13 month old baby has a hard time letting go and falling asleep

by D

Question: Hi there, My son, who is now 13 months old, has always had a hard time falling asleep. Some days/months are better than others, but in general we need to nurse and/or walk him for a while until he falls asleep. (On bad days my husband and I go back and forth, I nurse, he walks with the baby in the Ergo until he's alseep). Other times, things are easier, and with minimal walking/nursing he falls asleep. We tried cutting out his morning nap around 11/12 months, and while he fell asleep almost immediately when I nursed him after lunch, he was kind of wreck both in the morning and in the afternoon. What we do now, which seems to work, is that we wake up at 6:15 AM, then I take him for a walk in the woods around 7:30 and he sleeps on my back for about an hour (he falls asleep much easier outside!) and then around 1, after lunch, I nurse him and walk him to sleep. He usually sleeps long and hard in the afternoon and I often have to wake him up around 3PM. While we've always tried to put our son to bed relatively early, ca. 6:30PM, we've shifted his bedtime later and later to around 8 since he's been resisting his morning naps.
Our son is super active, and has always been so. When he was very small, we had a lot of success with swaddling him and giving him a pacifier. We also paid attention to the 90 minute sleep cycle thing and often we were able to just swaddle him and give him the pacifier and then he'd drift off all by himself. All this changed around 4.5 months, either because he started teething or because we moved (from a big metropolis to the big mountains).
We've tried the Pantley method with some success. It's strange, some days/weeks he falls asleep almost immediately and then other times it's a real struggle. I wonder if something is hurting him...perhaps when I eat dairy or he eats dairy? Or his teeth or....
We've always co-slept and we are absolutely NOT into letting him cry it out, though we've experimented with not immediately rushing in to him when he cries. This usually backfires. Our son often wakes up at night screaming and very tense, I nurse him for a few minutes and then he almost always pushes off from my breast, rolls over and falls back asleep. I know that some people say that he's been conditioned to wake up because I always nurse him, but there are times when he wakes up, opens his eyes and then falls back asleep without any help. Sometimes I can just put my hand on him and he falls back asleep, so I don't think it's the nursing that's the problem, but I could be wrong. I wonder if he's scared or in pain. That's what it sounds like. And if I don't immediately react, he amps up his crying and wakes up for real.
Again, sometimes he sleeps like a champ and then other times he wakes up very frequently.
I've tried homeopathic remedies with little success. I've tried craniosacral and that's also not been very effective. My sense is that our son is just very awake (even as a newborn people would react surprised at how awake and interactive he was). He's also a big mover. He was super active in the womb, turned over at 2.5 months, walked at 10 months etc. He got his first teeth at 4 months. He is very skinny, though he eats and nurses quite a bit.
My husband and I are committed to supporting our son as best we can, and if he needs a little extra support and love to learn how to sleep, that's OK. But we are also quite tired and it'd be great to hear if there is anything we can do to make this easier on us all.
I hope this gives you a good sense of our issues. Thanks!

PS: I forgot to add one more thing to my earlier post:
if we manage to get up at 6:15, then the day goes pretty well (nap walking in the woods at 7:30, then afternoon nap at 1 etc). But sometimes my son refuses to fall asleep until late and then we don't wake him up--he sleeps until 7 or 7:30 and then the whole day is off. The question is, should we try to wake him up at 6:15 or so to set his clock for a short period of time (10 days or so) or should we always let him sleep as long as he wants and work around that (this is kind of hard as my husband works and i use the mornings to write). I guess, is it bad to wake a sleeping baby/toddler?


Heidi's Answer: Dear D.,

First of all I think you are doing an amazing job following your son's needs all while keeping to offer him the stability of a regular schedule and consistent routines.

It is clear from your message that your son has a strong temperament and is very active, i.e. his body needs a lot of moving. And that is a good thing, especially if you acknowledge it and give him the space and opportunities to do that during awake time. It's not about over-tiring him, not at all, but rather giving him plenty of opportunity to get moving.

The fact that he sometimes/often sleeps well is a good sign, it means that he is able to sleep well, also to self settle when all is well.

Have you read the page on night terrors? This may seem like being in pain (which it is not) as what you see. See if you recognize how he wakes at night, and try the wake-up technique if you do.

Read all about teething remedies to make sure you relieve most discomfort from that.

Dairy issues are a bit rarer at this age, but it's an easy experiment: leave out all dairy from your and his diet for 2 weeks and see what happens.

From what you write, I do not find that he is used to falling asleep at the breast, the nursing just helps him relax, after that he settles without the breast in his mouth - this makes quite a difference in sleep independence.

For your action plan, here is what I would like to suggest:

- Yes for the coming 2 weeks, do go for a consistent wake-up time (6.15am as you mention), even if he has slept late the previous night and yes, even if you have to wake him up. Whether it is bad or good to wake up a sleeping child is very very much dependent on the child and the sleep situation. From what you have written, this is a good experiment to do. The strictness can help regulate his sleep patterns quite efficiently.

- After waking up and breakfast, do the morning nap walk and then also the afternoon nap. If he is readily tired (nicely dozy, but far from over-tired) at around 6.30-7pm do go for that as a bedtime.

- Read the self soothing page and use the tips to help your son self settle gradually. For a complete guide in the process towards independent sleep, see No-Tears Self Soothing.

- To help wean from the breastfeeding at night, you can arrange with your husband to tend to your son at night awakenings and see how that works. Otherwise, if it is the quickest way to get him, and you, back to sleep, keep doing it for now while you are working with the strict schedule. The need to nurse at night may disappear automagically with that. If not, you can work on weaning (by shortening) gradually once the rest of sleep has settled.

Good luck,
Take care,

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