for our baby to keep sleeping in our bed. I’ve already gotten disapproving looks from a friend, but I wouldn’t trade the snuggles and giggles for having “normal” set up (crib in other room) for anything.

Athena
Guest
Athena

@rubidoux: Sometimes, people just can’t handle that kind of arrangement. Like me, for example. I co-sleep for part of the night (and whatever you consider the equivalent when I’m still awake during the day naps, it’s certainly no different for him in position or anything), but the problem is that it *hurts*. I can’t do it all night because my hips just can’t hack it that long, with the limited positions I can take needing to keep a breast available to baby boy. If I could co-sleep all night I probably would’ve taken that option just because omg easier, but… Read more »

Maggie
Guest
Maggie

Thank you!! This is the most realistic post ever!! Thank you for not making me feel like I don’t know what I’m doing!! It’s so encouraging!

Katie
Guest
Katie

Thank you so incredibly much for this article. I’ve been searching and searching about breaking this habit and you hit home!  It’s Friday night and I’m about to embark on this exhausting journey this weekend with our 9 mo old. Much love!
 

LindaGee
Guest
LindaGee

Just curious, how did it go?

Laura Long
Guest
Laura Long

This mom needed to feed her damn baby! It is perfectly normal for a 4 month old to be HUNGRY and need some milk. Also there is a 4 month sleep regression, because babies go through allot. OY