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Baby Sleep Questions Answered

Sleep Regressions & Early-Early Wakings

By Amalah

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.

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 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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