In Babywise, it states that most infants will be sleeping through the night by 12 weeks of age. You can imagine our concern when our son was still waking up at 4:30a as he was approaching 6 months. The problem and solution revolve around properly understanding sleep in babies.
Assessing The Problem
Right around the 11-week mark I reported that our son was finally sleeping a long stretch through the night. By most accounts this means that he was “sleeping through the night.” This meant no more midnight feedings and better sleep for both mom and dad. However, there was still one last feed that was a bit of a disruption… the 4am feed. We figured it would just go away on its own, but as our son was coming up to his 6-month birthday the early morning feed showed no sign of being dropped. So we decided to take a close look at our son’s nighttime sleep and review some of our sleep books.
Setting a standard wake time
The first thing we noticed was that our son was not always getting up at the same time each morning. So we started by setting his wake time for the same time each morning – to see if this might help. We experimented with a couple of different wake times and eventually settled on 6:30-7:00a. This seemed consistent with the Babywise recommendations.
In Babywise, it mentions that you will know when your baby is ready to drop the last feed by assessing your baby’s hunger. If he is consistently waking up hungry and taking a full feed, then he is probably not ready to drop that feed. If on the other hand, he is waking, then nursing for a few minutes before falling back to sleep, then it may be time for your child to give that feed up. While Babywise does not come right out and say it, it is implied that it might be time for “crying it out.” Not wanting to deal with, or subject our neighbors to, the pain of “cry it out,” we thought we might look into the problem a little more to see if there was another way.
What does Ferber have to say?
Ferber states that you should look at your baby’s sleep in the context of what is normal for their age. At this point our baby was sleeping from 6:30p to 4:00a (a full 9½ hours). He would wake to feed and then go right back to sleep. We would then generally wake him up at 6:30-7:00a to start the day. Looking at the average amount of nighttime sleep for a 3 month old in Ferber’s book, I find that it is 8½ hours. So actually there was NO problem with what our son was doing. In fact, he was actually a better-than-average nighttime sleeper in that he was sleeping a full hour longer than most babies his age.
Again, I must caution about relying too much stories that you hear about other babies. You know the stories – the stories about babies that sleep 12 hours straight at night. This might be true for some newborns but this would be very abnormal in most 3-6 month old babies. So based on the routine we were using at the time (his bedtime and morning wake time), we were expecting our son to sleep from 6:30p to 6:30a – a full 12 hours. This was an unreasonable expectation. Any attempt to make our son “cry it out,” in order to drop the 4:00a feed would have been a disastrous failure and undue torture for us all.
Avoid extreme changes
So we decided that what we needed to do was change his bedtime from 6:30p to 9p and everything would be perfect. WRONG! Maybe perfect eventually, but only after a painful transition. Such a drastic change was not a good idea. Evening time is fussy time for most babies. Extending that fussy time by 2½ hours is not a good idea… or at least not something I would recommend. We had to abort on our first attempt because none of us could tolerate the evening fussiness.
Finding our Success
Gradually we extended our son’s bedtime by 15-30 minutes with a goal bedtime of 8:00p. Likewise we pushed his wake time back to 6:00a. This gave our son 10 hours of nighttime sleep, which was about the norm for a 6-month baby. Magically (though not overnight) this worked. Our son “dropped” his last feed and is now consistently sleeping through the same night mommy and daddy sleep through.
But What About Hunger?
Oddly, we did not change our son’s feeding schedule around much. Too many parents think sleep revolves around hunger. While sleep problems may be related to poor feeding (and thus hunger), in general, if your child is getting a full feed before bed hunger will not be an issue. Before we made the change to our son’s schedule, he was nursing last at 5:30-6p. This was pushed back slightly to 6-6:30p. Hunger was not the problem, organization was the problem. We just shifted the time our son was sleeping… but we did it gradually.
A Word of Caution
Be careful how long you let your child sleep during the night. Remember from my last post that babies need a “fixed” amount of sleep in a 24-hour period. If they get all of their sleep during the night, they will not take good naps. I can attest… 6 month old babies NEED their naps. For more on naps read my post of the 45-minute intruder or chronic 45-minute naps.