Difficulty Getting Baby to Sleep
I am a new parent of an almost 12-week old boy. I am currently having difficulty getting him to sleep both at night and during the day. He is exclusively breastfed and also gets 2 bottles of breast milk per day (evening and early morning). The problem has gotten increasingly more severe and it’s to the point where there is no place that I can reliably put him to sleep. Sometimes he will sleep on me or my husband, sometimes he will sleep in the bed with me, sometimes he will sleep in the infant car seat.
He used to sleep sometimes in a bassinet, but we haven’t been able to get him to sleep there for more than 20 min at a time in several weeks. I have your Baby Sleep Book and have read ch. 3. I started ch. 1 but moved to ch. 9 since I have not been able to establish his bedtime yet. I would like to start with naps, but I am at a loss for where to begin. My husband and I are doing this all alone. Please help or advise me where I can get help.
Solutions for Sleep Challenges
Dear New Mom,
Dr. Sears and I can look back to our fourth baby and practically relive your sleep struggles with your little one. That fourth baby of ours taught us so much about meeting a baby’s needs! We can all thank her for motivating us to write our parenting books: Beginning with our very first book Creative Parenting. Followed by a list of books for La Leche League International, including Nighttime Parenting. We got on a roll – we were learning so much about a certain style of parenting we eventually referred to as Attachment Parenting (and learning this from our patients in our practice, too, by the way) that the books just kept coming.
When we got to The Fussy Baby (and eventually The Fussy Baby Book for our later publisher, Little, Brown, and Company) we were able to really delve into the realms of meeting a baby’s needs. All of that to say, I am going to turn your question over to our fifth baby, Erin. She has learned the answer to your question “on the job” as a mother to her little Johnny. I will let her take it from here…
Martha Sears, RN
Healthy Outlook on Sleep
As a new mom, I really sympathize with your question and sleep challenges. All the advice and books in the world could not have prepared me for the adventure of our “new normal” around sleep. My little guy is 15 months old and we are just now finding a more consistent rhythm. The sleep topic has many layers and his needs are as unique as your baby’s fingerprint, so before I address common causes and tips, I really want to encourage you to focus on a more realistic and healthy outlook on sleep (and lack thereof).
I love this quote from a colleague of Dr. Sears: Dr. James Mckenna is a leading researcher on co-sleeping and this quote is from his new book Safe Infant Sleep. “The idea of the “good baby” has been around (especially in western societies) for far too long. Babies are meant to wake A LOT at night especially in the first year. This is protective, natural, and necessary for their own safety, feeding needs, connection, and attachment.”
Looking back, I wish I could have found a more balanced approach to my obsession around figuring out his patterns. I think I was more stressed and tired by all the opinions and strategies than from the actual lack of sleep! The sooner I accepted my baby’s sleep as normal and natural, the less stress I felt. It is important to tune into your baby, focus on getting to know his unique rhythm and cues, and enjoy this precious time that flies by without any guilt.
So, let’s talk naps. Here are some key points to consider around naps and sleep in general. However, keep this question at the forefront of your mind: Is he generally happy, or is he in distress? If he is happy then your little cat-napper may be sleeping exactly the way he needs to.
Here are some tips to consider:
- For the first few months babies are still adjusting to the world outside the cozy womb, so keeping them close and using a swaddle blanket helps them feel safe/secure.
- Be mindful of wake windows. It is 90-120 minutes for most babies under 5 months. Going too long between naps or bedtime can lead to less quality sleep due to baby being overtired.
- They attach through the senses, so if they can’t hear you, see you, smell you, or feel you they may call out for support.
- Nursing/feeding to sleep is biologically normal and natural.
- Teething, new milestones, brain development, separation anxiety, discomfort, or gassiness will cause them to wake.
- Consider seeing a Chiropractor. Bodywork such as cranial sacral adjustments may help loosen tension in a baby’s body.
- Many babies are cat-nappers and this is their normal rhythm – if they wake happy that’s all they needed.
- They will experience sleep PROgressions where their sleep cycles will mature and they will wake more often (usually starts around 4 months).
- Contact and motion naps are great for brain development. That is why we recommend using a baby sling or some other type of carrier during the day to provide more closeness when you need two hands.
- If they wake up in distress then it may be a food allergy. Consider removing dairy and gluten from your diet.
- Guard your heart and mind against too much information and opinions. Underneath the sleep deprivation lies a mommy-baby connect and your intuition will let you what your baby needs. Align yourself with supportive friends and family to help lighten the load wherever possible.
Patience and Progression
Again, let me say that I stand with you in solidarity and you have got this! I was looking through my journals and I found this entry from when my baby was 4 months:
“My sweet angel baby, I know you’re going through a tough sleep pattern, but I’m trying my best to support you through it even though I am tired! You are teaching me so much.
I know they call it a “sleep regression”, but today I’m choosing to refrain my mindset into sleep “progression”, I know you are waking up more because you’ve got some important stuff going on! Your brain is growing, your gums are hurting, and you are excited about your new developmental stages that are happening. One day at a time we will keep growing together.”
Blessings and peace,
Erin Sears Basile
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”