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Early-waking baby, very tired parent. How can I get my infant to sleep later? And why do three and four-month-old babies sleep worse than newborns? Babble.com’s Parental Advisory.

From 1.5 months on, my baby daughter slept from 11 p. m. to 6 a.m. straight. Now at 3.5 months, things seem to have changed for the worse. She is bathed and fed and asleep by 8 p.m., awake anytime between 11 p.m.-1 a.m. for a feed, and then up again at 4 a.m.!

Nothing I do, be it delaying bed time (she gets red-eyed and miserable), or increasing milk, or delaying mid-feed works, she’s up at four and won’t sleep again. She doesn’t cry when she wakes up at 4 a.m., so I usually try to pat her back to sleep, give her a pacifier, but she stays awake and restless until 6 a.m.when I feed her. Then I tried feeding her at 4 a.m. but that just makes her chirpy and wide awake! The only change I can think of in her life is a) the early-to-bed bit, routine starts at 7 p.m. with bath and b) supplementing her breast milk with formula. She drinks throughout the day at three-hour intervals (breast milk) and gets a bottle for the night wake-up feed.

Please let me know if there’s anything I am doing wrong and if anything at all will make her sleep till 6 a.m. and not 4 a.m.! – SR

Dear SR,

To say that we feel for you is an understatement. What’s happening to you has happened to other readers, to friends and to us. In fact, it’s happening to one of us right now. This post-newborn sleep downturn happens so often, we’re tempted to come up with a catchy name for it (the three-to-four month bitch?) and try to market a simple, no-fail solution. If only there was one.

According to some well-respected baby literature, three months marks the end of the newborn phase and the beginning of “the Settled Baby.” This implies that once a baby is three months old, he should start getting it together. So why is it that the sleep of three-plus-month-old babies so often starts to go down the tubes? And if it happens so very often, why aren’t parents warned about it as a matter of course? We’ve had many long, bitter, semi-conscious discussions about this subject.

Some say it’s early teething. Others say it’s a growth spurt. There are interesting theories about sleep regressions as the byproduct of developmental churnings. Any of these things are possible. There is a very slight possibility that she’s reacting to her new diet or some schedule change is setting her off. But the much more likely scenario is that she’s just changing her sleep habits . . . to ones that unfortunately don’t jibe so well with your own desire to sleep.

When a baby moves out of the newborn era, she often quite literally “wakes up” to the world. She can move around, see and engage. She is hip to the fact that there’s a world outside the crib walls. An older baby may be more organized than a newborn, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to easier sleep. An organized baby is a baby who “gets it.” Where before she might have been content in her blur, your daughter may now better realize the difference between being alone in her crib and in your arms.

We’ve come to see this phase as a sort of turning point. If the problem can’t be solved with a tweak to her schedule or diet, the bigger question becomes less about what’s causing the wakings than what to do about them. The choices in this case fit squarely into the two prevailing parenting camps. Those who favor child-led parenting will likely suggest riding out the regression and accepting that your baby has needs in the nighttime as well as during the day. The parent-led camp says these persistent night wakings mean that now is the time to teach your baby how to sleep. Of course, there are gray areas between these two poles, but we’re simplifying things to help you focus your bleary eyes.

It was the pressure we felt from these two opposing camps that inspired us to write From the Hips, and we took excruciating care with the sleep chapter as a result. Our main point there is our best advice to you now. You will likely get lots of advice on how to proceed with the fact of your baby waking up at night. The advice will probably come along with promises and warnings. “It’ll pass.” (The truth is it will, but it might be years.)”If you don’t sleep train her now, it’ll be too late.” (It might be easier now than later, but it might not.) And that’s not even counting the threats of various forms of doom that might befall you if you choose another technique. Try not to let them scare you. As a couple of potential presidential candidates are learning, negative campaigning is good for no one. Both camps have their pros and cons. Neither is right for everyone. You’re the only one who can decide if you’re okay with keeping on or if you need to do something about it.

And on that note, we’ll now lead you to a previous column where we lay out some specific suggestions for coping with the 4 a.m. wake-up call. These suggestions were given for a ten-month-old baby, but most can be applied to your situation. We were a tad more confident, at ten months, that this was a passing phase. At 3.5 months, you can wait a few weeks to see if a change naturally occurs. If not, do what feels best for your family and remember that you can try one thing, and if it doesn’t work, try another, and if it doesn’t work, try another:

Have a question? Email parentaladvisory@babble.com

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