Question: My seven month old daughter is waking up several times a night. The longest stretch is only 2-3 hours. Every few nights she might go 4-5, but not very often. She usually goes to bed around 8, give or take, then she usually wakes up about 2 hours after that sleeps another couple of hours and then wakes up a few more times in the early morning. She wants to nurse and she is drinking, but mostly she just seems to want the comfort. She does not suck her thumb and will not take a pacifier very well. She will be happy with the pacifier for a little while if i'm holding her, but then she gets tired of it and will absolutely not take it in the crib. I am sooooo EXHAUSTED. PLEASE HELP ME!!!
Heidi’s Answer: Dear Lindsay, I feel for you, this can be a very exhausting time, especially since the awakenings are not very regular, it makes it harder for your own body to adjust too.
This is an age where the line between nursing for food and nursing for comfort becomes very thin. It is not ‘bad’ but it is a good time to work on it gently by reducing the habit and avoiding a true hunger feeling out of habit.
Luckily there are several things you can do to reduce the night nursings:
• Reduce the amount of feeding intake: when you nurse her at night, keep the amount of milk she gets to a minimum. Let her drink as she wants first but do not encourage her when she has stopped or dozes off. And always offer one breast only.
• Work with the chin-up unlatch-method: as she nurses, she probably dozes off easily. Unlatching her probably easily wakes her up, after which she will nurse again. To unlatch without waking her up: carefully squeeze you finger into her mouth along your breast – this releases the ‘vacuum’. At the same time, use another finger to tip her chin upwards to close her mouth. It may take a bit of practice, but this avoids her instinctively opening her mouth again to continue nursing.
• Choose feed and no-feed awakenings: This works really well to gradually reduce the amount of feedings. Decide on one feeding where you will not nurse. Say for example the third time she wakes in a night. At that awakening, you will do ‘anything’ to comfort and soothe her, except for nursing. It can be stroking her bell, holding her, rocking her, singing a lullaby (all in her room, in a dim and quiet (dull) atmosphere), maybe even a sip of water. Stick to this for a few days or up to a week (depending on how successful).
Then you choose a next no-feed awakening. Maybe the one that was 4th or 5th originally. Again, do anything except for nursing.
And so on to keep reducing feedings one by one. You may want (or have to) keep one or two night nursings, the ones that are really for hunger, but you will feel when and which ones best.
• Dad’s call: If at all possible, have your partner or another family member or carer, help you. Especially with the no-feed awakenings as above. They are much easier when done by someone else (since they don’t have the temptations of your breast milk). And also, even if it is only one feeding a night, and you may wake up anyway, it is still a little bit extra rest for you, something you can definitely grant yourself!