Sweet Dreams

Tips for handling growth phases that affect your baby's sleep.


"Why isn't my baby sleeping?" is the No. 1 question new parents ask, says Jill Spivack, M.S.W., of Childsleep, a pediatric sleep practice in Los Angeles.

One reason your child might be having difficulty staying settled at night is that she is approaching a developmental milestone, Spivack says. Those exciting "firsts," from rolling over to sitting up, can shake up a sleep routine. Here's help:

Birth to 4 Months

"Don't expect your baby to sleep through the night until she's at least 4 or 5 months old," Spivack says. "New babies are vulnerable creatures and really need your help because they don't yet know how to self-soothe."

Helpful Hint: Give your baby whatever she needs: swaddling, nursing, rocking, a pacifier or co-sleeping.

12–16 Weeks

That's when babies have a burst of cognitive development, Spivack says. This means that while your little one's more alert, she'll also wake more easily during light phases of sleep.

Helpful Hint: Remove distractions such as mobiles from the crib. Also, experiment with putting her down at night when she's drowsy but still awake so she'll learn to fall asleep on her own. She may protest at first; if five minutes go by and she's still crying, pick her up—you can try again later or another night.

4 Months and Older

Teething can be uncomfortable for babies. Watch for signs such as drooling, irritability, ear tugging and erratic sleep patterns.

Helpful Hint: Develop a few comfort mechanisms. Try giving your baby a cold, damp washcloth to suck on; help soothe her back to sleep with nursing, rocking or singing.

5–9 Months

"New motor skills such as rolling over, sitting and pulling up are like winning the lottery," Spivack says. "Babies are so excited that they want to practice all the time."

Helpful Hint: Offer your child plenty of "floor time" during the day, but resist engaging her in play at night.

7–10 Months

"Babies discover they're separate individuals, and some wonder, If I leave mommy or she leaves me, will she return?" Spivack says.

Helpful Hint: Introduce a transitional object, such as a blanket or stuffed toy, to reassure your baby when you're not there.