Sleep Deprived 4 month old

Help for a parent whose baby only wants to sleep when held.


What to do with sleep-deprived 4-month-old daughter?

As a PSP member asks:


"Getting my 4-mo-old daughter to sleep has become impossible. I nurse, rock her in my arms (standing up only - she cries if i try to rock in a rocking chair), and then once she's asleep I hold her for another 20 minutes or so but still, the second I put her down she wakes up, or wakes up 10 minutes later. She sleeps well at night once I get her there, but the routine is killing me, and I'm resorting to holding her forever for naps (practically for the entire nap). It's both exhausting and impractical. All the books and her doc say to let her cry it out, but I think she's too young, and I can't do it (my husband works late so I'd be on my own). 

Is it just a phase that she'll grow out of? Did I permanently screw her up by taking her on vacation for 2 weeks in Colorado? Advice? Please? I'm losing it."


PSP member replies:


"I had a lot of luck with Weissbluth, who I think is generally considered more humane than Ferber (actually, in California, where my older daughter was born, Ferber was a kind of dirty word, broken only in a horrified whisper, so I was amused and astonished to find everyone "Ferberizing" without guilt when I moved back to NY!). Basically, though, crying it out is crying it out, and whatever "method" you use, you will get results that have more to do with your baby's temperament than anything else--or so I believe after my two VERY different experiences with two kids. It's a bit of wishful thinking to believe that somehow what you do is ultimately responsible for what kind of sleeper (or eater, or nurser, or whatever!) you end up with, and I wish I'd known that earlier (as if you can know these things without experiencing them firsthand). Of course your actions will have an impact, and Weissbluth is chock-a-block with case histories and suggestions for things like routines and nap schedules and bedtimes and so forth, which I did find very helpful--partly for practical purposes and partly to reassure myself that I wasn't stuck with the very worst sleeper in the history of babies, even if she was waking up every hour or half hour ALL NIGHT  LONG at 4 months old! I lived in awe of the people who have the very good fortune to have babies who just sleep--no fuss, no bother, no crying--while also hating them just a little bit (ok a lot) through my sleep-deprived haze. So we became rigorous about naps (time and place), we set a firm bedtime, and we steeled ourselves for endless crying and complaining, which still happens on occasion even now that she's three. And we managed to get through it, although we couldn't help wondering what we were doing wrong. And then we had a child who, to our utter amazement, just started putting herself to sleep at around 4 months, and that was that. So choose the advice and/or method that suits you best, use or discard the bits of it that make sense for you and your baby, and try and make peace with the fact that no method is perfect or foolproof, and you just do what you can. And it becomes the first in a series of similar experiences that, I imagine, are what define parenting!"


"I have a 6 1/2 month old daughter, and I have to say my experience was that 4 months was a difficult time in terms of sleep. It has gotten much easier. My baby girl needed to cry to fall asleep for many months, and it was very stressful. I didn't want to hear her cry. But if we went in to comfort her, it felt like she just had to start all over again. The good news is that your baby is sleeping well at night--that is a huge accomplishment and much more important than naptime. Also, night sleep gets set before daytime sleep. It's harder for them to nap at 4 months. It will get easier. For me, what was helpful was establishing a pattern--for us, that consisted of a regular bedtime, a tape of wave sounds with a heartbeat, which really calmed her, a lullaby, and rocking. The rocking definitely gets too much at times, and my daughter insisted that we stand up, as well. In fact, she still does, but now we rock her for a few minutes and put her down, and she turns on her side and grabs her teddy bear or her little soft blanket that has a duck head, and we leave the room. Sometimes she plays for a while and then drifts off to sleep, or she just goes straight to sleep. It's rare that she cries. If she does, it's usually just for a few minutes. What I tried to do, though I wasn't always good about it and my husband was even worse, was try to keep the rocking to a minimum. If your baby isn't fussing, she seems to be asleep, she has a clean diaper and she has eaten, you can try putting her down and walking out of the room. Look at the clock and decide to let her cry for a short time--just a few minutes—and see if the crying changes. Sometimes they need to cry to fall asleep. I think the hardest thing at 4 months is that you don’t yet know the different cries well enough. Now I can tell if my baby is crying a little because she is tired and she is trying to fall asleep or if she is crying because she wants or needs me. At 4 months it all sounded so dire and difficult, but I think in our case, she was just trying to fall asleep and that was hard for her. And it was more important for me that she got the nap and I got the break. Otherwise, we all just got more exhausted. In other words, a little crying was worth it, but it was never easy. Also, sometimes they need to cry to let off some steam, to make the transition. Anyway, none of this is what I consider “crying it out.” You don't have to leave her for an indefinite period of time. You could just try it and see if she can do it."


"The other thing that gets easier is giving them soft things and stuffed animals. My daughter really went for that, but at 4 months I didn't feel comfortable leaving anything in her crib. Does she take a pacifier? What I would do when she woke up at that age was give her a pacifier and put my hand on her chest, and she would grab my hand with her arms and go back to sleep. Other times she would want me to pick her up."


Suggestion Summary:

Quite a few people said 4 months isn't too young to cry it out and say it worked for them.

Many people assured me it's just a phase and we will work through it eventually. (Thanks for that... I need to remind myself!)

  • Swaddling just the legs and leaving the arms free for hand-sucking
  • Using a swing to get her to sleep
  • Putting her in a sling and walking around the house while she dozes
  • Doing a modified cry it out
  • Following Baby Whisperer or No Cry Sleep Solution approaches: I ran out last night and bought the Baby Whisperer book and started implementing the pick up/put down technique and the E.A.S.Y. routine today. We actually got three naps today, including one that was 90 minutes! (with a brief wake up after 45 min.) And while it took about an hour to get her down for the night, it wasn't nearly as exhausting on me, and I now have hope that it will get easier each night. There's still quite a bit of crying involved, but I feel better when it's happening in my arms for some reason.