Why doesn't my 5 months old baby son stay alseep?

by Lin
(Dublin, Ireland)

Question: My son is almost 5 months old and fully breastfed. He does not nap very long during the day but I do put him down at 9, 12 and 4 because these are the times he is tired, he usually sleeps for 1 hour each nap. He gets a feed ever 3.5-4h and his last one would be at 7pm but he is very often too tired for the 7pm feed and falls asleep but whether he takes the feed or not he usually wakes at 10.30/11pm again for a feed. Then sleeps till ca 2/2.30am for the next feed.
From 2.30 he wakes at 4am and 5.30 am and that’s it. I did feed him at 4am to see if he would sleep till 7am but whether I do feed him or not he wakes at those times. I usually pat his tummy or rock him for 2min and he would fall asleep again easily but waking up after 1.5h again. This has been going on for 4 weeks now and I don’t know why he is waking at 4am and 5.30am every night. He would eat if I put him on but only for a few minutes. He is on medication for reflux and got winds. I also tried giving him the bottle at nights but this did not make a change either. I haven’t been feeling well lately and I was wondering if it could be that he doesn’t get enough calories during the day as he is not feeding for long during the day and thats why he does not make it through the night.
Heidi, Thank you for your help.

Heidi's Answer: Dear Lin, I am sorry to hear you have not been feeling well and it is absolutely understandable that you are having a difficult time. Sleep deprivation can be so tough. You hope you will find some comfort through this page on sleep deprivation effects and you can email me about it too.

I know this is not what you are waiting to hear but I do have to say that how your baby son is sleeping, is still thought normal. A maximum of 4 hours in a row is the most many babies can do at this age. Yes of course, there are also babies who do sleep longer stretches but they are far from the majority.

I'm mentioning this only to help you relax about it, just realising that it is still normal, but it's not to say there is nothing we can do to improve your nights.

An important part of the answer is in what you write in your question: "he is very often too tired for the 7pm feed" and "he is not feeding for long during the day" ... So the first step will be to help him feed more during the day. Over-feeding right before bedtime is not a good idea (it will not improve his sleep and it's not healthy), but we can work to increase his intake, spread over the whole day.

Very good of you to put him down at those regular times during the day, well timed to have them when he is tired. There I will suggest an experiment to make those naps longer, and slightly rearrange the schedule to optimise his sleep overall.

We will also make the most of his ability to easily go back to sleep again when he wakes - with your patting his tummy or rocking for just 2 minutes.

So the plan I want to suggest is this:

- Keep the 9am nap, but put shift the two other ones to slightly earlier: not much, just 10-15 minutes or so. The idea is to put him down when just a bit less tired.

- To extend the naps: about 5-10 minutes before he usually wakes from a nap (so about 50 minutes into a nap): go to him very quietly so as not to wake him but put your hand on his tummy (or something else you know comforts him. This way many moms manage to take baby to the next sleep cycle as it helps him stay asleep. I wouldn't make you do this at nights right now, the practice during the day will help him at night too.

- Feed him immediately or very soon after waking from the naps. This will have him most awake and able to eat the most. Make sure he 'empties' the first breast completely before moving to the second one (the hind milk has the bulk of the calories so you do not want to miss that). Do not offer the second breast otherwise, he might drink a bit there (because the fore milk comes with less effort for him) but not get the calories he needs.

- Squeeze in one or two extra feedings during the day, when convenient.

- Shift the 7pm feeding to a bit earlier, say 6.30pm to have him more awake and feeding more. Don't worry too much about shifting his whole night to earlier, it's all about finding a good schedule, and suitable feeding.

- Between that feed and the 10-11pm feed: try to get some sleep for yourself. It may feel awkward to go to bed that early, but if you can get about 2 hours before the night starts, that can make such a huge difference.

- At night and the early morning wakes, for now, mostly do as you have been doing so far. When he wakes though, and fusses a bit but does not really cry or is upset, wait a few moments before going to him. He may be able to settle by himself. If not, do go to him and help him to sleep asap again, with as little light and interaction as possible.

- For the early morning awakenings, it can also be worth checking a few things that might wake him (especially since 4 weeks when it started?): does it get colder in his room around that time, noises on the street or next door, does he always have a wet diaper, ...? Sometimes it's a little things like this that mess up the nights.

Other than this, he is nearing 6 months old now, an age where sleep very often settles down. So keep up the good habits like the regular and well-adapted schedule, a simple bedtime routine, no-fuss going down and then you will naturally move towards better nights.

For a complete step-by-step guide towards lasting sleeping through, you may find my No-Tears Sleeping Through the Night guide helpful.

For yourself, please do not hesitate to reach out for help. If your partner, or a family member, friend or baby sitter, can take over for even just an hour from time to time, so you get some time for yourself, that can help wonders. Sleeping is also good, but just relaxing a bit, going for a walk, reading a book or any activity you like (not what others say is good for you, but really, something YOU like) is good to do.

Good luck, take care,

Comments for Why doesn't my 5 months old baby son stay alseep?

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Thank you!!!
by: Lin

Dear Heidi
Thank you so much for your quick reply, it means a lot to me. It's so good having someone who understands and can give good advise. I will try everything what you suggested and hopefully things will improve. His two bottom teeth are there now and the front ones are on its way, this probably does influence the poor eating as well.
The other thing I notice that he is constantly tired during the day with an activity time withount being cranky of 1.5h max. Whenever he gets tired he gets so cranky and starts screaming and he has trouble to switch off, therefore it's very hard going with him somewhere. Whenever he had a good nap he is in brilliant form. I will try to put the feeding after him wakin up but it did not work the last two days as he is up and hungry at 6am already. I will try to change and shift his routine to get him to sleep longer and eat more. Thank you again!!!

Most welcome
by: Heidi

You are most welcome Lin, thank you for the feedback and I do wish things will change for the better soon now.
Take care,

by: Anonymous

Dear Heidi,

Just to give you an update that things have improved. I am feeding him at 7am,11am,3pm and 7pm
I make sure he takes his naps and even a catnap before the bedtime works for him to take the full feed now.

I also introduced a few spoons of solids in between and he is sleeping longer stretches now.

If he goes to sleep at 7.30, he wakes between 10 and 11 pm and then again between 2 and 3 and then up between 6 and 7. Whenever he wakes too early I dont go in straight away and if he does not manage to settle himself I go in put my hand on his tummy, hold his arms down gently and he falls asleep again (most of the time).

The only thing I am wondering is if he gets enough milk feeds as he refuses to drink at 11am most days. Thank you again!!!

Glad to hear!
by: Heidi

Hi Lin,

I'm very happy to hear things have improved. Sleeping those longer stretches is a huge step forward.

What you are doing at the early awakenings is very good: give him time to let him try and settle himself and if it doesn't work, help him a little bit. You will see that he will be doing it more and more by himself. Little by little you can then do the same exercise at the night awakenings.

About his milk feeds: as long as he remains happy and healthy he is probably OK. The solids already add to his food intake so that might explain it partly.

Have you tried if he feels more like solids at 11am? Then you could start with a few spoons, and then milk as a 'dessert' if he likes.

Or, shift that feeding to a bit later, say 11.30am. That slight change in schedule should not upset the rest of the day so you'll be OK.

In any case, you're on a very good track, keep it up!

by: lin

Dear Heidi
I just wanted to let you know how things have been.
My son is 6.5 months now, he is on solids and sleeping in his own room. He now usually sleeps from 7/7.30pm-10.30 and 2-6. Our feeding/sleeping schedule is as follows: 6am breast,8am few spoons baby porridge, 9.30-10.30 nap, 11.30am/12 veggies, 1-2 nap ,3pm bottle, 4.30-5.30 nap, 5.30cereals with banana, bath, 7pm breast(usually only a little bit) and sleep at 7.30pm.I was thinking of cutting the feeds at 10.30 and 2 but he s really hungry both times, which surprises me as he is usually eating a lot at 6 pm. I tried bottle and breast at the night wakings, wouldnt make any difference. I am just worried that he will still wake at 2 am when I am going back to work in May and will be very tired.
He already got 4 teeth and is struggling quite badly with teething, maybe that could be disturbing him from sleeping through or longer periods than 4h...
Do you think his wakings are out of habit and would you suggest to try to cut the feeds at 10.30 and 2am in order to make him sleep through at one stage?
The other question I have, when I feed him after his morning nap he is usually too tired too eat, so he hardly eats the veggies and I feed him after his lunch nap around 2.30pm. Do you have an idea what I can do to make him eat his lunch between 11.30 and 1 Pm? Thanks a million for listening and helping!!!

Getting there
by: Heidi

Hi Lin,

Thanks for the update.

Your two remaining problems (night feedings and not hungry enough at 11am) are quite probably related and reinforcing each other. The teething of course doesn't help either. Have you checked my teething remedies page for ideas?

I suggest you indeed try to wean the second night awakening (the 2am one), but gradually, by feeding less and less.

If you breastfeed: only offer one breast and stop at the first opportunity. If you give a bottle: dilute it more and more by gradually adding less formula for the same amount of water. This will help reduce his hunger feeling at that moment.

Have you tried my suggestion (in my original reply) to make him nap longer? It would be great if you could try (again).

Scheduling will become much easier if he takes 2 longer naps in stead of 3 short ones (or 2 long ones and 1 short nap). And after a longer morning nap, he'll be less tired by veggie time.

And while awaiting results from weaning the 2am feed and the longer naps, try to stretch his morning nap to later if at all possible (but not until overtired of course).

Take care,

Thank you
by: lin

for responding so quick. Yes I have been trying to extend the naps with your technique but most of the times it only works for another 10min :(
What would be the ideal lengths of the naps ?
I tried your teething remedies, brilliant. And I will try to wean him of the 2am feed now.
Thank you again!!!

Ideal length
by: Heidi

That's a tricky question, there's so much spread on what ideal nap length is for a baby. But any extra, even 10 minutes is good (unless you spend half an hour to get it).

You might influence nap length more by shifting it to later or earlier (according to whether he's tired or not so tired).

But don't push things too much for now, give it all some time to settle too, while you work on the 2am feed.

Take care,

5 months later
by: Lini

Dear Heidi, Last time I wrote to you my son was about 6 months old, you helped me a lot and I managed to establish a very good routine with him, now he is 10 months old and he did sleep through the night on some occasions :) Most nights he wakes between 10 and 11 pm for his bottle. His schedule is as follows:
6am 7oz bottle
8am porridge
9.30-10.45am nap
11am 4oz milk
12 lunch(veggies, meat and a yoghurt)
2.30-4pm nap
4pm 7oz bottle
6pm semolina porridge w apple
7pm sleep
He does not take the bottle in the evening thats why i shifted it to 4pm but he is still waking for a bottle between 10 and 11pm,gulping it down. I am not sure if I should wean him off that bottle or if he still needs 2.5 bottles or even more in 24h.He also wakes at 2.30am and I usually try to calm him with the soother or I put him in my bed or stay with him until he falls asleep and then hes fine. Of course I am worried that he will get used to it. He is well able to fall asleep on his own, during the day and in the evening. I bought blackout blinds and checked the temperature.I am not too sure what I should to with the 10pm bottle and his waking between 2-3. is it just a phase or growth spurt?
Thank you Heidi!

Well done!
by: Heidi - BabySleepAdvice

Hi Lin,

Glad to hear from you, and well done on establishing such a nice routine and schedule!

I wouldn't worry about the 10pm bottle for now. The routine is so nice now. This bottle is something that will easily disappear in the next month or two as his solid intake increases further.

(If it's still there in two months, don't hesitate to start diluting it gradually to reduce the hunger feeling at that moment - and up the intake during the day if you feel it necessary).

With the 2.30am awakening I'd be more careful. Especially for yourself, this is a much less 'convenient' awakening. It's OK for him to wake of course, and very good if you can manage without feeding then.

But what I'd be careful with is how you put him back to sleep. I don't think you want him to get used to sleeping in your bed at that time ... so I would not confuse him by sometimes taking him into your bed (although I know how easy and tempting that is in the middle of the night ;) ...).

The best would be to put him to sleep exactly as you do when he goes down at 7pm (same lullaby/dance/...). If that does not work yet, for him to self soothe easily then, do stay in his room with him and help him as necessary to go back to sleep asap. Be confident, or at least 'act' confidently, that will shine on him and help him do well as well.

Good luck!

thank you
by: Lin

Dear Heidi, thank you for your quick reply!
I will do as advised and was just wondering would it have an influence on his 10pm waking if I shifted the 4pm bottle to a bit later. Also what should I do if he wakes at midnight or 1am instead of 10pm/11pm should I still give him the 3rd bottle that late? Thank you so much!!

by: Heidi - BabySleepAdvice

Hi Lin,

I wouldn't shift the 4pm for now.

If he does not wake at 10pm but later, and if this happens more than once: try without the feeding - as you would do with the usual 2am awakening. If that goes easily, and he sleeps well afterwards: OK.

If you have trouble getting him back to sleep, do give the bottle. The night after that should be good.

Good luck!

Just a phase?
by: Lin

Dear Heidi
I hope you are well.
It has been a long time since I wrote to you last. My son is 1.5y now and all is going great. He is eating well, walking like mad, still on 2 naps (9.30-10:15am & 2.30-4.30pm) during the day and sleeping from 7.30 till 7am, going to bed without any fuss.
For the last 2 weeks though he has been waking between 3 and 4 am every night. I gave him a bottle and he gulped it down and immediately fell asleep again. I dont want him to get used to the night feed again so I stopped the bottle and gave him water instead but he wouldnt settle afterwards. He was up till 5.30am and whenever I left the room he cried. Now I am wondering , because thats not like him at all,if that is (hopefully!) only a phase or just the excitement that he learned walking, another growth spurt? Maybe his second nap is too late?, I would like to shift it to an earlier stage but I only pick him up at 2pm from the childminder..
I can use any help or tips :) Thank you so much!
Best wishes from Ireland.

A phase ...
by: Heidi - BabySleepAdvice

Hi Lin,

How nice to hear from you, and especially to hear that things are going so well.

From what you say - gulping down and then straight back to sleep - I would say yes he needs this right now.

So I suggest you give it to him (the battle when not giving it can easily give rise to more serious 'problems', in which he may start refusing to sleep so nicely at other moments too) but at the same time be very careful to avoid this regression to spread:

- Stop in maximum 5 days and then try with water again. If no success, then start weaning by diluting gradually from milk through more and more watery milk to water to nothing.

- Make no other concessions: keep the awakening short and boring and put him straight back down.

- Keep all other good habits firmly in place.

I don't find 2.30pm late for his second nap in view of his 7.30pm bedtime. If anything, he could be progressing towards just one nap in stead of two.

Then it would be the morning one that disappears. I do not think it is directly related with his 5am wake-up. But if you have other signs too, i.e. his morning nap becomes shorter, he is still relaxed and happy and active (without beinng over-active) even if he starts that nap later (or skips it if that sometimes happens), ... keep it in the back of your head and experiment with it if you feel he is ready.

Good luck!!

Thank you
by: Lin

Dear Heidi

Thank you so much for your reply and reasuring me to keep the bottle when he needs it.
I will try everything you have suggested and will let you know how we got on.
Have a great weekend and thank you again!

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