How Long to Let Baby Fuss?

Updated on September 30, 2010
L.T. asks from Somerville, NJ
12 answers

My son will be 3 months old next week. He's slept through the night (6 hours) twice, but otherwise has usually gone 3 hours at a time max. Luckily, he knows the difference between night and day. When he wakes up at night, he tries to put himself back to sleep. He does all the normal baby stuff when in the lightest sleep - fusses, makes small cries, thrashes his arms/legs (he gets out of every swaddled blanket and swaddle device we've tried, so we just use a sleepsack to keep him warm and his arms are free), sucks his fingers, etc. The problem is, none of it usually works.

I don't do CIO, but I am fine to let him fuss for a while so he can learn to soothe himself back to sleep. The problem is, lately he'll fuss like that for half an hour or more! Eventually I feel bad that he's having such a hard time and go to help him. Strangely, it's not till I pick him up that he really starts crying. I always offer a breast but he almost never eats - just sucks himself back to sleep, so I know he's not waking up from hunger.

I know he's possibly still asleep through all the fussing (and that picking him up wakes him up), but half an hour seems like a long time. So my question is, how long should I let him go? Should I wait until he actually starts really crying, even if it's a really long time?

To clarify, since it seems people think I'm suggesting CIO. Please see above, where I said I DON'T do this. There's a big difference between letting your baby wail himself to sleep, and allowing him to fuss for a while so he can learn to help himself. If he cries, I will OF COURSE go to him. However he is not crying, and in fact doesn't cry *until* I go to him. My question is how long I should let him attempt to help himself in a non-crying manner. Thanks!

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answers from Lincoln on

At 3 months old I wouldn't let him "fuss" for longer than 5-10 minutes max. If he starts to cry at all I would go to him right away(which it sounds like you do). I think 30 min is way too long at that age. Go ahead and let him suckle himself to sleep, it won't be too long until this wonderful private time with him is over.

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answers from Indianapolis on

I, personally, am not a big fan of CIO. I have a 2 year old who is a rock star sleeper, and I have a 4 year-old who is not. Different kids, different body chemistries, different circadian rhythms.

At 3 months, I always got my kids and tended to them (usually nursing or a bottle). They're still really young to let them fuss for a while because they're running on a lot of instinct.

I'd ask your pediatrician, but my personal understanding is that CIO is effective past 6-8 months when their stomachs can hold more food and sustain them longer periods of time.

I've always been a working Mom and really couldn't afford the lost sleep, so it was easier to just bring them into bed with me so we could all get as much as possible.

Good luck!

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answers from Buffalo on

OK I hope I am reading your question right, I have 3 kids none of which did I do CIO either so I commend you on that!! I feel you know your child and when they are in distress and when they are just making noise in their sleep. It sound like to me he is making noise in his sleep. This can sound like fussing but if he is not awake and you picking him up is waking him up then he was not in distress. If he is truely awake when you go check on him and he needs comforating there is nothing wrong with that either.

You know his noises and if not you will learn them soon enough. My recomendation is not to look at how long he has been doing it but the noise itself. does he sound in distress? or is he dreaming? get a video monitor that has night vision ( Please see the link at the end of this message I have this one and it is SO durable and LOVE IT)

I have a couple of things that helped my kids at night. 1. I would keep a sheet/ blanket over my shoulder for over an hour before bed, then when I go to lye the baby down I would lye the sheet or blanket tightly over the matrress so the baby can smell me. It has always helped them.
2. If you do go in and get them up check the usual diaper dry check, not sick check, no gas, check, hungry check, ok baby time for night night and lay baby back down if he needs more mommy time then so be it, but I always keep this time frame in mind no crying for over 5 min straight. If they fuss stop fuss stop fuss stop, fine but no CRYING for over 5 min.

Good luck I hope you figure out what works for you. It is hard to put into words what we do; we just do.

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answers from Omaha on

Try giving him a binky when he starts fussing. I do that usually and my daughter slowly but surely goes back to bed. Put some music on for him? It will soothe him back to sleep and occupy his mind off of his fussiness.

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answers from Medford on

Hi, he is still really young - have you heard about this before? Give it a try, maybe he is just gassy and needs a burp. I saw this lady on Oprah shortly after my second was born and it made a huge difference in his happiness (and mine)!

Listen closely to his cries:
‎1. “EH” means “I need to burp”
2. “NEH” means “I’m hungry”
3. “OWH” means “I’m sleepy”
4. "HEH” means “Discomfort”
5. “EAIR” means “Abdominal Gas”

My kids were also exclusively breastfed, but they loved their binkies for sleeping, it helped with that sucking reflex. They liked the Nuk orthopedic ones, they are a little bigger and shaped the same way on both sides.

Good luck!

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answers from New York on

3 months is so young! Pick him up and soothe him!

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answers from Philadelphia on

What is CIO? I don't see why you can't pick your baby up and cuddle him till he falls back to sleep.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

when my daughter was that age, i'd of course check her diaper, try to feed her, if all was well, i'd just let her fuss, one night she went from 8 at night to 5am.........omg that was a long night.....and all she wanted was to be held

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answers from Chicago on

i also am not a fan of CIO and i think 3 months is WAY too early for this. Now that being said i dont see any harm in letting him fuss a bit, but as soon as it turns into something more you should respond. My daughter never fussed...she always went straight to panic cry. Have you tried to just pat him when the fussing starts to help him go back to sleep? Maybe if you do that instead of waiting for the fuss to turn into something more hed start to learn how to get himself back to bed? teething starts soon and then he is going to want to nurse to relieve that pain. Dont worry you will sleep someday!!!

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answers from New York on

I understand what you're saying and the difference between fussing during sleep and real crying. I would soothe straight away for actual crying. For the little sleepy fusses, it's harder to say. Personally, I would not let it go on for 30 mins unless you KNOW that he is asleep and just making sounds in his sleep. However, if he's awake and fussing, it sounds to me like he needs something, even if that something isn't food or a new diapers. He may just need your presence (and at 3 mos, I consider that a true need).

I totally understand wanting your baby to learn to self-soothe. I have read that, generally, babies don't even start to be able to do this until 3-6 mos, so your little guy is just on the earliest side of that. Also, it's not all-or-nothing. When my baby was a newborn, I'd put her down already asleep most of the time, I just tried to put her down awake but sleepy once per night to help her to learn to fall asleep on her own. As she got better at it, it was twice per night. Now, she goes down awake most of the time. Can he ever soothe himself? If so, great! Maybe make it a goal to get him to self-soothe back to sleep once a night (obviously, not a hard and fast rule, but a guideline). If his fussing goes on longer than you'd like -- for me, probably 5 mins -- go to him; but let him try again the next time. This way you know that he can he's getting some practice while you're also getting more sleep since he's not fussing for so long and you can know you're attending to his needs. Gradually, as he gets bigger and more developmentally able to self-soothe, you can let him do it more.



answers from Chicago on

When I worked in daycare, they always had the golden rule (which is actually a DCFS rule) that you could allow a baby to fuss for 15-20 mins before intervening. So, my son is no a little over 5 months and I've always gone by that and he sleeps through most nights. Of course, if he's screaming, like you said, that's a whole other story. But my son would be fussy, kicking out of his blankets (he never liked being swaddled either), moving his head back and forth, sucking is fingers, and we just let him. He eventually falls back asleep. It's when he starts whining, opening his eyes and obviously crying, when we step in. You're a mother, you have your mom instincts, just do what feels right :)



answers from New York on

I read if you really want baby to sleep through the night you have to let them fuss as long as they need to as ling as their dry and not sick. But I'm struggling with the same issues now with my four month old. Good luck we need it!

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