Help your child sleep through the night

Help your child sleep through the night
If there’s anything a parent wants, it’s a full night’s sleep. I recently received two questions from SSBE readers asking for tips on how to help their children sleep through the night. Same request, but different situations. For instance, on our Facebook page, Jamie discussed how her 18-month-old daughter wakes up once at the same time every night:

How do I get my 18 month old to sleep through the night?… [I’ve tried] earlier nap times, bath before bed, rocking her to sleep[. I]t just seems like no matter what I try or what I do I can’t get her to sleep through the night. She wakes up at midnight every night.

On the other hand, Meghan from Ratnam Residence wondered how to wean her 9-month-old son from nightly feedings:

He will go down at 7pm, but wake up many times during the night… that’s my biggest problem – getting away from the nightly feedings. Any suggestions?

For toddler wake-ups like Jamie’s situation, my husband and I first determine whether we should check in on our two-year-old at all. Sometimes he’ll talk or whimper (even in his sleep) but after a few seconds, he can settle himself back to sleep. If we were to go in during one of these shorter wake-ups, we might inadvertently wake him up completely and needlessly.

However if he’s crying or sounds like he needs us, then we check in on him. Now that he’s verbal, finding the reason behind the wake up is much easier than before. The usual culprits are finding his Lovey, needing to be re-tucked in with his blankets, or waking up from a bad dream.

At 18-months though, he couldn’t articulate any of that, so we just did our best to determine why he’s crying: Did he drop his Lovey? Does it seem cold in the room? Could he have woken up from a nightmare? Either way, we try to keep the check-in short—at most 30 seconds—and maintain a subdued manner so that he knows that while Mama and Daddy will always be there for him, nighttime is for sleeping and staying quiet.

Meanwhile, Meghan is dealing with nightly feedings with her 9-month-old. When my toddler was about 6-months-old, I read The Sleepeasy Solution by Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack which suggested a nighttime weaning strategy that worked pretty well for us. First, we gauged the average times when LO would wake up at night for a feed, let’s say 11pm and 3am. The book then suggested setting your alarm 20 minutes before those designated times and wake the baby up for a dream feed. The idea is to beat the baby to the punch and wake him up before he cries for milk. Dream feeds try to break the association between crying and needing milk to be pacified.

We were also supposed to feed him for however long he normally breastfed and reduce that time by two minutes every subsequent night. For instance, the first night he fed for about 15 minutes; the following night he fed for about 13 minutes, and the next day, 11 minutes. We continued to decrease his feeding time until we no longer had to wake him up for dream feeds. This process helped wean him off of night feedings so that he adjusted to taking in all his meals during the day instead of waking up at night to do so.

So far we’ve been lucky in the evenings. With the exception of transitioning him to a toddler bed, most of our evenings have remained pretty uneventful since then. He’ll occasionally wake up from a bad dream or call out to us because his pillow was folded (yes, I found it absurd too at 2am, but hey it’s important to them, right?).

Those are the techniques that worked for us, and they may or may not have worked for you. Like I told both Jamie and Meghan, I wanted to see what advice you could offer as well:

How did you handle nightly feedings for infants and young toddlers? What techniques helped your toddlers sleep through the night? How did you help your child settle himself or herself back to sleep when he or she woke up in the middle of the night?

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9 thoughts on “Help your child sleep through the night

  1. I’m trying to remember. It’s crazy how quickly you forget exactly what you did…I think when we were trying to wean our daughter off of night feedings, my husband would go comfort her and get her back to sleep because if I did it it was a lost cause.

    Now that she’s almost three, she rarely wakes up unless she’s sick or something so of course we go in and find out what’s the matter. It gets tricky after she feels better though because it’ll often take a couple of nights to get her sleeping through after she recovers from an illness.

    We’ve been quite fortunate in that she almost always goes down pretty easily. We have a pretty strict bedtime and a consistent bedtime routine that has seemed to help a lot.

    • The strange thing about my kid is that he actually sleeps *better* when he’s sick. Just when I’m expecting him to wake up numerous times at night, he actually falls asleep instead. I guess that’s a nice perk!

      We’re pretty routine with bedtime too, and this definitely helps him know what to expect next.

  2. When our toddler wakes up in the middle of the night (happens about once a month) we, like you determine whether or not it’s necessary to check on her. You can tell the differrnce in her cry. If we do feel the need to go in there, we have STOPPED picking her up. Instead we comfort her and lay her back down. Rub her back for awhile, then sit in the chair in her room till she falls back to sleep. It stops her crying and it sets some nighttime boundaries. I’ll only cuddle with her if she’s sick. But it really helped cut back on midnight waking.

    • We do the same—when he cries, we rub his back and kiss him and usually that’s all he needs. I agree though with being sick and hugging; why is it that my kid will only hug longer than 10 seconds when he’s sick?!

  3. We realized our son actually was hungry when he woke up in the middle of the night. We briefly offered him a plain piece of whole wheat bread and water rather than nursing (“if you’re hungry bread will taste good”) but he would ravenously devour the whole thing. So we instituted a heavy-duty bedtime snack to get him through. I don’t know how long it’s been–a year? more? less?–but every night before bed he has a full peanut butter and jam sandwich (two slices of whole wheat bread) and a glass of milk. He eats really well during the day but we realized 12 hours is a long time for a guy to go without food. He started sleeping through the night starting the first time we gave him the sandwich.
    We also keep a water bottle (same kind the whole family carries–we each have a different color) by the bed so he can get himself a drink of water if he needs one. I need water at night too, esp during allergy season, so no sense denying him.

    • I love your last point about water-drinking and how you do it too. I often think that way: “Well, I’m cranky after a nap, too, so I don’t blame him for crying.” Helps to put things in perspective when they fuss and realize, *I* would fuss, too.

  4. When my son was 6 months old, I was still breastfeeding everynight and would feed him everytime he cried.Because of this, we kept him in our room at nights. The lack of sleep finally became too much for us and I actually wrote up a plan of action. From what I remember, I included 1) consistent schedule, 2) night time routine, 3) increase amount of time we would allow him to cry before responding (5 min, then 10 min…). We had him sleepinng overnight withing 3 days!! Come to find out, by responding everytime he cried, I was only waking him up when he would easily fall back to sleep. Best thing I ever did!

    • Kim, I agree. Sometimes we end up waking him up even more when we go in, or he’ll get more riled up and frustrated if we went in. We definitely worked around what seemed to soothe him best, and weirdly sometimes it was in the not going in often that seemed to calm him down more than going in frequently.

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