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June 16, 2009


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I think we got really, really lucky with our son. This was so him: "Around the 4-month mark, most babies do NOT fall asleep immediately after being fed." It just happened that it coincided with my husband being out of town for a whole week. Okay, that doesn't sound so lucky. But how it worked out was that I was used to nursing DS to sleep and one night in the middle of the week, it just didn't work. He didn't cry. He didn't fuss. He just wouldn't sleep. The nerve!

Usually it would take 20 minutes of breastfeeding before he fell peacefully asleep. That night, we were going on 45 minutes and I was starving for dinner. On a whim, I put him in his crib. He didn't cry. I went downstairs, figuring I'd get one or two bites in before he wailed, but it never happened. I checked on him an hour later and he was asleep.

All of that is to say, he put himself to sleep nearly every night after then but I always wonder what would have happened if the stars hadn't aligned just right. If DH had been home, I probably would have asked him to take over rocking the baby to sleep. Or if the baby had cried even once, I probably would have rushed right back in, maybe never knowing he was ready to learn to fall asleep. And who knows what made him ready at just that moment. (It was also just a few short weeks later that we discovered by chance when we were arguing outside his room at 9:30 about sleep strategies, that sometimes, just three minutes of crying was all he needed to fall back asleep on his own. I never would have agreed to let him cry at all if that hadn't happened.)

I just wanted to share that one anecdote. We're getting ready to have our second baby and I'm anxiously anticipating all sorts of new sleep challenges. I just hope when little miss is ready to learn something like falling asleep on her own, she gives me some clear signals so I figure it out again this time.

We nightweaned when Fish was seventeen months old, in a desperate attempt to get her to sleep through the night. About eight weeks after we nightweaned her, we transitioned her to sleeping in her crib all night - up until that point, she slept in her crib until the first waking, then with us until morning. It took another FIVE MONTHS until she slept through the night for the first time. She's always been a lousy sleeper - just like me. GOING to sleep is fine, and always was fine. When she stopped nursing to sleep, she was over a year old and we'd just put her down awake and she'd talk to herself until she went to sleep.
Now she's 25 months old and sleeps through the night most of the time. And the new baby is due at the end of August, so I can't get used to a decent night's sleep for long. I'm just hoping the new baby takes after her dad's sleep patterns instead of mine. After 25 months of broken sleep, I've realized why I was an only child!

@Christy: Wow! Crazy story... There were plenty of times I was in the bathroom, avoiding going back into see my boys out of sheer necessity to do my business and each time I sat there WISHING that they'd be one of those kids you hear about... who just magically put themselves to sleep while mom was attending to something else. Never happened. Mind you, if I had it easier, I probably wouldn't be writing this blog.

@bkwyrm: VERY funny with the only child comment. Yeah, my guess is you got smacked with the awesomeness that is the 18-22 month shift (except, you know, it lasted MUCH LONGER) plus you just had a generally lousy sleeper by luck of the draw. I'm sending your uterus good baby-sleeping vibes (meant a lot less creepy than it sounds).

This blog couldn't have come at a more perfect time for me. I'm going to be trying the Ferber method with my 5 month old (today!) soon - but I am realizing that until she is night weaned, it might not work so well.

Because of GERD issues she had early on, she really needed those night feedings - she was eating very small bottles around the clock. Now that we've got that under control, it's habit for her to get feed at least twice during the night. I know I need to figure out how to cut that out, I just want it to happen gently.

So help! I am much looking forward to your night weaning methods post!! :)

Between 4-7.5 months old or so, Evie had figured out how to soothe herself to sleep (we put her down drowsy), although she was still waking during the night to eat because she was hungry, and we didn't want her to stop eating a lot at night. She's a happy spitter and spits up a lot less or not at all when she falls asleep right after eating, so eating a lot at night is A-OK with us.

BUT then separation anxiety hit and she won't soothe herself to sleep anymore. (Insert rant about the sleep hell she's been putting us through lately...)

So when she finally gets over this intense separation anxiety phase, will she go back to being able to soothe herself to sleep when we put her down drowsy?

I am smack dab in the middle of this! I can put my 16 month old down completly awake at bedtime and he just rolls over, snuggles in and konks out. We got here by me laying on the floor for as long as a hour telling him to lay down in his crib after we had already gone through the whole bedtime routine and waiting for my chance to sneak out once he was asleep. It took about 2 weeks, but has been working out really well for the past month.

But! After a measly 3 hours (and again after that a couple of hours later) he is up and crying. And Daddy isn't good enough. If my husband goes in to console him the crying gets even worse. It is aggrivating to both my husband and I because he is generally more of a night owl and is up at that time anyway (I go to bed as soon as my 3 1/2 yr old daughter is asleep, which has been much later than I really want recently, but you and Moxie just covered that topic).

When I eventually come in he gets a hug and plopped right back into the crib where he snuggles in and goes back to sleep. I am thinking that my husband needs to 'put in his time' and go through the same 2 weeks of training that I did so the little man knows we both mean business in the middle of the night and won't hold out for Daddy to cave.

Of course my kids share a room and I am extremely lucky that my daughter could sleep through a football team charging through the bedroom. She had the exact same sleep issues when she was his age, so I can look at her when he wakes me up and know that there will be an end to this...eventually.

@Idaho Girl: It's coming, but probably Friday since I have some readers' questions to get to. Hang in there...

@Karen: I don't know how old your child is now (I'm assuming around 8/9 months). I wish I could give you a definitive YES! She'll be fine after this period. But there are no guarantees. Once kids get the idea that parents could leave them at any time, they never lose the capacity to imagine it. It can still be a strong force for many kids. It's just that they kind of 'get used to it". They learn to cope through a combination of their own skills and the general awareness that mom DOES come back most of the time. Oftentimes, good sleepers can revert back to sleeping well with a little, light sleep-training "booster session" which reminds them that they CAN do it and they NEED to do it (for the whole family's sake).

My 14month old is doing something very similar. He goes down for the first chunk of sleep very well (we do a Pantley-esque routine of singing/bouncing) at about 9pm but keeps waking up about 4ish. I can bounce him back to sleep, but it's such a shallow sleep that he'll wake back up when I put him down. I've been attempting to night wean, but due to the light sleep thing combined with a general lack of willpower at 4AM, I eventually cave and feed him, since that puts him into a deep sleep. I'm giving him another month or so of this before I really get tough about the nightweaning.

LOL at your 'needy-insecure' comment. I am the same way and like lots of feedback, so I can relate to you on many different levels.

I started sleep training my 6 month old son last week. I started using the 'sleep lady shuffle' sitting next to his crib and getting farther and farther away. A few days ago I was out of the room entirely and started using Ferber. It has worked very well for bedtime - Ducky doesn't cry at all anymore. However, he still wakes a few times each night and is waking at 5am (uggh!). When he does wake after bedtime, he puts himself to sleep in 5-10 mintues typically. I still nurse him once during the night. If I night wean, do you think he will wake less during the night? Would that make all night wakings truly disappear?!

As an aside, I really like that you don't think Ferber is evil. I've been getting a lot of grief over our choice to use his method. Ducky cries in my arms when I try to put him to sleep using 'gentle' approaches. It turns out he cries less using the Ferber method! Thanks for being non-judgemental and also reassuring me that I'm not permanently damaging my son!

This is definitely us. My 5 month-old hasnt' cried at bedtime for the past two months, other than a random off night. But he still wakes-up a lot at night. It used to be about 7 times, but now it's more like 4, and I feed him two of those times. He did have a great week there when he was just under 4 months where he was going 8-9 hours almost every night, and he's done that a good handful of times since then, so I don't think he's actually hungry when he wakes now after 5-6 hours and I feed him. I'm trying to muddle through with the pacifier another month until 6 months, and then give it another big effort. I'm assuming he'll be ok with just one night feeding by that point if he could go 8-9 hours at four months? I'm thinking of doing a dreamfeed (which does wake him a little bit) before I go to bed and then using CIO with checks (Ferber) for the rest of the night. I think we've definitely had limited success due to the stage and also the fact that I'm still feeding him twice, so sometimes when he wakes-up he gets fed and other times not. Would a dreamfeed and then no other feedings for the rest of the night make more sense? Can you think of a reason that might be confusing or a bad idea? Hmm....

@Emily: My daughter is 10 months. She is my first and I went through similar thing it sounds like. My sister has an older child and kept assuring me that "she'll drop the feeding on her own". I really didn't want to believe her but she did! I thought that 4 am feeding would never end, it went on for probably 4 months. But eventually it moved a little later and stuck at about 5ish for a while. I was ok with that. Sleeping 'til 5 was great and she went back down until about 8 am after that so I could sleep a little and still get up and shower or whatever before she woke. Now she's 10 months and for a while that feeding went away completely, but now she's up at 6:30-7:00 instead of 8. Just in the past week or so I figured out that she's still sleepy and tried putting her down after the 6:30 feeding. It has been working like a charm! She now gets up around 6:30, I do a quick feed and she sleeps until at least 8:00. It forces me to get my butt out of bed for the day at a decent time and have a couple of hours to myself. It's changed her daytime naps but I'm really happy with the current situation. It seems like every time I think I have her figured out she changes so we'll see when the next curveball comes.

Anyway, long post to say "hang in there". I suggest watching for clues and hopefully your baby drops the feeding on his own too!

Just wondering... If you teach a baby to put himself to sleep, then couldn't nightwakings decrease (theoretically, and keeping in mind that every baby is different) even if he isn't night-weaned, because if he isn't hungry, he would be able to put himself back to sleep? Or does the association of nursing to sleep mean he'll require nursing to fall asleep even if he isn't hungry? It's the sucking, not the food that makes him go down, I suppose. So, really, if one teaches one's baby to fall asleep without nursing/sucking/a bottle, then that theoretically SHOULD help, yes? No?

My first son self-night-weaned at 4 months (from formula), so this eating-all-night-long-at-6-months thing is new to me. (Nursing this time.)

Sorry, feeling speculative, and thinking how my almost-6-month-old (will be six months in 4 hours, lol) sleeps for 4 hours at night, then wakes practically every 1 to 2 hours after that. Which is why I cosleep. Hehe.

By the way, we "sleep-trained" my first at 16 months using a modified CIO with checking, and that cut out the nightwakings almost entirely (until the 18-month regression). He would wake up and just be UP for 2 hours in the middle of the night no matter what we did, until we sleep-trained. And then he stopped doing it. Just putting that out there as a data point for the post.

But what if your kid DOES know how to get herself back to sleep, has self-soathed FOREVER and then bang, doesn't want to do it anymore?? That's what I'm finding with my 30 month old, smack in the middle of that nastiest of nasty 2.5 to 3 y.o transition. No, my question does not require an answer, it is merely rhetorical, but I long for the good ole days.

@Jessica: It DOES depend on the child. Many children don't get a whole lot of nourishment from nursing at night (at least the older ones who get lots of solids and milk during the day). So, when I was night-weaning, I gave the boys a pacifier instead when they woke up (after 2 weeks of a gentle decrease in how MUCH I was feeding them at night). They'd actually go back to sleep much faster than when they were nursing. But that DID mean I had little paci boys (for times in the crib) until they were 3 -- worth it for me, but may not be everyone's cup of tea. But yes, if we teach our children to go to sleep without the sucking stuff, then that's what should happen, they should put themselves to sleep that way. Can't say it worked remarkably well for me, but in theory, that's what we're aiming for. The thing is, I think it's very hard for kids who DO get the boob or bottle at night sometimes to not ask for it the rest of the time. In general, I think MOST kids have the CAPACITY to put themselves to sleep, it's just that they don't USE that capacity for one reason or another (it's the common distinction psychologists make with kids' intelligence: capacity vs performance). My thinking always goes: if this was the 6th kid born to a mother with few resources in a poor part of some country, would that child learn to put himself to sleep? You betcha. And he probably won't be much worst for ware either. (OK, stupid analogy because of all the poverty, nutrition problems, stress, etc. But all else equal, that's what I'm getting at with CAPACITY vs actual PERFORMANCE).

@paola: Oh man... I hear you. Again, capacity vs performance. He CAN do it, but he's at a developmental time where he just WON'T anymore. His needs are different as he works all this new stuff out. Here's hoping he at least "remembers" he can do it when he pulls out of this stage (many kids DO revert back to good sleeping habits after the upheaval, although some need a bit of a "booster session" in terms of whatever sleep-training method might have worked before.

@Tina: Yes, like I've said, I DO think that night-weaning helps make the signals/lesson more clear to our kids that they can do this on their own... they don't need mom or dad to put them back to sleep. Also, when we feed kids at night, their bodies respond by NEEDING it at night. Even if it's just a few ounces of milk, the body can get used to that little top up and wake the child up from that need. So... when the child gets used to not having snacks in the middle of the night, they no longer wake with that desire, so that's another reason why it might help. But keep in mind, some kids do NEED that nourishment, especially under the age of 6 months. If he isn't gaining weight regularly or if he seems to be downing 8 full ounces each time he eats at night, that might be a sign that he needs more calories. If you can try to replace those in the day, great, but if that doesn't work, he may be telliing you that he still needs that nourishment at night.

As for Ferber being evil, that's another post unto itself. Suffice it to say that I think people have misunderstood his message for a long time and those who have misunderstood are usually not the ones who have read his book.

I basically hate all harsh judgments that moms give each other, no matter what side of the camp they come from. There... now I've just made a harsh judgment of all those who harshly judge.

I think I'm tired...

My son is just 5 1/2 months now. I read your book so I know I am now at a good place to start sleep training. I'm just having a problem with it for some reason. My older son is almost 3. We did the CIO thing with him and it worked. I don't know if this sounds mean, but it was easier with him b/c he was my first and I think at the time he was just this "thing" that cried in the other room. Now he's a person with feelings and I know my second son will turn into that so I feel bad when he cries. Does that make any sense? Anyway, 2nd son doesn't take a pacifier. i tried, but he won't take it. So in the middle of the night I just feed him to get him to go back to sleep. He rolls himself onto his stomach to sleep now, but he has yet to figure out how to roll back. So if I lay him in the crib awake, he rolls over and then cries. For the last week I've had to rock him to sleep to get him to go down without crying. Horrible,right? I need to start letting him CIO. I'm so worried he's going to wake up my son in the middle of the night. I will say, I will only do CIO. I'm not really a fan of the others.

The only trick that is working for our frequent waker (19 mos) is that Daddy has become the one to help her fall asleep up until the 3am or 5am wake, when she really cries for Mom, and then I just get her because by then HE needs the sleep. It's a tag team effort but keeps her night weaned (as soon as Mom enters the room that = boob and screaming is inevitable). For now, this is what works, and I'm sure we will sleep in the same bed some day...sigh.

@Emily: I think a dreamfeed does NOT confuse the child because it's meant to be done when the child is very, very sleep already and it's done when he hasn't woken up by himself and needs to put himself back to sleep. So... bottom line is that I think it's different and it could still work well.

Thank you for this wonderful post, which really clarifies things for my addled mind re: sleep training's relationship to night weaning. I find your blog to be fascinating, refreshing, and sanity-providing!

Our 6 month old baby girl has been waking up to 8 times a night since about 3months. Over the last month she's also had up to two hours of awake time somewhere between 11pm - 5am. She's had reflux, got her first two teeth at 4.5months, and has probably already had five colds plus a stomach virus. On top of that I've had two surgeries for a broken ankle since last November. I keep thinking that the stress of the accident when she was still inside contributed to her having a harder time with sleep. Would that make sense?

Somehow, we've survived up to this point. And I'm just hoping that the sleep training will have some effect. I was so grateful to read about 6months being a good period. We're on day 2 now, doing sushing, patting while she's on her side and limited pick up/put down. We'll introduce a lovey/blanket when she can roll over better. I really hope that she can learn to fall asleep and then sleep through some of the night awakenings. I'm happy to feed her once or even twice a night for a couple more months. And I do hope that the fact that she is not night weaned will not make it too hard to improve her sleep.

Do you think it helps if you set a couple of times (around 12midnight / 5am) as the feed times? I tried dream-feeding at around 3months, but it seemed to make things worse (or it just coincided with things naturally getting worse). I am looking forward to reading about gentle night-weaning. I really like Pantley's book but haven't been able to find the strength/patience to use her techniques - just seem to require such a long time.

Thanks so much for your blog, and your book!!

@Ana: I'm so sorry to hear how hard it's been for you. Really. All the relatively normal stuff of newborn sleep issues PLUS reflux, early teething, sickness, AND TWO SURGERIES! You are SO due for a break, woman! To answer your question, it is VERY unlikely that your accident contributed anything to your baby's difficulties with sleep. First off, MANY, many babies become much more wakeful around 4 months and have a much more difficult time going back down (yes, and many wake up every hour or 2) and the vast majority of those mothers did not incur any injury or traumatic event during their pregnancy (I'm in this camp, by the way -- sucky sleepers before 6 months and no horrific stress during pregnancy). I suspect that many, many readers of this blog could pipe up and tell you that they had no major pregnancy stress and yet their babies are horrible sleepers. It is NOT your fault. Some babies are just sucky sleepers.

GOOD LUCK with the sleep-training. You've picked a gentle, often effective method and a good developmental window. The fact that she isn't night-weaned might make the process longer, but if you're consistent, you have a good chance of significant improvements in the next few weeks.

You can always try the dream feed method again. Often it works during one period and doesn't at all during another (I, personally, never had any success with it, at 3 months, 4 months or 5 months).

And what you say about Pantley's methods is one of the biggest down sides that MANY parents report (this is one of the things we review in the book): they love the approach, but it seems so time-consuming and involves many steps that some parents can't feel up to following, especially after 6 months of intense sleep deprivation.

Again, GOOD LUCK and keep us posted on your progress. I'll be posting about the night-weaning methods on Monday.

I just wanted to chime in with my own recent experience with nightwakings. My daughter was good sleeper until about 5 months. Then things tanked. There were so many different reasons for the 2-3 wakings... developmental, teething, colds, travel... the list goes on. But I didn't worry to much since she goes down for naps & bedtime so easily.

I should say at this point that my husband is just too out of it to wake up and deal with her in the middle of the night. I, on the other hand can wake up, deal with her and go back to sleep quickly most nights. So my solution, get up, nurse, go back to bed. Everyone will survive until she gets better at it.

the waking continued at varying rates until she was 11 months old. At that point, I was certain she was teething because she was drooling like crazy & had a constant runny nose. My mother (bless her!) suggested we get some pediacare decongestant to help with that nose. And low and behold she slept better too. The teething ended & we cut the pediacare too since the nose stopped running.

But then the night wakings returned. and it occurred to me that she might just being waking & nursing to clear her nose (both sides of the family have serious allergies). And I realized that whenever she did wake (which never really happened at the same time each night), I didn't have much milk... So back on to the pediacare (after checking w/ the doctor). And low and behold it worked! She sleeps about 7 hrs straight now.

I could have been sleeping better for months... let alone that one week at my in-laws farm. So I share this for others. Nightwaking (especially if they do go to sleep just fine on their own) can really be a symptom of other problems (like breathing!).

Thanks Lisa H.! Yes, it's always important to rule out any potential medical problems before assuming it's "just the way it is."

We started sleep training with kid before night-weaning, and it worked out okay, initially. And then after a few months, he started having night wakings 4 to 5 times a night, instead of the "normal" two times. And he would wake up at 3am, and refuse to sleep till 5:30am. Drove us batty, especially after the lovely return of some type of sleep. So we retrained at 10 months with night weaning, and that worked out well.

kidlet (kid #2) is currently doing only one wake up, about two hours before he is up for the day. If I am lucky, that wake up is at 4am. Cause if it's at 3am, I am so upset because that means he is up at 5:30.

I long for the days when nursing and co-sleeping was the sure fire way to get him to fall back asleep. (just nursing alone never put this kidlet to sleep)

My little guy was 2 1/2 months old and would only sleep in my arms during the day and up countless times through the night unless I held him. So being completely desperate I started sleep training at this time. Having successfully used Ferber for my 2 older daughters I was optimistic and still planned to feed him the one time in the night, since that's what he was doing previously. It worked beautifully for night for the first week (naps were another story), but then he hit the 3 month growth spurt and he started waking more frequently. Since I knew it was a growth spurt I fed him when he woke (usually 2 or 3 times) but after 2 weeks of this I felt he wasn't always waking for hunger anymore. So I reintroduced the pacifier (which we had just weaned)and he is back to just eating once in the night with one or two "paci plugs".

I am glad we started sleep training when we did because it is a HUGE improvement, but we still have a ways to go to uninterrupted nighttime sleep and good naps. Now he won't go for naps without pacifier either, but I have decided to let him have the pacifier for now (unless he starts abusing it) and retrain around 6 months when he is eating solid foods and when I hope he will be ready to night wean. When they are still eating at night it gets difficult to be consistent - if you feed him sometimes and make him cry other times he just gets confused. Also at 6 months they seem to get better at napping (it was this way with my girls) so he may be able to nap better by then without needing the pacifier. Here's hoping!

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