Almost 6 month old baby has no sleep independence - addicted to his swing

by Toni

Question: Hello, My baby will be 6 months old in 2 weeks. He co-slept in our bed fr the 1st 3 months and since 3 months, has been sleeping in an arms reach co-sleeper next to our bed. Last week, we moved the co-sleeper (modifying it to a bassinet/pack n play) to the corner of our room. He is only able to be put down after being nursed and helped until he is in a deep sleep. He is still swaddled and just this week, I started leaving one arm out of the swaddle.

He wakes up at least twice every night and it is very difficult to get him back down and sleeping peacefully. He takes his day time naps in a swing and on some nights, I have to put him in his swing in the middle of the night, just so we can all get some rest! I want to get him sleeping in his crib, able to self-soothe and not be swaddled, but I feel like we have so many obstacles ahead of us.

Also, right now he goes down for the night between 10-11pm and wakes up between 10-11am. I want to change this from going down between 8-9 pm and waking between 8-9am. Do I implement all of these changes at once, or do I take face them gradually, one step at a time. Any advice you have is greatly appreciated!!!

(Gainesville, FL)

Heidi's Answer: Dear Toni,

The bedtime changes and starting to work on his self soothing, weaning from swaddling and learning to sleep in his crib are indeed things you can start with straight away and all at the same time. But, you will do so gradually for each.

The first step I'll suggest is to bring his night bedtime to earlier quite drastically. An early bedtime gives much more chance for self soothing success and also brings a more restful start of the night: two ingredients for the best nights.

The main reason why not going down so late is that it has a risk of having your son overtired. And even if we often feel that being very tired is the best 'sauce' to sleep easily, the contrary is true. It's much more difficult for a child to settle when he's crossed the "readily tired" border and reached "overtiredness".

So go ahead and confidently set his night time bedtime to 8pm. This is my suggested time but: it still has to fit in with your own daily schedule and activities so adapt if necessary but do go for "as early as doable". And also, if 7pm sounds good to you too: go for it.

The first evenings may not be straightforward to get him to sleep (but you still will be helping him anyway for now). But you will probably see great results soon (both with settling and during the night).

If he's still happy with the swaddling and does not wake himself up from loosening himself it is OK to keep doing it for a while longer, at least until his sleeping quiets down a bit. But it is good to start weaning at the same time: very gradually:

If leaving out one arm out does not work well, simply loosen the swaddle's grip little by little. Just make it a tiny bit less tight every other night.

You must know also that waking twice during the night (which is a nice 12 hours for him) is actually not unusual for a six month old.

That's why I focus on the bedtime and the self soothing for now. At night we'll mainly want him to go back to sleep ASAP. The night awakenings (and feedings) will disappear automatically and/or you will be able to gently wean them by gradually offering less in a month or two.

To work on the self soothing: make sure you have a good simple bedtime routine in place that you do both at naps and at night. It'll involve the same words each time to announce bedtime, the same diaper change and PJ routine, a cuddle and saying night-night to the same toys and the same lullaby (or a similar set of "same things") before you start helping him to sleep. This can be nursing for now.

When nursing, use the gentle unlatch technique to remove him from your breast once he started dozing off: squeeze your finger in between his lips and your nipple gently to release the vacuum. Then quickly tip up his chin to close his mouth. It has to be quickly because only if his mouth is closed right away, will he not have the reflex to reach for the breast again but keep dozing off to sleep. This may take a few trials but you will get the hang of it.

At first, you will still hold him a good while until he sleeps deeply. But gradually, you will do the unlatch move a bit earlier (less deeply asleep). And you will gradually hold him less long before you put him down. This can be as little as a minute earlier each day, or even every other day. Time it with a (silent) timer if you that helps.

If at times he starts fussing (you put him down "too early"), stay calm, simply pick him up and hold him for a bit longer. And continue trying next time.

The idea is to wean him from falling asleep while nursing, and to put him down less and less deeply asleep until he will go down awake. Take your time, there's no rush, it takes time for him to learn this.

If the swing remains unavoidable you will want to wean from that in a similar, gradual way. One of the techniques in "No-Tears Self Soothing" focuses on exactly that: weaning from sleeping in 'odd' places, like the swing.

Good luck!

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