Jessica started her website and blog to offer information and assist families in experiencing restful nights for both the parents and their baby. She is trained as a child sleep consultant and offers personalized services packages, classes for parents as well as group workshops for professionals.
Ahhh the holidays; filled with love, joy and cranky overtired kids! With all the parties, school performances, caroling, shopping and baking it’s a wonder we get any sleep at all. But I promise you, the better rested you keep your family the more enjoyable your holidays will be. Here are a few ways your baby or young child’s sleep can be thrown off this holiday season and how you can prevent it.
Your child’s sleep schedule is thrown off. Yup, all those fun events cause kids to stay up late and then sleep in later than usual. They can also throw off your napping schedule. I suggest trying to stick with the hour rule when possible: try and put your child to bed within an hour of their normal bedtime or naptime and then wake them within an hour of their normal wake time. This will help them stay on schedule and feel better rested. Now, you might have a night or two that you can’t follow the hour rule. Just get them to bed as soon as possible and try to make the next day a quiet one!
Screen time too close to bed. I have fond memories of curling up on the couch with my family, eating popcorn and watching holiday specials. It is one of the joys of the holidays! Around this time of the year we also find kids spending more time on electronics in the evening while we socialize with friends and family. The blue light emitted from these electronics trick their brain into thinking it is daytime and delays the production of melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleep. Your best bet is to watch that holiday special early in the evening and make sure your kids turn off all screens at least 1 hour before bed.
Sugar! All those cookies, candies and special drinks can wreak havoc on your kid’s sleep, especially if you have a younger child new to sweets! If you are going to have a special treat or sugary drink, try having it earlier in the day so the effects have worn off by bedtime. The other benefit to indulging earlier is that you don’t have an uncomfortably stuffed tummy at bedtime.
Not allowing time to wind down before bed. A quiet bedtime routine helps children prepare mentally and physically for sleep but with parties and evening activities, we often hastily send our kids to bed without giving them enough time to wind down. If you are visiting family or have company, try to sneak away with your child 15 – 20 minutes before bed time. If you can’t perform your usual routine, try having some quiet time reading books or simply snuggling in bed for a few minutes. Make sure to dim the lights so your child’s body knows nighttime is approaching.
Early weaning or lowered milk supply. It’s not uncommon for you (or even your baby) to become distracted by the hustle and bustle of holiday activity to the point that you might start pushing your nursing sessions further apart or even skip one or two. You might depend more on pumped milk as you leave baby home with a baby sitter to shop or attend parties, but then struggle with keeping up with pumping. This can lead to early weaning-often called holiday weaning-or a lowered milk supply. It can also lead to more frequent night wakings as your baby attempts to supplement the missing daytime feedings with night feedings. Be mindful of your baby’s nursing needs—wear your baby or be comfortable saying no to parties where a baby may not be welcome.
Newborns and babies under 6 months old can wake multiple times a night for feedings and these feedings might be biologically necessary. This can be exhausting for a new mom. Just as you settle yourself down for bed, your young baby is awake, hungry, and calling for you. But there is something you can do to help: a dream feed.
What is a dream feed?
A dream feed is a feeding that the parent initiates and is done while your baby is in light sleep. You can breast or bottle feed during a dream feed-either works!
Why do a dream feed? There are 4 major benefits of dream feeds:
To align your baby’s longest stretch of sleep with your first chunk of sleep
To ensure your baby is getting enough calories, without risking a sleep association
To maintain your breastmilk supply, without extra pumping
Eliminate the guesswork of night wakings
Let’s look at each of these benefits……
Align your baby’s sleep with your own sleep
One goal of a dream feed is to line your baby’s longer stretch of sleep up with your first stretch of sleep. Most babies have one longer stretch of sleep, most often in the first half of the night, waking just as moms are settling into a nice stretch of sleep themselves! Using a dream feed can get you a longer stretch of sleep if your baby has one or even two night feedings.
Example for a baby with more than one night feeding:
Without a dream feed: Your baby goes down for bedtime at 7:00 pm and begins her long stretch of 5 hours. You go to bed at 10:00 pm but your baby wakes for a feeding at Midnight. Your sleep is cut off after only 2 hours!
With a dream feed: Your baby goes down for bedtime at 7:00 pm. You do a dream feed at 10:00 pm just before you go to bed. Your baby begins her long stretch of 5 hours and wakes at 3:00 am. Now you’ve gotten closer to 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep!
For babies who are sleeping in much longer stretches of 8 or 9 hours, this might even mean that your baby sleeps through until morning:
Without a dream feed: Your baby goes to bed at 7:00 pm and begins her long stretch of 8 hours. You go to bed at 10:00 pm and your baby wakes you for a feeding at 3:00 am. This early morning waking happens to be right in the middle of an adult’s deepest sleep! (You know this because it’s hard to wake up and even harder to fall back to sleep afterwards.)
With a dream feed: Your baby goes to bed at 7:00 pm. You do a dream feed at 10:00 pm just before you go to bed. Your baby begins her long stretch of 8 hours and makes it until 6:00 am. Now you can both get up for the day, happy and rested! You’ve gotten a full night’s sleep!
Tank up without the sleep association
Another goal of a dream feeding is to continue with night feedings with a reduced chance that the night feeding creates a sleep association. It ensures your baby gets enough calories but because you are initiating the dream feed while your baby is sleeping, and not as a response to a behavioral request, it is less likely to become a sleep crutch. Your baby’s belly gets tanked up, but he doesn’t associate it with the act of falling asleep because he’s already asleep.
Maintain your supply
A dream feed can be especially helpful for babies who sleep through the night on their own early on or for moms who have returned to work. In both cases, mom’s milk supply may take a hit, but by removing milk through a dream feed you can maintain or even increase supply without having to add in another pumping session.
Eliminate the guesswork
Since you are initiating the feeding time, you have more control over when your baby feeds. No more going to bed anxious about what your night will look like!
When to do a dream feed? The dream feed works best for younger babies under 6 months old, who are more likely to biologically need a feeding. Adding a dream feed in older babies tends to disrupt sleep. In older babies, it is often more productive to either follow their lead or drop unnecessary feedings.
If you’re doing the dream feed to help align your baby’s long stretch of sleep with your sleep, you’ll want to do the dream feed before you go to bed. This tends to work best between 10:00 and 11:00 pm. If you are doing a dream feed to protect your supply or increase calorie intake, the timing of the feeding is less important.
How do I do a dream feed? It’s pretty simple!
If you’re breastfeeding, just pick your baby up gently and bring your baby to breast. Be sure to keep stimulation low so that you don’t fully wake your baby.
If you’re bottle feeding, you can pick your baby up or even prop your baby up right in the crib. Never give your baby a bottle while she is laying down. It can lead to tooth decay or ear infections (both of which can impact sleep—we don’t need that!)
When you’re done feeding, simply place your baby back in her safe sleeping space. There is usually no need to burp since your baby is so relaxed while feeding she is less likely to take in air. And unless your baby’s diaper is poopy or leaking, don’t worry about changing it.
What if my baby doesn’t latch on to my nipple or the bottle? Your baby’s deepest sleep happens in the first half of the night, so she might be hard to get latched on at first. If your baby doesn’t initially seem interested, you might need to hand express a little breastmilk and place your baby’s lips to your nipple. You can do the same with formula and a bottle nipple. The smell and taste is likely to entice her to latch on. If your baby falls asleep at the breast or bottle, you can use some tactile stimulation like rubbing the side of your baby’s cheek or use breast compressions to increase your flow.
How can I tell the dream feed is working? First give your baby about a week to settle into the dream feed routine. Then, if you feel like you are getting more sleep, it is working for you! If it doesn’t feel right, then don’t go with it! Generally, if the dream feed is leading to a longer stretch, it’s working.
For some babies, being roused even slightly during that deep sleep that happens in the first part of the night can mess with their sleep rhythm. Here are some signs that dream feeds may not be right for your baby:
Your baby is still waking up a short time after the dream feed, so you aren’t getting a long stretch at night
Your baby is waking more frequently than before you started dream feeding
Your baby cries after the dream feed and has a hard time resettling to sleep
How do I drop the dream feed? One of the risks of a dream feed is that you make that meal time for your baby. So that means if you don’t do the dream feed, your baby may wake hungry at that time. Planning ahead for how you are going to wean off the dream feed is a good idea. It’s similar to weaning your baby off of other night feeds.
For younger babies who still need a night feeding, push the dream feed later over the course of a couple of weeks until it falls sometime after midnight. At this point you can allow your baby to wake naturally if she is hungry. You’ll still get the longer stretch of sleep and your baby may wean this feed on her own.
For older babies who do not need a feeding anymore, you can pull the dream feeding earlier so that she is less hungry and then drop it entirely.
If your baby seems hungry at this time, but you are still ready to drop it, you might need to decrease the volume of this feeding over time by reducing the length of time you nurse for or the amount in the bottle. By reducing the amount slowly you lower the risk she’ll wake with a hungry belly.
Adequate, quality sleep is important for many of the functions needed to perform well at school:
Memory acquisition, consolidation and recall
Creativity and problem solving under stress
One study found that when children’s sleep was restricted by 1 hour each night, teachers noted academic problems even though they were unaware the child’s participation if the study. Yet many kids are not getting the sleep they need to function their best and it’s especially evident in the beginning of the school year when summer schedules often mean drifting bedtimes and missed naps.
Teenagers are significantly impacted by this, when sleep needs peaks because of puberty, but social life and working may have pushed bedtime later over the summer.
But even parents of preschoolers and younger elementary schoolers find that the bedtime routines become lax over the summer. And if your child is entering his first year of full-day school and naps will be dropped, an early bedtime becomes increasing important.
Easing back into the bedtime routine before the first day of school means your child has time to sleep off any sleep debt that has accumulating during the summer late night fun.
Shift slowing- You don’t want to do so drastically, but instead ease back over a week or so by pulling bedtime earlier by 15 minutes every other night. If your child has developed a habit of sleeping in as well, you can also wake him or her up earlier respectively.
Stick to a consistent sleep schedule- Stick with a relatively consistent bedtime and don’t use the weekends to “catch up”. It’s OK to let your child sleep in an hour or so on the weekends, but a huge variation in wake up time makes it harder to fall asleep that night, leading to a shifting sleep cycle.
Bring back the bedtime routine- A soothing bedtime routine doesn’t just prepare your child emotionally and physically for bed, but also allows you to reconnect with your child. Many kids need the opportunity to share the struggles of the day in order to let go and relax into sleep.
Create a sleep sanctuary- Although fall is right around the corner, your child’s room may still be bright at bedtime. Make it easier for child to fall asleep by using black out shades to create a dark room. Keep it cool and quiet with air conditioner and white noise or a fan.
Limit electronics before bed- As tempting as it is to push homework to the end of the night, exposure to the blue light from computers and iPads can suppress the release of melatonin, the calming hormone, by 30 to 60 minutes making it that much harder for your child to fall asleep. Stick to old-fashioned reading from paper books for the hour before bed. And for those older kids, create a cell phone curfew, keeping the cell phone out of the bedroom at night.
Use the power of light- If you find your child still struggling to pull himself out of bed, expose him to bright sunlight first thing in the morning. Exposure to light suppresses melatonin and helps set your body clock for an earlier morning wake up.
Camping is a cheap and fun way to spend time outdoors with your family. Accordingly to a plethora of studies, spending time outdoors is good for your child’s mind, body, and spirit! However, spending the night in a new space, whether it be a tent or camper, can be tough on sleep. Here are a few tips from pro-camper and sleep consultant Amelia Poppe, to help make camping trips fun (and restful) for the whole family.
Make your sleeping space as dark as possible This is probably the hardest part of camping, as most kids will wake as soon as the sun comes up and those birds start chirping. In our camper, I use painter’s tape to secure black garbage bags over the windows. If you are tenting, you can lay an extra tarp over your tent so that there is less light coming in.
Dress for the weather Depending on where you camp, nights can get close to freezing. We layer our kids in a few pairs of fleece PJ’s and a fleece sleep sack. We also put hats on them that Velcro under the chin so they don’t fall off. If you’re camping in summer months, your kids may need less clothing than they have at home, especially if they are used to the coolness of air conditioning. You may want to consider a battery operated fan to keep air moving too.
Give your child his or her own sleeping space If you can, squeeze a pack and play in your tent or camper. We don’t have room for that so we use the KidCo Pea Pods, which are almost like little tents. That allows each of our twins to have their own sleeping space and it also cuts back on distractions. If you have a baby under 1 years old, remember to keep their sleeping space safe by keeping loose items, blankets, and pillows away from your child’s face while sleeping and place him on his back for sleep.
For older toddlers, you can hang a bed sheet between your sleep space and theirs. Not only does this make their sleeping space darker, but it also separates their sleeping space from ours.
Use white noise Bring a sound machine or small fan that runs on batteries. Place it between your children or between you and your children. It will drown out each other’s noises and also helps block noises from the campfire (you deserve a little fun!).
Put them down to bed early Almost all kids struggle to take good naps when they are camping. It is usually too hot, too light or just too much fun outside of the tent. Because of this I always put my kids down for bed earlier than normal. Often they will make up that extra sleep at night. Remember to spend a little extra time on the bedtime routine-maybe even bring some books about camping! You’re kiddos will be excited about being in the outdoors and will need the wind-down time!
Have everything ready the night before Camping can be cold in the morning and it is no fun to spend 20 minutes digging through the cook box looking for a lighter so you can warm up a bottle of milk or feed a hungry toddler. We lay everything that we know we will need in the morning out so that we can grab it fast. I even make sure to have a PB&J sandwich ready for my 5 year old.
Be prepared for early mornings Chances are, your baby or toddler may wake earlier than your campfire-loving companions. Be sure to bring along some quiet toys that your infant or toddler can play with while other sleep in. Or, throw on the baby carrier and take a nice morning hike with your little one. Enjoy nature!
It’s that time of year. We are all headed out for a week at the beach or lake to enjoy the 4th of July and kick off the Summer. I know what it’s like to pack up all that gear (I have twins so imagine 2 of everything), stuff yourself in the car, and head out of the driveway with that rush of excitement for the fun ahead. But I also empathize with the nagging question in the back of your mind about whether anyone will get sleep! Hopefully my tips will save your sanity and get you some sleep!
#1 Make the room dark. When your child is sleeping in a new space, the less distractions the better! Darkness tells the body to produce melatonin, the sleepy hormone. I invested in a travel black out shade that I can hang up in any room. If that is out of your budget I have also used black garbage bags and painter’s tape before. This works really well but be careful if you have grabby toddler fingers because you don’t want them playing with the bags!
#2 Give your child his own sleep space.
Your kids will sleep better if they don’t hear you in the room with them. If possible, think about staying in a suite or divided room. Yes, you will end up paying more. However, no matter how many times I do it, eating take out dinner while hiding under the covers of my bed or in the bathroom just isn’t the vacation I dreamed about! If you can’t afford two rooms, you can try putting a pack and play in the bathroom or in any nook-like space. Any space you can place between you and your baby will make sleeping easier.
#3 Make your child’s sleep space feel familiar.
I recommend bringing a sheet from home, their lovey and their pillow, if they use one. I also always travel with my white noise machine. If you have one that can be unplugged and run on batteries you will be set for any sleep situation. We even bring ours camping!
#4 Arrive before bedtime, if possible.
This allows your child get used to their sleep space. I always have my twins crawl around in their crib for 10-15 minutes so it isn’t a surprise when I put them down to sleep. If you can time nap to be in the new space, it gives them a chance to adjust before bedtime when everyone wants sleep.
#5 Stick with your routines.
Make sure you have a consistent routine that you do before bedtime and naptime in place before you travel. That way your child will be familiar with the routine and recognize it well even away from home.
#6 Try and have only one sleep session per day on the go.
Let’s be honest, you are on vacation you are not going to be back at the hotel or house for every nap and bedtime. The reason we travel is to get out and see things, enjoy this time with your family and let yourself relax a little. However, in order to avoid overtiredness I suggest either having one good nap per day or making sure you are back for bedtime. When we travel, if I know we are going out to a late dinner I will make sure to fit in a good nap at the hotel during the day. Or, if I want to be out during the day, I might do a stroller nap but make sure to be back for an early bedtime.
#7 Do what you need to do to get sleep, but don’t go too far off course.
If your baby sleeps through the night at home but starts waking on vacation, think of using a ladder of comfort. The top of your ladder is the most support such as feeding or rocking them to sleep. The bottom of the ladder is the least support, for example rubbing their back or giving a pacifier. Try and start at the bottom of the ladder and only move up when necessary. The further up the ladder you go, the more work you will have to put into re-teaching when you get home.
Chances are your baby’s sleep may not return as perfect as it was when you left. We all get thrown off during vacation! You may need to set some limits when you get home. The sooner you start limit setting around sleep, the clearer it is to your baby that while away from home things may be different but once we are home the expectations return. You may need to provide some comforting checks during bedtime struggles or night wakings the first night or two. But if you stay consistent, things should fall back into place quickly.
It’s hard to believe with the many inches of snow on the ground still that spring is right around the corner. But the days are getting longer and with that comes the beginning of daylight saving time. This is a day most of us adults dread—we lose an hour of sleep in the morning.
If your baby is waking too early, this is an opportunity to shift his schedule slightly. If he was waking at 6:00am and you prefer a 7:00am wake up, simply allow him to sleep until the new 7:00am on March 8th. Do your best to keep him on his normal schedule through the day, with bedtime being an hour later than usual. Instead of sleeping 7:00pm to 6:00am, he is now sleeping 8:00pm to 7:00am.
Spoil alert: If your child has a strong internal clock and is a natural lark, it is likely that his body clock will shift back to a 6:00am wake up over time. You can delay this by keeping his room conducive to sleep: think cool, dark, and quiet. If your child’s wake up does shift back, be sure to adjust bedtime earlier again as well. You don’t want him losing an hour of night sleep!
If you need to keep your child on the same schedule because you have a tight morning timeline, you’ll want to adjust your baby’s schedule either quickly or gradually. Here are 5 easy steps to make that happen.
The day before the time change (March 7th), begin by waking your baby one hour earlier in the morning. So, if your baby normally wakes at 7:00am, wake him at 6:00am.
Adjust naps accordingly. If you are using a wake time schedule which doesn’t time naps on the clock, naps will naturally fall earlier accordingly. If your baby has set nap times on the clock, then you’ll put your baby down for nap about an hour early for each nap.
End naps earlier. The last nap of the day will need to end one hour earlier than normal in order to allow your baby time to build up enough sleep inertia to go to bed an hour earlier that night. So, if you normally end naps by 4:00pm, end naps by 3:00pm.
Bedtime will then fall about an hour earlier. Be sure to give your child enough time during his routine to settle since his body may not be quite ready for bed. Stimulate the release of that sleepy hormone melatonin by lowering the lights and doing calming activities.
The next morning (March 8th), wake your baby up at his normal time. So, if he normally wakes at 7:00am, wake him at 7:00am. His body may feel like it is still 6:00am so help him adjust by exposing him to lots of bright natural sunlight.
If your baby is sensitive, you can help him adjust more slowly by beginning the shift a few days earlier and shifting by 30 minutes per day instead of one hour.
It usually takes most adults about 3 days to adjust to the new time. For well-rested babies and children, it usually takes about 3 to 5 days to adjust. For those who are more sensitive, it can take up to a week. Use light and dark to your advantage. Use black out shades to elicit the flow of melatonin during naps and bedtime, and expose your child to bright natural light in the morning and after naps.
For the first eight weeks of life, your focus should really be on bonding with your baby, establishing breastfeeding, and healing from your delivery. Don’t worry about creating “bad” sleep habits. There is plenty of time to establish healthy habits once your baby has adjusted to life out of the womb!
Once those first two crazy, hazy months have passed, it is a great time to start helping your family get more sleep. While these techniques may not have your baby sleeping through the night by three months (that is a rarity!), if done consistently they can help your baby establish healthy sleep habits and even prevent the need for sleep training.
#1 Use a consistent sleeping space.
This means no more naps on the go. This will create both a positive association with your baby’s sleeping space and a strong cue to sleep.
#2 Create a sleep sanctuary for your baby.
There is a reason why bears go into a cave to hibernate! Think cool, dark, and quiet. This will both protect and promote sleep.
#3 Help your baby learn day from night.
Newborns are born with a circadian rhythm, or biological clock, but it is not fully developed. We can help speed the process by keeping night time feedings dark, quiet, and boring and exposing them to natural light first thing in the morning.
#4 Create an age appropriate yet, flexible sleeping schedule.
Daytime sleep doesn’t begin to organize until at least the 4th month. This means naps are inconsistent in length, timing, and frequency. Focus on helping your baby fall asleep for naps within two hours, or less depending on his age, of when he last woke. Don’t focus on the time on the clock but instead follow his or her cues.
#5 Create a rhythm or pattern to your days.
You have a long time before your baby will be able to stick to a set schedule but you can help your baby feel a sense of consistency by creating a pattern or order of events. To help protect your baby from a strong nurse or bottle to sleep association, try a version of Tracy Hogg’s “Eat, Activity, Sleep, Your Time”. Even waiting 10 minutes after feeding to put your baby to sleep will help him learn to fall asleep in other ways, not just by suckling.
#6 Create a consistent, soothing bedtime routine.
A bedtime routine gets your baby ready, both physical and emotionally, for the transition from awake and social to asleep. The routine can start anywhere in the house, but should end in the room your baby will sleep in. A good model is the 5 Bs: Bath, Breast/Bottle, Brush teeth/gums, Book, Bed.
#7 Expect night feedings, but also build other soothing techniques.
Babies under 2 months old nurse ’round the clock, but eventually they begin to go longer at night. Around 2 months old, your baby will develop one longer chuck of night sleep of about 4 hours and then will likely wake for a feeding every 2 to 3 hours after that. If your baby wakes and is truly hungry, nurse your baby. But if he wakes more frequently during the night, try using other techniques to soothe him back to sleep.
#8 Ensure adequete day feedings.
Your baby is growing, and if you are nursing he needs to nurse 8 to 12 times a day. If he takes a very long mid-day nap, he misses one of those feedings. And guess when he’ll make it up? You got it. Ensure that your baby is getting enough feedings in during the day by gentle waking him from a monster nap so that he does not go longer than 3 hours between feedings during the day. Ypung babies can really only make it one long chunk without feedings per 24 hour period and we REALLY want that chunk to be at night!
#9 Help your baby learn self-soothing skills.
Putting your baby down to sleep drowsy but awake really is a proven technique for helping him learn self-soothing skills. It won’t always go smoothly, and in the beginning you may need to help him out often, but all that practice will pay off. But DO NOT stress. It’s just practice! If he has trouble, pick him up and try again next time.
#10 Don’t rush in.
If your baby (older than 2 months old) fusses for a minute in the early morning hours, in the middle of the night, or after a short nap, give him a minute or two….or ten. He may simply be transitioning through sleep cycles and not even fully awake. Rushing in would only fully wake him and you’d have to start all over again. But even if he has woken, if you always run in, he’ll never have the opportunity to practice falling back to sleep independently.
Now, I can’t promise you that these will eliminate the need for any sleep training at all, but I know from personal experience that by focusing on healthy sleep habits early on you really can pave the way for a much more rested family.
If only I had known these techniques with my first…..
“Dear Baby Sleep Geek- My baby is waking up every 2 hours and the only way I can get her back to sleep is to nurse her. She doesn’t even seem hungry. She only nurses for about 3 minutes and falls asleep but then she is up again 2 hours later—wash, rinse, repeat!!”
I get a variation of this email all.the.time. And unless it’s a fresh newborn, chances are this little one has a nurse-to-
sleep association or learned hunger. How do you solve this common yet exhausting problem?
Build Independent Sleep First If you know me, you know I am pretty conservative about using sleep training to drop night time feedings. Sleep training isn’t design to do this, but to build independent sleep. So, the absolute first step you need to do is ensure your baby is going to bed “ready but awake” at the beginning of the night. Babies who go down awake at the beginning of the independently much more likely to be able to fall back to sleep after normal night wakings without the help of nursing. The best way to do this is to move the nursing or bottle to the very start of the bedtime routine.
“I did that. My baby is still waking for night feedings.”
Your Baby May Actually Need the Night Feeding First, assess which night feedings are age appropriate. Night feedings in babies under 9 months are common and may be biologically appropriate. But feedings every 2 hours at any age or night feedings after 12 months old rarely are. Chances are your baby has “learned hunger” or a nurse to sleep association. Your baby has become accustomed to frequent small meals throughout the night or now depends on the feeling of eating to fall asleep.
Night Weaning Options I recommend dropping night feedings one at a time, unless your baby is over 9 months old. Since the first half of the night is when your baby has the deepest sleep, I recommend cutting the early feedings first which allows your baby a longer stretch of restorative sleep when it is biologically appropriate. You have a few options for dropping unnecessary night feedings:
Option 1: Switch to a bottle. I often recommend this as a first step regardless of what night weaning method you choose next. Have dad or non-breastfeeding partner give your baby a bottle. This is sometimes all you need to drop feedings. If baby isn’t rewarded with a warm snuggle at the breast by mom, baby just figures it isn’t worth the trouble—no offense to dad or the non-breastfeeding partner.
Option 2: Reduce the volume. The strategy you use will vary depending on whether you are nursing or bottle feeding at night. Both methods take about 1 week, but can be sped up or slowed down at any time depending on your comfort level and your baby’s response to change.
If You Breastfeed at Night
Reduce the length of time your baby is nursing for each feeding, starting with the first feeding of the night. For example, if your baby usually nurses for 15 minutes, you can slowly reduce that by 2 minutes every night. Once you get to 3 minutes, you can drop the feeding completely the next night. If you are dropping another feeding, you can then move on to that one. The downside of this method is that your baby may not be happy to be pulled off your breast before he’s finished using it as a sleep aid. The benefit of switching to a bottle first means you can reduce the volume of feedings over time which tends to be easier on baby.
If You Bottlefeed at Night
Reduce the ounces in each bottle feeding, starting with the first feeding of the night. For example, if your baby usually drinks 5 ounces, you can slowly reduce that by ½ an ounce every other night. Once you get to 1 ounce, you can drop the feeding completely and move on to the next feeding.
Option 3: Push feedings later. You can also push the first feeding of the night later by 15 minutes every other night. As you do this, the 2nd feeding should eventually be pushed into the morning hours, essentially dropping it as it becomes the first feeding of the day.
Option 4: Go cold turkey.
I recommend this method only when it’s pretty obvious that your baby is not taking in a lot of milk during these feedings. In these cases, dropping the feedings won’t impact overall calorie intake and breastmilk supply.
If he is gulping away the ounces from a bottle or you notice your breast empty a lot during night feedings, going cold turkey is like asking your baby to drop a full meal out of the blue. He’ll be hungry—and LOUD. Save yourself the stress and use a more gentle method to wean off each feeding slowly. It may take longer, but you’ll spend less time crying with your head under your pillow.
Get More Help Dropping night feedings can be challenging, especially if you are breastfeeding and concerned about your supply. If you need help managing the transition, a sleep consultant with experienced in lactation (like me!) can help you improve sleep while protecting the breastfeeding relationship. Contact me if you’d like help!
In All About the 4 Month Sleep Regression, I explained some of the reasons why 4 month old seem so intent on keeping you up all night and so fond of those mini cat naps. Here I’ll talk more about the steps you can take to make it out on the other side, and feel human again. If you haven’t already starting protecting and promoting sleep for your little one, now is the time to get started. Here are a few of my tips to get through the 4 month sleep regression. Remember, if you try to wait it out, you might be waiting a long, long time! If it’s been a month and your baby is still waking every 2 hours at night, you likely need to help your baby over the hump.
How can your survive this and come out the other end more rested?
Establish an age-appropriate napping schedule.
As babies pass the 4 month mark, sleeping cues become more unreliable. He may yawn because he is tired, because he is bored, or because he is overstimulated. Instead of timing naps only by your baby’s cues, use a combination of watching for sleepy cues and watching the clock. Aim to help your baby fall asleep within two hours of wakefulness. This doesn’t mean starting your pre-nap routine at the 2 hour mark; give yourself some time for the pre-nap routine and him some time to settle into sleep.
Respect your baby’s need to sleep and be home for naps and bedtime.
You wouldn’t expect your baby to miss a meal because you were too busy to sit down and nurse, please don’t expect your baby to miss a nap or nap on the run. Make sure your baby has an age-appropriate sleeping schedule and that you’re home for your baby’s naps. Create an environment conducive to sleep by keeping the space cave-like: cool, dark, and quiet. This will both promote sleep and protect sleep, by creating a positive association with his sleeping space while eliciting the flow of melatonin, that sleepy hormone.
Pull bedtime earlier.
Instead of trying to squeeze in a 4th (or for short nappers, perhaps a 5th) nap starting after 5:00 pm, opt instead for an earlier bedtime falling sometime between 6:00 and 8:00 pm. For a 4 month old, I would do bedtime within 2 hours of the last nap. Why? If a nap runs too late into the evening, we risk it interfering with the sleep rhythms in the earlier part of the night. This can lead to more early night wakings. It can also push bedtime too late, leading to more frequent night wakings overall and an earlier morning wake up.
Put your baby down drowsy but awake.
While “drowsy but awake” during the first 4 months of life are just practice, now is really the time to help your baby learn to fall asleep independently. If he fusses, soothe him. But as Kim West, author of The Sleep Lady’s Good Night Sleep Tight says, “Be his coach. Not his crutch.”
Respect your baby’s feeding needs, especially during a growth spurt, by nursing more during the day.
The same excitement about the world around him that keeps him from napping well during the day may also keep him from nursing well during the day. You want to make sure you are getting in those necessary feedings during the day in order to meet your baby’s nursing needs so that he doesn’t have the physical need to nurse frequently at night. It will also help maintain and increase your supply during and after a growth spurt. Help increase the frequency and length of nursing sessions during the day by nursing in a dark, quiet space. And that may mean being homebound for a while, to respect your baby’s nursing needs just as you should be home to respect your baby’s sleeping needs. Remember, this doesn’t mean cutting out all night feedings, or not allowing an increase in frequency of night feedings during the growth spurt, it simply means feeding your baby at night when he is hungry, and soothing on other ways when he is not.
Do I need to do sleep training? Sticking to these tips will help many babies learn to fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep longer. If you are just approaching this age, don’t jump to the conclusion that you need to sleep train right away. Work on these tips and see where it takes you. Your baby may surprise you!
But some babies, those who I call “spirited sleepers” may take longer to learn to sleep independently. Maybe they are not developmentally ready to sleep independently? But more often it’s simply a combination of an inappropriate sleep environment and schedule and inconsistent response by parents. Certainly if you have a baby who is spirited and overtired, waking at unexpected times day and night, it makes responding consistently very difficult for parents! Adding in the fact that you are incredibly sleep deprived yourself and will do anything to get more sleep, makes it virtually impossible!
Sometimes you might just need a little support in creating a plan and while you make these changes. You may turn to family members, friends, or your baby’s doctor. Often their advice is conflicting or just doesn’t feel like a good fit for your family. It’s not that their advice is wrong; it’s that there is no right way or wrong way to help your baby sleep better. This is where a sleep consultant can help you design an approach that is comprehensive, customized to your family’s needs, and answers all those unforeseen “what-ifs”, and then provides you the support along the way to help you stick to your plan. I will help you create a plan that allows your family to move past the four month sleep regression. My plans are developed with you, not for you, while maintaining and protecting the breastfeeding relationship, and using an approach this fits with your parenting style. When you are going through the 4 month sleep regression, it’s easy to feel defeated. But with the right plan, you’ll discover that you and your baby can be well-rested again!
One of the most common mistakes parents make when trying to help their baby or young child sleep more independently at night is not looking at the relationship between daytime parenting and your child’s nighttime behaviors. We know that children who feel more connected, respected, and listened to are better able to navigate big changes and even bigger feelings–including those that come up at bedtime and throughout the night. Here are 4 daytime parenting tools that can help ease nighttime struggles.
Tool #1: Stay Listening It’s not uncommon for babies, toddlers, and even big kids to have some pretty big feelings about life. They are constantly learning how they relate to the world around them, adjusting to their increasing independence, discovering what they have control over, and practicing how to regulate their emotions. This sounds overwhelming even for an adult! Sometimes children don’t have the opportunity to process these big feelings during the day which leads them into bedtime with some pent up emotion.
Allowing them to cry in your arms or in your presence, often called stay listening (coined by Patty Wipfler from Hand in Hand Parenting) allows them to process these big feels and even builds a stronger emotional connection with you. Remember that not all cries are ones that you will be able to, or even need to, quiet. If your child is not hungry, soiled, hurt, or scared, his unmet need may be just to let it all out with the trust that you will be by his side no matter what those feelings are. Be present, empathetic, and warm.
Author and parent coach, Sarah MacLaughlin, noted about Stay Listening:
“You actually have to BE calm and relaxed while attending or “being with” a child’s strong feelings. If you’re feeling tense but smiling on top of your stress and worry, your child will know. Offer listening and support for only as long as you can authentically muster it. It’s OK to redirect your child once you’re worn out by simply saying, “Let’s do something else now, I need a break from listening.””
You can also use this approach at bedtime if your child is struggling falling asleep. It’s much more effective at establishing healthy limit setting at night than picking your child up and redoing the whole bedtime routine over and over again!
Tool #2: Special Time Special time, sometimes called play listening or “wants nothing time”, builds your baby’s trust in and emotional connection with you. To do special time, put your household chores or work on hold, get down on your child’s level, and allow them to guide you (not the other way around) in play. The key is to not make suggestions, correct, or direct your child in any way. Instead, reflect on and acknowledge what you see or hear him or her doing. This reflection and acknowledgement will build your child’s confidence, which spills over into bedtime confidence and an easier time separating at night.
It is also very important to be emotionally present during these times. Your child is intuitive and skilled at picking up when your mind is elsewhere. This is especially important during the bedtime routine. Studies have shown that the more emotionally available parents are during the bedtime routine, the less their children wake at night. I know it’s hard not to think about the dishes in the sink and the unanswered emails. It is for me too. But I notice that when I am stressing internally about my unfinished chores, my kids are stressing externally about separating for the night and it leads to whiny pleads for more books, tuck ins and bathroom breaks.
Tool #3: Independent Play Allowing your child to play independently (with a caregiver close by) for even a few minutes during the day will help him become comfortable with being alone and self-entertaining. He also learns much more by exploring his space on his own, then by you constantly putting toys in his hands or directing play. Independent play gives him some practice self-entertaining at a time that is less threatening than bedtime. Allow him to try to roll over, practice stacking blocks, or grab a toy from his play mat. If he fusses in frustration as he tries to figure something new out, sit back with curiosity for a minute or two to see if he overcomes this struggle on his own. If not, then you can step in and help. Remember, new neuron pathways (learning) are laid through the struggle!
Tool #4: Family Meeting Family meetings are a great tool for reconnecting as a family and can be helpful when implementing a new bedtime routine for children 3 years or older. Use the family meeting as a way to share success and concerns. During the family meeting, invite your child to share the benefits of getting enough sleep (it’s OK to start him off with some examples). This builds that intrinsic desire to sleep well and works better than any sticker chart or reward system. Then, use collaborative problem solving to identify ways you can all sleep better together. It builds buy-in from your kiddo if they are part of the solution!
Parenting is tough–day or night. We are so fortunate to have wonderful experts here in Maine to help parents stay confident and connected during what is a joyous yet trying time! For more tips and tools for daytime parenting, check out:
Like what you’ve read here? Check out more of Sarah MacLaughlin, LSW‘s tips, tools, and resources. Sarah offers coaching, skills and support to moms and dads who want to reduce stress and enjoy their kids more.
Feeling overwhelmed by the lack of sleeping in your house? I’m here to help. Learn more about my packages to help parents confidently and respectfully parent at night. All packages include more information on these daytime parenting strategies and support to see results.
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