Let’s recap: 3 – 4 months is iffy, but for some, sleep training works

Here's a question from N., the gist of which represents a significant number of emails that I receive.

My baby is about to turn 3 months (currently 2.5) and I would love
to try sleep training.  I am very sleep deprived and it is causing
marital strife.  Our baby gets up at night every hour to three  and
sometimes he will only fall asleep while lying on us.  Naps are a joke
as they simply don't exist or, if the do, they are 5-45 minute catnaps
in my arms….there is no schedule.  I am not functioning well and it
is terrifying me!  I would like to try CIO when my baby turns 3 months
but I have a feeling that within 10min our baby will begin screaming
fits and my husband won't (right or wrong) go for this…he will only
let the baby cry for 5-10 ….I'm willing to go for much longer because
I am that desperate!
I can't wait an additional 3 months until the 6 month mark…any ideas or wisdom would so greatly be appreciated!

and foremost, this is SUCH a tough age. I remember the panic I felt
when I realized how much longer this whole infancy thing was going to
last. At the time, I couldn't imagine making it "to the other side." A
few thoughts: First, your baby actually does need to wake up at least a
couple of times during the night to be fed. That doesn't mean she needs
to wake up every hour for that nourishment, but it's good to keep in
mind that the vast majority of infants need their stomachs re-filled
every 3-4 hours or so. Second, you may find that your baby hits 3
months old and naturally starts sleeping longer stretches (and not
necessarily on top of you either). These shifts may occur naturally,
without you doing anything at all because those first 2.5 months are filled with huge biological changes
that are settling down right about now. But if your baby DOES continue
to wake up every hour or two and does not settle down easily afterwards
and if you simply can't go on like this much longer, you can certainly
consider some form of gentle sleep training methods.

As I
mentioned in Part I of the 3 to 4 month stage description, this is the
only stage that I am somewhat hesitant to recommend because the
distress levels of the baby really do need to be monitored by the
parent. But on the other hand, there are several reasons why we
included this stage — in the book — as one of the
possible periods to sleep-train:
1. There are DESPERATE mothers like the one who posted the question who
can't go on feeling sane without some change. I don't know this
particular woman's circumstance, but many mothers also either need or
want to go back to
work by the time their child is 3 months old. These mothers often have
choice but to try SOMETHING. My main point is that if you feel you
have to do something, don't try sleep training at 4 months if you can
avoid it and earlier than 2.5 months isn't wise either.
2. We have heard remarkably consistent reports from parents who did
gently sleep train (i.e., not CIO methods, more like "no-cry sleep
solutions") at this window with great success. Although I personally
didn't feel comfortable doing any kind of sleep training with my boys
this age (especially since they were 4 weeks premature and I had "issues", let's just say…), I strongly
feel that it's important to provide the developmental
and let parents make the decisions for themselves.
I think it's important to consider the unique properties of each
developmental stage and think about whether there are some special
considerations that should be made in terms of methods that might work
best. From my perspective, I'd like to emphasize that whatever method
is used
during this period, it shouldn't result in letting the baby cry for
more than 5-10 min max (I don't know about your baby, but mine cried
more than that if they were in their carseat and I stopped at a red
light). This is the only age at which I'm careful to dissuade parents
from picking a method that will involve prolonged distress because
the baby is simply biologically incapable of regulating intense
distress by herself; she
needs mom and/or dad to bring her back down (of course, some babies DO
calm themselves down at this age, but very few can do so when they are
really, really wailing).

you find that your baby doesn't take to sleep training easily during
this age, and you feel you need to stop, then there ARE things you can
do to maximize your own sleep. Some common suggestions: (1) Enlist your
partner to take half the night shift and you do the other half. So, if
you're breastfeeding, you can consider pumping or supplementing with
formula and asking your partner to take the 10 pm – 2 am shift and you
can take over for the 2 am – 7 am shift. That way, each of you are at
least getting a 5-hour chunk of sleep in a row. (2) Hire a "mommy's
helper" if you can afford it. This person can help soothe your baby to
sleep after you feed her during the day and maximize nap times for you.
She can also take your baby for a walk while you catch a nap. (3) Every
3 days or so, you can ask your partner to take the full night shift so
you can catch up. Again, your partner can give the baby a bottle of
breastmilk or formula when the baby wakes up. That way, you can always
refuel twice a week and feel just a little more human. (4) If you can
afford it, night doulas or night nurses that come very highly
recommended can be serious life-savers when your partner can't help.
Hiring someone even once/week might just give you enough energy to get
you through the worst of this time. (5) Some people also find that
co-sleeping during the worst of the frequent wakings works for them. It
really DOES come to an end eventually and although 6 months seems
completely impossible to imagine getting to at this point, your baby
WILL get to that stage when sleep training may take much easier
(believe me, I really DO get it, having had twin babies who woke up
every other hour — and NOT the same hour — througout the first 6
months, I feel your horror like I was there yesterday).

What do you
think? Words of encouragement or wisdom for N.? Anyone out there who sleep-trained during this age and was
thrilled with the results (I know you're out there because I've talked
to many of you)? Does anyone want to respectfully gasp in horror at my
recommendation to try sleep training at this age?

2 thoughts on “Let’s recap: 3 – 4 months is iffy, but for some, sleep training works

  1. Sleep training my first at this age WOULD have been horrible. She just wasn’t ready to learn how to self-soothe. She was almost 2 before she really started to figure that out, I think.
    My second… well, I think it would have been fine. We didn’t do it then, but just recently weaned her off of one of her nighttime feedings- during the 5 month “no training” period. She is already a pretty good self-soother, and she’s not even 6 months old.
    So I now think it really does depend on your kid. Which makes it soooo hard when you are a sleep deprived parent trying to figure out what to do!

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