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April 27, 2009


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I guess it's the boob at night for me. I have a general rule tht I don't nurse my daughter (28 months) before 5.30 am, and I usually don't(unless I'm working the next day and I don't want to be woken up a second time) but as she has been recently waking up a little earlier and carrying on so much that she is waking her older brother, I have been giving in to her. Sometimes though. Other times I put my foot down and say, no not now. It's too early ( these are usually the nights where I don't have to get up early the next day for work). I know I should be more consistent. In fact tonight I have decided I will cut out the morning feed altogether ( she gets an afternnon feed too) as I am fed up with this early morning wake up call. I guess after reading this post that I just need to be more consistent with her (absolutely NO nurses before 5.30) rather than cutting out the morning feed altogether. Any thoughts??

paola - I wonder is it hunger that's causing the early morning nurse or something else. if you can sort out the cause of the request then maybe she'll drop it completely.

@paola: Ugh... I SO remember that 5:30 wake-up call from BOTH my boys. And I did the same thing: sometimes I caved because I. JUST. NEED. TO. SLEEP. And other times I would resolve to let them cry until they got the point. I agree with Lisa H. that knowing why would help with solving the problem... but it could also be really hard to diagnose the "why". Some kids just wake up way earlier than we can cope with and most seem to grow out of the 5 am craziness eventually (although they still tend to be the early-wakers in general).

Here's something interesting: MOST kids have a lighter sleep period around 5 am - ish (most adults do too). Many kids wake up during that time, but many put themselves back to sleep. If the only way she's been used to going back to sleep at that time is with nursing, then that's just what she's expecting (and so is her stomach). Even if she IS hungry at 5:30, it may simply be because she's become used to being fed at that time rather than any objective need for caloric intake at that time vs a little later.

So, I have no great insight here from developmental theory. I can tell you that it's a good time to make changes (at 2 years old) and it will be much harder at 2.5 years old, generally. She's at an age that you can use simple language to tell her that mommy has to sleep until it is "light" outside (assuming it's not light outside at that horrific hour where you are). And then you can try a few things:
- you can just let her protest in the morning and go into her room periodically saying something about "no boobie in the dark" or "only after it's bright outside". Then nurse her at 7 am or whatever your wake-up goal is so she knows she gets you, just later (I'm assuming she goes back to sleep after you nurse her at 5:30; if I'm wrong then some of what I've already said is irrelevant).
- if you are living with a partner, you could ask that person to take over the morning duty for a week. He/she could go in and say essentially the same thing you would, but perhaps with less associations of nursing being triggered.
- you could wean from morning feedings altogether and just go in and hug and pat and reassure her, but don't feed her. It is very possible that she'll simply stop waking up when she knows she's not getting fed (and her digestive system adjusts).
- you could try providing her with an "alternative" soothing object (a new teddy, blanket, etc.) and make the connection explicit to her.

Personally, I started providing pacifiers instead of nursing during those horrid months of 5 am wake-up calls. In 2 weeks, my boys both were waking up at 7 am (one took a while longer than the other to adjust). But I'm fully aware that I got lucky and then of course I had to deal with weaning them off the pacifiers...


Thanks for your suggestions. I think the only clear message is to cut out the morning fed altogether. Hubby has been gently nudging me for a while to give up nursing in the hope that DD will not wake up so much, so giving up the morning nurse but keeping the afternoon one sounds like a good compromise and the message is loud and clear. Yesterady afternoon I told her we would only nurse at that time and she actually said 'bye bye booby'. She didn't even ask for 'booby' last night when I went to her ( 3/4) times, and when my husband went in at 6.00, she fell asleep without any fuss. At 7.00 she was up for the day, and miraculously didn't evn mention 'booby'once. I was immensely proud of her,hubby was happy, and I still get to nurse her once a day! Hope this continues.

Wow Paola! What a great start! It really does sound like your little girl is ready for the change.

Our DD is 6 months old. I was fiercely opposed to CIO and, unfortunately, very vocal about my disagreement with any form of sleep training... DD stopped nursing to sleep at about 4 months. She switched to, after nursing at bedtime, needing (wanting is probably closer to the truth) to be rocked to sleep. This took a loooooonnnggggggg time. About a month ago she also started waking up an hour after falling to sleep - more rocking and rocking and rocking and rocking...
Last week I just couldn't take it anymore and after feeding her, checking her diaper and cuddling her, I put her in her cot, popped the pacifier in and walked out. Of course she started screaming. My husband and I sat outside the bedroom door, on the floor, counting the minutes that passed. After 5 minutes one of us would go in. Gently pat, make sure she is OK and then leave again. 5 minutes, same routine. She took 45 minutes to fall asleep on the first night. 45 minutes!!! It felt like an eternity. I cried with her and some more after she fell asleep. The next 3 nights she cried for 5 minutes before falling asleep. I thought we could, at last, for the first time in 6 months, enjoy a meal together while DD was sleeping but last night the whole routine didn't seem to work. It took a really long time and many "5 minute comforts" to get her to settle down. Tonight she settled down after 2 visits to her room. The reason why I've put all of this down is to "confess" - I feel horrible and so guilty. How can someone let their baby cry just for their own benefit? I'm close to giving in and to pick her up when she cries - isn't that what a mommy's for? What should I do? Stick it out and be the cruel mommy I never wanted to be or cave? Ugh, why did no-one tell me that the doctors replace the placenta with guilt when your baby is born?

OK, after my post (yes, after...) I browsed throught the online version of Bed Timing and I already feel better! I live in Singapore - is the book available here yet? What's the best/easiest/quickest way for me to lay my hands on this book????

@Anet: Your first comment sort of broke my heart, even though I've heard very similar stories. Part of the reason we were so motivated to write this book is because SO MANY parents, especially mothers, are being taught that every single one of our needs must be secondary to every single one of the baby's needs. If you've browsed through the first chapter of our book, you know how I feel about this attitude. It's incredibly damaging to many mothers who are sensitive, kind, tuned-in moms that simply can't live with 4 hours of sleep/night over 6 months -- their brain turns to mush and they can't function. MOST people can't stay healthy, alert, flexible, sensitive, compassionate and engaged socially when they are severely sleep-deprived. This is a hotly debated issue and I don't want to fan the CIO flames, so I'll just address your personal circumstances:

It sounds like you did exactly the right thing for your baby and for your whole family. It sounds like after the first night, things SIGNIFICANTLY improved. It sounds to me like you might be feeling some hope about regaining some quality interactions with your husband, it seems like your daughter has breezed through the transition after the first night of adjustment. The fact that last night took only 2 times of going back in to comfort your daughter before she peacefully went to sleep means you've gauged her tolerance for your absence correctly in the long run. She'll get lots more sleep (from the sounds of how long she was getting rocked) and you will be a better rested, more sane, happier, healthier mama. Just WAIT until the fog lifts and you feel your energy come back and your thoughts are filled with the glorious ACCOMPLISHMENTS of your daughter sleeping well and thriving. I hope you can stop beating up on yourself: you are NOT a "cruel mommy" by a LONG SHOT. Anyway, the rest of what I can say about this is in that excerpt you already read so I won't repeat myself; and I'm so glad it made you feel better.

BTW, from my perspective, it's quite an amazing accomplishment to change our minds about basic parenting philosophies we hold. It's a real sign of how committed you are: flexibility and open-mindedness is an incredible gift to give your daughter.

As for the book availability, no it's not available in Singapore unless you want to spend an insane amount of money on shipping, I suspect. I'll put up a post to brain-storm how to get the book to folks who live outside of N. America.

Good luck tonight! I hope it goes smoothly for you.

Thanks for writing this, it really helps me to understand why it's so important to be consistent during sleep training, it'll help them to cry LESS than when I'm inconsistent b/c I'm feeling guilty one time. But I do have a few questions: (actually, I have more than a few, so I'll be emailing you, but here are a couple)
If you're doing sleep training at night for a baby that you know still needs a couple of night feedings, is it intermittent reinforcement to let them cry sometimes and not others? My son wakes about 5-7 times during the night, and I know he doesn't need to eat all of those, but I'm thinking he probably needs 2-3 feedings. (He's 3.5 months) So how in the world do I approach sleep training to reduce the number of wakings when I'm not certain how often he needs to eat without being inconsistent or reinforcing the crying?
Another question: For naps I usually nurse him until he's very drowsy and then put him down. (We had to let him cry a bit because he was waking-up the second I put him down and I was holding him for all of his naps, and I just can't do that with a 2 year-old.) For the first week or so I did this, he actually got pretty good at it and hardly cried for his first two naps. Then he started crying more (maybe because I was still holding him and nursing him to sleep for some naps when I was afraid he'd get overtired???), so now I give him about 15-20 minutes and then I'll go and nurse him back to almost asleep again. When I put him down, he protests, but falls asleep within 1-2 minutes. This has only not worked once or twice, it tends to work like a charm. So, is this reinforcing him crying that first 15-20 minutes in order to get me to come back? In the past week or so that I've been doing this regularly, he has yet to fall asleep after I leave him the first time, it always takes me going back again. So is this intermittent reinforcement or just a way of calming him back down? Can't tell if this is just an ok gentle method or if I'm making it worse...?????

Oh, and: Right now he's sleeping for the first 30-45 minutes in his bed, and then when he wakes-up (because he ALWAYS wakes-up and never goes back to sleep on his own at that point) I get him back to sleep and hold him for another hour or so to extend his naps. Do you think that's confusing to him and being inconsistent? He's such a horrible sleeper that I'm just trying to maximize his sleep so he doesn't get totally overtired, but I know in the next month or so he won't be able to sleep in my arms amid all the noise, so if/when I do nap training, should I just wait until I stop extending his naps like that because it would be confusing or is it ok do to nap training while I'm doing this?

@Emily: Given that your son is 3.5 months old (in other words, VERY close to the 4 month transition period), I would try to not worry too much about consistency in sleep-training during this very unstable period. I'll be giving the low-down soon on the 4-month period, but the gist is that there are massive changes in how he views you and the world. Probably one of the best things you can do is to communicate to him that you will be there for him as much as possible. I know this sounds like the opposite advice I've been giving, but really young babies seem to require more of a balance between thinking about consistency in sleep-training and consistency in full-out mommy availability, no matter how they get it.

Also, I know you say that your baby doesn't need to eat 5-7 times / night, but some kids DO during these very young ages, especially when entering a transition period (some call it "cluster feeding"). (One of mine went through this, the other didn't... go figure). Of course, he may NOT be eating for pure caloric reasons. Even if he doesn't actually need the sustenance every time, he DOES seem to need mommy now more than before and that's probably due to him entering this new 4-month old stage (which is a doozy, I have to say...).

It also might help to know that the majority of babies DO NOT sleep more than 30-45 min during their naps (contrary to some popular sleep "guru" who has guilted-out plenty of moms for not being able to keep their child asleep for longer stretches). Uninterrupted, longer nap periods tend to emerge around the 6-month mark. So, I''m not surprised he wakes up after that short period and the fact that he can go back to sleep in your arms is FANTASTIC (at least for him). If you don't want to be doing that much holding every day, I'd wait until around 5.5 months to make any real changes to that pattern. It will be very tough to get him to sleep for 2-hour stretches alone at this young age. (I realize SOME kids do nap longer stretches at this young age, but MANY don't).

In terms of you needing to go back to nurse your son a second time until he goes down for his nap, I would suggest just going back almost immediately every time right now (in other words, consistently). So, he doesn't associate longer bouts of crying with the only strategy to get mommy back, but you're using the most efficient and most effective way to help your baby sleep during naptime (a "top up" after just a couple of min).

To your question: "So how in the world do I approach sleep training to reduce the number of wakings when I'm not certain how often he needs to eat without being inconsistent or reinforcing the crying?":

You're going to hate me for this answer, but if it was me, I wouldn't try any regular sleep-training method given that your baby is showing all the classic signs of entering the 4-month transition period. You will likely find it hard to impossible to tolerate the crying and it will likely not result in much of a difference in his sleep patterns because all those patterns are being shot to hell during this period of developmental change. Instead of beating yourself up or questioning how to be consistent, at these transition periods I would recommend "survival mode" rather than "teaching mode."

I know this may not be what you want to hear, ESPECIALLY with a 2-year old also to take care of. So, of course you need to try to maximize your own sleep for the next 2 months or so. Perhaps you can try to share the wake-up feedings with your partner (if the baby takes a bottle -- you can do formula or pumped breastmilk, whatever you prefer). Other readers might have some more ideas on how to focus on getting yourself as much sleep and rest as possible while navigating this next phase.

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