Q: Our 10-month-old won’t fall asleep on her own, won’t sleep through the night and won’t take a bottle or a pacifier. Instead, she cries for me to nurse her three to six times a night, which is exhausting but I can hardly ask my husband to do it for me.
Instead, I nurse my daughter until she is too drowsy to protest and then I put her in her crib but I’m often so tired that I take her to bed with me just so I can get a little more sleep.
I don’t believe my child needs these nighttime feedings however because she eats solid foods three times a day — vegetables, fruit, cheese, meat and whole grains — and she nurses in the morning when she wakes up; before her morning and afternoon naps and again at bedtime. Four nursings a day should be enough at this age, don’t you think?
During the day I make sure that she takes her two naps — each one lasts 1-2½ hours — so she doesn’t get too tired, and at night we give her dinner, her bath and some stories. I then nurse her until she is almost asleep but how do I teach her to fall asleep on her own and in her crib? And how can I get her to sleep through the night?
A: You are a patient and understanding mother, but perhaps you’re more patient and understanding than you need to be.
Although the American Academy of Pediatricians urges mothers to nurse their babies for at least a year (and the World Health Organization pushes for two), a 10-month-old child who wants to be fed three to six times a night is feeding a habit more than anything else and it started when she was in the womb.
Your little girl may not have kicked much during the day when she was in the oven because each step you took was rocking her to sleep, but when you went to bed she probably started to dance and sometimes she kicked so hard she woke you up. Remember?
Like all babies, she followed this schedule after she was born and like most mothers, you probably picked her up whenever she let out a cry or stirred or looked up at the ceiling. According to Pamela Druckerman, however, it’s usually a big mistake to pick up a baby right away. As she explains in “Bringing Up Bebe” (Penguin; $26), we should watch infants quietly for a few minutes, the way French parents do, because babies wake up a bit at the end of their two-hour sleep cycles but then usually go back to sleep a few minutes later if no one bothers them.
Although most French mothers don’t breastfeed their babies — which is their big mistake — they respect these transitions and this lets their children tie the synapses of their sleep cycles together in the first 16 weeks of life. And when that happens, voila! Most French babies start sleeping for 8-12 hours at a clip when they’re only four months old. Or less.
You can’t spin the calendar backwards, but you can get rid of at least some of those nighttime feeds if your husband would retrain your daughter, rather than you. It would be mean to answer her cries at night and let her smell your milk but then refuse to nurse her.
He just has to go to your daughter when she cries and whisper, “Now, now” and “We’re right here,” then lay her down, pat her back and leave the room without picking her up, reading to her, singing to her or saying another word. And when she cries again — and she will — he should return within five minutes and repeat this same routine, probably doing it six to eight times for the first few nights. You should find that your daughter’s cries are further and further apart, however, and that she is sleeping through the night by the end of the week and in her own crib, too, particularly if she’s quite tired at the end of the day.
Some fatigue can be expected when your daughter drops her morning nap in favor of a longer, earlier afternoon nap, which will happen in the next few months, but exercise will make her even more tired. Let her crawl or toddle all over the house and even climb the stairs, again and again, although you’ll probably have to carry her down (again and again). Most babies learn how to climb up the stairs a month or two before they learn how to climb down.
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