My 12 month old baby wont sleep through the night

by Claire - Answer by Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Question: WHY? He will not go to sleep without a bottle of water or milk. Wakes up every hour or so. very light sleeper, he wakes up when I get in my bed even though he is in another room with the door shut.

My other child who is 4yrs old has to to melatonin to help him sleep. I was wondering if it could be the same thing wrong with him.

The health visitor just says give him 1oz of water to sleep with.

He has never slept through the night.
Can you try and tell me what it could be?

Heidi's Answer: Hi Claire,

I was just reading your question.

What is the reason your 4 year old has been prescribed the melatonin? And also which similarities and differences do you see between your youngest's sleep patterns now, and the oldest one's at that age? That would help me establish whether it could be the same thing.

It could be a similar thing, but by far does not have to be.

Many babies somehow get into a frequent wakening pattern like the one you describe, often in combination with the habit of drinking to get back to sleep. There is no wrong in what you have done up to now, but he is at a good age to gently wean drinking during the night, as well as encouraging longer stretches of sleep.

The following two action steps are very efficient:

1) You probably know more or less when he will wake at night, say an hour each time after he went to sleep. About 10 minutes before he will ususally wake, go to him, put your hand on his belly, or head, or gently stroke his back, whichever you know is the most comforting for him.

The idea is to get him to keep on sleeping (you are taking him from one sleeping cycle to the next, in between one always arouses slightly). If it works and he keeps on sleeping, do the same about an hour later. If he does wake up, don't give him the time to get totally awake, but comfort him, possibly holding and rocking. Of course you keep lights dim (same as when he sleeps) and stay in his room.

This will probably not make him sleep all night through right away, but you will normally see stretchs of 2-3 hours quickly.

2) To gently wean off from drinking at night: the first step is to stick to water from now on. Unless you doctor prescribes differently, he is OK without milk at night now. From now on you give water only, preferably from a normal cup (a bottle is too easy and comfy for him). Do this for a couple of days to start with.

Then we'll remove one feeding/drinking session at a time. Start with say the second awakening. You decide that you will not let him drink anything at that awakening. Do whatever is necessary to get him to sleep: hold him, rock him, walk him around his room, sing a lullaby song, ... Put him down when he is well asleep. No need to let it become a huge fight: if he resists very heavily, do give in with a sip of water. Next night you do the same, at the second awakening.

Once you have had good results for a few days, move on to the 3rd or 4th awakening. And so on. It may take several weeks before he is totally weaned but it is very rewarding in the end.

After that you will be able to move towards self soothing more and more (the above action steps are a transition state) but let's rediscuss that once you are there.

One more thing, you say he sleeps with his door shut. Indeed that can help when he is a light sleeper, but on the other hand it may have an inverse effect. If you'd leave the door open a little bit and/or make sure he has a dim night light, he may be less frightened when he half-wakes up at night and it may be easier for him to go on sleeping.

For specific tools to uncover wake up causes and easy-to-do techniques to wean from the unnecessary awakenings, you may find my Overcome Frequent Waking package most helpful.

Let me know how the above sounds, I'll be happy to follow up.


Comments for My 12 month old baby wont sleep through the night

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Breast feeding at night 12months
by: Anonymous

My baby is just 12months and used to sleep pretty good, but lately she is waking for more breast feeds. I have just began to co sleep as it seamed easier.
I am in position that I can't leave her to cry, as it would wake my husband & son, as we live in a small cottage.
Can anyone give advise on this. Regards Lisa

Some ideas
by: Heidi - BabySleepAdvice

Dear Lisa,

No need to let her cry it out, cosleeping is fine as long is it works out well for all of you. You may find the self soothing pages helpful ( or alternatively ask your own question (


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