In a perfect world, your baby would suddenly snap out of his sleep issues at three months old, letting you and your partner finally get some shut-eye and resume a normal schedule.
Real life? Not so much. While your 3- to 6-month-old should've outgrown some of the issues messing with his newborn sleep schedule, there are brand-new difficulties to deal with. And some stuff, like reflux, can plague your baby during his entire first year. Don't panic though: a study published in a 2003 issue of Pediatrics found that the average 3 to 6-month-old infant sleeps more than 14 hours per day, so you'll have the opportunity to snooze when he does.
- Skip "sleep crutches." Placing your baby in a swing or bouncer for a nap can give you time to sneak in a shower, but using such crutches can make your little one dependent on motion at bedtime. This stimulation makes him less likely to fall asleep on his own—in fact, a 2001 study in the Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health found that settling a three-month-old in his bed before sleep and minimizing interaction led to a 10 percent increase longer sleep stretches. Pediatric therapist and parenting expert Dr. Fran Walfish advises against allowing your baby to fall asleep in places other than his bed. "Even if you breastfeed and he falls asleep in your arms, gently arouse him so that you see his eyes and he is aware that you are saying 'night, night'," she suggests. "This acquaints your baby with the experience of falling asleep without contact."
- Transition time. Sometimes, your small snoozer simply has a hard time transitioning from being awake to being asleep. Walfish suggests using items that signal to your baby that it's time to go to sleep. A thin blanket or a pacifier only given at bed and naptimes can help trigger a tired reaction in your tot. It may seem unnecessary, but transitory items help your little guy learn to self-soothe at bedtime. Just make sure to avoid bulky items like huge stuffed animals or fluffy pillows—they could be an asphyxiation hazard to babies under 6 months.
- Night waking. Although other parents are quick to brag about their kids sleeping through the night this early, about a third of babies are still waking up during the 3- to 6-month stretch. It's totally normal, and since your child's too young to start sleep training, it's best to go to him and offer soothing words. If he seems hungry, it's fine to offer breast or bottle, since his stomach is still tiny and can't always make it through the night without a quick refueling.
- Over-tiredness. It might sound counterintuitive, but skipping naps during the day to ensure a sleepy baby at bedtime is a sure-fire way to keep your baby up at night. "More sleep during the day (but not longer than 2 hour stretches) helps to promote sleep during the night-time hour," Pediatric sleep coach Cate McKee says. "Expect babies to take 4-5 naps [per day]." Without catching enough z's during the day, you could be listening to the wails of a cranky, overly tired kid way past bedtime.
- Over-sleeping. While it's not OK to make your little one tired on purpose, letting your baby get too much sleep could also leave you prowling the halls at midnight. Record your baby's natural sleep patterns; pay attention to when he naturally wakes up. Then, start waking him at the right time to facilitate a more predictable schedule—bright lights and noise can help end a too-long nap. Four-hour siestas during the day seems like a dream when you want to catch up on housework, but it can be a nightmare when it comes time for bed.
- Changing schedules. As soon as you settle into a manageable schedule, your baby will likely have different ideas about how your day should go. Growing and developing takes a ton of work, so if he suddenly wants to a quit one of his naps during the day or is up by 6 a.m. every morning, you have no choice but to roll with it. "Maintain a flexible feeding, nap and bedtime routine," suggests McKee. Rework your schedule as your baby's needs change or run the risk of a nightly bedtime battle. Welcome to parenthood!
- Medical issues. If your little guy has suffered with medical issues, such as reflux, ear infections, or colds, sleep is going to be elusive. Hopefully with medical intervention and at-home treatments—a raised mattress, a humidifier, a warm bath—you'll be able to comfort your tot while he's feeling under the weather. The truth is that if your baby's sick, you need to prepare yourself for less sleep. The slightest change can throw your little one completely off, but he'll right himself over time.
The end of the first six months signifies the end of the "newborn" stage. Your life will suddenly become more predictable and less focused on nighttime feedings and changings. Over time, bedtime woes diminish and you can start to focus on all of the fun stuff that your baby does when he's awake—gummy smiles, crawling, and babbling, anyone?