Q: Our 10-month-old daughter doesn’t like to fall asleep in her crib; doesn’t fall asleep on her own; doesn’t sleep through the night and doesn’t like a bottle or a pacifier either, which means that my husband can’t help me when she wakes up. And she wakes up 3-6 times a night.
I nurse her each time, then lay her down in her crib but she often cries until I soothe her back to sleep or take her into my bed so I can sleep.
I don’t think my daughter really needs all these feedings at night however since she eats vegetables, fruit, cheese, meat or whole grains three times a day and she nurses when she wakes up in the morning, before her two naps and at bedtime.
I also try to make her naps — one in the morning and one in the afternoon — last 1-2½ hours, because I don’t want her to get too tired, and we give her a bath after dinner. We then put her in her pajamas, read some books to her and I nurse her until she is too drowsy to protest when I lay her down in her crib.
How do I teach my daughter to fall asleep on her own and in her crib? And how do I get her to stay asleep all night long?
A: Like all babies, your little girl thought that night was day and day was night from the minute she was born. And why not?
Every step you took, every stair you climbed, rocked her to sleep when she was in the womb but she woke up at night while you were still and sleeping and then she kicked your belly with abandon. Remember? She was climbing her own stairs.
Now she wants to be nursed and soothed while you sleep because she’s used to being awake at night; because she needs to suck more than most babies or because nursing at night is her new way to play. Whatever the cause, it’s a poor idea. It’s okay for a baby to be awake in the womb, even though you’re not, but it isn’t okay anymore. A child who feels well, weighs 12 or 13 pounds and is pleasantly tired can usually put herself asleep and stay asleep for about six hours, which is what most mothers mean when they say that their children “sleep through the night.”
To get a little closer to that goal, you might cut back on the time you let your daughter nap in the morning, since most babies are ready to give up this nap about now; keep her up a little later at night, so she will be even more tired at night, and let her crawl or toddle as much as possible during the day, because a tired baby sleeps better than a lively one.
It may sound heartless to make your little girl live by your schedule, rather than hers, but it’s actually kinder to call the shots than to let a child — even a teenager — think that she should call them for you. If you do that, your child will be scared and cranky, because she knows in her heart that she isn’t capable enough, knowledgeable enough or responsible enough to run the show.
You and your husband can probably train your daughter to fall asleep on her own — and to stay asleep — in about a week if your approach is kind and if you answer her cries in five minutes or less so she will continue to trust you. You’ll need to go to her quickly and quietly when she cries and say, “Now, now; we’re here” and lay her down but don’t talk much or play with her or even turn on the light because you want her to know that your new approach is non-negotiable. You then leave the room, even if you have to go back 10 times that night. This will teach her that you are always there for her but that she can’t order room service at 3 a.m.
You should be well-rested before you try this method, however, because it can be exhausting, especially for your husband who should answer most of her calls. If you go to her, she will smell mother’s milk and then she will be upset when you don’t let her nurse. Think how a kitty might act if you swung catnip under her nose and then whisked it away.
To learn more, read the American Academy of Pediatrics’ “Caring For Your Baby and Young Child,” edited by Steven P. Shelov, M. D. and Robert E. Hannemann, M. D. (Bantam; $22).
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