My six month old used to be a good sleeper. . .once upon a time. . .
Question: My daughter, Alexis just turned 6 months old and now refuses to sleep. The only way to get her to sleep is by nursing. I've tried everything I've read (putting her down awake (ya right) by nursing for less time and putting her down before she is completely asleep, letting her fall asleep on the breast but waking her up slightly before I put her down, putting her down awake and picking her up and rocking, shushing, singing, standing on my head and making faces).
The one thing I found helped was the baby swing and that helped lengthen naps (from 45 mins to 2.5-3 hours) and then I even moved her to her crib and still had longer naps (YAY) but it didn't help with her night wakings, the longest stretch of sleep would be 3 hours.
Then just as I thought things might start to improve, I mean she's getting good at napping so it must mean her nights are going to get better soon right? wrong. She decided that she HATES her swaddle and now I'm back to square one, with a baby who is too mobile and active for the swing.
Alexis is a little girl with no middle ground, she is either joyously happy or screaming sad. Do you know the cartoon Katie Kaboom? That's my daughter lol. (we're working on it and she is learning patience). So when it comes to sleep she is either completely out or ready to party.
I'm so tired I'm having trouble functioning on a basic level, but she has never had a soother and I'm not willing to use one, and I can't do CIO my heart can't handle it.
Your help would be so greatly appreciated!
I totally hear you when you say “ya right” about the putting down awake … it's such a joke right, unless for those really easy sleepers … And I know how hard the sleep deprivation is and how it gives you trouble functioning, so let's have a look at how to improve as soon as possible.
Great work on getting the naps to be consistent and lengthened, complete with transition to the crib. You don't mention whether those naps still go well or not since she stopped accepting the swaddle. If naps are still ok, that is great. Otherwise, apply the same plan as below.
With regards to the swaddle, have you tried a sleeping bag? It will not restrict her movement nearly as much as the swaddle, but if it nicely fits it can still give her the right feel of coziness and confinement, as well as restrict movement a little. Definitely something to try out.
Next, isn't she teething? The swaddle may be one of the triggers for the reduced sleep, but teething is such a 'powerful' sleep disturber at this age that there is a good chance it is also playing and it may even have more effect than the swaddle.
Dribbling, flushed cheeks, sore gums, … are the typical signs and they're usually not missed. But for some babies it not as apparent. Teething can also come out as a general sense of discomfort, unease for no clear reason, slight temperature raise, … without screaming "I am teething and it hurts!!" signs … Yet there is almost always disrupted sleep involved.
So do check the teething signs and remedies pages to help you recognize and above all remedy with the gentle non-medical solutions.
Then on to the sleeping plan for settling and making longer stretches.
The main thing will be to wean Alexis off dozing off at the breast. I know you have tried many things there but bear with me, by going step by step from the start, you can make further progress.
The very first step is to get her used to dozing off (= the actual switch from being awake to entering the first phase of sleep) without the nipple in her mouth. That sounds 'technical' but this is the physical weaning that needs to happen.
To do that, at each nursing right before a sleep stretch: nurse her until you know she has enough (burp shortly before the end if needed/possible) but is still latched on, and starts dozing off. Then break the vacuum by squeezing in your finger between your breast and her lips. At the same time (really instantly) use another finger to tip up her chin to close her mouth. This is to prevent her reflex of opening and reaching for the nipple again (which startles and wakes up). Once nipple out, you keep holding her in the same way and let her doze off, long enough for a deep sleep until you put her down.
It may take a bit of practice to tip up her chin quickly enough before she wakes, and to time things right, but you will get the hang of it. I know that also this technique you may have tried, but even then I do advise you to go through it again, and in this first step really focus on this – i.e. not going forward to putting down earlier etc. yet. Also she is getting closer to the ideal self soothing age so that may also help with respect to your previous tries.
Only when you are confident that the above is set (i.e. she dozes off being held but is awake when the nipple leaves her mouth) go on to the next steps. These are the steps of the Gentle Self Soothing Method (more details about that technique here) in which you put her down a little bit less asleep each time. Take tiny steps at first, then progress as feels right. By not rushing this you have better chances to succeed because you then really give her body the time to ingrain the skill.
I'd do all this straight in the crib, I mean putting down from holding into the crib, so you can now bypass the swing.
Once she can nicely settle independently, longer stretches should automatically appear. If the need for nursing still remains (and wakes her up more than once or twice a night), start weaning the actual nursing, by reducing the amount progressively. Do this with one night awakening at a time.