How do I reverse the mistake I made by bringing my baby into bed with me?
MOLLY: This came from a reader in Putnam, Connecticut. She added that her baby is three-and-a-half months old and started sleeping “7 hours straight at 4 days old but would take forever to get to sleep and usually didn’t go to bed until 1 am.” The baby would fall asleep nursing and wake up as soon as she put her down so she started bringing her into bed with her. Now the baby wakes every three to four hours to eat and won’t fall asleep unless she’s snuggling next to her mom. Her mom is worried that by bringing her into bed with her she’s created a bad situation because her baby can’t sleep without her.
Dr. Susan Rutherford (Molly’s Mom): I can see the problem, though the baby is very young at three-and-a-half months old. Because of the baby’s age and that she still needs to be fed frequently, we might suggest something different than we would suggest for an older child who is in the same boat.
She should remember that the longer stretches that the baby was sleeping in the first four days of life were likely due to residual exhaustion from the birthing process and is not what should be expected of newborns. Newborns need to eat frequently –every few hours– because of the small size of their stomachs and the easy digestibility of breast milk/formula.
This mom will have to, in a sense, start over and not allow her child sleep in the same bed with her. The baby will probably be upset about this because she’s gotten used to it and children form habits very quickly, but she needs to move her into a crib. She’ll probably cry and need comfort (without waiting very long to give it), but the baby has to get used to sleeping in her own bed.
MOLLY: I think it’s important that she put the crib in a different room, too.
DR. RUTHERFORD: Right, she’ll want to put the crib in a different room while being sure she can hear her very clearly or else have a monitor. She should go in and comfort the baby very quickly when she cries and not delay. She should change her, if needed, and feed her, if needed, but put her back down in the crib to sleep rather than bringing her into her bed. It might take three or four nights for the baby to get used to being in a crib and in a different room. She’s probably not going to like it because it’s a change of pattern.
Otherwise, if she keeps the baby in bed with her at night, the baby will continue to wake up multiple times a night because she’s trained her body to do this.
Many moms are so tired during these early months that it seems easier to breast feed a newborn in bed so that both can quickly fall back asleep safely. But, really, in the long run it’s better for everyone if kids sleep in their own bed rather than their parents’ bed.
MOLLY: And, I’ve heard that when you’re all in the same room babies can smell the mother’s milk, making it almost impossible for them to sleep once they’ve awakened.
DR. RUTHERFORD: Yes, they can smell the milk too. That’s a good point.
MOLLY: I don’t think what happened to her is unusual: that babies start sleeping through the night and then stop sleeping through the night.
DR. RUTHERFORD: Yes, that’s very common.
MOLLY: I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t think her routine messed that up. I think she just needs to start getting the baby used to her own crib.
DR. RUTHERFORD: Right, if they keep that baby in bed, let’s say for 18 months, that baby will continue to wake up every night every few hours to be fed… well after they need to be fed that often.
MOLLY: One piece of advice that really helped me when I was at that stage with my little ones is to start putting the baby down awake for naps during the day. That was super helpful for us.
DR. RUTHERFORD: Right. She can soothe the baby before she puts her down by holding her, feeding her and making sure she is clean and dry, but then, when the baby is sleepy, she should put the baby down in her crib to sleep. It’s going to take a little time to help with that. The key is that the baby is very young and you want sto be sure to react quickly to their cries. “Crying it out” will only shake the foundation of secure feelings that her mom is building with her.
MOLLY: When I say awake, I mean not nursing her to sleep. The sleep-training book I used and liked is called The Sleepeasy Solution by Jennifer Waldburger talks a lot about the importance of naps and how they determine the night sleep patterns.
DR. RUTHERFORD: So, she should be prepared for a difficult week or two but then it will straighten itself out.