Baby Sleep Issues: My Baby Wakes at Night! Please Help, I’m Desperate!

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  • September 14, 2010

“My 11 month old son doesn’t have a problem falling asleep, it’s staying asleep. He still wakes at night… sometimes 3-4 times a night! He wakes up crying and wants me to put him back to sleep. In order to fall back asleep I need to either carry him or nurse him to pacify him. He’s not nursing out of hunger. He often falls back asleep within a minute or two. I’m just his sleep soother. Will he eventually just sleep through the night? Do I just wait till he does? Or should I just let him cry it out to fall back asleep (can take up to 20 minutes & by then will be in a full blown cry). Also if I don’t pick him up out of the crib, he’ll roll around in the crib often times banging his head. Can you help with our baby sleep issues? Please, I’m desperate and wanting to stop nursing by the time he is 1 years old.”
-Melody

 

Rule Out Underlying Medical Issues

 

First things first, make sure you have spoken with your pediatrician and have ruled out any underlying medical conditions. Second, make sure you are following an age appropriate sleep schedule and that your son is getting enough sleep at naptime and has an early enough bedtime. Average sleep at his age is 11-11.25 hrs of sleep at night and a total of 2.5-3 hrs during the day.

 

Remember: Drowsy But Awake

 

Third, I would put your son down more AWAKE at bedtime. This is one of the MOST critical steps you need to take in order to teach your son how to sleep through the night.

sleep and adhdI have a hard time convincing parents of this critical step and its importance. They say “But Kim, bedtime is so easy, I just nurse him and put him in the crib and he goes right to sleep…it’s the night wakings that are driving us crazy!”

Remember, bedtime is the easiest time to learn to fall asleep. If you do most of the work for your child at bedtime then he won’t be able to apply the skill in the middle of the night or at naps when it is much harder.

Your child should be awake enough to know that he is going in to his crib. When you start to put him down more awake than he is used to, he will probably protest and fuss more than he has in the past. Don’t worry—but don’t get him out and start the whole routine over again. (Remind yourself that this is confirmation that you were putting him down too drowsy in the past.) Instead, stay nearby and start the Sleep Lady Shuffle.

Follow the guidelines outlined in the 9-12 month old chapter in my book for addressing night wakings and night weaning. He is a great age to do the Sleep Lady Shuffle!

Sweet dreams,
Kim

P.s. I don’t find that babies just “outgrow” their sleep crutches without some sleep shaping and direction from the parent.

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Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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20 Comments

  • Diana Crysler says:

    My son is a very sensitive sleeper and I remember using the same phrase you did – ‘it’s easy to get him to sleep but he won’t stay asleep!!’. I had to for sure stop nursing him at night and a lot of times I had to send my husband in to soothe him so the baby didn’t think there was even a chance of nursing. I also found that if our son falls asleep on his own (and that does mean crying himself to sleep) he is less likely to wake up at night. We let him cry 20 minutes before checking on him and if/when we intervene, we’ve learned it has to be brief. So when we put him back in his crib, he usually starts crying again but he usually falls asleep within 5 minutes. Some nights have been long, though, so I certainly understand that it’s not magic. I found that the ‘easy fix’ is not conducive to good long term habits so many times I’ve had to bite the bullet and sacrifice sleep to listen to him cry. But its totally paid off in the long run. Good luck!!!

  • Carmen S says:

    Hi Kim,
    Is it normal for my 4 1/2 month old to wake up in the middle of the night and talk for 30 mins then go back to sleep? She goes to bed awake and falls asleep on her own but does not stay asleep. Is there anything I can do to help her sleep straight through the night?

  • Amy Keffer says:

    I’m so glad this question is being addressed, as my 10-month-old has the same problem. What surprises me is that she is VERY awake when she’s put down for both naps and bedtime. I thought that would have avoided this frequent-waking problem, but here we are. She is on significant medications for reflux, so I’m quite confident that problem is well-managed, and the vast majority of the time she does just fine going to sleep after being put in bed fully awake.

    I’m the only one who does nighttime parenting, so I realize that doing the SLS on my own is only going to be that much worse for Hannah, who expects to be nursed by Mommy. 🙁

    • KimWest says:

      Amy, Since Hannah has significant reflux it is essential that you make sure she is not waking from reflux (despite being on meds…sometimes a new or different medication is needed). As long as she is growing well I would encourage you to completely night wean her due to her reflux. As you know, eating and lying down after wards is a bad combo for reflux! The fact that she can put herself to sleep from a very awake state for bed and nap time is a GREAT sign! It means she has down the first and easiest part of the skill. Now you have to respond to her consistently for the night wakings so she can master putting her self BACK to sleep without nursing. I have many moms who do this on their own and have success without as many tears as they feared! You both can do this!!!

      • Jill says:

        How old is Hannah? My 5 month old has been diagnosed with reflux. We just started meds about a week ago. Prior to that, she WAS sleeping thru the night at 4 months and then got sick for about 2 weeks and needed breathing treatments. We have not stopped that for over 3-4 weeks and she hasn’t been sleeping thru the night! I know she can do it, as she has done it before. So, Kim, when you say wean her off the night feedings, it’s difficult to do. Claire has been waking twice a night. The peds said feed her once a full bottle then the second time only 2 ozs. Last night she fell asleep at 8pm, (drank 8oz before bed) woke up at 12:30 and took 4 oz and then woke up at 5 am and took another 4oz which my husband gave her. She was then up at 8am. It’s just so frustating. I’m not sure if she “truly” has reflux and why she is waking up still. I know it takes awhile to get back on track after being sick, but not a month!! Right?

        • KimWest says:

          Melody said that Hannah is 10months old in her post which is much older than Claire! Why not follow your peds advice and reduce the number of ounces in the second bottle? Not sure what you regressed to when she got sick and if you started feeding her during the night but it can be just that….that her body has now gotten in to the habit of “receiving calories” twice during the night. Review how much she eats during the day and ask your ped what she needs to eat during the night given how much she is eating during the day and create your plan from there!

        • Amy Keffer says:

          Thank you, Kim! I appreciate your encouragement. I went through an unimaginable nightmare with my first one (who didn’t STTN until 26 months despite the 14 books I read and implementing the SLS faithfully). I was a bit of an overzealous Sleep Fanatic the first few weeks with Hannah for fear that we’d create sleep problems… I missed a lot of the fun of those early weeks.

          Maybe I’ll find a time when I have a bit of daytime support (haha) and try doing the SLS on my own. I just know it’s harder for many babies when Mommy does it simply because they’re conditioned to expect nursing and get understandably upset when the rules change. I suspect Hannah might be one of those who gets *more* upset if I’m present and/or visible, so I may have to jump right to the hallway. [And I’ll also have to get her devoted big sister, Emily, out of the house for a few nights or we’ll have major trauma! 😉 ]

          ~Amy

          (Thanks again, Kim. Your reply means a lot.)

        • Amy Keffer says:

          Jill, just wnated to encourage you about the reflux. It can be really tough to get the right medication and the right dosage, and dealing with that while sleep deprived is quite a challenge! I’ve been through that (twice now, LOL), and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Trust your gut about whether the reflux is successfully managed or if your little one is still in pain. I found a tremendous amount of info and support at http://www.infantreflux.org, and was able to eventually advocate for a treatment protocol that finally worked for both of my daughters.

          Hang in there, and wishing you both a great night’s sleep. 🙂

          Amy

  • mel says:

    I felt the same way as Melody! I thought I was literally going to die from exhaustion. And then one night, just after my little boy turned one, I re-read the chapter in Good Night Sleep Tight and realised I hadn’t been handling the night wakings the same way as when I put him to bed. So one night I just said well it might take an hour and I might be tired tomorrow but in the long run this might save me. And whaddaya know, by returning to my shuffle location for the night wakings and not picking him up he fell back to sleep on his own — without many tears at all, to my great surprise! Within a few nights he was sleeping 7-8 hour stretches! He doesn’t always sleep this long but he’s gotten so so much better and I really do attribute this to how I handled the night wakings. It’s difficult when you’re exhausted to resist the easy fix, but if you can pick a time when you have a lot of support during the day it will save your life!

  • I feel the same way too – my 6 month old son was sleeping thru the night at 8weeks, but then started having belly aches which would wake him up throughout the night leaving us exhausted. When that finally passed, it seemed as though he was getting on track and then he got ill, it took 6 weeks to get past that. I am trying to get him back on track now, he goes to sleep with no problem, drowsy but awake, and takes great naps and eats well all day on a perfect schedule, but he seems to wake up 2 to 3 times a night and wants to eat. He doesn’t just suckle, he full on nurses on both sides and then will go back to sleep but only to wake a few hours later. the Shhh’ing and not picking him up is leaving him frustrated wanting to get up and eat – is it possible he is still hungry? or is he just manipulating me???? 🙁 by the way he is teething too, perhaps he is waking from pain? sometimes a gas bubble will wake him – i’m so frustrated!

  • Mallary says:

    Hello,

    I have a darling 10 month old boy , Brodie. He has always woken in the night. I decided to quit nursing him during the night back in June. He wakes 5-6 times every night.
    I pat his back, rock him, and nothing seems to help. I then leave the room and let him cry for 15 minutes. He can do this for hours. I am so confused and exhausted. This is my 3rd child and I have never experienced this before to this extreme.
    I feel like I am losing my mind! Any suggestions?
    ~Mallary

  • an update: I went back to the section for 6month olds in ” good night sleep tight” and I am doing the dream feed. I put him down drowsy but awake at 7pm-ish, up around 10 for the dream feed (although he naturally seems to wake up at that time). Now he is only getting up once a night, between 1am and 3am. He nurses, it’s very quick and business like, although he definitely eats, not suckles, and then he goes down with no problems for about another 5 hours. I am still hoping to cut out that middle of the night feeding!!

  • Pamela says:

    My 11 month old son just started waking again this last week and we had gone through the sleep training as recommended through Kim’s book several months ago with great success. I had to wean him from his night feedings and although emotionally tough for me the process didn’t take but a few days before I saw a dramatic improvement. Then for a couple of months he slept straight through the night, not even a peep. Now this last week, each night he wakes up an additional time and he wants to eat. He is able to get himself to sleep no problem, but he is doing all the things that he does when he is hungry. My husband recently deployed, a few weeks ago and I am 4 months pregnant again and would really love to get both of us back to that solid nights sleep again. I failed him by starting to feed him again when he woke because he has had 6 teeth all coming in at the same time and it is really affecting him. Now I realize that he is leaning on that bottle in the middle of the night again and I don’t know what to do. I know what I need to do, the books lays it out very clearly but it is so emotionally hard for me, especially since I don’t have my husband, my support system here coaching me on.
    Tired and frustrated that I am back in this place again after going through all of this months ago.
    -pam

    • Amy Keffer says:

      Pam, I’ll leave this for the expert, but I wanted to tell you that you didn’t “fail” your baby by doing what you did. You have more on your plate than most people can imagine, and trying to manage that completely on your own is overwhelming (I’m also a military wife). Let me be a support system to you for just a moment and encourage you to extend yourself some grace. He’s already experienced sleeping through the night, so he has that skill under his belt… he can do it again when the time is right for both of you.

      Is there an FRG or key spouse for you to get in contact with? Let the other families have the honor of helping you in whatever ways you need while your husband is deployed. Thank you both for the service you’re giving our country. {{hug}}

      ~Amy

  • Brandi U says:

    My 8 month old has a similar problem. About a month ago, I started working pt after being home with him all the time. At the same time, he completely stopped being able to fall asleep on his own. Now, he is up 5 -6 times a night. Sometimes he goes right back to sleep and sometimes, he is up for hours. I have just started trying to get him down drowsy but awake at bedtime and the nights he does it, he seems to wake up more! I have to be careful about crying because when he cries, he throws up. I haven’t shuffled yet, but I announced to the 8 month old and his dad, that if things don’t improve in the next week or two, it is coming. I am just too tired.

  • jenn says:

    I feel your pain. My 10 1/2 month old daughter has never (and I mean NEVER) slept through the night. I have been working full-time since she was 3 months old and have continued nursing/pumping, but have thought many nights about quitting both nursing and my job since I am so exhausted. I have done the SLS with great success for getting her to go to sleep on her own, for both naps and at bedtime, but like you, she is still waking up 3-4 times a night. I know I shouldn’t feed her at night, but with working full time it seems so much easier and quicker to just get up for 5 minutes, instead of listening to hours of fussing/crying. Has anyone done this successfully and can give me an estimate on how many nights I can expect to be getting even less sleep (if that’s possible) while night weaning. I started doing the “nurse her less and less time each night” and have gotten down to 4-5 minutes, but I know just taking it away all together will lead to her being up most of the night and many tears (hers and mine).

    Any suggestions would be much appreciated!!!

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