Question: My son has never slept through the night. He is now 9 and a half months old and usually wakes once during the night at 3am or 4am. I give him a BF and he goes back to sleep till 5/530am. He settles himself to sleep with a comforter.
His schedule is 5:15/5:30am awake BF 6:30 B'fast 8:30 snack 9am NAP (Usually 1.5 - 2 hours) 10:30/11 BF 12ish Lunch 1:15/130 NAP (Uusually 1 - 1.5 hours) 3:30ish BF and snack 5:30 Dinner 6:30 BF and top up bottle 7pm Bed
Can you help? Not ever getting a full nights sleep is doing my heads in and I don't see how I can go back to work like this...
Heidi's Answer: Hello,
That is indeed tough and I understand how it is affecting you.
To start with the good, I am very happy to read that your son is settling himself so nicely. That is THE skill to have and to cherish. He is also taking good regular naps which is really good and important too. Well done for both of you.
If he is otherwise completely healthy and has no feeding difficulties during the day, we should be able to wean him from this 3-4am awakening rather easily, and then later on also the early 5am awakening.
Also, if he is eating well during the day, he is most probably not needing the night feed. I am saying 'most probably' because, theoretically most babies at 9 months can go for 8-12h without food. But then again some really keep needing a night feed for longer, purely out of physical need for food.
But the line between 'needing' and 'being used to' can be a thin one. Once the real need for food has faded, a true hunger feeling may persist purely because of being used to eating at that specific time. (Compare that to ourselves, if we set up a habit of eating a snack each night at 2am, we're bound to wake up hungry at that time soon).
And then there is of course on top of that a comfort factor, often related to separation anxiety – quite typical for this age. Then a baby easily wakes, feeling insecure. Your presence and possibly a feed (giving a safe and warm feeling) are reassuring enough to allow him to go back to sleep.
So, each or a combination of these can be a cause: true hunger, waking habit, true hunger feeling out of habit and the need for comfort.
All of these are quite normal and natural processes, none is due to any 'bad' habit on your account. They are just what happens naturally if you cater to your baby's needs well.
Now, whichever the cause(s), to help him wean from the night feeds/awakenings can be done quite efficiently if you go gradually. It takes a little patience but gives the surest results:
The idea is to have him drink a little less each night. So you do nurse him, but shorten his nursing time a little each night. It should be barely noticeable at first.
If he usually breastfeeds from both sides, start making the second side short first. Until you offer only one. If you find it difficult to feel when to stop a bit earlier, you can actually time it. Little by little you will find that you can progress more. Take your time, it can take anywhere between 1-3 weeks but usually sooner than later the awakening simply disappears, or becomes later and later.
You may also find that it becomes possible to offer just a sip of water.
As an alternative, you may also ask your partner to go in and reassure and help him settle.
Without the smell of your milk, your son may comply more easily to going back to sleep without a feed. But that is a very personal choice, depending on how you feel about that, how your partner feels about it and how your son reacts to your partner when waking at night. Only if you're all 100% in favor of this alternative, will it be helpful.
And it's not to be mixed with the other method of gradually decreasing the breastfeeds (that would be confusing for your son). So it is one or the other.
The gradual decreasing of the milk intake though, usually is the gentlest and most peaceful technique, and therefore the most successful.
To back it up, have a look at his daytime food intake. Can you increase that with an extra 'dessert'/snack here or there? I am not referring to increasing his milk/bottle right before bedtime, but truly an increase of food spread throughout the day. Of course, it's never good to force any food on him, but a little extra if he'll have it is fine.
Also, if you do recognize the signs on the separation anxiety page, it will be important to use the techniques there to help reduce any sleep troubles because if it.
Good luck, I would love to hear how it goes. Kind regards, Heidi