So your baby is finally past the third month mark, and yet night sleep is still a major challenge. Whether you are planning to sleep train your baby or not, you need to start getting a little more rest at night or risk you and your baby's safety. Being drowsy and irritable are bad enough, but prolonged periods of sleep deprivation can lead to lowered adrenalin levels, heart-stress, high blood pressure and major impairment of your short-term memory. If you could get your baby to go 5 hours between feeds at night it would be enough to give you some much needed rest. Here are some tips that should help you encourage your baby to adjust to longer periods of night sleep over the next month or so. Also, my tips for better night sleep for 2 and 3 month old babies are mostly still applicable after 3 months.
1. Place your hand on your baby's tummy.
When you hear your baby begin to fuss at night, place your hand on her stomach covering her belly button just below her ribcage. Let your hand get heavy, this will increase the amount of pressure on your delicate little Thumbelina's tummy just enough to relieve the cramping that a gassy or empty belly can cause. If the discomfort is relieved enough, your baby may not wake at all, but slip back into a relaxed and peaceful sleep. When you are sure she is sleeping soundly again, carefully remove your hand.
2. Wear fresh breast pads/don't bring the bottle.
If you share a bed with your baby, or if he sleeps in a separate nursery, whenever you are near him at night wear fresh nursing pads. The smell of milk is often a trigger for babies to wake up and demand to eat. You may have noticed that when you tiptoe in to check on your little snoozer, even though you are as quiet as a mouse, his eyes fly open at your approach. This is because if you are a nursing mother, your pretty much reek of breast milk to your baby's sensitive nose, and even if you are not breastfeeding, you may smell like the formula that you mixed for his next feeding. Try to leave bottles out side the room where your baby sleeps until they are needed, and wear a sleeping bra with fresh pads whenever you are near your baby at night.
3. Wear someone else's T-shirt.
Another great way to prevent the wake-up-I-smell-dinner impulse from disrupting your baby's sleep is to throw on one of your spouses t-shirts for the night. Wearing clothing that is saturated with the body-scent of a non-lactating adult will mask your own appetizing odor. Your baby will be much less likely to wake up when the person who is checking on her, or sleeping next to her doesn't smell like food.
4. Soothe for 15 minutes.
Our bodies have a hunger signal that lasts anywhere from 5 to about 15 minutes at a time. When your baby wakes for a feeding that you are trying to phase out, or delay, try soothing him with a pacifier, dancing, bouncing, light tummy pressure or anything that you can think of for at least 15 minutes. Often your baby will fall back asleep after about 10 minutes and sleep for another 30-45 minutes before waking again with hunger pains. If your baby wakes again after less than 10 minutes, or is not soothed after the 15 minutes, go ahead with the feed. This may seem like a recipe for more night disruptions instead of one to help you get more sleep, but after a few days of pushing your baby's feeding back, she will begin to adjust to the new schedule and sleep right through to the next feeding. If your baby is consistently sleeping for about 5 hours between feeds at night, you might also very slowly begin reducing the amount you offer him at he middle-of-the-night feeding. Within a week of successfully implementing this new schedule, your baby should increase the amount of food he eats during the day. For breastfeeding mothers this means that even if you were pumping at night to keep your production up, once your baby's daytime demand has increased, you can phase out your night pumping without an increased risk of losing your milk supply.
5. Keep the light as low as possible.
Any extra distractions or stimulation you can eliminate from your baby's environment at night will help to sustain long periods of night sleep. Do not flip on the light when you come in to check on your sweet little cloud-rider, and if you share a room with her at night, try to find your way to the restroom by the light of a night-light rather than turning on a lamp. By this age, your baby will have a clear understanding that daytime is when all of the fun happens, and any increase of illumination will trigger their internal clock to fast forward to morning time. Using a flashlight is a good idea, as long as it is not too bright, and you should not shine it directly on your sleeping baby.
Hopefully these tips will help, and before you know it your baby will be only waking up one time at night, for a very small amount of food. This last feeding will be very easy to eliminate, no matter what sleep training system you plan on using. Even if you do not plan to sleep train your baby, he may drop this last feeding on his own as he grows over the next month. The most important thing after your baby no longer physically needs the on-demand feedings is to get yourself back on a good resting schedule. A well rested parent is one of the best things anyone can give their baby. Happy parenting!