Q&A: pacifier/swaddling double-whammie (4-month-old!)

Claire writes:

"Our daughter has always responded well to being swaddled.   Weswaddle her with her arms in at night and out for naps.  She won't sleep long at night with her arms out - I've tried.  When she's swaddled, she goes to bed around 7 or 7:30, wakes up once to eat between 4 and 6 am, and then is up for the day around 7:30.  This is a perfect schedule, and I'm not complaining about it - I don't even mind feeding her in the night.  She's quick and goes right back to sleep with a little cuddling.

So here's the problem - she wakes up anywhere from 2 to 8 times a night and fusses.  All it takes (usually) is putting her pacifier back in (in the dark), and leaving the room.  Every once in a while she'll need to be cuddled back to sleep. 

I don't feel great about letting her cry, because her arms are swaddled, so she couldn't even put her hand in her mouth if she tried, and she's way too small to find the pacifier and put it back in (if her arms were free).  So I'm not sure what to do.  Do I suck it up and replace the pacifier when she cries (my husband bears the lion's share of this job) or do I unswaddle her arms, and assume that after a few nights of bad sleep, she'll get better at finding her hands/holding her lovey?  Do I need to let her "cry it out" or delay my response time?  The few times that we've let her cry (for just a few minutes), she seems to get more and more frantic the longer she cries, so I'm not sure if letting her cry will even be helpful for her. 

Any advice you have on this would be great!  She's a good sleeper - this pacifier/self-soothing thing is just frustrating, and I'm not sure what to do about the swaddle."

In the immortal words of The King (Elvis Presley): You're caught in a trap; you can't walk out. Because you love her too much, baby.

This is one of those completely time-dependent problems. Kids younger than this are so clearly helpless that there wouldn't be a question of replacing the pacifier. And kids older than this have usually broken free of the swaddle (although some kids stay swaddled for months more--if your kid is still happy with the swaddle, then keep going with it). The real issue, though is that the baby's waking up all the time, and that's just because 4-month-olds do wake up all the time. All. The. Time.

That's the real issue here--the 4-month Sleep Regression. Because otherwise, she wouldn't be waking up and realizing the pacifier was out of her mouth. Parents of older babies will testify that they can fall asleep with the pacifier in and have it fall out at a certain point and not realize it, because they're still asleep.

You know I think this whole "force them to cry when other things soothe them better" thing is utter crap, especially at such a young age. All you need is sleep, not to take an ideological stand about some alleged "habit" that's going to change once she goes through the developmental spurt anyway. Essentially, you just need to figure out how to get through this phase without having anyone in your household completely lose it.

If I thought loosening her hands would make her start sucking her thumb or fingers if she couldn't find her pacifier, I'd suggest it, but I've never heard of this happening. Pacifier kids seem to stick with pacis, thumb-suckers (represent!) stick to thumbs, and finger-suckers stick to fingers. PLEASE, if anyone out there has a kid who would switch back and forth to suck different things, post it in the comments, because I'd be interested to hear about your experience.

Also, if your 4-month-old can find her own pacifier or lovey in the crib in the dark in the middle of the night, strap yourself in because you are raising a true super-genius. Most 9-month-olds can't find their missing pacis or loveys, so if your daughter could at this age it would be an indicator that she was another Doogie Howser.

Basically, I'm saying that you're kind of stuck right now. I mean, you could try to wean her off the pacifier entirely, but that would really suck at a time that no one's getting much sleep anyway. Same with weaning her off the swaddle. And making her cry, when other things get her to sleep just fine and without stress, just makes no sense. The good news is that she'll start sleeping better in general in a week or two, so this won't be a huge issue anymore. You probably just want to divide up the pacifier replacement job (*cough* trained assistant monkeys *cough*) so neither of you takes the hit all the time. And keep lobbying for better parental leave in this country, because it's just ridiculously unfair that everyone has to be back at work at the exact time a baby's sleep goes haywire.

Anyone else feeling the pinch of 4-month-old sleep? Is it just me, or did a lot of people's babies wake up cartoonishly early this morning?