My six month old used to be a good sleeper. . .once upon a time. . .

by Jamie

Question: My daughter, Alexis just turned 6 months old and now refuses to sleep. The only way to get her to sleep is by nursing. I've tried everything I've read (putting her down awake (ya right) by nursing for less time and putting her down before she is completely asleep, letting her fall asleep on the breast but waking her up slightly before I put her down, putting her down awake and picking her up and rocking, shushing, singing, standing on my head and making faces).

The one thing I found helped was the baby swing and that helped lengthen naps (from 45 mins to 2.5-3 hours) and then I even moved her to her crib and still had longer naps (YAY) but it didn't help with her night wakings, the longest stretch of sleep would be 3 hours.

Then just as I thought things might start to improve, I mean she's getting good at napping so it must mean her nights are going to get better soon right? wrong. She decided that she HATES her swaddle and now I'm back to square one, with a baby who is too mobile and active for the swing.

Alexis is a little girl with no middle ground, she is either joyously happy or screaming sad. Do you know the cartoon Katie Kaboom? That's my daughter lol. (we're working on it and she is learning patience). So when it comes to sleep she is either completely out or ready to party.

I'm so tired I'm having trouble functioning on a basic level, but she has never had a soother and I'm not willing to use one, and I can't do CIO my heart can't handle it.

Your help would be so greatly appreciated!

Heidi's Answer:
Hi Jamie,

I totally hear you when you say “ya right” about the putting down awake … it's such a joke right, unless for those really easy sleepers … And I know how hard the sleep deprivation is and how it gives you trouble functioning, so let's have a look at how to improve as soon as possible.

Great work on getting the naps to be consistent and lengthened, complete with transition to the crib. You don't mention whether those naps still go well or not since she stopped accepting the swaddle. If naps are still ok, that is great. Otherwise, apply the same plan as below.

With regards to the swaddle, have you tried a sleeping bag? It will not restrict her movement nearly as much as the swaddle, but if it nicely fits it can still give her the right feel of coziness and confinement, as well as restrict movement a little. Definitely something to try out.

Next, isn't she teething? The swaddle may be one of the triggers for the reduced sleep, but teething is such a 'powerful' sleep disturber at this age that there is a good chance it is also playing and it may even have more effect than the swaddle.

Dribbling, flushed cheeks, sore gums, … are the typical signs and they're usually not missed. But for some babies it not as apparent. Teething can also come out as a general sense of discomfort, unease for no clear reason, slight temperature raise, … without screaming "I am teething and it hurts!!" signs … Yet there is almost always disrupted sleep involved.

So do check the teething signs and remedies pages to help you recognize and above all remedy with the gentle non-medical solutions.

Then on to the sleeping plan for settling and making longer stretches.

The main thing will be to wean Alexis off dozing off at the breast. I know you have tried many things there but bear with me, by going step by step from the start, you can make further progress.

The very first step is to get her used to dozing off (= the actual switch from being awake to entering the first phase of sleep) without the nipple in her mouth. That sounds 'technical' but this is the physical weaning that needs to happen.

To do that, at each nursing right before a sleep stretch: nurse her until you know she has enough (burp shortly before the end if needed/possible) but is still latched on, and starts dozing off. Then break the vacuum by squeezing in your finger between your breast and her lips. At the same time (really instantly) use another finger to tip up her chin to close her mouth. This is to prevent her reflex of opening and reaching for the nipple again (which startles and wakes up). Once nipple out, you keep holding her in the same way and let her doze off, long enough for a deep sleep until you put her down.

It may take a bit of practice to tip up her chin quickly enough before she wakes, and to time things right, but you will get the hang of it. I know that also this technique you may have tried, but even then I do advise you to go through it again, and in this first step really focus on this – i.e. not going forward to putting down earlier etc. yet. Also she is getting closer to the ideal self soothing age so that may also help with respect to your previous tries.

Only when you are confident that the above is set (i.e. she dozes off being held but is awake when the nipple leaves her mouth) go on to the next steps. These are the steps of the Gentle Self Soothing Method (more details about that technique here) in which you put her down a little bit less asleep each time. Take tiny steps at first, then progress as feels right. By not rushing this you have better chances to succeed because you then really give her body the time to ingrain the skill.

I'd do all this straight in the crib, I mean putting down from holding into the crib, so you can now bypass the swing.

Once she can nicely settle independently, longer stretches should automatically appear. If the need for nursing still remains (and wakes her up more than once or twice a night), start weaning the actual nursing, by reducing the amount progressively. Do this with one night awakening at a time.

Good luck!

Comments for My six month old used to be a good sleeper. . .once upon a time. . .

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Another mummy who can't handle the CIO
by: Anonymous

Loved reading this, similar to my situation , have been getting advice to let my baby 'cry it out' which my heart also can't handle -just nice to hear someone else is the same , respect to all the mums who can let there babies CIO, seems impossible to put my baby down awake .. Reading this gave me some great tips thank u!

one question about your advice
by: Jamie

Yes Alexis is teething which makes things so much harder because she really isn't feeling well. I have done some things that I think are helping her at night, I put in a night light, and then dimmed it because then it was too light, I attached a Tigger that plays music when you pull his tail, and although she isn't sure if she likes it anymore we are revisiting the swaddle because I don't think she's ready to be out of it; when ever she wakes up she rubs her mouth and I think that reminds her her teeth hurt and then she is up for hours.
I have one question about your advice: when you say to take her off before she falls asleep, are you talking about before she is in a DEEP sleep or before she nods off at all?

From deep to awake
by: Heidi - BabySleepAdvice

Hi Jamie,

To answer your question: your end goal is to unlatch her before she nods off.

But most probably the first couple of times/days you will need to wait until she has dozed off and is already well asleep. The gentle-unlatch-plus-tip-up-chin then serves exactly to be able to unlatch her without her startling awake from that first sleep. Play it by ear to learn when you can do it (i.e. how deeply asleep she must be).

Then once that works, from there you will do it earlier and earlier, less and less deeply asleep until she finally truly dozes off without the nipple in her mouth.

Take care, Kindly, Heidi

work in progress
by: Jamie

Well her sleep is either really good or really bad. I've been trying the unlatch and tip up her chin but it has not been working out very well, she seem to think its funny. It seems to work if I lift her off of the breast feeding pillow onto my arm so that she is up and away from my breast. I've yet to notice an improvement in her sleep parterns when she falls asleep unlatched. I will continue to work with her and pray for one of our "good" nights.

Any which way is good
by: Heidi - BabySleepAdvice

Hi Jamie, any which way or position that works to have her doze off without the nipple in her mouth is good, and each time that she does settle this way is a step in the right direction.

Once she dozes off like that consistently (and without your 'help'), and if you feel you're both up for it, continue with the Gentle Self Soothing Method as mentioned above.

Please don't give up on the process yet. I know it is frustrating not to see improved sleep patterns yet but you are building on lasting skills, so every step is an important one, and worth it.

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