Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ask Josie - Establishing a Sleep Routine?

Welcome to my new series where I answer reader questions...

Q: We are trying to establish a sleep routine for our 5 month old daughter. I'm sorry to say that she had not been on a routine prior to this. The consequence was erratic feeding and sleeping, very short naps, very short wakeful periods, constant night-waking -- and a very fussy little one.

We have read all the books you can imagine (Weissbluth, Ferber, Hogg, etc.) and after much trial and error, we're currently using Tracy Hogg's, The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems, plan to put her on a 4-hour EASY routine. (Pages 36-49 for a baby who has never been on a routine before.)

Hogg is clear that you need to hold your baby pretty strictly to clock times during the retraining period. She doesn't explicitly state this, but she seems to imply that it can take as much as a couple of weeks for a baby's internal clock to get used to the routine. Does this sound right to you?

On day 5 of holding her to this routine, I am having some concerns.

1) It is usually quite hard to keep her awake between naps. Sometimes she'll be giving tired cues as much as an hour before her next scheduled naps.

(2) There is no mention of what to do if she takes a good 1.5 hour nap (rather than the prescribed 2 hours). Say she naps from 9:00-10:30. Well, her next scheduled nap isn't until 1:00, which means she has 2.5 hours (rather than 2 hours) of wakefulness to get through. Does that seem right? Should she be able to handle that at her age once her body adjusts to the routine?

We have had some success in the past couple of days using Hogg's "pick up/put down" method to try to get her to sleep longer. Of course, when this fails, then she has to be awake for epic lengths of time on a tiny amount of sleep to get to the next nap.

Yesterday was a bad day for naps, but we're sticking to our guns and hoping she'll adjust. Any words of wisdom you have would be greatly appreciated. We so hope we are doing the right thing. It is just crushing to see her so tired all the time...

A: First off, congratulations on trying to get your baby on a routine! Getting this predictable routine in place now will pay off immensely later on.

I know it's really tough to establish a routine for the first time. I think the key is not to thrash around. Read up, decide on a course of action, and stick with it consistently for 1-2 weeks. If it isn't working by then, that's a clue that this is not the right routine for your baby, and you should try something else. The key is to not get impatient after 3 days and switch to something else. It sounds like you are being very patient. That's great!

5 months is a tough age because that is right around the transition form the 3 hour to 4 hour schedule. Some babies are ready earlier than others.

It sounds to me like the 4 hour routine might be too long for her. If she is consistently tired earlier, then that might be a clue that she needs a shorter cycle. You could try moving back to a 3.5 hour routine and see if that works better for her.

Once she is on a consistent routine - any routine - then it will be easier to slide her into the 4 hour routine later.

Sometimes, babies who sleep through the night very early on, need to eat more frequently during the day in order to get in all their calories. So, they can sometimes stick with a 3 hour schedule longer than babies who wake up at night to feed.

As far as tying to get her to sleep longer naps. This is tough. When my babies slept for at least an hour and then woke up, I found that it was difficult to get them to go back to sleep. If they slept for less than an hour, they were not fully rested, and I could usually get them to sleep longer by going in and soothing.

I have had limited success with the pick-up-put-down method. It worked a few times for HB, but didn't work at all for AB. I found that with AB, it worked better to soothe him in his crib, but not to pick him up. Pick-up-put-down seemed to make him even more angry, and so it was not conducive to getting him to go to sleep!

I hope this information helps!

Readers, what do you think? How long do you stick with a new routine before deciding it isn't working?

If you have questions you would like to ask, please email me: josie (at)

Related posts:
Essential Organized Mommy - Posts for New Moms
Baby Sleep Routines for 0-1yr

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