My 5 1/2 month old baby boy wakes every 2 hours at night

by Alisha
(Seattle, WA)

Question: My breastfed 5 1/2 month old baby boy wakes every 2 hours at night. During the day, he goes down for a nap with 5 min or less of crying. But at night, he goes to bed after eating (awake) and takes 5-10 minutes to go to sleep and is asleep by 630.

We tried sleep training setting the night time feedings to midnight or after and 5am or after. Every 2-3 nights went great, he woke up about midnight, ate, went back to sleep, then woke again in the early morning hours. But the other nights, he was up inconsistently. Sometime, 2 hours after bedtime, sometimes at 11, sometimes (after the midnight feeding) at 2, or not going back to sleep after eating at 5. We try for a wakeup time anytime after 6am. We wouldn't take him out of his crib, but went in to pat his bum (he's a tummy sleeper) every 5-10 minutes.

For 3 weeks we did this. The last day, was no better than the first day, so we decided it wasn't working. Now, he's back to waking every 2 hours again.

He's so inconsistent, I don't know what to do. My first child had sleep problems also and didn't sleep through the night until he was almost 2 years old. We learned a lot that we've been trying on the second, but nothing seems to work. I just have babies who don't sleep. The boys share a room, but while sleep training, the older one has moved to our room.


Heidi's Answer: Dear Alisha,

I'm sorry to hear your efforts in those three weeks have not paid off. But it was worth the try and I agree it's a good idea to stop for now, as it wasn't helping you all much.

Does he only take one nap each day? If so, isn't he very tired by bedtime? Then you could consider having him take two naps (one mid-morning, one early-to-mid afternoon).

I am always encouraging early night time bedtimes, but 6.30 is quite early and, if you have the two naps down as I mentioned, you might benefit from moving to 7-7.30pm. But only if this is possible without him being overtired by that time.

Also, double check to exclude any of the simple things that might wake him up at night:

- too bright light
- noises (in the house, or neighbour's house, or on the street, ...)
- is his room too hot or too cold
- do his covers get loose or is he dressed too warmly or lightly?
- does he loose his pacifier?
- does he often have a blocked nose or other mild illness that bothers him?
- is his diaper often wet when he wakes at night
- any signs of teething?

It seems like you have a good routine to put him to bed and he goes to sleep awake and by himself when first going down? which is a very good thing.

So once you have excluded all the above, we can go to work to reduce the night feedings. I agree that having two night feedings, say one around midnight and one around 5am are good to aim for right now.

The best way to wean the many night feedings is gradually: one by one. So you start with picking one awakening, I suggest the first awakening after the midnight feeding (probably around 2am) to start with.

At that chosen awakening, you will not nurse him. Go to him, pat his bum, rock him, hold him, give him a sip of water, ... anything that will help him go back to sleep quickly, anything which is not nursing. Do not switch on any light, don't interact except for soothing sounds and a decided 'go back to sleep sweetie'. If your partner can do this, that is even better. (If not nursing at all at this chosen awakening is too difficult (i.e. he gets totally upset and only soothes when nursed), then do nurse but keep it as short as possible. Offer one breast only, and then shorten the feeding by a few minutes each night. Only then you move towards not nursing at all).

All other awakenings, you do not worry and nurse him if he wants and you help him to sleep.

Once that first awakening has faded away (typically after about 1-1,5 week), pick the next one. Again, I would go for the first one after midnight (now probably around 3-4am). And again, you do, or even better your partner does, anything except nursing to help him back to sleep.

Continue with a next awakening but by this time you will probably already have completely different nights.

You may also find No-Tears Sleeping Through the Night helpful.

Good luck, let me know,

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