Ages 4 to 7 Months: Sleeping

Most babies this age still need at least two naps a day, from one to three hours each, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. In general, it's best to let your baby sleep as long as she wants, unless she has trouble falling asleep at her normal nightly bedtime. If this becomes a problem, wake her up earlier from her afternoon nap.

By 4 months your baby should be sleeping through at least one nighttime feeding and perhaps through the entire night. "Through the night" could mean from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., or from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., depending on your baby's own internal clock; but at this age, she should be able to go at least eight hours without being fed.

Establishing a Bedtime Routine

Because your child is more alert and active now, she may have trouble winding down at the end of the day. A consistent bedtime routine will help. Experiment to see what works best, taking into consideration both the activities in the rest of the household and your baby's temperament. A warm bath, a massage, rocking, a story or lullaby, soft music, and a breast- or bottle-feeding will all help relax her and put her in a bedtime mood. Eventually, she'll associate these activities with going to sleep, and that will help relax and soothe her.

Instead of letting your baby fall asleep during this ritual, settle her in her crib while she's still awake so she learns to fall asleep on her own. Gently put her head down, whisper your good-night, and leave the room. If she cries, don't rush back in. She may calm down after a few minutes and fall asleep on her own.

If she's still crying lustily at the end of five minutes, go in and comfort her for about a minute, without picking her up, and then leave. Let her know that you love her and are available if she needs you, but don't stay in the room. If she continues to cry, wait a little longer than five minutes before going back in again to repeat the sequence. Be consistent and firm. As hard as this is on you, it's harder on your baby if she senses you are wavering. The real reward will come when she awakens in the middle of the night and goes back to sleep without your help.

Prolonged Crying at Night

Many babies cry some every night, leading parents to wonder if the prolonged crying can hurt her psychologically. If you actually time your baby's crying, you may find that it doesn't last that long. If parents are steadfast, most babies will cry less each night until they finally go to sleep with only a token protest. But even if your child cries for a long time (20 to 30 minutes), there is no evidence that she'll be hurt by it.

When a baby wakes up more than once a night, there may be something disturbing her sleep. If the child is still sleeping in your room by 6 months, it's time to move her out; she may be waking up because she hears you or senses your presence when you're nearby. If she's still in a bassinet, she's probably feeling cramped; by this age she needs room to stretch and move in her sleep, and she should be in a full-size crib with bumpers to cushion her when she rolls to the sides. Still another problem may be a room that's too dark. She needs enough light to reassure herself that she's in familiar surroundings, and a simple night-light can solve this problem.

Responding to Prolonged Crying at Night

When your child awakens in the middle of the night, give her a few minutes to fall back to sleep before you go to her. Crying that goes on for more than 20 minutes may need to be checked to see if there is not some problem (such as a hair wrapped around the baby's toe), but such interruptions should be short. Do not stop to play. The important thing is for you to keep your perfectly natural feelings of frustration and anger in check so you can be firm in a calm and loving way when your baby resists sleep.

If she continues to cry, talk to her and comfort her, but don't bring her to your bed. Unless you have reason to believe she's really hungry (for example, if she fell asleep earlier than usual and missed a feeding), don't feed her. As tempting as it may be to calm her down with food or cuddling in your bed, she'll soon come to expect these responses when she wakes up at night, and she won't go back to sleep without them.

Excerpted from Caring for Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, Bantam 1999

© Copyright 2000 American Academy of Pediatrics