Don't, And I Repeat, Don't Go In There!

When your baby cries, especially a very young one, it's natural to rush over to her to see what she needs. This is generally a good thing, but when it comes to sleep, this can often backfire.

You see, not only do babies make all kinds of sounds during their sleep (some will even cry out for a moment--all while fast asleep!), but if left alone for a minute
to "fuss it out" they'll often fall right back asleep. And if it's at night, that means YOU will be able to go back to sleep too. Hallelujah.

Let's look at a couple common situations here. Let's start with the sleep noises. I learned a dear lesson about his one with my oldest son, Joshua. 

It's the middle of the night and Joshua wakes up once again to nurse. He's only a handful of weeks old, but by this time I'm too dirt tired to even see clear enough to read what time it is. All I see is some halo from the clock that makes me wonder if I'm being mocked about how much better heaven must feel than where I'm at right now. I feel utterly exhausted and, well, terrible (and depressed too, remember, that certainly didn't help anything). Little Joshua is sleeping in a bassinet right next to me and I've been up feeding him every time he makes a whimper since he was born. And a lot of the time this is happening on an hourly basis. I try to give him full feeds to help him sleep longer but I'm having no luck. Did I mention I was butt tired? Anyway, I can't remember where the thought came or if I read it somewhere, but I decided to stop responding to every little sound Joshua made. At first this was an attempt to have him be more wide awake when he fed so he wouldn't fall asleep after 20 seconds (which worked wonderfully by the way, and although I know it doesn't sound nice to leave a baby until a full cry at night before feeding, it has made the difference between a full and barely full belly for my babies at night). But I quickly learned that there was another big benefit too. Much of the time my little guy started to make noises (at which point I previously picked him up to feed him before he got upset) he'd fall right back asleep! So not only was he now sleeping longer because he had fuller feeds, but he was sleeping longer because I stopped waking him during his little sleep grunts and gurgles. He went from waking often hourly to sleeping at least 4 hours at a time. Yeah, it made that big of a difference for him.

Another common scenario is rushing in mid nap. Baby makes a little grunt or coo or cry and mommy rushes in to grab baby before he gets upset (or if you are sleeping next to him, you may end up nursing baby back to sleep when he was already asleep). Unfortunately, baby wasn't on the verge of getting upset, he was on the verge of getting some good sleep. WAS, as in past tense. Now he's wide awake and likely tired and cranky. Not exactly what you were hoping for. And the roughest thing is that all these little intrusions (particularly if you add a feed with each intrusion) can actually end up adding more natural/habitual wakings over time.

One of the main sleep tips you'll get from reading the popular book, Bringing up Bebe, is 'the pause'. What this means is that when you hear baby wake up, you pause and leave him for a few minutes to see if he'll go back to sleep. Not only are you making sure you don't rush to pick up your baby during sleep noises, but you are giving him a chance to settle back to sleep. If started early on many babies will surprisingly fall back asleep quite often (I'm talking after a short nap or short period of sleep at night--not after already sleeping 10 hours at like two weeks of age--he's not superman and all).

I know some of you don't feel comfortable leaving baby to cry even 15 seconds when he is a newborn, but for those of you who are fine taking a quick trip to the bathroom or running the trash out (it's nice to be sidetracked and all) when you hear baby's first noise, you'll often end up with a child that sleeps longer both day and night. If you find this never works for your baby or they do much better if you rush to them before they fully wake, you can try it again when they get older.

It's example time. This time I'll use the example of one of my sister's children. With my sister's first child she didn't like the idea of leaving him to fuss at all so she tried to help him fall asleep giving him as much help as needed. Unfortunately, this usually took 1-2 hours for each nap and resulted in a very short nap. Before long she started to get pretty exhausted. I suggested that maybe she leave her son for a couple minutes to settle after helping him get calm and sleepy in her arms. She decided this was worth a shot and to her surprise, he fell asleep after 2 minutes, and continued to fall asleep this quickly if not sooner from then on. Then came baby #2. My sister hesitated to let her fuss at all by herself but after starting to get so exhausted that she began passing out --I know, really sad:(  , she decided that she needed another strategy. Her daughter fell asleep even quicker than her sun, pretty much every single time. She also started to triple how long she was sleeping at night (without even any fussing then) in a few days time.

Not every outcome is going to be as sleep changing (and life changing if you are mommy or daddy!) as the examples above, but the fact is, not rushing in helps most babies get a little more shuteye. And that means it helps the rest of the family get a bit more sleep too. The trick is stop. think. and then act when you hear your child cry.  If nothing seems incredibly wrong, consider waiting a few seconds or even minutes if you feel that's the best option. It can make a world of difference with sleep--and it's about as easy as it gets when it comes to helping a baby sleep longer.

I'd love to hear what experience you parents have had with 'not rushing in'.


  1. Oh yes I agree! I used to rush as soon as baby was making a noise because i didn't know babies are sooo noisy!!!!! then my friend; who has a son too, helped me decode his noises. As for the nights and the constant breadfeeding; I had the same problem because my son was sleeping next to me. When he turned 5 weeks old, I was a zombie and we decided to give him a room for himself; it worked straight away and I only had to wake up 3 to 4 times to feed him because I was only hearing him cry. At 2 months old, he was waking up only 1 or 2 by which time we were in sync so I had no trouble getting up.
    (I have to say my son woke up like this 1 or 2 up to 9 months old, until he weaned himself off me and started to STTN).
    I also wanted to thank you for all your good advice. My son had trouble napping more than 30min and was looking for help. I found your blog and have been devoring all your articles; even printing out your sleep charts and sticking them on my fridge. Now, at 9mo, he's got the best routine of 2 nice long naps and STTN. EVen my mum told me he was sleeping so well; I did a good job "training" him!!! When he is awake, yes he's a crawling and climbing lil' devil but always happy and well rested! So big Thank you!!!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Esmeralda! I'm so happy you've found some helpful tips here!


  2. hi, i'm the new mother of a 6 week old boy. he was born 10.2 lbs and has been eating every 2.5-3 hours like clockwork during the day pretty much from the first few days. 2 weeks ago, I started working really hard, using babywise and baby whisperer, to get him on a good routine. Before, I was letting him dictate the wake time etc, so our days were never the same. When we started a 7am waketime, he did great with the 3 hours between feedings, and has always gone down easily for naps/bed with optimal wake times. All in all, I feel I'm a pretty lucky parent--he's turned out to be a fairly easy baby most times. So far at least. ;) he lets me know when he is done eating (he's really fast at nursing), and tells me when he's ready for a nap. Our typical day follows a 7, 10, 1, 4, 6, 8:30 bedtime, 10:30-11 dreamfeed. I introduced the dream feed 2 weeks or so ago and he's done well with it. For the first week of us really working on the routine, he immediately started sleeping from the dreamfeed at around 11 until 3-4am, giving me a good 4-5 hours of sleep. Then last weekend happened and I felt pretty wound up that his night time routine got out of whack because of evening family events/church activities, so I determined I would be more strict about it; take less errands myself, make sure his sleep training was a sure foundation to fall back on. I'm not expecting him to sleep through the night yet. But it'd be nice if he only woke once like he used to. See, last Sun/Mon, I started reading about growth spurts, and realized that part of his sporatic night time waking, as well as waking early from his naps (waking to eat every 2 hours instead of 2.5-3) the last few days had likely been related to a growth spurt. So Mon was a day I spent feeding him when he woke early, reaching 9-10 feedings that day and the next. He seemed to be doing ok. However. my worry is that Sun. night, he woke at 2:30AM and I fed him. The following couple of days, he didn't wake to eat until 3-3:30, sometimes nearly 4am, but the last 4-5 days, after we stopped needing to eat at that time, he has been waking at 2:30AM, nearly on the dot. I am guessing it's habitual waking because I fed him that one-2 times and he wakes at exactly that time. I've been rushing in when he starts fussing (as soon as I pick up on it in my sleep anyway), and giving him the pacifier, which has helped him to usually fall back asleep until 3:30, nearly 4. Then I got my baby whisperer book, read about habitual waking and how to help fix it with the wake to sleep technique. I've been trying that, but I'm not sure I'm "waking" him up enough to have him feel that the habit has been broken. I've done it 3 times so far, as close to the 1-hour mark as my tired brain can manage. And he's woken up at 2:37AM every night so far. Sat night, I ended up feeding him cuz he was legitimately acting hungry. The other nights, he falls back asleep. The first night, he slept till 3:30, ate, and slept till 7AM waketime. Then he ate at around 2:45AM (wouldn't take the pacifier) and woke to eat around 6, but we kept him at bay till 6:30 to stay close to wake time.

    1. Then last night, I did wake to sleep at 1:45am, he still woke up at 2:37 took the binky and fell back asleep, and then needed to eat by 3:15am. I fed him, he got terrible hiccups (the bane of my night existence) and fell asleep until 5:15AM. I decided maybe he was going through another growth spurt and to try feeding him again, but he didn't take a full feeding, just fell asleep after 5-6 min. Then he only slept until 7AM. I feel like my rushing in/having my husband rush in to help him get back to sleep is back firing, but I'm not sure what else to do, cuz when I have let him cry longer to listen to him, he starts getting more worked up and frantic sounding. Diapers are good, he's double swaddled so he can't escape as easily, pacifier doesn't feel like a sleep prop, just an aide for self-soothing. I'm just at a loss as to what to do to get him sleeping 5-6 hours again. Any advice would help.

  3. Thanks for your posts. They are all very well written. I just wish this worked for us, most of the time it doesn't, but may be hunger/sleep association related. She is a very big hungry baby. :-)

    1. It definitely won't work all the time justine, more so with some babies than others. And when sleep associations and hunger are mixed in, that makes things a lot more complicated. Even that that, this method still often works every now and again if sleep associations are an issue.

  4. Dear Rachel,

    First of all, thank you for taking the time to compile these precious info to help the babies (and of course us mummies!) have a better zzzzz.

    Ever since my boy turned 6mths old, he will cry aloud within the first hour of his night sleep. I have been hesitating to pick him up, trying all sorts of method - patting.. delay picking him up, picking him up immediately etc. Today he turns 7.5 month.

    If I continue to let him cry, he will be very agitated and while crying and eyes shut, he will be flipping and trying to sit himself up. Most of the time, if I pick him up immediately, he will calm down within 10s and back to lalala land. If I let him cry for 3 mins and give in to picking him up, it takes at least 15 mins to calm him.

    What shall I do? I am also puzzled why in the last 6 weeks he will suddenly start to wail within 1st hr of zzzz

  5. Ohhh, I wish I've read this before our baby was born!!!!!!!!

  6. I couldn't agree more with this post! I read about "the pause" before my daughter was born, and the concept of not interrupting her sleep unnecessarily rang true to me. So right from birth, I didn't pick her up until she really cried out - grunts and whistles and fart-noises I gave my self permission to ignore.

    Well she's been a pretty good sleeper! 4 hour stretches at night since she was three weeks old, and now, at 7.5 weeks she just slept through the night (7pm to 5am, i think that's pretty good!) for the first time!

    I definitely advocate the pause. It's not cruel to let them fuss, it's kind to let them develop the ability to fall back asleep on their own. (Of course, when they cry out more than once it's mommy to the rescue!)

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with this, Caroline!

  7. Hi Rachel,
    I would love to wait a little and see what happens instead of rushing in, BUT I have twins (currently 12 weeks old), and if one starts wiggling and complaining it won't take long until he wakes up the other and then I have two screaming babies. Any advice on that?
    Thank you,

    1. Unknown,
      Quite a few twin moms I know spit up the babies around this time during naps (and sometimes at night for a few months until they get night sleep down really well). That is something to consider. You can let them get more used to each other and they will wake up less from each other over time--but it will be rough for a while and some babies will continue to always struggle to some extent. It's amazing how used to each other they can get, though. One of my nephews is a screamer, and he would scream at night in protest sometimes and the other twin would just fall right asleep (or stay asleep) as if nothing was going on!

    2. Thank you for your quick answer!! I considered separating them, but thought it might be then difficult to go back letting them sleep together, as it has to happen eventually...

    3. Nela,
      Most babies start sleeping back together pretty good (especially at night).They are around each other a lot and used to each other. But they can play and fool around together before falling asleep--it's inevitable with some children.