While you will want to establish good sleeping patterns for your baby sometimes within their first year, you are never obliged to start sleep training at any specific age. Some learn early, and some learn later. It is always better to do what is best for your family and your baby. If you do want to sleep train, you’ll probably ask yourself at what age you should be doing it, and if starting as young as 3-4 months is too early to sleep train.
It’s inadvisable to start sleep training before 3 months of age, but at 3-4 months, babies could be ready to begin the process of sleep training. This is a good age to start developing good sleep habits, as they are able to go for longer periods of time between feeding, and are at the beginning stages of being able to self-soothe.
Though there is no one-size-fits-all answer on when to start sleep training your baby, if you feel you and your baby are ready, this article will help you out in making the most informed decision about sleep training your 3-4 month-old baby.
Can you Sleep Train too Early?
Those first few months of a baby’s life can be exhausting for the parents. You have (or had) an established sleep schedule, and you’re finding that working on the baby’s time is exhausting. Sleep training may seem like the best solution in this case, but depending on your baby’s age, it may be too early.
Unfortunately for your sleep schedule, sleep training too early can be harmful to your baby’s development. The younger the baby is, the more feedings they will need throughout the day, including at night, so try not to start sleeping training before your baby is 3-4 months of age.
That being said, there is a way to start a foundation to later build upon when sleep training. This is a consistent routine, especially at night. Some moms have found that feeding, bathing (not always washing, just a light warm rinse), and putting their baby to bed every night help their babies learn when to go to sleep. One way to remember this particular routine is the 3 ‘B’s. Bottle (or breast), bath, bed.
Establishing a routine such as this will greatly help your child in learning to fall asleep on their own, as they are used to falling asleep every night after a bath. Whatever the routine is, make sure you’re consistent in it and the timing of it, to help your new baby realize when they should be falling asleep.
Need an example schedule to get you going? Check out these 6 Sample Sleep Schedules for Sleep Training.
How do I Sleep Train My 3-Month-Old?
Your 3-month-old is still adjusting to a regular sleeping and eating periods, and might not be well suited to sleep training just yet. However, if your baby is more mellow, and is already starting to show signs of being well suited to sleep training (such as sleeping for longer periods of time at night, not prompted by you), it might be a good time to start sleep training them.
The best way to sleep train your 3-month-old is to find a routine and stick to it. Feed them, play with them, and put them down to sleep. This is an example of a routine, which allows them to expel some of the energy they would have gotten from eating, and then go to sleep right after.
Keep a watchful eye on your child, and their behaviors. If they are taking well to their routines, and sleeping for longer periods of time, continue with this method of sleep training. If it’s not working, or they are putting up too much resistance to it, consider pushing back your sleep training timeline.
Pro tip: many parents find that the “eat, play, sleep” cycle (or wake times) works really well for newborns. You can read more about that here: Baby Wake Times: a Beginner’s Guide to Wake Windows by Age.
How can I get my 3-month-old to fall asleep on her own?
Does your baby have trouble falling asleep without your help? This could make sleep training more difficult. One of the most reliable methods of teaching your child how to fall asleep on their own is to put them down when they are drowsy, but not yet tired.
If they get used to falling asleep in your arms, they might find it difficult to sleep without you. However, if you hold and rock them until they get drowsy, and then put them down to fall asleep on their own, they will start to develop the ability to do it on their own and will start to need less support from you at night.
It’s also important to ensure they are always sleeping in the same place. A nice, cool, dark room will help indicate to them that these are the best conditions for sleep, and when they are in them, they should be sleeping. Consistently doing so, even for naps, will help your baby’s body to start producing the necessary melatonin to sleep.
This will take time. Be patient.
Can you let a 3-month-old cry it out?
A key factor in many people’s sleep training methods is the cry-it-out technique. This involves letting your baby cry for a few minutes (sometimes agonizingly long minutes for parents), before going in to console them. This allows them to learn to self-soothe, or to realize that they don’t actually need you, they just need to go back to sleep.
While there is research both for and against this method, some experts say that 3-month-olds are just barely old enough to try the cry-it-out method via the Ferber method. Dr. Ferber himself said that he’d wait until 4-5 months to use his method, though.
The Ferber method calls for letting the baby cry for a few minutes before going to console them, extending the time you wait to help them every time. It’s recommended to start with a few minutes and get up to a maximum of 15-20 minutes before you go in to help them. And if they are not able to self-soothe, and you have to intervene, try not to pick him up if possible, or turn on any lights. This could wake them even more.
You can read all about the Ferber method via this article I wrote: The Beginner’s Guide to the Ferber Method of Sleep Training.
I have never seen success with cry-it-out with our children before the age of 8-10 months old, but it does work for some people I’ve talked to. Keep in mind that your baby cannot still be swaddled if you’re going to use cry it out. You can read about why that is here in this article I’ve written: Can You Let a Baby Cry It Out While Swaddled?
Can a 3-month-old self-soothe?
The purpose of the cry-it-out method is to get the baby to try to self-soothe or get back to sleep on their own. But that asks the question, is a 3-month-old baby even able to self-soothe?
Not all 3-month-old babies can self-soothe, as all babies develop at different paces, some babies are able to self-soothe if you give them the skills to do so.
Babies need to learn from their parents, including self-soothing. Self-soothing won’t be innate for your child, especially if you are always the one who’s soothing them. If they are always rocked when they cry or given attention straight away, they will take longer to develop the ability to soothe themselves.
The best way to encourage self-soothing was covered above; don’t rock your baby to sleep, but rather let them fall asleep on their own in their bed. This indicates to them that while you are around to help, they have to do the soothing part on their own, and fall asleep without your assistance.
Use the five s’s to help your baby learn to self-soothe over time.
- sucking (on a pacifier)
- side or stomach position to comfort (and then put baby to sleep on their back)
Give it time. It’ll take a while to work.
Can a 4-Month-Old Cry it Out?
If you think your baby was too young at 3 months old to cry it out, you may want to try again at 4 months old or older. Not only can they start crying it out at this age, but it’s also finally allowed for those babies who’ve passed their fourth trimester and settled into a more adult-like sleeping pattern.
There are many methods to try, but the Ferber method is also good at this age.
If your baby cries after you put them down, or after they’ve woken, give them some time to let themselves cry it out before you intervene. They might just be crying because they’ve lost your contact, but if they are truly tired, they should be able to fall asleep on their own.
Personally, I never saw success with cry-it-out with our children before the age of 8-10 months old, but it does work for some people I’ve talked to, as long as the baby has outgrown being swaddled.
How long do I let my 4-Month-Old Cry it Out?
At around 4 months of age, many babies can go for over 8 hours between feedings. This means that they should be able to sleep through the night, without waking up to be fed. If your baby is fed right before bed, and had their diaper changed, wait a few minutes to make sure they really need you.
Start with letting them cry it out for 5-10 minutes, and gradually increase up to 20. It will be difficult at first, no one wants to hear their baby cry like that, but if they are able to stop on their own, and go to sleep, you will feel great.
Here’s how long it takes, on average, for cry-it-out to work – both in the amount of time spent crying and in the amount of overall time it takes to see it work.
Can you Sleep Train during the 4-Month Regression?
If you aren’t aware already, your baby could have a sleep regression around 4 months of age. If you haven’t gotten anywhere with sleep training yet (or haven’t even tried), this will feel like a leap in the wrong direction and can be very discouraging for already sleep-deprived parents.
The good news is that sleep regression is temporary, and you are able to sleep train during it, it just may be a little more difficult. Sleep training may take some more time while you’re fighting your baby’s sleep regression, so do not be discouraged if it takes longer than a couple of weeks.
To ensure your baby goes to sleep and stays asleep, make sure they are full at all feedings during the day, but especially before bed. During sleep regression, they may wake up thinking they are hungry, so we suggest you try to fill them up as much as you can before they fall asleep. This will help prevent them from waking up due to hunger in the middle of the night.
Here are 25 Things To Know About the 4-Month Sleep Regression – including tips on how to survive it without wanting to tear your hair out.
Tips for Sleep Training 3-4 Month-Old Babies
As discussed above, the younger the baby, the harder it will be to sleep train them, as they will require more feedings throughout the night. It is not, however, impossible to train a 3-4 month-old baby. In fact, many parents are able to successfully sleep train at this age.
If you choose to sleep train your baby, make sure to follow these three tips (plus a bonus tip), to ensure the best night’s sleep for your child:
Tip #1: Keep their room dark
Making sure their rooms are dark is a great way to indicate to your baby that it is time to sleep. As adults, our bodies create melatonin at night, to help us sleep. If your baby’s room is dark while they sleep, their bodies will develop these tendencies as well.
Dark rooms also encourage them to go back to sleep, as they are not used to being awake in such dark rooms. When it’s time to wake, ensure their room is full of natural light, so they can establish a proper sleep-wake cycle.
Tip #2: Keep to a routine
Your baby will do better with a routine, as it will also help establish a proper sleep-wake cycle. Routines help your baby to know when they should be going to sleep when they should wake when they will be fed, or even when they have a bath.
Tip #3: Keep your baby’s room cool
Being too warm while sleeping is uncomfortable for anyone, especially babies. It can also be dangerous for them, as some cases of SIDS have been reported due to the baby overheating while they sleep.
If your baby’s room is cooler while they sleep, they will sleep more soundly throughout the night, as they are less likely to be uncomfortable. It’s recommended as well to use a fan during sleep, as this reduces the risk of SIDS by 72%(source).
A fan can also double as a white-noise machine, which will help your baby to tune out any other distractions coming from your home.
Bonus Tip #4: Be patient
Sleep training for children usually takes time, so be patient with both yourself and your child.
Key Takeaways on Sleep Training 3-4-Month-Old Babies
Depending on your child, you can start sleep training at 3 months of age. Keep a close eye on how they are responding to it, as you may need to push back your training or adjust it. Just remember that no matter what, your baby’s sleep will get better, and your sleep deprivation will not be forever.
And in case no one’s told you so today, you’re doing a great job. Keep it up. This site is here to help you, so make sure you keep reading for more information, support, and ideas. And in case you’re wondering where to go next, I’d recommend you check out this article: Are 30-Minute Naps Enough for a Baby? That way, you won’t wonder if your baby’s naps are too pathetic to “count.”
Learning about parenting or sleep training techniques is important to learn from various reputable sources. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as parents.
- Coleman-Phox K, Odouli R, Li D. Use of a Fan During Sleep and the Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2008;162(10):963–968. doi:10.1001/archpedi.162.10.963