Sleeping FAQ: 4-6 months – Settling/Sleep Associations

How can I get my 4+ mth son to settle to sleep without using associations?

Before we started the CLB routines, my son was often an over-tired and cranky baby, as, once past the involuntary ‘sleep when tired’ stage, he hardly ever slept during the day. As a small baby, when he was still sleeping in a Moses basket in our room, I used to pop him into his cot bed in the mornings and he would play happily with his soft toys or watch/listen to his mobile while I had a shower. Then, all of a sudden, about the time he outgrew his Moses basket and moved into his cot bed in the nursery, he started to hate going into his cot bed and would scream if put down while awake.

Is there anything I can do to help him enjoy being in his cot bed again: e.g. should I put back the toys which I removed, to help him sleep/on the grounds of safety?
Although he happily falls asleep in his car seat and, provided there is no exciting external stimulus, his pushchair, the only way I can get him to sleep (either at night or for his naps) is by darkening his room, playing a calming CD and shushing and rocking him in my arms while sitting on my exercise ball! I do realise that, by doing this, I have probably created a problem for myself in the future, but I was desperate to help my son sleep and it is the only method that seems to work.

How and when should I start teaching him to fall asleep by himself?

Daytime naps are a particular problem, especially the lunchtime nap, as he really fights against sleep (he is a very alert and active baby and I can’t help thinking that he does not want to miss anything by sleeping). He generally wakes up around 7.30am and has a 45 minute nap at 9am (I have to wake him up). At lunchtime, however, he often wakes after about 75 minutes and then is very difficult to get back to sleep (if I do succeed, it may only be for 10-15 minutes).

He has 5x 8ozs bottles in the day and one in the night. He receives solids at 2.30pm and 6pm feeds taking about 4-5 teaspoons of banana puree, baby rice or gluten free cereal.
Is the anything I can do to encourage my son to sleep for longer at lunchtime?

Begin to use the gradual withdrawal method to get him used to spending time in his cot bed. Place him in there with a few toys and play with him for a few minutes until he is engaging with his toys then move away from him to tidy a drawer or shelf for a minute or two but reassure him you are still there. Do this on a regular basis through the day, not when he is ready for a sleep, gradually lengthening the time he stays there on his own, whilst you move further and further away.
Whilst it is not encouraged to have a lot of toys in the cot, placing one or two familiar ones towards the top end, so there is no danger of them falling on him, may help him feel happier about settling there.

As your son has learnt to associate falling asleep with being rocked and “shushed” it will take some amount of crying whilst he learns how to fall asleep on his own. You will need to be certain in your own mind and explain fully to any others carers he has, what you are planning to do and why. You will need to check with your doctor before beginning any kind of “controlled crying”. Take a look at The Complete Sleep Guide which gives a detailed explanation of this method on p45. Once you have begun this method you will need to implement it at every nap time and sleep in order for it to succeed. It may be best to start at the weekend when you have others around to help you. To begin with, reassure him every 5-10 minutes rather than the longer stretches of time recommended for older babies. Remember that persistency and consistency are the key to cracking this problem.
Once your son has begun to learn how to fall asleep on his own, he should be better able to also settle himself back to sleep at lunchtime when he wakes. This may take a while as he is very used to only sleeping for 75 minutes. Once you get to the stage that you know he is capable of falling asleep alone, you will find it easier to leave him for 15-20 minutes to do so in his lunchtime nap. Look at the article by Gina on the lunchtime nap to check through what could be disturbing him. It would be best to tackle learning to fall asleep first, before trying to get a longer nap. One of the most common reasons for a disturbed nap at this time is hunger or thirst. As your son is not receiving his first solids of the day until 2.30pm this could well be the reason. Move these solids to 11am which will become “lunch” as he increases the amounts he takes. Use the Complete Weaning Guide if you are unsure how to structure his weaning. Offer him a small drink of milk or water before going down to eliminate this reason.
Gina, Frances and the team