9 month old nurses all night long
by An. - Answer by Heidi Holvoet, PhD
Our nearly 9 month old has never been a good sleeper - occasionally he will do a single four hour stretch in the night - but that has been far and few between. He has suffered (in the past) from intolerances to food that I have eaten and I think that set him up to want to eat all night long.
Technically he stays in sleep mode from about 7pm to 6am BUT he nurses many many many many times in the night. Lately it has been too many times to count- just one long nursing festival. We co-sleep and have since birth. I find it easier to nurse in the night this way.... maybe this is the problem but I have many friends who breast feed and co-sleep and their babies sleep a good 5 or 7 hour stretch.
The baby's father usually puts him to sleep through walking and rocking and he sets him down nearly asleep. He almost always wakes 45 minutes later and my husband puts him back to sleep again.... after that he usually nurses at 9, 11, 1 (sometimes at 12 too), then 2:30, 3:30, 4:30, 5:30 and up at 6.
I feel like I am loosing my mind - if I don't feed him he screams!
He takes 2 good naps a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The afternoon nap he usually breastfeeds in the middle or else he wakes up after 30 minutes and won't go back to sleep. I don't want to resort to a cry it out option - the health implications for the baby (raised heart level, adrenal glands etc) concern me.
Any thoughts would be much appreciated.
Sorry to hear about these nights, that's definitely tough. So let's see how to improve and have her nurse less at night. I agree with you about the crying it out and luckily you will not need to.
As you say, the food intolerance may have 'helped' set this habit up. Have you eliminated all that now? Does he still show any other symptoms? It would definitely be good to eliminate that as a cause, as far as it is possible. Also consult your doctor if you haven't already to exclude any other medical cause.
With the following plan you can start reducing the night feedings gradually. As you may have expected, it will not happen overnight, but you will most probably see the first results pretty quickly.
1. First thing to do is to reduce the amount of milk he gets during the night. This is the first step towards less feeding, if he's used to less, he will need it less.
Therefore when nursing at night, keep the feedings as dim and dull as possible(but I don't expect you to make them a feast anyway ;)) but above all make them as short as possible, meaning he should drink as little as possible:
- Do not offer the second breast.
- When he dozes off, you want to unlatch him. To keep him from waking up when you disconnect him use this trick: release the pressure by squeezing your finger in. While you do this, tip his chin up gently to close his mouth. He should go on sleeping from here.
2. Second thing to do is to reduce the number of times you feed him. Write down a night-schedule. For example, right now, start with making the 11pm and 3.30am wakings "no-feeding times". You keep the rest as is now and feed as usual, but keep them short, as we said above.
At the non-feeding times:
- Ideally ask your husband for help. He clearly does a great job at putting your son down to sleep in the evening, so if he could do this at night too, that would be great. It is not an easy job for many men but this is really what works best. If your son does not smell you/your milk, that gives the best chance of him going back to sleep without nursing.
Your son is probably on your side of the bed, so you will have to trade places with your husband when he wakes up, or you can leave the room.
If your husband is not up to this at night, it can work too, only it may be a bit harder. Then you rock, hold or walk him to sleep but do not nurse. Always stay in the room, keep lights dim and do not interact with him (except for maybe patting or shush-noises).
With both options, your son may give in straight away, or it may take a few tries. It's important to know this and remain consistent: do not give up after a few nights.
If it is very difficult to put him to sleep without the nursing, start with eliminating only one feeding first.
Once one or two are eliminated, choose the next one where you will not feed. And so on, but once you get a few feedings out, things will start to look quite different already.
Two extra tips:
- If it fits in your schedule somehow, you may give an extra feeding in early evening, or anywhere during the day.
- Check your own diet for stimulating foods like coffee, tea (even green and white tea contain caffeine), chocolate, high amounts of sugar/aspartame or smoking. Avoid them overall and at least from early afternoon as they get into your milk too.
Good luck, hang in there, it will get better!