My six and a half month old won't sleep at night.

by Rachel
(Sydney, Australia)

Question: Hi, My six and a half month old has been waking up during the night for about the last 4 weeks. Before this he was going to sleep around 6 - 6.30pm, and then waking up around 3-4am for a feed then sleeping through again until about 6am. He went through a similar stage at about 3 months but returned to his better sleeping habits after a couple of weeks. The only thing now is his sleep doesn't show any signs of improving just getting worse.

His daytime naps are fine and he has no problem going to sleep or staying asleep. He usually has a nap around 8.30 - 9 am anywhere from 1 to 1.5 hours, then another nap at about 1 - 2pm for about an 1 - 1.5 hours and sometimes a short nap in the afternoon of about 20mins - 30 mins but this is not every day sometimes he won't always have this sleep.

We have a bedtime routine which consists of some quiet time with mummy or daddy with some cuddles, then he has a bath then he has a feed (he is still exclusively breastfeeding) then he goes to bed around 6 - 7pm. The hard thing is that he knows how to self soothe. Every nap during the day he gets placed in his cot wide awake and he puts himself to sleep, at bedtime he gets placed in his bed wide awake and puts himself to sleep, but this is where it all goes downhill after's he's been put down for the night.

He usually wakes up anywhere between 1-2 times before 8.30pm and then lately all over the place. He is not waking up at the same times each night but he is waking up anywhere after about 2-3 hours sometimes every hour for part of the night after going back to sleep. Sometimes we just pick him up do 1 lap walking around the house and put him back down and thats enough, othertimes he has a breastfeed when he wants it (he still usually feeds up to twice a night when he wakes up around 11 - 12 and then again 2-3am) and sometimes none of this works and he just wants cuddles sitting on the couch.

He still won't fall asleep while we're rocking him he just gets settled enough so we can put him back down in his cot and then he'll go back to sleep. If we leave him after he wakes up he starts crying and the longer we leave him the louder it gets, i don't want to let him cry it out as i don't believe this is right for us. All the information I read talks about teaching your baby to self soothe and then they will sleep through the night - i can't find any help on once they can put themselves to sleep how to help them to sleep for longer.

A bit more information - he has just started crawling and i know this can sometimes cause them to wake cause they're practicing new skills but he can crawl now, he has started solids twice a day morning and late afternoon feeds and he is still breastfed on demand anywhere from about 5-6 times during the day and 1 - 2 at night. Any advice would be so appreciated i'm turning into a zombie!! Thank you in advance for your time if you get the chance to read and reply to this.

Heidi's Answer: Hi Rachel, Thank you for your detailed and well explained message. Interesting how you call his ability to self soothe the 'hard thing' while indeed it is thE skill to have for sleeping through the night. But reading your whole story through, I definitely understand what you mean.

Of course, whatever you do, I will advise you to keep encouraging his self soothing. Especially when going down for naps and at first at night: do put him down awake. And praise him: tell him wonderfully he goes to sleep, ...

Have you tried increasing his food intake a bit? I am not suggesting stuffing before bedtime - which I do not recommend at all - but you could benefit from adding a bit extra here and there during the day. Of course you always make sure he 'empties' the first breast before moving to the second, but always offer the second side as well. And try to fit in an extra feed in the afternoon. No forcing of course, and the time of the day does not even matter, but just to see if you can increase a little bit.

Or, if the solids are going well, do not hesitate to gradually increase that amount too, but probably with a breastfeeding 'dessert' until those become full meals.

Have you noticed any discomfort since starting the solids? Some foods can cause cramps at first and therefore sleep troubles. If you suspect that, you can try to reduce the amount of solids and see how things change. Then reintroduce gently later on.

Then I suggest changing his schedule a bit. Not much, but small changes to fit him can settle his sleep for the better.

Night time bed time: if he is generally quite tired at 6pm: pick that as a fixed bedtime and stick to it within 10-15 minutes. If you feel he is still quite fit (no sleepy signals at all) by 7pm, choose that as a bedtime. Even go to 7.30pm if that feels comfortable to him. But stick to it stricter than the broad 6-7pm slot you have now.

Naps: if he is nicely readily tired for those naps: do not change them. But if you think he can comfortably (that is without getting over-tired) make it until half an hour later, do that. Change his morning nap to about 9.30am and his afternoon nap to 2.30pm.

Signs of being overtired are crying and being cranky, nothing is good enough, sometimes becoming extra active, ...

I do advise you to be very consistent at his night awakenings: do not leave his room. Do not switch on any light but make sure you have a constant night light all the time (already lit when he first goes down).

Make your interventions as boring as possible. Sit (in his room) to hold him or walk him around in his room if that helps calm him down. Put him down confidently when you think he's ready. But indeed, letting him cry it out will not help. Patiently start over if he can't settle yet. It can help if your husband takes care of the awakenings at the moments when you don't breastfeed.

Also take a look at my separation anxiety page to see if you recognise some of that and use the suggested tips to help him.

Lastly, there may be a simple 'practical' reason for his waking, like:
- a wet diaper, is he often wet when he wakes?
- sudden noises on the street, at neighbour's house, ...
- is it getting colder in his room? or too warm?

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

Good luck,

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by: Anonymous

Hi Heidi! Thank you so much for your suggestions.

After reading your reply we tried a couple of your suggestions and I must say his sleep has really improved.

The suggestions that really worked for us was a stricter bedtime - he now goes to bed at 6.00 every night and we have increased his feeds in the evening and increased his solid intake as well.

He is still waking up at around 8.30 every night for a quick cuddle but after that he is sleeping through until 12.30 for a feed then back to bed until 6.00am and is down to 1 night feed.

It was so nice to get some feedback from somebody who understood the situation. Thanks again.

Great news!
by: Heidi Baby-Sleep-Advice

Hi Rachel, Very good to hear your son's sleep has improved so nicely, well done!

And thank you very much for taking the time to let me know, that is the most valuable 'thank you' to me!


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