You and I know both know that those wee hours of the morning are important; whether you’re trying to get a few more minutes of shut-eye or get ready for work, having an early morning waking baby is just as unacceptable as it comes.
And when you share your frustrations?
Well, you may have already run into that wizened parent who simply winks and says, “sleep is for the weak” or “welcome to parenthood!”
Mama, you do not have to wake up at the crack of dawn with your baby. If you’ve got a baby waking too early for your lifestyle, there are several tips, tricks, and techniques you can try to help your situation.
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Is Your Baby Waking Up Too Early? Here’s Why and How to Fix It!
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Before we get into the good stuff, you need to know what infant sleep looks like and if your expectations are reasonable.
My daughter slept through the night relatively quickly, thanks to the various techniques I employed from my favorite sleep books. What she didn’t do quickly is wake up at a decent hour.
We massively struggled with 4-6AM early wakings for the first couple months of her life. Looking back, I see that the problem was as much my fault as it was her natural, biological tendency.
Below we’re going to briefly touch on what early wakings truly are, what to expect and why your baby is waking early. It’s important to get in the right mindset so the tips we go over later in the post will be more effective!
What Are Early Morning Wakings?
Does your baby wake up at 4am? You’re not alone. Most babies waking up early typically rise between 4-6AM. This kind of waking is absolutely fixable with time and patience.
If your baby is waking at 6AM and you’d like progress to 7AM, you still may be able to extend his nighttime sleep with certain tactics. Just be aware that anything after 6AM is considered a normal, acceptable waking time for an infant.
Why Is My Baby Waking Early?
Figuring out why your baby is waking early takes a little experimentation and time. It’s more effective to change factors and schedules bit by bit, one variable at a time, to avoid more sleep issues.
If you want, you can download my baby sleep bundle and use my sleep troubleshooting sheet so you can easily keep track of your changes and narrow down the true cause of your baby’s early wakings.
In the meantime, here are just a few reasons why your baby might be waking early.
A dead giveaway for hunger is erratic wakings.
When hungry, a baby will wake up at 4AM one morning and 5AM the next. It just depends on when her little tummy grumbles.
If your baby just started waking up early, you might be dealing with a growth spurt or milk supply issue. If you recently dropped a night feeding, the problem could be resolved by giving her more milk during the day or implementing a dream feed (if she’s under 7 months old).
Lack of Routine
Is your little one on a pretty solid routine? If not, she’ll be much more prone to wake up whenever the urge hits her.
A schedule will help train your baby’s developing metabolism and biological clock. Ideally, she’ll eat, play, and sleep at the same time of the day. Her body will adapt much more quickly to a routine, making her morning wakings much more predictable.
Overtired or Undertired
If your baby isn’t getting enough sleep during the day, it can lead to restless sleep at night. Between 4-6AM, your baby’s body will naturally begin to fire up, thanks to his developing circadian rhythm. If his brain is wired from exhaustion, he’ll be much more likely to wake up during this time.
Likewise, if your baby is getting too many naps during the day, he’ll never be able to sleep long stretches through the night.
If this sounds confusing, don’t worry. We’ll get into how to differentiate and fix these issues a little later.
Some babies are hardwired to wake at the crack of dawn. This is my daughter to a T. If even a ray of sunlight peaks through her blackout shades, she starts to stir.
Cheerful, morning sounds can also trigger your baby’s internal alarm. You never realize how loud birds chirp or cars sound until you have a newborn…
These are just a couple common issues that may cause your baby to wake up too early. For more ideas, make sure you check out my post on things that could be destroying your baby’s sleep.
RELATED POST: 7 Things That Could Be Ruining Your Baby’s Sleep
Baby Waking Early? Try These 10 Tips!
1 Set a Morning Wake Time
My favorite baby sleep training book, On Becoming Babywise, recommends establishing a morning wake time. A morning wake time is the first waking of the day, when your baby is officially allowed to get out of bed and start the festivities. Ideally, this should be between 6-8AM and occurs within a consistent half hour window.
Why is a morning wake time important?
Your baby’s morning wake time is the pillar of your routine. It allows his metabolism and habits to adapt much more quickly to the schedule you had in mind. Plus, when your baby is waking up in the wee hours of the morning, an established wake time represents a goal to work toward.
Right now, think about when you’d like your baby to wake up in the morning.
For example, my daughter wakes up between 7:45-8:00AM. This is early enough for my daughter (who is naturally an early riser) and late enough for me (so I can work in the morning). We did not arrive at this time naturally. It was definitely a compromise between both of our needs and took several months to perfect.
But my baby wakes up at 4AM, you say….
Right now a 7AM morning wake time might seem like a lofty goal. That’s okay! Remember, it’s a goal that you want to work towards.
In the beginning, your 5AM-er may just lay in his crib in 10 minute increments until you gradually shimmy up to 6. Then, once you’ve conquered a 6AM wake time for a while, (I’d say at least 2 weeks), you can start shimmying up to 7.
Just keep in mind that your morning wake time might change. A good, reasonable morning wake time takes your baby’s natural inclinations into account as well as your own schedule and preferences.
RELATED POST: How to Start the Perfect Baby Sleep Schedule
2 Treat 4-6AM Feedings as Night Feedings
Tracy Hogg, the author of The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems, mentions that during 4-6 months of age, babies tend to start waking up between 4 and 6AM.
This isn’t necessarily out of a physiological need, rather than their developing internal clock. She also believes that early morning wakings are reinforced by the reactions of the parents. When an early riser starts whining and his parents rush in, turn on the lights, and start his day, that wake time is reinforced.
So, how do we fix this?
Early wakings should be treated like night wakings. When your baby wakes up, feed him if you need to, but keep the lights dimmed, speak in low, soothing tones, and minimize social interactions.
3 Give Baby More to Eat During the Day
When trying to extend his nighttime sleep, it’s pretty natural for baby to wake up at 4AM starving. However, sometimes you can correct your baby waking early by introducing more food during the day.
Keep in mind that babies younger than 6 months should be feeding at least 6 times a day. If your baby is receiving less than that, you may want to add an additional feeding. Cluster feedings and dream feeds are excellent techniques to increase your baby’s daily intake!
Alternatively, if your baby waking too early is a new phenomenon, she might be going through a growth spurt. In any case, the solution is still the same: increasing daytime feedings!
4 Use Blackout Curtains
This is such a simple trick, but I’ve found it to be incredibly effective.
Sunlight is the catalyst that jump starts your baby’s circadian rhythm. Without any cognitive abilities, it’s the one thing telling his little baby body that it’s time to start the day.
If your baby is waking too early and you don’t have any shades in his room, there’s a very good chance it’s due to sunlight.
Some babies are more sensitive than others. My daughter will wake if there’s even a ray of sunlight beaming into her room. Your baby might have the exact tendency!
Experiment with blackout curtains. You won’t regret it. I’ve used several types from Target and Walmart, but I’ve always come back to Amazon. This particular brand has a 90% black out version (which is what I used paired with blinds) or a 100% blackout.
5 Break the Habit
Does your baby wake up at 5AM on the dime every day?
What could have started as a hunger feeding may have evolved into a habit. Habitual wakings can be very frustrating, but once you figure out how to break the cycle, your early wakings could be fixed!
One method Tracy Hogg recommends is the “Wake-to-Sleep” trick. You can find the full tutorial in her book, The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems, (FYI, I recommend to all moms and just for baby waking early problems! It’s an incredible resource), but here’s the basics:
About a half hour before your baby typically wakes up, try giving him a feed while he’s still drowsy. Once you’re done, slip out of his room. Ideally, with a full belly, he’ll be able to sleep until your morning wake time. Ideally, this will disrupt his usual habitual waking.
Now, this is just a temporary solution designed to interrupt his biological clock. If you continue this pattern, his metabolism will adjust to the earlier feeding.
6 Don’t Rush In
Some moms assume that it’s time to check on baby the moment she starts making noise.
Once again going back to the Baby Whisperer, Tracy Hogg mentions that most babies start talking to themselves between 4-6AM before naturally falling back to sleep. That is, if they are left alone.
But what if your baby is crying?
There is a huge difference between fussing and crying. When a sleep trained baby wakes up and immediately starts fussing (it’s this whiney, angry sound), that’s a pretty good indication that she’s still tired. Give her a few minutes to see if she’ll resettle. Every child is different, but when my daughter woke fussy, it usually took her about 10 minutes to fall asleep again.
Crying, wailing, or screaming is another matter. Crying usually indicates some need, whether it be hunger, a dirty diaper, or simply “get me out of here!”.
7 Adjust Baby’s Bedtime
Two factors come into play when adjusting your baby’s bedtime. The amount of sleep he needs and the wake time you’re shooting for.
The amount of sleep your baby needs depends on his age. Richard Ferber, author of Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems (and “Ferberizing”), says that babies need between 13-16 hours of sleep a day (once again, depending on age and temperament). As your baby develops, his sleep with be consolidated into about 10-12 hours of sleep a night and 3-5 hours during the day.
Take a look at your baby’s nighttime sleep.
If you’re putting baby to bed at 7PM and he’s waking up at 5AM happy and refreshed, chances are, he’s getting enough sleep. In this case, you would gradually (in 10-15 minute increments) shift his bedtime to a later time.
Alternatively, if you’re putting your baby to bed at 8PM and he’s waking at 5AM fussy and tired, that’s a good indication to move your baby’s bedtime back.
A word of advice though, do not assume that a later bedtime will result in later risings. Sometimes a later bedtime can have the exact opposite effect and could actually be the origin of baby waking too early.
SHORT ON TIME? PIN IT FOR LATER!
8 Adjust or Drop Nap Times
Babies waking up early could also be an indication that they are getting too much daytime sleep for their age. This could mean either adjusting the duration of a nap or dropping it altogether.
Babies drop a nap roughly at 4, 8, and 16 months. If your baby is somewhere close to those ages and still taking 4, 3, or 2 naps respectively, this could be the origin of your problems.
Let’s say you’ve experimented with dropping a nap and the end result is a cranky, overtired baby. If your baby still needs all of his naps, experiment with the duration. Unless your baby is down to one nap a day, his naps should be no longer than 2 hours each.
As you’ve probably already guessed, adjusting bedtimes and nap times requires patience and a lot of trial and error. Don’t give up if you don’t see immediate results! Try only one change at a time, and make sure you keep the changes consistent.
(Remember, you can download my baby sleep schedule bundle which includes a sleep troubleshooting sheet to help you out!)
9 Wean to a More Appropriate Time
Sometimes feeding your baby more during the day just isn’t going to cut it. Due to growth spurts or your baby’s current physical development, she may still need that morning feed.
Don’t worry, you’re not doomed to 5AM feeds forever.
If your baby is waking too early because of hunger, you can gradually push that feeding to a more appropriate time. Distract your baby with a pacifier or try to rock her to sleep again, anything to put off that morning feed. The idea is to help his body get used to a later feeding, so that he will sleep in longer.
Some babies will only tolerate this shift in 10 minute increments. As you can imagine, shifting your baby’s morning feed can be a little slow, but it’s well worth the effort.
10 Use Sleep Training Methods
Let’s say you’ve tried all of the methods above with no luck. Once you’ve ensured that your baby’s physiological needs are being met and the issue isn’t environmental, you might consider turning to sleep training.
Sleep training is just that: training your baby to sleep effectively. How you choose to sleep train is totally up to you. There are gentle “no-cry” sleep training methods such as the “Shush-Pat” from the Baby Whisperer, or “Cry it Out” methods from Ferber or Weisbluth.
I sleep trained my own daughter with wonderful results. However, I want to emphasize that it should be looked at as a last resort early morning wakings, for those rare situations where babies wake up during the early morning hours simply because they want a cuddle or out of habit.
Most times though, early morning wakings can be resolved once you do some experimentation and solve your baby’s issue. Just use your best judgment and remain consistent with whatever methods you choose.
It is Possible to Tame a Baby Waking Early in the Morning!
Dealing with a baby that wakes up too early is anything but fun. The good news is, you don’t have to commit to waking up at 4AM until your baby is a tween. Try these methods out and if baby is waking too early still, be sure to check out some of our other helpful posts!
I hope these tips helped get the creative juices flowing (or at least has given you some sort of hope!). If it did, would you consider taking my quick 1 minute survey? It will give your struggles as a new mom a voice and help me know how to best serve you!