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April 29, 2009


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Thanks for sharing this study. I love that you share real academic research to help us know our children better, and I cannot wait to hear about the implications for changing sleep habits.

I have one question: our 6 month old bub is very good at putting himself to sleep during the day and for bedtime, but he still wakes up in the middle of the night and is unable to settle himself. We've tried soothing him back to sleep without nursing, but usually I have to resort to breastfeeding him. Lately we've noticed that this interferes with his daytime feeding - as in, he doesn't nurse well in the day but nurses hungrily at night. Do you know if the traditional "sleep training" methods that involve a bit of crying is effective for this? We thought that the let-cry methods are to correct "wrong" sleep associations, but we're not sure that he has a sleep association problem because he is unable to re-settle only at night, but settles very easily for naps in the day. We are not sure that letting him cry in the night (after checking in on him) when him has been a champ at falling asleep during the day is the right method. But we are at our wits end! I would love to hear your thoughts if you have any to share.

Yes, there are many sleep-training methods that could address this issue and 6 months is a good developmental window to try something. It sounds like you're basically talking about night-weaning. He has a "go back to sleep in middle of night" sleep association with nursing. He also has a "I'm hungry in the middle of the night because I'm used to getting fed" association. All that is fine for a 6 month old... unless you don't want to be nursing at night anymore. If that's the case, you can try gradually night-weaning by offering less and less milk at night, giving him comfort instead of nursing later on, then providing less and less of that comfort/support gradually. Or some form of modified Ferberizing also can work. I'd also add in a VERY good feeding just before he goes to sleep and try upping his caloric intake in the day.

Maybe other readers will contribute some other suggestions...

Hi Isabela, thanks for your feedback. The only thing we don't understand is that he has slept through the night a couple of times - just enough times for me to get a glimmer of hope that he is just on his way out of being night weaned, but not often enough that it still kind of p**ses me off when he does wake up in the middle of the night (you know, the "You've slept through before, so why not do it again??" thought runs through my mind every time he wakes up in the middle of the night).

I've tried to shorten the length of the feed but at if I try to stop him half way (or 3/4 of the way), he gets mad :P So usually, at 1am (or 2am, 3am, 4am - whenever he wakes up and can't go back to sleep). So usually I just give in and let him nurse while I doze off, then put him back in bed and I crawl back to sleep myself.

We have started solids but because of the whole "breastmilk should be their primary diet" thing I always refrain from giving him too much. He gets 1 meal of solids - at dinner time - and then a big feed right before bed time. But he has never ever turned solids away, so I wonder if upping solids might be a good way to go. Food is a tricky thing with the bub, because he won't eat if he's not hungry (turns away and arches his back) so I've tried increasing number of feeds in the day which has just resulted in frustration - of him not eating!

We will try some night weaning methods and see where that takes us...Thanks!

anon, that has been the story of my child's life so far! I have noticed it seems to come and go. My daughter is nearly 11 months now. At times it's been just once a night (perfect for me), but right now its about 2-3 times a night (exhausting).

I'm a bit of a wimp about fixing this one. I have no patience in the middle of the night and nursing her back to sleep seems to be the easiest path for us both since I am able to go back to sleep quickly after each nurse. Still I look forward to the next pause in night nursing.

Isabela, I just wanted to say I love your description of the child. It really helped me get into her mind. The 'obsession with retrieving hidden parents' just makes me smile.

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Hi, I'm Isabel

  • I'm a developmental psychologist and mom to two awesome 3-year-old boys. My area of expertise is social and emotional development and most of my research is on interventions that help make families and friendships healthier for children. More about me...


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    Ask us any question about your child, child development in general, or parenting. We'll try to post your question as soon as possible, with our take on the answer. We both have our PhDs in developmental psychology, so our "take" will usually be informed by our own and our colleagues' research, as well as developmental theory that spans several decades. And of course we'll throw in some thoughts that come from our own personal sample size of 3.

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