My 8.5 month old is exclusively breastfed and will only be nursed to sleep (sometimes I can get away with him nursing then I can rock him to sleep but only sometimes). He sleeps well during the day (only if we’re home) and wakes up every 2 hours at night. He wakes up around 8:30, takes 2 naps a day (1.5 hours each approximately) goes to sleep at 9pm but will wake up 30 minutes later then will go back to sleep if I rock/ nurse him. Then will wake up every 2 hours. He nurses around 5 times a day and eats 3 meals but very very little.
The first thing I think when I hear "wakes up every 2 hours at night" is "unsustainable nurse-to-sleep association". The fact that he is nursed to sleep confirms my suspicions.
Barring any medical considerations (and please confirm with your pediatrician before taking any additional steps) and any unsupported sleep foundations (these are the holistic elements of my approach which you can learn more about on my About Me page), in order to get your baby sleeping for longer stretches in the night, you will need to break that sleep association and help him develop new, sustainable ones.
Baby sleep, like all human sleep, occurs in a cyclical pattern. You fall asleep, you go into light sleep, then deep sleep, then REM sleep (where dreaming occurs), and then you wake up partially before falling back asleep again.
Depending on how tired we are, we can coast through from one cycle to another with such a minimal wake up that it barely registers. Roll over, go back to sleep.
Every few cycles, however, we will have a more alert wake up. As an adult who is able to put herself to sleep, you might experience this as a time to rearrange your pillows or have a sip of water. Then, konk. Back asleep.
For a baby who has an unsustainable sleep association, he can get through a very low partial arousal (that's the technical term for the mini wake ups). Roll over, go back to sleep.
But the more alert wake ups are harder. Coming into awareness of his surroundings, your baby realizes that he's not asleep and he's not cuddled up in the same circumstances under which he fell asleep. Namely: with your breast in his mouth.
In his mind, this is a problem. He knows he needs to go back to sleep, but he does not have the skills to do it himself. Not yet, anyways.
Your job, tired mama, is to teach him those skills. This is where sleep training might come in handy.
Before you react, understand that "sleep training" is not (necessarily) a dirty word.
Sleep Training 101
Sleep training runs the gamut from full blown cry-it-out to the gentle methods prescribed by attachment parenting experts Elizabeth Pantley and William Sears. Sleep training can be attachment friendly , you just have to know what you're doing.
What sleep training does is teach your child that he will no longer be allowed to use his crutch to fall asleep and must therefore find another way. How you refuse him his crutch and how you assist him (or not) in falling asleep is a personal decision that only you and your family can make.
This is easier said than done, given that there are dozens of sleep training manuals on the market and as many opinions out there as there are parents.
It is difficult to navigate. Especially when you're tired.
Choosing and blending and adapting sleep training methods requires finding the balance between the underlying principles of these methods and what you know about your family. What you know includes your parenting philosophies, your personality, your baby's personality, other family dynamics, and so on.
Again... difficult to navigate. But not impossible.
A large part of my job is helping families navigate the contradictions, opinions, and (mis)information about baby sleep, and chart out a unique path for their unique circumstances. My goal is to demystify sleep training and help you find your way to better sleep, on your terms, with eyes wide open.
I'm currently working on an online mini-workshop designed to do just that. It's called SLEEP TRAINING 101 – CHOOSING THE BEST APPROACH FOR YOUR FAMILY. In this workshop, I'll break down the range of sleep training options available and help you develop a plan for success that honours your heart and your goals.
I'm aiming for it to be ready soon and I'll give instructions on how to access it then. Stay tuned to my Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Or you can add your name to the list of folks who want in and I'll let you know when it's ready.
I respect your privacy and will keep your info safe. You can easily unsubscribe at any time.
In the meantime, this might offer some consolation:
Despite your baby's frequent night wake ups, he's getting nearly 12 hours of sleep at night. And with two 1.5 hour naps in the day (which some parents only dream of), he's rocking a solid 14.5 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, which puts him well in the healthy range of sleep for a baby his age. Woohoo!
He will get better quality sleep once he's able to settle himself after a partial arousal. And so will you. But in the meantime, he'll be okay.
Stay tuned for info on SLEEP TRAINING 101.
And hang in there, mama!
P.S. Breaking a nurse-to-sleep association will help with the bi-hourly wake up, but it may not eliminate unwanted night wakings altogether.
If your baby is getting the majority of his calories at night, you will need to make a concerted effort to get him on a more day-oriented feeding pattern. I talk about this in a previous post. Check it out here.
Susannah Ritchie is a family educator specializing in infant & toddler sleep. She works with tired parents to find sleep solutions for the whole family.