14 month old baby sleep retrogression

by Justine

Question: Hello Heidi, I have asked you a few questions in the past and your advice has always helped us immensely with our very spirited 14 month old baby boy's sleep. This is what is going on.... We just had about a month stretch where R. was doing wonderful (for him) with his sleep. He was sleeping at least one stretch of 5-7 hours in the night. To me, this is completely acceptable sleep for him.... I'm not greedy :)

A few facts- he is breastfed and has a history of food intolerances (which are now resolved). We cosleep and enjoy cosleeping. We don't have a crib. R. sleeps on a sidecar toddler futon next to our futon.

I practice the pull-off the breast method to put him to sleep and this has translated, in the past, to very good sleep for all of us. We have also worked to take out his early wakings by having his father put him back to sleep (through walking, dancing and rocking) BUT all this has gone out the window and I am back to nursing him every 1-3 hours all through the night recently :(

I think there is a combination of things going on:

1) We were away from his father while he was studying for the BAR exam for almost a month. Now R. will have NOTHING to do with him putting him to sleep.... it is the breast or nothing, and I don't like to hear him scream. It is strange though, because for a while even though I was doing all the night parenting R. was still sleeping really well. Suddenly this changed and instead of just tossing around a bit and settling back down he sits up and yells for breastfeeding.

2) He is teething, BUT he is ALWAYS teething to one degree or another (drool, biting, crankiness) and it takes him FOREVER to get each tooth- so I think this is a contributing factor but not the whole story. He only has 4 teeth at 14 months so we have a long way to go!

3) He has had a cold recently. We used your onion method and it really helped.
4) He is going through the transition to one nap and this has created havoc with our routines for nap time and bedtime. One nap he is overtired at night and two naps and he is wired.

I guess my question has three parts:

1) How do we go about doing scheduled wakings for his 11pm waking (this is the one that I CAN'T stand for some reason.
2) How do we deal with these times of stress (teething, colds etc) and NOT reinforce his suck to sleep fetish.
3) What can we do to encourage R. to accept soothing from his father again? When my husband tries, R. just fights and kicks and screams- not pleasant for anyone!

Thank you so much for your help.

Heidi’s Answer: Hi Justine, Good to hear from you again and good that R. has managed to sleep well for a good while. But I’m very sorry indeed to hear about the retrogression. Your analysis of what may be going on is very good, so let me go straight to your three questions:

1) Scheduled awakening. Looking back at our conversations before, yes I think a scheduled awakening is worth a try, in particular at your much disliked (or do I put it too gently? ;)) 11pm waking. I suggest you wake him up at 10pm. Very gently of course, keeping lights dim and voices low. Changing his diaper is a good idea, not out of necessity but it is something you can do without too much fuss, but which does wake him up. You might also turn this into a scheduled feeding, and then avoid nursing further on in the night, see below. In any case, put him back to bed after 10-15 minutes. Don’t be surprised if it does not work like magic from the first night. Stick to it for at least a week and see what happens.

I discuss scheduled awakenings in full detail, and with the necessary caution, in No-Tears Sleeping Through the Night.

2) Avoiding retrogression due to stress. This is a tough one, as a cold or teething can be really annoying and put him into true discomfort. So do put the emphasis on soothing the cold (like you did with the onion) and teething (re-check with your health advisor to get something that really helps).

Besides this, the best way to avoid the nursing is to refuse it at all cost, hard as it is. We’ll discuss your husband’s help again below, but you might want to consider alternatives to the nursing: offer some water from a (sippy) cup or offer a dummy. To wean from nursing at night, do as you did several months ago: pick one awakening at a time where you will do anything, except nursing. Only after a few days, do the next one, and so on.

3) Accept soothing at night by his father. One thing is to start during the day. Have your husband spend as much time with R. as possible. Preferably, this will be without you around. Don’t let this sound harsh, it’s just easier for R. to cling to his dad more, and for dad to get all the attention. It can be anything that works out practically for each of you: a or several fixed hours a day, some days a week where your husband will do the bathing and changing, walks to the park between just the two of them, … anything that gives them more exclusive (fun) time together.

Once they get closer during the day again, then dad can start his ‘work’ during the night again.

Good luck, take care,

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