Cosleeping When Your Child Refuses to Sleep

My son was born three months premature. He thankfully has done well. We chose to co-sleep for his growth and to make sure he got all the feedings he needed, as well as catching up on one-on-one time. He has been slow to gain weight so we continued to co-sleep until now. He is currently 15 months (12 months corrected/developmental age). Three months ago he started where he won’t sleep on his own for more than 45 minutes to an hour. So if I put him down for a nap, I have to cuddle and nurse him to sleep and then if I try to slip away for awhile, he wakes up. If I co-sleep for naps, he would sleep for 3-4 hours. So for the last three months I have just been letting him sleep on me for all of his naps and then go to bed with him when he does (or slip away for the 45 so I can have at least some time with hubby, and then just rock and nurse him back to sleep after he wakes up). Now my son won’t go to sleep. I rock and sway and hum and nurse and he just cries and cries and screams for 20-30 minutes. Then he’ll sleep for about ten and any slight movement he wakes up and we go through it all again. I just don’t know what to do to get him to sleep. I still believe in co-sleeping but how do I make it work again, or is he possibly telling me he needs his own space and routine? We’ve also been going through separation anxiety. Is this behavior a manifestation of that? Or is he just wanting to play and not go to sleep even though he’s tired? What can I do to help my son sleep? I’m torn on whether I should get him to sleep in his own bed now or continue co-sleeping. We also have a trip to Europe for two weeks in April. I was thinking about training him to sleep in his own bed after we got back. Since he is used to sleeping on me, I thought it useful for the plane trips, but now with him fighting sleep I am unsure of what is best for him (and us and all the other passengers on the plane). I can’t find ANY material on sleep training from co-sleeping to crib for a child under two years old. I don’t believe in crying it out so if I were to transfer from our bed to crib, how can I do it so it is developmentally healthy for baby and mommy? I love the close bond we have from co-sleeping and I don’t want to lose that.

Dear Tired Momma,
It sounds like you have many different issues going on, some that may not necessarily be connected to sleep, but all impacting your relationship with your baby and your husband. First of all, having a premie and getting through those early months must have been incredibly difficult!  I want to congratulate you and your husband for having the compassion and common sense to give your baby the nurturing he needed to grow ‘outside the womb’ in an environment that most closely resembles the womb where he would have been for his last three months of gestation!
Now that he’s around a year old (gestation age as you point out) it is very common for babies to go through separation anxiety…a very normal developmental milestone that shows he has a strong secure attachment to his primary caregiver (you) and is wary of strangers.  Usually around this age a baby develops a strong secondary attachment, usually to dad, and this helps him begin to trust other loving family members and friends.  This process is gradual, and depending on the temperament of the child can vary greatly on how long it takes to develop that trust with others. One way to help him is to give dad lots of opportunities to interact with baby when he’s awake and ready to play…going outside for walks, playing games, eating together, etc. gives mom a break and gives dad an opportunity to figure out ways he can soothe the baby. My husband used to carry our sons in a front pack for walks and they would often go to sleep on dads chest…that would give me a much needed break during the early evening hours.  We moms have to trust that if the baby gets fussy, dad can often find his own way to distract him…but if we always come to the rescue (and I had to make myself not do that unless my husband asked me) in a few minutes baby often calmed down again.  If your husband isn’t able to be the one to give you a break, you might find another family member or hire a ‘mother’s helper’ to come over once a day to play or walk the baby. Just having some respite may give you a new perspective on what may be going on besides just separation issues or fussiness.  Sometimes babies have food sensitivities that make them extremely fussy and affect their sleep patterns.  Have you introduced something new to him (or in your own diet like caffeine) that might be the culprit?  Dairy, wheat, acidic fruits, etc. are common allergens…you might keep a food diary and talk to your pediatrician about this. You also mentioned that maybe he just wants to have his own space rather than nap on you. Have you tried a co-sleeper type bed, or perhaps put a futon on the floor where he can spread out yet still be in close proximity to you?  Your other point about routine is also a valid one. Many babies and young children thrive with predictable routines…not that you have to be rigid, but if there is a ‘rhythm to the day’ so that when you plan an outing, it’s either in the morning or after his nap in the afternoon, and that meals are predictable and close to the same time every day, you might see a big difference. Some babies give up a morning nap and have one long one in the early afternoon, where others do better with a short morning nap and one in late afternoon.
I think your instincts are right about not wanting to go the ‘cry it out’ route. After giving him such a wonderful, nurturing start in life, he would not have the capacity to understand why mommy and daddy are no longer available to him. First researching the food issues, then giving dad more time to form a strong connection, may be a first step in shifting the pattern you are in right now. Please let us know if any of these suggestions are helpful!
As for travel on a long plane ride, like you say it’s a huge advantage if your baby is used to nursing to sleep, as the pressure in the cabin on take off and landing is helped tremendously by nursing.  Bring lots of new quiet toys and hopefully your travels will go well!


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