How can I get my four month old to like going to sleep?
October 21, 2013 6:18 PM   Subscribe

My four month old cries when we are putting her to sleep, she doesn't like going to sleep. How do we get to her to go down to sleep quietly (we're not ready for cry it out)?

My four and a half month old hates going to sleep. Once she's asleep, she'll sleep well at night, but she hates the process of going to sleep. We got in the bad habit of rocking her to sleep in our arms and it worked at first, but now, most of the time, she cries or whines loudly while we are trying to put her to sleep. It's like she knows we're trying to put her to sleep and she doesn't want to go to sleep. The instant we put her in the rocking position, she'll start crying, but if we come out of her room to the living room, she'll stop. Likewise, if we're in her room, in the dark, she'll cry, but keep her in the same position and turn the lights on, she stops (my husband tried this experiment today and it was ridiculous - lights off, crying, lights on, stops, lights off, crying, lights on, stops. We're at our wits end and we're not ready to do cry it out or Ferber (plus, if we just set her down in her crib, she's all smiles and just chats for a while, she's not crying). Does anyone have suggestions?

We have a bedtime routine that we start at around the same time every night (nurse, change into PJs, daddy gives her a small bottle while I read her a book, then one of us attempts to rock her to sleep). We start the routine at 7:30 - I could try starting earlier, but I get home around 5:45 and my husband gets home at 6:30 so much earlier isn't really possible. She's in daycare during the day 3 days a week, and at home with one or both of us the other four days.

She's also a horrible napper during the daytime - for the same reason, she hates going to sleep. But putting her down for naps is usually easier than putting her down for the night. She'll only sleep for 30-45 minutes for naps, but at night, we'll get at least one 4-5 hour chunk. I know at some point we need to sleep train, but I want to wait until she's 5.5 to 6 months old, as that is what has been recommended (plus like I said, she doesn't cry when we put her down in her crib, she just hangs out). So what do we do in the meantime?

I forgot to mention, the only way I've gotten her to go to sleep the past couple nights is nursing her to sleep. I really don't want to turn this into a habit!!

Sorry this was long and babbling, I'm exhausted!
posted by echo0720 to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Have you read the Ferber chapter on sleep associations? It made a ton of sense to me- baby stops sleeping well around 4 months because they've figured out they go to sleep in one place (in arms!) and wake up somewhere else (in bed!). Who would want to fall asleep like that? Our kid was doing the same exact stuff yours is doing now at that age, and it wasn't too horrendous a process helping him adjust to falling asleep on his own. Reconsider girding your loins and doing the sleep training now. It's tough but you might see progress in just a few nights!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:23 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

If she is happy when she's in her bed, why not just leave her there until she falls asleep?

We rocked our first until she was a year old. Our second is seven months and refuses to be rocked to sleep - she just wants to fuss and roll around and put herself to sleep.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:27 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Putting her in her cot awake and not crying is exactly what you should be doing and you're already there, so great! Then hopefully she'll just drop off. The issue with rocking her asleep in your arms is that she makes that association with sleep so eventually she won't do it any other way and then you're stuck 5 months later with a huge baby trying to rock her, it'll wreak havoc on your back.

I'm kind of in your situation except I'm ok if my 15 week old baby cries a little in bed as I see it as part of self settling. I don't let her get frantic and it normally only lasts a few minutes. I also put her to bed with white noise on, so that's another message for her that it is time to sleep.

A lot of it is knowing what your baby's tired cues are (rubbing eyes, getting twitchy etc) because if you miss them, they then get overtired and it becomes nigh on impossible to get them to sleep as they're frantic. Ask me how I know... What I'm told is that babies this age should (should!) sleep for around 3 hours and be up for one hour, so if your bubs been up for 2 hours, she's already overtired and your job just got harder.
posted by Jubey at 6:47 PM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hah, yeah. We basically had the same thing when Baby Bibbit was 3.5 months old (he's 18 months now). For the first three plus months of his life, we rocked him to sleep every. night. Sometimes it took 2 hours (seriously). And then one night Mr. Bibbit got fed up, put BB in his crib, turned out the light, shut the door, and....nothing. BB went right to sleep. And so started a glorious time in our lives.
posted by bibbit at 8:31 PM on October 21, 2013

I also think trying for earlier could be good. If you start the routine at 7:30 then I'm assuming you're not getting to the going to sleep part until 8pm at least, which is late for a 4.5 month old (IMHO), especially if it takes a long time to get her down.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:29 PM on October 21, 2013

Friends of mine put their daughter to sleep in a rocker, the electric powered ones. She naps in it and then in the evenings, they would transfer her to her crib once she was sound asleep.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:32 PM on October 21, 2013

I'd try rocking her to sleep in her crib. Put it on castor wheels if you need to. She may get used to it, but it's MUCH easier than having her in your arms, and you can slowly do less and less, then walk (sneak) away when she's asleep. Or listen to a podcast at the same time and get some quasi 'me time'. We started this with our twins at 4 months when we were going bananas due to our inability to cope with both of them demanding to be in arms at all times (but we were also not ready for CIO or the like).

We're not talking little jiggles (although that may also work) but really nice big rolling motions across the floor. Extend your whole arms. That heavy swaying/rocking really helps little babies relax and just give into the movement, and drift off. Really works, or did for us at least. Good luck!
posted by bingoes at 10:47 PM on October 21, 2013

We've been in the same situation and it was just a phase. Definitely watch for signs of tiredness. Maybe she's too tired by the time you put her to bed, or maybe she's not tired enough. (I know that if we miss that magic sleep-time window with our baby, he'll be up until 9, 10 pm, playing happily, with no signs of fussiness except loudly protesting any attempts to put him to bed.)

Also, be aware of the famed '4 month sleep regression'. Our experience was that all previously established routines went tits up until, in desperation, we sleep trained at 6 months.
posted by gakiko at 11:51 PM on October 21, 2013

Hey, my baby is the same age as yours (four months last week)! She has started resisting being rocked to sleep, but only for her dad. When I'm holding her near bedtime she wants very much to be allowed to nurse to sleep, but I have the same hesitations you do. We have a bassinet that we carry from room to room for her to be nearby, and after her last nursing session (around 8) we change her diaper and put her in her jammies, then put her in the bassinet on the floor where she can see us, but with the canopy up enough that there's no bright light on her. Then we go about our business - we just moved, so there are a million boxes to unpack while she chats to us and herself and eventually drops off. Some nights she gets fussy for a few minutes but she really does pretty well putting herself to sleep, and there's none of that super-slow will-she-wake-up nonsense that comes with transferring her to her bassinet after she's asleep.
posted by SeedStitch at 6:09 AM on October 22, 2013

Best answer: We just sleep trained Baby Stardust and it has made all the difference in the world. See here. He was four months when we started, and like your baby, would cry any time he was put into his crib for sleep. The only way we could get him to sleep was to bottle feed him until he lost consciousness. Ferberizing really wasn't that hard. It only took three days for him to start being able to settle himself back to sleep. And the time he spent crying was really far far less that we'd expected. Most nights we Ferberized he was back to sleep in 15-20 minutes. I suspect our efforts to soothe him via feedings, rocking and the like were really just keeping him up and prolonging his fussiness. Baby went from waking every two hours all night to just two night wakings--one at 11pm and one at 4am.

Oh, and as Jubey said above, a little crying may just be how your baby settles and lets off steam before sleep. Once we stopped intervening the second Baby Stardust made any little peep, we found that he does tend to cry for just a few minutes before falling asleep on some nights, and he wasn't crying out of any real distress, but just vocalizing.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 8:06 AM on October 22, 2013

If it helps, both my sister and love our improvised "white noise" machines to create an extra level of this-is-bedtime environment. It's just an air filter of the sort that cost around $40 and have three settings, high medium low. We set it on medium as babyLemonade is getting his nighttime bottle and turn it off as soon as we go get him in the morning, so he associates it with sleeping. As a bonus, when the neighbors are being loud or we have company, we can turn it on high to muffle the sounds and then it goes back on medium or low when appropriate.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 9:53 AM on October 22, 2013

Best answer: This article about "tension decreasers" at AskMoxie changed my life. I had been trying to comfort my baby and keep her from crying when putting her to bed, and it turns out, she NEEDS to cry just a little before going to sleep. Instead of shushing her, I snuggle her while she lets out all the steam and it's no longer an active cry - it's like a hum/groan thing that is really kind of funny. I'm not sure if she's sorting out the events of the day or if she needs the noise as white noise or if the vibrations of the noises help calm her, but she does it every.single.time and once I stopped trying to stop her, she is able to put herself to sleep easily doing this.

I also really agree with the comments about trying to be so helpful that you wind up prolonging the process. Four months is about the age when my daughter stopped needing as much of my help to get to sleep, but it took me a while to recognize that.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 10:31 AM on October 22, 2013

My daughter also did/does the little cry-that-isn't-really-crying thing before falling asleep sometimes. She also likes to roll over onto her stomach or side to fall asleep, it seems to be comforting to her. Finally, she likes to be tightly swaddled (still, at 8 months!) and so I got her a Woombie and use it even for naps. Helps so that her arms aren't flailing around and it seems to make her calm. These might all be things that your baby could like too. I also use white noise, if you want to trial to see if it works, you can download the "Relax" app for any smartphone and it works pretty well, we use a combination of "heavy rain" and "white noise".

But then again I also sleep trained her at 4 months (Ferber style) and it worked really well for us, so ymmv on all this.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:57 PM on October 22, 2013

Response by poster: Hi everyone, thank you so much for the responses! It sounds like Ferber may actually be an option for us this early, once I can bring myself to do it. We tried last night, but only lasted 4 checks before she switched to real crying (instead of just "I'm mad at you mommy and daddy kind of crying") and then I gave in. I know, bad.

A question for those of you that did sleep training with checks -- how long did it take on the first night and then on later nights? I keep reading about people whose kids went to sleep in 45 minutes, but at 45 minutes, baby echo was definitely not going to go to sleep on her own. She was super tired, and I ended up just nursing her to sleep. Again, bad.

I also wanted to mention that I read the Ferber book this week so I get that rocking her to sleep is causing a sleep association and that she is probably fighting the rocking now because she understands that she'll wake up in her crib alone and not being rocked. I also read the portion on schedules (one of the later chapters) and so our plan for this week is to get her on a schedule - start her bedtime routine and wake her up at the same time every day. And then once the schedule is established maybe try sleep training again.

Oh yes, and other things - we stopped using the swaddle because she breaks her arms out plus she rolls herself onto her side to sleep, she doesn't take a pacifier (we've tried several different kinds), and we do use white noise (but again, staying asleep is not the problem, it's just going to sleep, she usually just wakes up once at night and 85% of the time goes back to sleep quickly then). Thank you again everyone!!
posted by echo0720 at 7:12 AM on October 23, 2013

I had four little ones and they all had different clues about their individual preferences. So you are experimenting and you will find something. Be patient. Sleep training worked for two of my children, one screamed when she was left alone but was happy to have one of us rub her back while she drifted off. The other one hated naps, never slept through the night until she was a teenager, and never really had a schedule. It was survival for me and so I ended up sleeping in a recliner with her...she decided she needed to be held..for months. She then transitioned to going to sleep in her room but loved to wake up at 2 for socialization for a couple of hours and would appear at my bedside after she learned to walk. She would lift my eyelids and say "are you in there?" Soo darn cute and I just went with it. She did this for years until she started school. Then she just entertained herself unless I was up and we would visit. I suppose I could have forced her to stay in her room and be miserable...I don't think it would have worked. I frequently slept during lunch hours. I know she is still up in the middle of the night as am we still in the end she trained me. Kids do that.
posted by OhSusannah at 3:18 AM on October 24, 2013

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