As your baby’s fourth month approaches, night feedings often decrease, which translates to baby being able to sleep for longer stretches at a time and even through the night. This is an exciting milestone as it generally means baby may sleep for up to six hours per night,1 a significant improvement over the first three months when your baby needed to be fed every couple of hours. If you are very lucky, your baby may already be in a good sleep routine. If not, developing a routine2 – and sticking to it – can help improve baby’s sleep patterns and yours.
Develop a routine - This includes a set time for your baby to nap during the day, to go to sleep at night, and to wake every morning. Consistent times to sleep and wake are necessary to regulate your baby’s sleep patterns. It may be tempting to keep baby up later at times but an overtired baby generally has more trouble falling into a restful sleep, and this disruption can set the next day’s sleep schedule off. A set time to wake up is also important. If baby sleeps later than normal, then naps and bedtime may be effected, and healthy sleeping patterns will be more difficult to achieve.
If your baby continues to have trouble sleeping you may want to look into the different sleep training methods to identify a technique that aligns with your infant care philosophy. There are various methods, one of which will be best suited to your family. Baby books abound with sleep training techniques, but most important is finding the method that you are most comfortable with. Consistency is key to success.
Generally, sleep training methods fall into two categories. The first category is often referred to as ‘CIO,’ which stands for ‘cry it out.’ It recommends a progressive waiting approach to responding to a baby’s cry, in order to promote self-soothing. The second category is known as ‘no cry,’ and encourages immediate response to a baby’s cry.
CIO methods.3 - There are many different sleep training techniques that fall into this category and what they share is a belief that falling asleep on your own is a skill. Tears are thought to be a short-term side-effect, with the long-term benefit being the baby’s learned ability to settle himself happily to sleep, which translates to him being able to get back to sleep easily if he wakes in the night. The theory is that if baby doesn’t learn how to soothe himself to sleep, he will need to call out to you each time he wakes in order to get back to sleep. Pediatrician and author Richard Ferber developed the most well-known method in this category. Because of this, other similar methods are sometimes commonly, if inaccurately, referred to as ‘Ferberizing.’ These methods generally recommend that you allow baby to cry – for only short periods of time – before comforting baby, so as to encourage self-soothing that leads to sleep. In Ferber’s method, the time baby is left to cry starts out at three minutes, gradually building up.
No cry methods - In this category, there are also many different techniques, characterized by an immediate response to a baby’s cry. There is the co-sleeping, rocking and nursing your baby to sleep approach popularized by pediatrician and author William Sears, also known as ‘attachment parenting’.4 Then there are variations on this approach, with methods that emphasize the immediate comforting of a crying baby but in a different manner or to a lesser extent than the Sears method.
Infant sleep training is a vast topic, so it’s important to research the methods that interest you to learn more. If your baby is very resistant to the method you choose, it may be too early in his development for sleep training. As each baby develops at a different pace, there is no exact time that is best to begin the training, but it is generally agreed that a baby should be at least four months of age.