7 month old keeps me up all night

by Elizabeth
(Bryan , TX USA)

Question: Hi, I am an exhausted military spouse with a husband who is currently deployed and will be for a few more months. I have two children, 2 years and 7 months old. I have co-slept with both and still trying to get my 2 year old in her bed for the whole night. (Unsuccessfully at this point) My bigger challenge right now is getting my 7 month old to sleep in his crib at night. Or just to sleep for more than 2-3 hours at a time.

I nurse on demand and have nursed him to sleep from birth. He will fall asleep sometimes if I hold him and if I have him in the ergo carrier.
He will take good naps during the day at home if I nurse him to sleep and put him down pretty quick once he falls asleep. If we are out in another home he will not sleep.

I have used 'my breastfriend' which has enabled me to move around while nursing which is great when you are a 'single parent' but also means that lately my 7 month old son wants me to nurse while moving around... okay during the day, not at night.

My problem is the night. My son will get tired around 7:30, nurse, fall asleep and then wake up about 15-30 minutes later and stay awake until I go to bed at 9. He is obviously still sleepy from 8-9 but just waiting for me. It appears he does not like to sleep in his bed at night. He has done this since he was just a few weeks old. Sleep in his crib fine during the day but not at night. I don't think I change anything in the room during the day/night.
Lately during the night he has been wanting to switch sides all night long OR only want me to nurse him standing up. Obviously, this does not work well.

I love co-sleeping, but at this point it is not working too well for us. It breaks my heart. I also would like to have both of my children in their beds the whole night when my husband returns in September. I feel stuck and unable to break these habits all alone- and I just don't have the heart to make either child cry it out. (My two year old does go to sleep by herself... just comes in during the night- which I think can be fixed with me just getting up and putting her back in bed).

Any help you can give would be much appreciated. I love these babies so much and the cuddle times, but now that it is having a negative effect on the daytime and how I function things really need to change.

Heidi's Answer: Dear Elizabeth,

The love for your children and how much you enjoy cosleeping and cuddling drips so wonderfully from your message :) At the same time I completely understand how you need to change things because indeed if it is not resulting in good sleep for all, and negatively influences your days, that's not what you want to continue with. And that's a courageous step of you to take. So let's have a look at how we can work this out, lovingly and with lots of cuddles, and without crying it out.

For your youngest, the first step will be to wean from falling asleep nursing. Whether it is to sleep in his crib or in your bed, being able to go down awake without being nursed will be very helpful.

To practice that, use the gentle unlatch technique: whenever you nurse, keep him awake as long as possible: keep encouraging him to continue nursing, even if he dozes off. You can do this holding him upright for a little bit, tickle his toes, talk to him, ...

Once you are satisfied that he has taken a full (at least first side complete, and possibly the second side as well) feed, do let him doze off at first. But when he's well drifting off you want to remove your nipple without him waking up. To avoid him waking up you gently squeeze your finger in between your breast and his mouth to release the vacuum. Very quickly, at the same time really, you use another finger to tip up his chin. This is an almost magical method to keep a dozing off nursing baby from waking up to reach for the breast again.

It probably won't work from the first time, you will both need several tries to get the hang of it but it will start working. So at first you do this when he's well off to sleep. then gradually, you start doing this earlier and earlier each night. Until he nurses and is awake without fussing at the end of the feed. You can then move on to gently rock him to sleep at first before putting him down.

Then you go on to work with the gentle method I describe on the self soothing page to help him go to sleep awake and without your help. Gradually.

Along the way, it will be best not to nurse him constantly at night, or stand up with him to nurse ... even if he fusses. You can hold him and rock him if necessary to soothe him for now, but decide on 1 or 2 awakenings or moments during the night where you will feed. At the other awakenings, soothe him but do not nurse. It may be easiest if you write these moments down for yourself so you do not have to debate during the night. Either choose specific times (like e.g. between 2 and 3am, and between 4 and 5am) or according to awakening (nurse at the second and the third awakening, not at the others).

Once this all starts to set, you have the choice to keep him in your bed for now (without the constant nursing this may become much more doable) or to start moving him to the crib right away. To move to the crib you can put the crib next to your bed as a transition, or even start with a small mattress next to yours to start creating his own space.

Also be sure to introduce some object into your bedtime routine (when putting him down), like a musical mobile for example. As long as he's in your bed, you use it there. But when he transitions to his crib, he can take it along and it will help him there. You can then move on to gradually move the crib/mattress further away from your bed.

To choose between your bed for now, or his crib right away, follow your instincts, see how well the unlatch and self soothing techniques are going.

For your daughter, I think as you say that will be easier. And it will be even easier once you have settle things with your son ... So if doable for now, do let your daughter come to your bed in the middle of the night. But:

- be very enthusiastic about how good she goes to bed by herself to start the night, always praise her after a good night

- start talking with her about how big kids sleep in their own beds. Do not emphasize that she should straight away. But by talking with her, she can begin to see for herself how good it could be for her to stay in her bed all night.

- then later on, you can start working with a sticker reward chart to help motivate her to actually stay in her bed all night. And indeed as you say, consistently bring her back to her own bed.

Good luck, take courage, I'm sure you can do it!

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