Q. My husband says I’ll spoil our baby if I pick him up every time he cries, but I feel horrible leaving him crying in the crib. And I’m exhausted. What should we do?
It really matters how old he is. You can’t spoil a newborn with too much responsiveness. Newborns need to be picked up when they cry and fed when they’re hungry no matter what the hour is, at least every four hours. But is it okay to let a 4- or 6-month-old cry himself back to sleep at night?
The truth is, there’s no harm in always responding. Making sure your baby doesn’t have a poopy diaper, fever, or a foot caught in the crib bars is always a good idea. But there’s also no evidence that any kind of harm comes from letting a healthy baby older than 4 months of age cry for a while in her crib before a nap or before he goes to sleep at night.
At some point, usually between about 4 and 6 months, a baby will become capable sleeping through the night without a feeding. Once your baby has slept through the night without a feeding more than twice, you’ll know the wake-ups are not from hunger, but for another reason: habit, a dirty diaper, or just being awake and wanting to play instead of going back to sleep. You’ll also notice that at about 3-5 hours after he wakes up in the morning he will start to show signs of fatigue: eyelids drooping, flopping around, fussiness. If you see those signs, feed him, change his diaper and give him the chance to take a rest in his crib. If a nap doesn’t work– he’s still wide awake and fussing after an hour– have some quiet play and try again after lunch.
If your older baby cries at night, check on her as quickly and quietly as possible. Solve any problem quickly, with only a nightlight on, and then give the baby a chance to fall asleep on her own. This reassures her that you’re there, but sends the message that nighttime is for sleeping.
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