Q: Why are my 4 month old baby's naps so short?

A: Just like adults, babies have sleep cycles that they are constantly transitioning in and out of. They have REM, non-REM and natural rhythms in which they follow. Around this age in particular, a baby's sleep cycle is usually around forty to forty-five minutes. What ends up happening is as follows: the baby falls asleep being rocked, nursed, held, etc. She falls into a deep sleep and remains asleep for that entire sleep cycle. After forty-five minutes, she comes into a lighter sleep and begins to transition into her next sleep cycle. The problem is, however, that she is awake enough to realize that she is no longer being rocked, nursed or held and therefore cries out to have her initial environment she fell asleep in recreated. I generally recommend for mothers to try putting the baby down for her nap or bedtime while she is still slightly awake. This way she'll be able to smoothly transition from one sleep cycle to the next and continue sleeping longer.

Q: What is a healthy age to expect my baby to sleep through the night?

A: The term, "sleeping through the night" is by far the most popular topic discussed among parents with babies. It can also have many meanings depending on each mother. For some moms, it means waking up several times at night to feed a baby and then having her fall back asleep calmly and easily without much hassle. For others it means to place your baby in her crib at bedtime and not hear from her until morning! However you define this term, there are general guidelines in regards to when babies can actually sleep these long stretches of the night. Realistically speaking, until around nine or ten months a baby will still need to have one liquid feeding in the night. That does not mean, however, that before this age a baby needs to be habitually waking up many times at night to be fed, calmed, rocked, walked, etc. A baby that is healthily gaining weight and is on a semi-predictable routine during the day can usually last about six to seven hours at night without a feeding starting at approximately twelve weeks.

Q: My baby won't fall asleep by herself…HELP!!!

A: This is by far the most common issue that I deal with. Babies are smart and develop habits quickly and easily. Once they become accustomed to falling asleep in a certain scenario, they usually need that same scenario every time they fall asleep. Babies sleep cycles are very similar to that of an adult's: coming in and out of various sleep rhythms, REM, deeper sleep cycles, etc. When your baby transitions from one sleep cycle to the next and finds herself in her crib (after being rocked, patted, nursed etc) to sleep, she thinks to herself, "Why am I not being rocked, patted, nursed again?" She will then protest until her initial environment is recreated. The goal is to teach her how to fall asleep on her own so that when she comes into a lighter sleep cycle, she is in the same environment as when she fell asleep. That way she can follow those cues and fall back asleep quickly and easily.

Q: Why does my baby suddenly seem uninterested in nursing/taking a bottle?

A: As babies grow older and are physically developing, they are also becoming more curious and aware of their surroundings. This newfound alertness and eagerness to see the world can also often make it difficult for them to sit still for any extended period of time. This may make your baby more distractible while engaging in a specific project like playing with the same toy for longer than five to ten minutes. Eating falls into the same category as an activity she is being forced to do for an extended period of time. If this is the case, I would suggest feeding your baby in a quiet, dimly lit place so that way she can concentrate. This will minimize distractions and make it easier for her to focus on eating, which is obviously a very important thing for her to be doing!

Q: My baby ALWAYS falls asleep nursing. Is there any way to prevent this?

A: Unless you enjoy your baby suckling away to sleep, I would suggest that you try altering his routine around. If you consistently see that you are feeding him before every nap, it's time to do a quick switch. Instead of letting him fall asleep while eating, try to start feeding him when he wakes up. Feeding him when he's up and alert will have two benefits. First he will get his proper meal and nutrition because he won't be falling asleep in the middle of eating. And second, it will weaken his association between eating and sleeping, hereby reinforcing the message that he can go to sleep without needing the breast or bottle.

Q: Why is it important for my baby to take good naps?

A: Around three months of age, babies start producing a natural chemical in their brain called melatonin. This hormone promotes a baby's drowsiness by relaxing the muscles and putting his body into a "sleep ready" mode. It also has a direct correlation between light and darkness, which makes it understandable why babies naturally wind down for sleep in the evening. The production of this chemical is directly connected to how well a baby naps. This chemical is optimally produced at certain times of the day when a baby is ready to sleep. By helping your baby take better, more quality naps you are helping to establish good hormonal rhythms which will also further improve your baby's overall sleep, both during the day and at night.