Prev Next

Sleep, Baby, Sleep

By Amalah


Okay. So. My son is almost 4 months old and he can’t fall asleep unless he’s eating (he’ll take a bottle, luckily, but he falls asleep much faster if he’s nursing.) And? On top of that? He’s a super light sleeper. So if anybody’s holding him and tries to put him down in his crib/bassinet/swing/carseat/floor/packnplay/anywhere he wakes up. Screaming.

The other day he didn’t get much of a nap. I finally got him to fall asleep around 8:30. At 9:00…he woke up. Screaming. It was 11:00 before I finally got him to fall asleep. (What finally worked? Lights off, my bed, dad out of the room, laying completely still holding him to the boob for 15 minutes until he could calm down enough to eat.) When he was younger we could just pop him in the car and he’d be out before I’d pulled out of the driveway. But now he’ll spend the entire 40 minute drive home from his grandparents’ house crying.

We’ve tried a bedtime routine — dim the lights, put on a Chopin CD, feed, change diaper, lotion, change clothes, bed — but that hasn’t worked..

So…any suggestions on how to get him to fall asleep on his own? He’s definitely an escalator, not a cry-it-out baby.


When Your Baby Won’t Sleep

One big thought, right off the bat: Colic? I know we all think of colic as starting at just a few weeks old, but some babies don’t develop the symptoms until later. If the inconsolable crying jags have been going on for more than a month, you might actually be looking at a slight case of colic or some digestive woes here.

Or not. There are also plenty of babies who just plain fight going to sleep. And babies who have gotten into the habit of falling asleep on the boob or bottle tend to fight it tooth and nail. Since your son’s tension escalates when he cries, I’d recommend checking out The No-Cry Sleep Solution, if you haven’t already. WITH the caveat that I personally have never found any parenting book — be it about sleep or eating or potty training or discipline — to actually apply to my child cover-to-cover. So don’t approach it as, “This Shall Be Our Solution Which We Shall Implement Exactly With Unprecedented Success.” Read it more as a grab bag of ideas to try out here and there.

And speaking of grab bag, here’s my own random dartboard of things that you may or may not have already tried.

Three Ways to (Maybe) Get Your Baby to Sleep

1. Swaddling. A lot of parents stop swaddling once their infant gets too big for those square receiving blankets, but for a fussy, restless sleeper I swear to God, there is nothing better. Usually I recommend the Miracle Blanket, but at almost four months old, your son would likely outgrow it too quickly. At that age I like the extra-large muslin blankets from Aden + Anais, done in the “Aussie Swaddle” style demonstrated on their website. (It includes an extra tuck of baby’s hands to prevent escape and flailing.) (And don’t even talk to me about those velcro SwaddleMe things. Both of my babies could Houdini their way out of that thing in under two minutes.) Eventually we left one arm free so Ezra could self-soothe with a thumb suck, and only after he learned to roll over consistently did we stop swaddling. (But by that point sleep wasn’t a problem, because Ezra simply flipped himself over on his tummy and was all, “THIS. THIS IS HOW I LIKE IT.”)

2. White noise machine. We had one and never had a lick of luck with it, but believe me, I know it’s been a lifesaver for sooooo many parents with babies that sound a lot like yours. A light sleeper who jerks awake at every sound or creaky floorboard? Yep. Try filling his room with constant low soothing sounds — it might help him become less sensitive to outside noises.

3. Kill the milk habit. I know, I know. You hit a wall and just want him to SLEEP, so you cave and give him the boob until he settles and sleeps. But you also cave and kill the routine, making it…not so much of a routine anymore. Even for a “good” sleeper, the bedtime routine is only powerful if you elevate it to sacred-like status. NOTHING EFFS WITH THE ROUTINE. His routine is milk = sleep, and clearly you know what happens when you guys try to eff with that. But this isn’t a routine you want in place long-term, especially since — duh — it’s CLEARLY not really helping him fall asleep and stay asleep. (A baby! Wanting something that isn’t necessarily in his best interest! Imagine that!) Our routine with Ezra was bath, change, swaddle, boob, lullaby (sung OFF the boob) in the crib while still awake. That’s the huge kicker — they MUST learn to fall asleep on their own from the get-go. No falling asleep in your arms and then transferring. Of course they’ll protest, you’re MESSING WITH THEM. This takes practice. This takes patience. And it can take a LOT of nights.

And sometimes they’ll still wake up. Scratch that. They WILL still wake up. And when it happens, there’s another bad habit to kill. But it’s likely your bad habit. It sounds like your son didn’t really NEED milk at 11 pm (the lack of nap tells me he was just overtired and OMG, that’s the hardest baby to put to sleep, I know); you just didn’t know how else to calm him down. But…you need to stop that, because all you’re doing is helping him associate wakings with…milk. Therefore milk = sleep, and the cycle starts all over at bedtime the next night. He NEEDS to learn how to calm himself down. Yes, even though he’s a tension-escalator. The No-Cry Sleep Solution should help you find ways to calm him down OTHER than a) turning the lights on (no), b) picking him up (also no), or c) milking him back into a sleepy stupor (NO!).

All that said, your son is RIGHT in the middle of that weird transition age — 0-3 months, we generally don’t expect babies to have bedtimes and sleep through the night or really do anything other than be cranky, tempestuous little dictators. At 4-6 months, all we hear about is Other Babies who sleep through the night and sleep in their cribs and are just the valedictorians of sleep. Not every baby achieves this right at four months, though the “experts” agree it DOES seem to be the “ideal” age to at least start trying. (And lo, we ended co-sleeping at four months and did seem to have an easier time with the transition than friends who put it off and tried to do it with older babies.) If your son is experiencing a touch of colic or reflux, that throws a huge wild card into the mix.

So…you should definitely keep trying from this point on, but cut yourself some slack over it not exactly going perfectly so far. He’s young. He WILL learn to fall asleep on his own, I PROMISE. I can’t promise it will happen this week or anything, but…at least by kindergarten, I’m sure.

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

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.

icon icon
chat bubble icon