Infants: 4 to 7 months
Babies this age still need lots of sleep. Typically children are down to at least two naps of an hour to three each. However, there are some that will continue to take three naps during these months and for shorter periods. So although the range of needs and lengths vary, your child will fall somewhere into these two extremes.

Your best bet it to have watched your little one’s pattern from month two to four. They naturally develop a schedule. Some folks try to schedule naps for their babies. This only works if you are going within the general parameters of the baby’s natural nap schedule. Think about it, could you fall asleep if you weren’t tired. Don’t try to force the little one, instead read his signs.

The remainder of this article is not intended for co-sleeping parents, but rather parents who choose to help their child learn to sleep on their own.

The Signs of Tiredness
It’s very important to read baby’s signals as to tiredness. Most babies will rub their eyes and nose if they are tired. Some get really silly or really wound up right before the magical moment where falling asleep will be its easiest. If you wait too much longer than that, you are missing your golden opportunity to encourage your little one to fall asleep on her own.

Drum Roll Please – Putting Baby Down for Nap
If you know it’s about the time that baby generally falls asleep and your sweetie is showing the aforementioned signs... go for it!

1) Talk to the baby using the words you’d like him to associate with going to sleep. For example: “Are you tired, Sweetie? Do you want to go night-night?” I will use these two buzz words for my little ones. That way, even if they can’t completely understand the rest of what I’m saying, those words “tired” and “night-night” will always be associated with sleeping.

2) You can rock or cuddle with baby to get them to the mostly drowsy state if, one, you have the time and, two, you realize you may not always be able to do that for them and are willing to deal with the consequences of an infant who can’t understand what “not right now” means. Babies and children thrive on habit. They feel safe knowing what comes next. So, if you start something be prepared to do it the majority of the time because the only one who will really pay for it is your little one who will be confused if you can’t follow through at least 90% of the time. This includes rocking/cuddling them to sleep or mostly to sleep. Your child may actually outgrow it and will let you know. This would be great, but you never know if they will or when they will. I would rock my youngest until he was almost asleep and then put him in the crib. Eventually, he just got upset with me and wanted me to put him straight into the crib.

3) You don’t have to do step two to get to step three. You can go straight from one to three if your baby naturally calms down when tired. I have known infants who just fall asleep when they are tired. I have never had a child that did this, but definitely have seen infants who do! For those children like mine - when you first begin, try putting baby down in a mostly unconscious state. He won’t be awake, but not fully asleep either. After a few days to a week of this, try it with him almost to the state of sleep. Again, after a few days of this being successful, start trying it with him sleepy, but awake. This seems to be the gentlest of ways to help baby figure out how to fall asleep on her own.

While I say this, I understand there is nothing that can be guaranteed 100% for your child. You have to try everything that you can think of that might work. Even #3, while working for my other three, did not work for #4. He just wanted to be held to fall asleep. He’d wake up as soon as I put him down. That is why I reverted to crying it out for him. He needed to figure out how to self-soothe, that is calm himself down, and not rely on me to do so.

Why Self-Soothe?
So, you may ask, what’s the big deal about self-soothing? Well, it will mean the difference between you getting a child who can sleep the whole night through or a child who will need your help to get back to sleep. Again, there are parents who don’t mind getting up and helping the child, however, I have known folks whose children are of school age and still wake them up at night on a pretty consistent basis. Therefore, for those of us who really can’t foresee getting up night after night for the next 6 years, getting your infant to learn to fall back asleep alone is an essential tool. Eventually, their brain is trained and they never wake fully up again. This, in the end, will help your child develop great sleep habits that will supply their bodies with the rest they need to grow and develop.

Is Nursing or Bottle-feeding to Sleep Bad?
Nursing or bottle-feeding to sleep is another bad habit that you will later have to break the baby of. If baby learns to not fall asleep unless eating, feedings become a necessity of falling asleep. I would recommend trying to nurse even a few minutes before it’s time to start the “night-night” methods so that your little one won’t associate eating with sleeping.

Sleep-Time Rituals
It has been generally recommended that your sweet baby gets a bath and massage before bed every night to signal that it is time for bed. I don’t necessarily think that a bath and massage is necessary. I do think that rituals, even a short 15 minute one, can give your sweetie the signals that it’s transition time. These can include the aforementioned cuddling, or it can be reading a book together (try using the same book for at least a week at a time), it can be tickle time followed by cuddle time, or it can even be the famed singing of lullabies. Start now at this age and it will help you even into their young childhood.

I would like to reiterate, you need to try several different techniques at times to find what suits both you and your baby. Don’t give up. Don’t be discouraged. You are unique, your child is unique... it will take time and trial and error.

Next time: PART III – Infants 6 to 12 months and Common Sleep Disturbances in Babies

Author's Bio: 

Nancy Libby is a seasoned mother of 5. She has had the advantages of being a single mother (now a married mother), a mother of an only child, a step-mother, a mother of siblings, and urban mother, a suburban mother, a working mother, and now a stay-at-home mother.

She currently homeschools four of her five children and has learned much about herself through it.