Sleep and Your 4-7 Month Old

By this age, you and your baby should be well on the way toward an established sleep pattern. Most likely the pattern includes at least two naps a day and at least seven or eight hours at the longest stretch of nighttime sleep.

During these months, your baby will learn to roll over and position himself for sleep in his own way. Toward the end of this period, he may be able to keep himself awake or be kept awake by his surroundings, so this is the time to instill good sleep habits by sticking to a bedtime routine.

How long will my baby sleep?

While research shows the average number of hours slept at this age is 13 per day, the range of normal is quite wide, with some babies sleeping only nine hours a day and others sleeping as much as 18. And we all know which end of the spectrum parents like best!

If left up to the baby, daily naps will last as long as your baby needs them to be. Again, some babies will nap 20 minutes, others a few hours. The naps will usually help prevent a baby from becoming too cranky to sleep well at night, and they will help your baby (and you) enjoy his waking hours more.

Most babies this age like to nap once in the morning, then again sometime after lunch. If you feel the napping is interfering with your baby's bedtime, wake him from his afternoon nap a little earlier each day. This way you can gradually induce him to sleep a little longer at night. Try to keep your baby stimulated during the late afternoon and early evening.

Where and how should my baby sleep?

By this age, your baby is picking his own position for sleep. Keep pillows and large stuffed animals out of his crib; they can still cause problems for him. Check for ties and ribbons that can wrap around his neck. Get rid of objects or toys with sharp edges and corners. You have probably already made sure your crib is up to present safety standards, but if you haven't, check it out.

Once your baby is pulling himself up using the sides of the crib, it's time to remove the soft bumper cushions around the crib and the mobiles hanging over it. The bumpers can give your baby a dangerous "leg up" for climbing out of the crib and falling, and babies can get tangled up in hanging mobiles. Don't forget to look around for the things that your baby can touch from a standing position in his crib. Wall hangings, pictures, draperies, and window blind cords can all be potentially harmful if they are left within your baby's reach.

What should I do?

You have probably already established a bedtime routine, and you're staying with it. If you haven't established one, start now. Soothing activities that lead up to "night-night" time can help relax your baby. A warm bath followed by stories or singing will signal transition to sleep, and these same activities can be used at bedtime for years.

At this age, you will probably want your baby to start falling asleep on his own, if he doesn't already. This may mean performing your nighttime routine and putting him into his crib while he's still awake. If he cries, let him be for a few minutes. He may settle down and go to sleep. If the crying continues, go back in and soothe him for a moment, without picking him up. This may go on a few times until your baby figures out that the crying is not getting him anywhere.

Even a baby who has already been sleeping through the night (anywhere from seven to 12 hours) will occasionally awaken in the wee hours. After ruling out teething pain, illness, or an extremely soiled diaper, it's best to let your baby struggle back to sleep on his own. Give him a few fussy minutes before you respond; once you respond, and if you see that he's OK, leave him to his own devices. Don't forget that any cuddling, feeding or talking that you do may prompt your baby to wake each night for this attention.

If your baby is waking up many times each night, perhaps there is an external reason. Is he too big for the bassinet? Move him to a full-size crib. Do you still have him in your bedroom? He may be sensitive to your presence and may need to be put in his own room to get a good night's sleep. Is his room too warm? Too cold? Too dark? Explore these possibilities.

Another common sleep "problem" at this age is the early riser - the baby who begins to babble or cry for you before the crack of dawn. There is probably nothing you can do to prevent your baby from getting up when he's ready, but a few safe toys in his crib may soothe him for a while longer, and a window shade to keep out the first light of day may let you get another few minutes of early morning rest.

When to call the doctor?

If you have ruled out external reasons for your baby's nighttime waking and you still think he's not sleeping enough (or even too much!), don't hesitate to call your pediatrician. Teething pain is a common reason for sleep problems at this age, and your doctor may be able to suggest some ways to relieve your baby's discomfort. Perhaps there is an illness involving no symptoms besides sleeplessness, or perhaps your doctor can help you see some possibilities for enhancing your nighttime routine with your baby.

© Copyright 1997 American Medical Association.