9 month old dependent on mom's breast for sleep

by Shaila

Question: How do I get my baby to sleep on his own and to stay asleep? I bed share with my 9 month old son. I call him a contact sleeper because he wakes if I try to do the nipple extraction technique or if I sneak away after he has been asleep.

He wakes every 30 minutes or so the first couple of hours after bed time and then wakes about every 2 hours with shorter sleep cycles starting at 4am again. When I do sneak away he may wake instantly, after 10 minutes or the longest has been 30 minutes before he realized I was gone.

I really want to not have to lay with him all the time just to make sure he gets enough sleep. I don't want to do cry it out but he has baby radar and wakes as soon as I put him down. If he falls asleep in the car I have to keep driving. Too much time at a red light will result in him waking too.

We bed share because of his wakefulness. I did manage to get him to stop napping on my lap and to allow us to both lay in bed. It took a couple of weeks of very short naps and lots of fussing.

He has always slept this way. His short sleep spurts in early evening and morning are about 30 minutes. He has 2 naps a day. He dropped the 3rd nap about 2 weeks ago. He naps 30 to 90 min for each nap but usually only 40 min. We were trying to follow healthy sleep habits happy child for nap intervals i.e. every 2 hrs.

Bedtime starts at 6:45pm with a bath, massage, singing rocking/walking, and nursing to sleep. With eyes shut by 7:15 to 7:30. Up for the day between 6:30 and 8:00am.
He is teething and dealing with baby separation anxiety but his sleep patterns have always been like this. He didn't like being swaddled so we never did it.
I tried nipple extraction just as he was dropping off to sleep so drowsy but awake.
He plays happily and doesn't cry easily but evenings he can be fussy.

Thank you,

Heidi’s Answer:

Hi Shaila,

Your description of your son as a contact sleeper sounds quite accurate. It’s also a combination with being a short sleeper as well as dependent on you to settle to sleep.

You’ve been doing well with working on the naps, experimenting with the unlatching technique and testing how long he can sleep without you near. Let me suggest the following plan to work on the self soothing consistently as well as helping him to sleep for longer in a row.

1) First of all, double-check the basics of good sleep - see the overview in my free ebook Baby Sleep Essentials. The schedule you have looks OK, no need to change that for now. Pay attention to the bedtime routine you have or install one in case you don’t have a simple recognisable one yet: a short (5 minutes) set of actions you do together before he goes down: a walk through the corridor, saying goodnight to some toys and a lullaby are a good example.

Also important: check his and, since you’re breastfeeding, also your food: avoid any stimulating food or drink like coke or other sugary fizzy drinks, coffee, tea (except herbal), chocolate, …

2) To help him sleep for longer in a row we’ll work on avoiding him waking up after one sleep cycle (each cycle ends with a light awakening before going back to sleep, many babies easily wake up then). For this, do either one of the following:

- About 10 minutes before he’ll usually wake up, go to him and lie next to him, place your hand on his head or belly or do whatever you usually do to comfort him. By doing this before he’ll normally wake, he may continue sleeping without waking up. This will help his body get used to sleeping several cycles in a row and help him do this on his own.

- Carry him in a baby sling, make a long walk in the stroller or a car ride: each of these for at least an hour, if possible two hours.

I suggest you use the second method with naps whenever practically possible and use the first method at night or for naps when you cannot carry him or go out. Try to do it regularly for a week or two, it may be tiring especially during the nights but probably no more than now where he is waking up anyway. And if you can do it consistently for a while, this realy pays off!

3) To help him with self soothing: first work with the unlatching technique. This is one of the techniques I discuss in "No-Tears Self Soothing", along with detailed instructions and the 3 crucial steps to sleeping independently.

You will want to start unlatching when deep asleep at first. When he’s finished drinking and does not restart when you insist, wait until he’s all quiet and still, and breathes slowly. Then unlatch by squeezing in your finger and then immediately tip up his chin. Only when this works consistently for a while you can start unlatching a bit earlier: when a little less deep asleep, when just asleep, and then when very drowsy, … Do this at each nursing-to-sleep.

Then when this works well, you can start with teaching him to self soothe gently; please follow the technique and extra tips on my dedicated self soothing page.

4) Lastly, even if the separation anxiety and teething may not be the cause for his sleep patterns right now, they can still play and make the self soothing more difficult. So you may also want to check possible teething remedies and tips to help with the separation anxiety.

As you’ve noticed, the plan is not a quick-fix (which sadly does not exist when it comes to babies and sleep), but with some patience you may see nice results within just a few weeks.

Good luck!

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