Establishing routine after 3 months old

After leaving the postpartum hotel, we experienced the first sleepless week taking care of Ruby on our own. For the first 2.5 months, I was mostly struggling and learning to breastfeed. After I got more confident at breastfeeding, we transitioned from one bottle feed a day to all breastfeeding. Right before she turned 3M, she started sleeping through the night (5+ hours). Later on, I read a lot of articles and books about routines during my parental leave and kept experimenting via trial and error with her. Here I will share my own learning experience to establish a routine after 3M, what worked and did not work for us.

From one bottle feed to all breastfeeding

Many say a bottle feed before bedtime can help with longer sleep, but it isn’t necessarily the case.

Until 2M, my husband bottle-fed breastmilk every night before bedtime because she seemed to be able to sleep for at least 3-4 hours with one waking per night. Since we can control its amount with a bottle feed, we thought it’s a better way to make sure she goes to bed with a full stomach this way. After we tried breastfeeding instead of bottle-feeding a few times, her sleeping behavior actually didn’t change. We then decided to do all breastfeeding, which took some burden off from my husband when he started working. All breastfeeding was also easier for me, not having to pump for a full meal every day.

Sleeping through the night

We tried dream feeding while her sleep gradually lengthened, then stopped after a week.

I woke up about once per night and early in the morning to breastfeed Ruby, and at about 2.5M I started waking up automatically without having to hear her cry. After a week of dream feeds in the middle of the night, I stopped waking up to catch up on sleep and she slept through the night for the first time right before 3M. Thankfully she continued her long sleep at night, with occasional wakings at night or early morning before 6 am. It was such a relief for me, as I hadn’t slept through the night since the third trimester. I did read from a book that baby girls statistically can reach this stage earlier than baby boys.

Eat – Activity/Play – Sleep – Your time (E.A.S.Y.)

In the first three months, I read a bunch of success stories about following the famous “Eat-Activity-Sleep” schedule for each cycle between feedings. In theory, this sounds like a great schedule design since:

  • The baby always eats with full energy
  • It gives the baby time to digest before laying down for sleep
  • The predictable sleep time gives the caretaker some free time

However, it’s not as EASY in reality and we learned to be flexible and follow these principles instead:

  • Take notes of baby’s awake time to get a sense of their maximum awake time. To prevent the baby from getting overtired (which makes babies even harder to fall asleep), get baby ready for nap toward the end of their maximum awake time or when they show tired signs (pretty much like adults – rubbing eyes, yawning, change of mood)
  • Try our best to give the baby full feeding for a good nap. After 3 months, babies started exploring the world with better eyesight and it could get hard for them to focus on eating. They get distracted often, and it’s best to feed them in an environment with least distractions
  • Create a comfortable sleep environment for the baby. After the baby started sleeping through the night and has a sense of day and night, we started keeping the nap environment consistent with night sleep – curtains closed, no light, no toys in the crib, low soothing music
  • When the baby wakes up or cries at nap time, eliminate other factors first. Then, assume the baby could go back to sleep in the nap window. We gradually developed a sense of baby’s different cries – hunger (steady and continuous), discomfort (piercing and continuous), and sleepy (lower pitch and on-and-off)

It’s okay falling out of any of the above principles sometimes. I often got frustrated when she got distracted from feeding and had a way too short feeding, but I just had to let these feelings go. It’s important to keep in mind that the baby’s well being is the top priority, not following the routine strictly. If the baby wakes up half an hour before the next eat time, it’s fine and I usually give her some tummy time.

4 month sleep regression

Right after the 4-month mark, we started encountering sleep issues similar to the well-known 4-month sleep regression, although it’s never possible to verify. Ruby used to take naps easily during the day, but she suddenly grew fussy and couldn’t fall asleep after being awake for 2+ hours. When she was able to nap, it often lasted 30-40 minutes and she couldn’t go back to sleep. We were very confused since she could have long sleep at night, but it might just be from her lack of daytime sleep. The reason for 30-40 minute nap is from baby’s shorter sleeping cycle, and they wake up if they can’t soothe themselves back to the next cycle.

Learning how to fall asleep and self-soothe after 4 months

There are many sleep training methods and alternatives without right or wrong, and we settled on a middle ground more like the Baby Whisperer’s Sleep Method. When the baby cries and cannot fall asleep, we generally did the following:

  • Do our best to eliminate any discomfort or hunger (diaper, leg bicycle exercise, sitting up and burping)
  • Wind down to sleep time by soothing the baby with singing, soft talking, patting (we held her up for 20 minutes max in the beginning, then tried not holding her up as much as possible)
  • Baby still cries, we leave the room and let the baby learn how to self-soothe by eating their hands or (usually she falls asleep after few minutes of low-pitched cry, especially when she’s overtired)
  • If the baby still cries for no more than 10 minutes, repeat the above

The duration to let the baby cry depends on the caretakers, as there is no absolute right answer. It’s like the classic “cry it out” method, but for a time that we felt comfortable. The other extreme is to care the baby whenever they cry, but the baby develops dependence on others to calm down instead of learning how to self-soothe.

After a few days repeating the above, she started soothing herself to another sleep cycle and thus having longer naps. When she had longer naps, she was also less cranky and more fun to play with. With these few days of “training”, she really unlocked the self-soothing skill that makes the whole family happier. Even when she didn’t feel like a long nap, she stayed calm in the crib and sometimes fell asleep after looking around for some time.

Wrap Up

Each baby is unique and each caretaker has their own preferences and constraints, we all try to find what works best for the family. There were times when I felt discouraged from trying methods that worked for others but not for Ruby, and I’ve learned to be more patient, open-minded, and flexible. Sleep is one of the most important ways for a baby to grow, and we are glad to see her sleep more with the age-appropriate total daily sleep time.