Last updated on April 3rd, 2024

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Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

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Weekly Baby Sleep Problem for The Sleep Lady:

“My son is now 15 months old and still nursing at morning and night.  In everything I read, it always says put your baby in the crib “drowsy but awake.” Is it just me, or is that way harder than it sounds?!  Whenever I try and stop nursing my son at night time before bed, he fights back hard!  He fusses if I let him off and cannot settle down.  How do I still nurse my son but get him to stop this habit of using me as his human pacifier so he can really learn to go to sleep on his own? Please help me with this baby sleep problem!” Anonymous
Dear Anonymous (but Not Alone) Mom-
Often in my book, “Good Night, Sleep Tight“, I will instruct you to put your baby down in his bed when he is “drowsy but awake” so he can learn to do that last part of falling asleep on his own. If you have trouble visualizing what “drowsy but awake” means, imagine a scale of one to ten, one being wide awake and ten being deep sleep. You want to put your toddler down at about a seven or eight on this scale. Think of drowsy as “warm, dry, fed and loved” all within a sleep-friendly, nurturing environment. He should be awake enough to know that he is going into his crib. If he falls asleep too quickly, in less than five minutes or so, you probably put him down too drowsy and perhaps too late. Put him to bed when he’s a tad more alert the next night.
If your child just doesn’t get drowsy, if he’s really good at fighting sleep to keep you close by and engaged, you will have to put him in his crib anyway. But make sure you have an appropriate bedtime and evening routine to help prep his mind and body for sleep. Once he’s in bed, use your repertoire of soothing techniques to help him transition to sleep.
I would recommend you nurse your son with the lights in his room and then read a book and in to bed. It sounds like your son is sort of saying “Hey, I am trying to nurse to sleep, why do you keep interrupting me?”. In order not to give him any mixed messages you may want to change the order of your bedtime routine to:
–        Bath, nurse, brush teeth, book, bed
If that doesn’t give you enough space between nursing and bed (and he still fights you unlatching him) then try:
–       Nurse, bath, brush teeth, book, bed
I always think it is a good idea to add books in to a bedtime routine at this age so when you decide to wean him he will be accustomed to reading before bed as part of his relaxing bedtime routine.  You may want to ask your spouse to put him to bed the first few nights also.

NOTE: The easiest time to learn to put oneself to sleep is bedtime. If he doesn’t know how to do it at bedtime then it will be even harder in the middle of the night and for naps.

Even when you put him down at the right point on the drowsiness scale, he will probably protest and fuss as you lay him down. Don’t worry but don’t get him out and start the whole routine over again. Instead stay nearby and use Sleep Lady techniques to comfort and reassure him and he will learn to put himself to sleep without nursing to a very drowsy state.
Remember if you have to choose between drowsy or awake….choose AWAKE at bedtime.
Sweet dreams,

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Author: Kim West, MSW, Mom of 2, creator of The Sleep Lady Shuffle

My name is Kim West, and I’m the mother of two beautiful girls, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 21 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. My sleep journey began when I started experimenting with gently shaping my daughter’s sleep by not following the conventional wisdom at the time. After having success (and then more success with my second daughter!), I began helping family and friends and my step-by-step method spread like wildfire, exactly like an excellent night of sleep for a tired parent should!