Hi! My boy is almost 15 weeks old. Over Easter Weekend we moved him into his crib in his own room because he outgrew his bassinet, I know it’s recommended that babies stay in the parents room for 6 months but I was given the go ahead by my doctor to make the transition. So he’s been in his own room in his crib for about a week and a half now and my husband and I definitely feel like we sleep better without him in the room. The first few nights of our son being in his own room he slept great, he slept 3hrs woke for a feed and went back down for another 5 and woke for a feed and went back down for another 2. The past few nights he’s been waking every 2hrs so I’m wondering if this is ok for his age? Everytime he wakes up and fusses I give him 5-10 min to see if he will fall asleep again but usually he won’t. His fussing gets louder and louder till it turns into a cry and then I go in and feed him and put him back in his crib. Sometimes he’s asleep by the time he hits the crib and sometimes he’s not and I let him grunt himself to sleep. I woke up this morning wondering if I’m over feeding him, does he actually need to eat everytime he wakes up? I just assumed that’s why he was awake was because he’s hungry but now I’m feeling like maybe it’s not. I’m also wondering why he went from 3-5hrs of sleep at night to 2hrs? Thanks!
At 15 weeks old, your son is just on the cusp of being a Full Grown Baby! Which means, sleepwise, that he is starting to develop his circadian rhythm. This enables him to go longer stretches between meals and sleeps, and go for longer stretches of sleep at night.
But what you're seeing is the opposite of this.
Usually when a baby starts waking up every hour or two in the night, it points to an unsustainable sleep association. But the fact that he grunts himself to sleep sometimes tells me it's not likely he has a very strong one.
Besides, this only started a few days after he was moved into his own room, further away from Mama – the greatest source of comfort known to humankind.
A New Room
Moving to a new sleep environment is stressful for everyone, no less for small babies. Since he is so young, it may have taken him a couple of days to realize he had moved. And now that he's aware, he may have a bit of anxiety about things.
I do not recommend night weaning a baby this young, but that doesn't mean you have to nurse him every time he wakes up.
Is he having big feeds each time or just a few sips?
Hungry or Snuggly?
Start keeping a log of his night feeds to see if a pattern emerges. Then, if he wakes up at a time that is not a big feed time, see if you can encourage him back to sleep without feeding him. Don't jump to the boob right away.
But don't push it. Training away sleep associations and establishing regular nighttime feeding patterns is a whole thing. Two whole things, actually, though they often go hand in hand.
The 4 Month Regression
Besides, at 15 weeks old, your baby is just entering his first big sleep regression. Regressions are characterized by clinginess, crankiness, and a harder time sleeping. So what you might be seeing is simply the start of a normal developmental period.
Whatever is the root cause, your best bet is to ride it out. Offer support and comfort when needed, but don't limit that to nursing and avoiding nursing to sleep whenever possible.
Once your baby is over his leap, you should see a big improvement in his sleep. If not... well, that's what I'm here for!
My 8.5 month old is exclusively breastfed and will only be nursed to sleep (sometimes I can get away with him nursing then I can rock him to sleep but only sometimes). He sleeps well during the day (only if we’re home) and wakes up every 2 hours at night. He wakes up around 8:30, takes 2 naps a day (1.5 hours each approximately) goes to sleep at 9pm but will wake up 30 minutes later then will go back to sleep if I rock/ nurse him. Then will wake up every 2 hours. He nurses around 5 times a day and eats 3 meals but very very little.
The first thing I think when I hear "wakes up every 2 hours at night" is "unsustainable nurse-to-sleep association". The fact that he is nursed to sleep confirms my suspicions.
Barring any medical considerations (and please confirm with your pediatrician before taking any additional steps) and any unsupported sleep foundations (these are the holistic elements of my approach which you can learn more about on my About Me page), in order to get your baby sleeping for longer stretches in the night, you will need to break that sleep association and help him develop new, sustainable ones.
Baby sleep, like all human sleep, occurs in a cyclical pattern. You fall asleep, you go into light sleep, then deep sleep, then REM sleep (where dreaming occurs), and then you wake up partially before falling back asleep again.
Depending on how tired we are, we can coast through from one cycle to another with such a minimal wake up that it barely registers. Roll over, go back to sleep.
Every few cycles, however, we will have a more alert wake up. As an adult who is able to put herself to sleep, you might experience this as a time to rearrange your pillows or have a sip of water. Then, konk. Back asleep.
For a baby who has an unsustainable sleep association, he can get through a very low partial arousal (that's the technical term for the mini wake ups). Roll over, go back to sleep.
But the more alert wake ups are harder. Coming into awareness of his surroundings, your baby realizes that he's not asleep and he's not cuddled up in the same circumstances under which he fell asleep. Namely: with your breast in his mouth.
In his mind, this is a problem. He knows he needs to go back to sleep, but he does not have the skills to do it himself. Not yet, anyways.
Your job, tired mama, is to teach him those skills. This is where sleep training might come in handy.
Before you react, understand that "sleep training" is not (necessarily) a dirty word.
Sleep Training 101
Sleep training runs the gamut from full blown cry-it-out to the gentle methods prescribed by attachment parenting experts Elizabeth Pantley and William Sears. Sleep training can be attachment friendly , you just have to know what you're doing.
What sleep training does is teach your child that he will no longer be allowed to use his crutch to fall asleep and must therefore find another way. How you refuse him his crutch and how you assist him (or not) in falling asleep is a personal decision that only you and your family can make.
This is easier said than done, given that there are dozens of sleep training manuals on the market and as many opinions out there as there are parents.
It is difficult to navigate. Especially when you're tired.
Choosing and blending and adapting sleep training methods requires finding the balance between the underlying principles of these methods and what you know about your family. What you know includes your parenting philosophies, your personality, your baby's personality, other family dynamics, and so on.
Again... difficult to navigate. But not impossible.
A large part of my job is helping families navigate the contradictions, opinions, and (mis)information about baby sleep, and chart out a unique path for their unique circumstances. My goal is to demystify sleep training and help you find your way to better sleep, on your terms, with eyes wide open.
I'm currently working on an online mini-workshop designed to do just that. It's called SLEEP TRAINING 101 – CHOOSING THE BEST APPROACH FOR YOUR FAMILY. In this workshop, I'll break down the range of sleep training options available and help you develop a plan for success that honours your heart and your goals.
I'm aiming for it to be ready soon and I'll give instructions on how to access it then. Stay tuned to my Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Or you can add your name to the list of folks who want in and I'll let you know when it's ready.
I respect your privacy and will keep your info safe. You can easily unsubscribe at any time.
In the meantime, this might offer some consolation:
Despite your baby's frequent night wake ups, he's getting nearly 12 hours of sleep at night. And with two 1.5 hour naps in the day (which some parents only dream of), he's rocking a solid 14.5 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, which puts him well in the healthy range of sleep for a baby his age. Woohoo!
He will get better quality sleep once he's able to settle himself after a partial arousal. And so will you. But in the meantime, he'll be okay.
Stay tuned for info on SLEEP TRAINING 101.
And hang in there, mama!
P.S. Breaking a nurse-to-sleep association will help with the bi-hourly wake up, but it may not eliminate unwanted night wakings altogether.
If your baby is getting the majority of his calories at night, you will need to make a concerted effort to get him on a more day-oriented feeding pattern. I talk about this in a previous post. Check it out here.
My son (7.5 months) has no trouble falling asleep on his own at bedtime (after a couple days of sleep training), sleeps for 3 hours solid, then wakes every hour or two after that till morning. I’m okay with night nursing once or twice, but don’t know how to proceed with training him to sleep longer stretches. Should I be ‘dream feeding’ at certain intervals? Should I pick windows of time when it’s ‘okay’ to nurse him when he wakes and all other times let him cry? I don’t want to confuse him that sometimes when he cries I’ll come and give him milk and others I won’t. I struggle with hearing him cry (a lot!) so I don’t know how to proceed without sabotaging it and going in to comfort him. I need to know that what I’m doing is consistent for him before I start messing with letting him cry. Better yet, is there a way to train him without having to let him cry but still nursing a coupe times a night? Also possibly important: he’s not a great day nurser. He gets distracted and isn’t patient enough to wait for my letdown, so maybe he’s also on a nursing binge at night to make up for the daytime.
Waking Every Hour
Waking every hour to feed is not uncommon at this age – but it certainly doesn't have to be the way things are. There are a few steps, however, from where you are and where you want to be.
Let's unpack where you are... or at least my best guess of where you are:
I'm guessing you sleep trained him at bedtime to break a nurse-to-sleep association. But – because he doesn't feed well in the day – you were unsure about how to handle the night feeds.
If this is the case, then likely he is still holding on to his overnight nurse-to-sleep association, even though his bedtime nurse-to-sleep association has been curbed. Overnight nurse-to-sleep associations are the most common culprit behind the hourly wake ups that you're seeing.
Now, if in addition to this you've been inconsistent with the way you've been feeding him at night – responding to him sometimes and not others, for instance; or waiting a long time before responding – you've been amplifying this behaviour (however unintentionally) by practicing intermittent reinforcement.
Intermittent reinforcement is a psychological term in the field of behaviour studies, and happens when an operant (in this case, your baby) is rewarded inconsistently for certain behaviour (in this case, crying to be fed in the night). Without fail, the practice of intermittent reinforcement causes an increase in the behaviour being inconsistently rewarded.
Check out this video on Superstitious Pigeons to learn more about this fascinating phenomenon.
Add in the fact that your son is getting most of his day's calories at night, and it's no wonder you're seeing such frequent nighttime wake ups.
Cutting Back on Night Feeds
The only babies who need to feed frequently throughout the night are very young, newborn babies whose stomachs are tiny and whose circadian rhythm is not yet developed.
By 7-8 months, most babies will do fine with 2, 1, or even 0 feeds overnight. Not only can their bellies hold more milk, their circadian rhythm slows down the digestive process at night.
One thing though... these babies are eating in the day.
If you want to get your baby down to two feeds in the night, you are going to have to get him to eat in the day.
This will likely mean taking him in a calm, private space for feeds and insisting that he drink fully. You will likely have to do this in conjunction with weaning back on the nighttime feeds, in order to have him be hungry enough in the day to eat.
If you're at all concerned about your milk supply or his growth and weight, then please consult a doctor and/or a lactation consultant before starting this process.
Dream Feeds vs. Feeding Windows
Dream feeds are when you wake your baby up (even if only partially) for a feed. You do not wait for your baby to signal for food. Feeding windows are when you wait until after a certain time (e.g., 11:00pm & 3:00am), at which point you respond to your baby's calls by feeding him.
Each method serves the purpose of regulating his nighttime feeding schedule and each has its pros and cons.
Dream feeds eliminate the risk of intermittent reinforcement because he didn't do anything to trigger the feed. There's nothing to associate (other than maybe falling asleep – bonus!).
But, if your baby wasn't previously waking up for night feeds at these times, you risk establishing an avoidable habit. He may even start waking up early, in anticipation of these feeds. And then what do you do?
Furthermore, if he's ready to start dropping night feeds, these regular, unrequested feeds may disrupt this natural progression.
Feeding upon signalling, on the other hand, allows for more of a dialogue between you and your baby. It allows him to have a bit of a voice, which comes in handy during growth spurts and developmental leaps when babies tend to experience heightened emotional needs.
However, as you suspect, it carries a significant risk of intermittent reinforcement.
In order for the feeding windows approach to not be totally disastrous, two conditions must be met before you feed him:
Instead, he has to fall asleep again, even if only briefly, before you can feed him. Then, you do so immediately. Sometimes what happens is he'll just sleep through until morning.
Each of these methods is effective in training his circadian rhythm to expect feeds at certain times. But one allows a bit more flexibility and carries a greater risk of intermittent reinforcement than the other.
Handling Crying While Sleep Training
Sleep training is at its best when it targets the narrowest possible behaviour or set of behaviours possibly. It can only do this when it takes into consideration that behaviour is a message.
Differentiating between your baby's needs and his habits can take a bit of working out. For your baby, the sensation of hunger may be all mashed up with yearning for help falling back asleep, for comfort and closeness. Out of these, which are needs and which is learned behaviour?
Clearly food is a need. But eating at night is not.
Closeness and comfort are needs. Especially when going through a challenging time, like being denied food at night.
Sleep is a need. But being nursed to sleep is not. (Besides, he already knows how to fall asleep on his own.)
When you break things down this way, your path is much clearer:
My son has always had motor skill development interfering with his sleep - he’s trying to crawl like crazy. He used to go down on his own for sleeps, but for the past two weeks it’s been a huge struggle! As soon as we get him in his crib he practices like crazy and crosses into overtired zone, every time. We’re giving him lots of day practice time, it doesn’t seem to matter. We have been intervening at this point and doing whatever we can to get him to sleep... nursing until very drowsy, rocking, etc. We try to still place him down somewhat awake, but it isn’t always the case. Obviously I’m worried about creating new sleep associations (if we haven’t already) but i also am obviously wanting to keep him well rested... any advice? Do I just let him do his thing until he collapses?
Short answer – yes. Let him do his thing.
Exploring physical capacities is a natural, exciting part of growing up. Aside from giving him plenty of daytime opportunity to flex his skills, there's not much you can do other than to ride it out.
But before you just keep doing what you're doing, ask yourself – are you certain motor skill development is the only thing making falling asleep difficult?
Children need strong sleep foundations in order to konk out consistently at bedtime. So ask yourself a few questions...
Is your baby on an age-appropriate (and individual-appropriate) schedule? This means finding the sweet spot between how long he should be able to stay awake and the tired cues he might be giving off.
Here's a handy guide:
Wake Windows – after which point a baby should be encouraged to sleep
(note: these are approximate and vary by individual)
Newborns 40 - 80min
Young Infant 60 - 100min
Older Infant 2 - 4½hr
Toddler 4 - 5½hr
Tired Signs – at which point caregiver should begin transition rituals
(this is not an exhaustive list; babies may exhibit some or none of these signs)
Start your baby's sleep routine as soon as he shows signs of tiredness, as long as it's within 15 minutes of the wake window. Babies will sometimes be consistent with their tired cues. They will frequently change them, suddenly. And sometimes they will show no signs of tiredness anyways. Use your best judgement.
With younger babies, err on the side of tired signs. With older babies, wake windows. Of course there are always exceptions to this rule.
Do you have a predictable, appropriate bedtime routine for your baby that you use for all sleeps? Bedtime routines can include reading, bathtime, massages, cuddles. As a rule, they should be calming, connecting, and consistent.
Are you ensuring he is exposed to dimness in the evening, about an hour before bedtime? This allows his brain to produce melatonin – the sleep hormone. Don't overlook this!
Are you ensuring his diet is healthy and well-rounded? Or that your diet is, if you are breastfeeding? Diets high in sugar and simple carbohydrates can cause restlessness at bedtime. It goes without saying that caffeine should not be given to young children.
Is he eating at more-or-less the same times every day? A strong circadian rhythm is supported not only with sleep times, but with meal times too.
Why are you nursing and rocking him to sleep? Presumably it is because you're concerned he's not getting enough sleep, spending the first hour or so of bedtime partying his face off.
You can keep doing it, if you wish. But you're right to be concerned about sleep associations. If your baby starts to expect to be put to sleep this way, then you've got yourself in a little pickle.
Consider your goals, which I'm going to presume are...
My advice is let him party it out. As long as he's not in distress, there is no harm in letting him work his beans out on his own in the evening. In fact, it's probably good for him.
After you put him down to bed, it's his "me time." Let him have it.
If you're concerned about overall tiredness levels, do what you can to increase his sleep.
Increase his desire to sleep by...
But if you're already doing all that, you might have to resolve yourself to another week or two of bedtime parties. \m/
My toddler won’t stay asleep. It sometimes takes me an hour of tantrums before he will sleep. Then he wakes up an hour later crying. Dr says nothing is physically wrong with him. He will be 2 in May. Wakes 4-5 times a night and wakes at least 1 time during his one nap in the day time.
First of all, I'm glad you double checked with the doctor. It's always a good idea to rule out medical issues.
That said, I'm not surprised the doc gave him the all clear.
That's because what you're seeing is pretty darn common around this age.
The way I see it, there are likely three things going on here. A perfect storm of crappy toddler sleep.
First cause of crappy toddler sleep – the 18 month regression
This one's a doozy. Not only does it feature the same regressive sleep stuff we see at other regressions – difficulty falling asleep, frequent nighttime wakings, waking up crying, etc. – but it marks the starts of the "terrible twos." Defiance, a desire to flex independence, and the accompanying frustration (for both of you) starts up around 18 months, and begins to fade by 2 years.
I'm not suggesting that it's the "terrible twos" causing the crappy sleep, but if this phase is causing leftover upset (say a tantrum that didn't get resolved, from your toddler's perspective), then that can certainly affect sleep.
Second cause of crappy toddler sleep – overtiredness
Okay, this doesn't just apply to toddlers. In fact, the majority of baby and toddler sleep problems that come my way are due to plain ol' overtiredness.
When we're overtired, our bodies compensate by producing the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is highly stimulating.
Cortisol spikes in the morning (like nature's "coffee") and when we're stressed out (part of the flight-or-fight response).
A morning jolt of cortisol is a normal part of our daily rhythms. When we're well rested and not particularly stressed out, cortisol levels gradually lower throughout the day so that by bedtime, we're ready to go.
If we're NOT well-rested then, cortisol sticks around. An overtired body keeps producing cortisol because the body processes overtiredness as stress. ("I can't go to sleep, so there must be something I need to take care of. Here's some cortisol.")
Conversely, when we are well-rested, cortisol levels remain low. This is the scientific reasoning behind the old adage "sleep begets sleep."
Third cause of crappy toddler sleep – Daylight Saving Time
It's hard to say if this is affecting you since I don't know how long this has been going on for. But it takes up to a week for a body to adjust to springing ahead (see this post for more on that).
If you've been putting your child down at the usual time, by the clock, then it's not surprising he would take an hour to fall asleep – his body doesn't care what's on the clock.
The perfect storm
What's most likely is that these three things are colliding into the perfect storm of crappy toddler sleep.
The regression caused poor sleep, a build-up of sleep debt is causing higher levels of cortisol, and the time change sealed the crappy deal.
The way to better sleep
To improve this situation, you've got to manage these three elements.
If you haven't already, you can try gradually changing his bedtimes to slowly adjust him to the new time. But since we're a week past the start of DST now, this is probably not the magic bullet you're looking for.
Keep a lid on tiredness. Do your best to encourage appropriate, regular bedtimes. A good schedule for an 18-month old is something like...
7am - wake up
12pm - nap
As for the regression, you can pretty much only ride it out. And do your best to not let any bad habits pick up or stick.
But really, I think the key will be managing your not-a-baby-anymore's new needs. He needs to have opportunities to express his autonomy. He needs to have a place in his family that makes him feel big (but offers the opportunity to regress into babyhood – growing up is not a linear path).
At the same time, you'll need to ensure that the boundaries of your home and his life are crystal clear. Toddlers whose boundaries are unclear or inconsistent feel insecure and go on tantrum tirades in an attempt to figure out where the lines are.
One of my favourite go-to resources for toddler stuff is The Happiest Toddler on the Block. It's full of practical advice for connecting with and responding to toddlers in a way that makes them feel heard, so they don't have to resort to whining and tantruming.
This book, and resources like Positive Parenting Solutions can help give you ideas on how to handle his upsets so that they don't wreak havoc on his sleep.
One more thing...
It's common around this age for parents to interpret these crappy naps as a sign that their baby is ready to stop napping.
It's a ruse! He still needs a nap!
With consistency, patience, and a proactive approach to outlining and enforcing boundaries, you should start to see his sleep improve with time.
I just realized that this weekend we change to daylight savings. How do I help my baby adjust?
I'm going to be straight with you. It's a real pain.
But lucky for all us tired parents, springing forward is a whole heck of a lot easier to deal with than falling back.
It's all about what happens to be my favourite topic as a sleep educator – the circadian rhythm. (Seriously, don't get me started...)
The circadian rhythm (CR, for short) regulates our daily biological functions. When we get hungry. When we get sleepy. When we get perky. When we have to take a you-know-what.
The CR is the expression of our 24-hour internal clock, which gets set according to (primarily) the light that hits our retinas.
(We have special cells in our retinas just for this purpose. It's seriously so cool!)
This means we can manipulate the CR by being very deliberate with our routines and light/dark exposure. (Theoretically, you can travel across the world and not experience jet lag. It would involve eating at 3am and a lot of black out curtains, but it's possible!)
What can I expect on Sunday?
Parents of early risers, rejoice! This weekend, your baby will wake up an hour later than usual. (Unless they're one of those psychic babies...)
Parents who have jobs to go to, and parents whose babies do not wake up obscenely early, I have some bad news...
Thankfully, however, it comes with a consolation prize.
The bad news is springing forward means losing an hour of sleep. What is by-the-clock 6:30am is by-the-body 5:30am.
The consolation prize is that it's WAY easier to adjust to an earlier wake-up time than a later one.
That's because the CR does not need light to trigger your body to wake up. It knows that it's morning time, because that's when it was morning yesterday, and the day before that...
So later light means nothing. Later light is an overcast day, or an arm over the eyes.
Earlier light, on the other hand, is new information. "Huh?" says your lizard brain, "I guess it's morning. Time to start my day."
It may take a day or two, or even three, for the new morning to catch, but it'll catch. (If it's not catching, then something is off about your schedule. Read on.)
How can I help my baby adjust?
If you maintain your usual schedule, by the clock, it will take your baby only a couple of days to adjust.
Your baby will lose a few hours of sleep, cumulatively, in the process.
Lost sleep can trigger overtired sleep issues – early rising, hyperactivity in the evening, mood swings, red eyes, broken nighttime sleep. This is especially true is your baby is getting fewer hours sleep than the daily recommended.
It's a good idea, then, to move bedtime up a little earlier for a few days. A little closer to the by-the-body time. And then, day-by-day, shift it later.
Same with naps. If you push your baby's body an hour past their usual naptime you risk losing the nap altogether.
Logistically, gradually shifting sleep times can be harder to accomplish for naps than in the evening. Hang in there. Bedtime is the bigger beast anyways.
Do what you can.
And thank your lucky stars it's not time to fall back.
Have a baby or toddler sleep question for Susannah? Shoot me an email or submit your question below.
My EBF 3 month old goes to bed between 8 and 9p, usually fed within an hour of being put in bed. He wakes up between 2 and 2:30a for a feeding, usually eats very well and goes back to sleep until around 4:30 or 5, which is actually convenient because I have to get up at 5 to get ready to leave for work at 6:15 and I want to nurse him before I leave.
Can I possibly get him to drop this 2:30 night feeding this young?
The short answer to your question is yes, you can (probably) drop the night feed. If your doctor gives you the go-ahead, taking into consideration your baby’s weight and growth rate, then you’re medically cleared for night weaning.
But I wouldn’t recommend that you do it.
The reason is your baby’s sleep and feed schedule sounds biologically appropriate – ideal, actually. Night weaning at this point, while possible, would be tantamount to sleep training.
And I’m not sure if that’s what you want to do.
If you’re gung ho about dropping the feed, you can do it gradually or you can do it quickly. Each methods has its pros and cons. Gradual methods tend to take longer and be more labour intensive. And quick methods are quick, but are emotionally really difficult – basically cry it out.
Consider the extra comfort your baby is going to need over the next few months. Soon you'll have the 4 month sleep regression, then the 5 and 6 month regressions too. Plus, he's going to go through a succession of growth spurts. He's not going to drop that feed without a fight.
Night weaning can impact your milk supply, too. So all in all – probably not a great idea.
Rather than dropping the feed, take a look at his overall sleep schedule. 9pm is appropriate and normal for a 3 month old, but a 4 month old will do better with a bedtime closer to 6pm.
You can ease this transition by ensuring your home is calm and dimly light between his last nap and bedtime.
"Evening mode" will help his brain produce melatonin, the sleep hormone, which will shorten that wake window and encourage its evaporation altogether. Soon, 6pm will no longer be his last nap. It will be bedtime.
Once he’s sleeping on more of a 6pm to 6am schedule, and feeding around 10pm and 2am, then you can start thinking about dropping the second feed.
At this point, he will have a "mature" sleep cycle, driven more by his circadian rhythm than the simple sense of tiredness that drove his sleep as a newborn.
The circadian rhythm – which is the 24 hour biological clock that regulates bodily functions – slows down the digestive tract in the night. So once his sleep has matured, dropping the second
feed will be more of an exercise in killing a habit, than suppressing a need.
And I think the value of that speaks for itself.
Susannah Ritchie is a family educator specializing in infant & toddler sleep. She works with tired parents to find sleep solutions for the whole family.