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Say Goodbye To 3 a.m. Wake-Up Calls

An infant sleep expert answers our FAQs

If you ask moms where most of our stress comes from, it’s probably sleep issues. We worry that our baby is not sleeping enough at night, or isn’t sleeping at all, or is using their much-needed nap time to cry until someone (ahem ... mama) comes running to them (because they’ve got us trained). And since baby’s sleep affects mom’s sleep, there’s nothing better than a happy baby who knows when to shut it down.

Renee Wasserman is the founder of SleepyHead Solutions and is a Family Sleep Institute certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant. That means that baby and toddler sleep are pretty much her Zen. She’s answered our FAQs about our babies’ sleep habits, and guess what? It looks like one day, moms will actually get our much needed rest.

My baby falls asleep and then wakes up shortly after I put him down. Every time. Why?
Most often the reason for a little one waking soon after being put to sleep is that they are put to sleep too drowsy or even already fast asleep. Do what you need to do to make sure your baby stays awake during the bedtime routine. If you are nursing before bedtime, I’d recommend moving nursing to the beginning of the bedtime routine or even nursing before going into the room to start the bedtime routine.

Should I put my baby down for the night after he falls asleep, or before he falls asleep? 
Putting your baby down for the night before he is asleep is the ultimate goal. In order to be successful at moving between sleep cycles throughout the night without fully waking, a little one needs to do the hard work of falling asleep on his own at the start of the night. This ensures that he will not be surprised where he is when he wakes during the night, making it easier to put himself back to sleep during those wake-ups. Putting him in the crib calm but awake (and not drowsy) will give him the needed opportunities to learn to fall asleep independently.

How do I know when my baby is getting tired? It seems like she goes from perfectly fine to overtired in a matter of seconds. 
When our little ones get tired, they have their own ways of letting us know. Our challenge, as parents, is to learn to recognize and interpret these sleepy signs. Once you learn your child’s sleepy signs, you will be on the right track to getting him to sleep at the correct time.  Remember that each child’s sleepy cues are unique. Some common sleep signs are:

  • Tugging at ears
  • Becoming quiet and calmer
  • Arching of back
  • Yawning
  • Staring off/disinterested
  • Beginning to get fussy
  • Sucking becomes slower
  • Rubbing of nose

Some children's sleep cues are easier to read than others. The goal is to get your little one to sleep when they first start to show you these signals and before they become overtired. When we miss our children’s signs and our children become overtired, they go to bed too late. This often results in a child who has a hard time falling asleep, more night wakings, and early rise times. In other words, everything that stresses parents out.

My baby doesn't want to soothe himself to sleep. How can I help? When will he learn? 
While it may make it easier for your baby to fall asleep with the help of rocking, nursing, a bottle, or being held, it is keeping him from learning to fall asleep independently. In order to sleep through the night, it is essential that a baby learn to do this on his own. You can think of learning to sleep independently in the same way as learning any other physical skill such as walking or riding a bike – in order to become successful, it requires the space and opportunity to practice, practice, practice! By 18 weeks, most babies are capable of learning to soothe themselves to sleep.

Can I let my baby cry it out? Should I use another system?
Many studies have shown that the cry it out approach is effective and does not cause stress or any lasting emotional problems for babies. That being said, if parents do not feel comfortable using this approach, there are several other more gentle and equally successful options to use to teach your little one to put himself to sleep on his own. The most important thing is to pick an approach that you are comfortable with so that you can be very consistent with its implementation.

How long until my baby no longer needs nighttime feedings?
Most babies between the ages of 4 and 6 months can sleep through the night without eating. Although it may seem that your child is hungry during the night, it is very possible that a middle-of-the-night feeding has become a habit rather than a need. Try giving your little one the space to work it out on his own and don’t rush in to feed your baby … he may surprise you and put himself back to sleep without your help!

Sweet dreams!