I’ve mentioned in Sophie’s recent updates that we’ve been extra intentional about her sleep routines these past few months. I know that things change as babies get older, but we’ve experienced some awesome success with her (read: sleep for everybody!) so I wanted to write a blog post about our strategies before things change again, haha.
Sophie was a great flexible napper earlier on in her life, and would be fine napping anywhere and near anyone (like many little babies are!). But we eventually had to “overhaul” our routine. I think the impetus for that was a bit of a sleep regression that Sophie hit at 4 months old. I was incredibly tired from getting up with her multiple times per night, and we felt like she was sleeping much lighter and not napping well. Sophie’s sleep regression hit us especially hard around the time she was 15 weeks old. I bounced ideas off of a lot of people I knew! In addition to gathering advice from friends and family, I turned to a Facebook moms’ group for help and ended up getting connected with a friend’s mom, who has taught sleep classes for new parents for years! She gave me thoughtful, useful advice that I was desperately searching for in a season of fatigue. She shared with me the same tips and strategies she teaches in her baby sleep classes. And best of all? Sophie started sleeping better! It was clear that she was a fan of the routine we were creating together!
My goal is that today’s post offers you some hope and ideas, especially when it comes to your baby’s sleeping routines and schedule! I’ve been blessed to have someone to turn to, and I want to “pay it forward” and share with you all what we’ve learned! Several people have messaged me or otherwise commented, asking me to share sleep tips! So let’s do this! 🙂
Disclaimer: Obviously, I am not a doctor nor am I an infant sleep expert. This advice is not meant to take the place of professional help. If you’re looking to make any drastic changes for your own child, or if you find yourself undecided about the best route to take, I recommend talking to your pediatrician first. Each child and each family has different needs. These tips are based off of what has worked for us.
Our Best Baby Sleep Tips and Strategies (Age 4-6 Months)
Is your baby not sleeping long at all? Are naps a mess? Are nighttimes a crazy guessing-game (will the baby sleep 2 hours? 4? just 1?). This is basically where I was at. Although I could read Sophie quite well (is she hungry? tired? does she have a wet diaper?), I still didn’t like feeling like I was without a solid, predictable schedule. So the advice below is what Bjorn and I were given, and what we then discussed and implemented.
Consider moving baby to his or her own room. This tip is often met by skepticism. It’s a hard decision and circumstances can be different for different babies. Sophie had been sleeping nights in a bassinet in our room ever since she came home from the hospital. And we actually enjoyed it, for the most part. I balked at the idea initially because we loved having Sophie in our room. When she was really little, it was wonderful to be near her where we could check on her if we heard any unusual sounds from her during the night. Bjorn and I liked all the reading in bed and snuggling with Sophie between her evening naps, leading up until bedtime for all of us around 10:30 pm. Well, that fun part of the schedule had to change, even though it was enjoyable! Sophie was simply not sleeping as well in our bedroom as she used to. She was more aware of her surroundings, and even little things like Bjorn quietly getting ready for work in the morning were rousing her. That’s just how it was for her developmentally. She was still exclusively breastfed at that point, too, and the line started to become blurred as to whether or not she was truly hungry at 12:30 am, or if she just wanted to play with Mama and Daddy! Babies around 4 months or so seem to be more aware and therefore seem not to sleep as soundly knowing Mom and Dad are in the same room.
All this is to say, it was time for her to move down the hall into her nursery. Once we talked about it and agreed she should “move out,” I started the transition by having her take more of her daytime naps in her crib (instead of downstairs in her DockATot near me). I wanted Sophie to get used to sleeping in her own room, and I didn’t want it to be a shock to her.
Shortly after moving Sophie to her nursery at night, we found that generally her night wakings tapered off!! It ended up being a great decision for us.
Space feedings 3.5 hours apart. Making Sophie’s feedings around 3.5 hours apart really seemed to help even her out. Before she turned 4 months, I wasn’t on a set feeding schedule for Sophie so sometimes she went 2 hours between feedings, sometimes 4…and I didn’t truly realize this until I was asked by the “sleep teacher” to describe our daily schedule. So at least during the day, doing more of 3.5 hours between feedings has really helped. (And now at 7 months, I believe I should technically be starting to move to 4 hours between feedings soon..)
I heard that regulating good naps during the day + good spacings between feedings can actually help have a smoother night. It seems like a good night would equal a good next day, but it turns out it’s more so that having a more set structure during the day has turned into better nights for us.
Start your baby’s day at the same time each day. I really balked at this one, but it was worth it once I gave in and implemented it! Haha. Since I am at home with Sophie during the day, I had the luxury of sleeping in (if she was still sleeping) if we’d had a particularly rough night. But that meant I was getting up at 7 am some days, and other days, I’d sleep in till 9:15! It was getting a little out of hand, because even from my personal standpoint, I know I function best on a more regular schedule! (And I actually hate how I feel when I sleep in late.) So, change had to happen. I picked a time that felt “most ideal” to me – for me, that’s 7:40 am – and I set my daily alarm for that time! If Sophie is still sleeping at that time, then I go in her room and wake her up to feed her and get our day started. Our day doesn’t have to begin at that exact minute every day. The idea is that as long as Sophie and I are awake and she is fed within half an hour of that time (in either direction), then we’re setting ourselves up for a good, workable schedule for her feedings and naps for the rest of the day! It sets off the day’s trajectory for when she’ll take her morning nap, and so on.
Have a bedtime! Similar to the idea of starting baby’s day at the same time each day, having a window of time that’s the same for bedtime every night can make a big difference. I feel like Sophie really appreciates the predictability.
Sophie’s bedtime is around 7:30 pm every night. This means that we do her little bedtime routine: quiet snuggle or playtime, then a diaper change, put on her pajamas and her sleep sack, turn on her sound machine, nurse her, and put her in her crib. I’d say she’s basically always asleep before 8:00.
Obviously, bedtime can’t be perfectly “on time” every single night, because sometimes we’re road tripping to my parents’ or Sophie’s with us hanging out with people until late in the evening…but having a set bedtime on normal days has helped a lot!
An added blessing of having this bedtime that I hadn’t thought about before we did it: it means, of course, that suddenly Bjorn and I have time to ourselves between 7:30 and 10:30 pm! In a way, we miss those newborn days when Sophie was awake then between her evening naps…but we also are thrilled to have a little pocket of time back!
Dreamfeed in the dark. This means that at about 10:30 pm every night, I go into Sophie’s room and nurse her one last time before I go to bed myself. This is about 3 hours after her bedtime. I feed her in the dark without talking to her if possible (and I know that many babies can pretty much stay asleep during this late night feeding session!). Sophie does wake a little, but she is still able to fall asleep again very quickly. Then I tiptoe out and go to sleep, too! 🙂
If baby is hungry pretty close to their morning wakeup time, try keeping the feeding smaller. There have been some nights where Sophie is dreamfed at 10:30 pm, and then wants to eat again, let’s say, at 5:30 am. I know she’s hungry, so I’m not hesitating to feed her at this point. It’s been a while since her last feeding and I’m not going to let her cry it out because I know she’s hungry! But her wakeup time is around 7:40 am. So, I was given advice to try: if she wakes again another time at night (besides dreamfeeding) and seems hungry again, I try nursing her only 3 minutes per side. It’s like a snack to give her just enough to fall asleep, but then she’ll still be hungry when she wakes up at the consistent morning time. It may be worth a shot!
We don’t go to her immediately when she cries during naps or during the night. This philosophy is debated amongst parents, grandparents, friends, and parenting books alike. But our personal approach comes from knowing our daughter well, and knowing her schedule so well that we know if she’s truly hungry, truly awake, etc.
Let me explain a little. The first night we moved Sophie to her own room, she was getting used to it so she was fussy…and Bjorn and I went in to rock her/soothe her over 6 times that night. 6 times!! That was crazy! Needless to say, we felt awful come morning. We knew that couldn’t be the way to do things. It just wasn’t sustainable.
So, we came up with a better game plan. We learned that the average 4-5 month old should be able to sleep a stretch of 5 hours, at least. So when Sophie was 4-5 months old and waking every couple hours, we knew she wasn’t actually starving. So she didn’t need to be nursed every time she cried. A little rule of thumb I try to stick to is seeing if Sophie can make it about 5 hours before I feed her during the night. It really helps with the guessing game during the night (especially now that Sophie has a good night schedule!), because then if she’s crying after 4 am or so, I know she’s actually hungry and I don’t hesitate to go feed her. I don’t sit and let her cry in this circumstance. If it’s been long enough since her last feeding, then it’s time to eat and I don’t really let her cry!
Our pep talk before bed was often, “Okay, since she’s going to bed at 10:30, if she cries before 3:30 am, we’re going to let her cry for 15 minutes, then try her pacifier, and see…’ We do sometimes still tiptoe into her room and try putting her pacifier in her mouth if she’s distraught. We just don’t flip on the lights and start talking and playing with her.
Also, come up with a game plan BEFORE nighttime. It never ever works to come up with a game plan or try to troubleshoot or play a guessing game when you’re in the moment, in the middle of the night, and you’re both frazzled. And it should be a plan that both you and your spouse are on board with. Otherwise, you may find yourself in the midst of a debate or an undecided conversation at 1 am. 🙂
Sometimes there did end up being some crying, and it’s always rough to hear her cry, but we’d let her cry for a bit and see if she’d fall asleep again. **Every couple has a different threshold for how long they want baby to cry or not cry, so I suggest that you and your spouse pray about it and decide together what you’re okay with, so you’re on the same page. But I do suggest this: actually time how long the baby is crying. It always feels WAY longer than it is. One night, Bjorn and I felt like she had been crying forEVER, only to find out she’d only been crying 5 or 6 minutes! Maybe that’s your maximum, maybe not.
Obviously, if Sophie is not calming down and is instead getting more agitated as the minutes go by, or if the tone of her cry is different, that tells us that she really does need us and we go in to check on her. We’re happy to do so.
I want to note here that she does NOT cry for stretches of time much at all anymore! In fact, Sophie rarely cries around bedtime (7:30 pm) or dreamfeed time (10:30 pm) when I lay her back down in her crib. She knows the system, and she’s happy with it! She feels secure in knowing she has two calm, nurturing parents who will come to her if she really needs us, but she also knows when it is sleeping time! As an elementary teacher, I am a huge believer in kids needing consistent routines, because I’ve seen it. They crave the security of knowing guidelines, and knowing what it is they’re supposed to be doing, and when. I truly believe that this translates even to little babies. I think they feel secure when there are cues like a sleep sack and sound machine that signal that it’s bedtime!
Understand that some waking during naps is normal. This perplexed me initially. There were so many mornings when she’d go down for a nap at 10:00 am, and then at 10:30 I’d see her on the monitor rolling around or stretching or even fussing lightly. I’d take that to mean she was done napping and I’d rush upstairs to her. (And then she’d really wake up and want to play/eat.) But it turns out, most babies actually wake/rouse about halfway through longer naps. I learned this from my friend’s mom who teaches sleep classes, and this revelation was life-changing for me, haha. I slowly learned to let Sophie stay in her crib and give her a few minutes (sometimes even 15 or so) to put herself back to sleep or fuss around a little…without running upstairs and interrupting nap time! Now, months later, I still notice Sophie rousing briefly halfway through her 2 hour morning nap. But I don’t worry (even though I peek at her on the monitor) and then I always see her fall back asleep to happily continue her nap (usually an additional hour!). This piece of advice was huge for me. I hope it helps you, too!
Only cat naps after 4:30 or 5 pm. I mentioned a napping every 2-ish hours schedule, but that doesn’t really count for evenings. If Sophie wakes from her afternoon nap at 3:30 or 4 pm, then we almost always keep her awake all the way till 7:30 nursing/bedtime. If she does have a horrible short afternoon nap, and is too fussy to fall back asleep, then we’ll have her take a cat nap maybe around 5 pm…but we make sure it’s only a 30 min cat nap. This strategy has worked really well! Just a couple days ago, Sophie had a poor earlier afternoon nap but really wanted to be up and play…so I went and got her from her room. But within a couple hours, she was tired again so I put her down again. I let her take a shorter 30 minute nap before I came upstairs and woke her. This way, she was up and playing some again, had supper, played even more…and then was finally ready for bedtime. Had I let her sleep another 2 hours at 4:30 or so, her bedtime and even feedings would have been messed up.
Utilize “The 5 Ss.” These 5 key words come from the book “Happiest Baby On The Block” – a book I really liked, but mostly just for the “5 Ss” part! 🙂 They stand for: swaddling, side/stomach, shush, swing, suck. They work amazingly well especially for younger babies, but I had to mention them here as well. Here’s an article explaining them. Sophie still feels the most relaxed when I tuck her stomach up snugly to mine, when she is being rocked, when her sound machine is on, and when I pop her pacifier in her mouth.
** Of course, not every day runs like clockwork! There are variables like travel/long car rides, late evening or during-nap time events, and growth spurts that may stir up an otherwise seamless sleep schedule. When these kinds of things happen, I roll with it as best as I can, knowing that an interrupted morning nap or a poor night’s sleep here or there isn’t going to ruin everything. The occasional messed up schedule isn’t going to permanently throw Sophie off. However, implementing all of these strategies and tips has been (seriously) life-changing for us! Some of these seem common sense, but some of these tips are things I wouldn’t have thought of myself.
There you have it! Those are my main sleep strategies and tips! We implemented these around the time Sophie was 4 and 5 months old, but we are still using these strategies and she is over 7 months old now. Since we’ve had success with using these philosophies, I knew I just had to share. Not that our plan is perfect by any means, and not that our plan is the only right way. But if I can offer you ANY amount of hope or new ideas to try tonight with your little one…then I’m happy. Hope is a powerful thing, and I want to encourage you. God has handpicked you to be your child’s parent – a special privilege and such a gift – and He will equip you to handle these tricky times! Ask Him to give you wisdom and discernment as you make the best decisions you can for your child.
Sweet dreams, friends! 🙂