Nursing to Sleep

I have nursed my son to sleep since we brought him home from the hospital. He was a three month early preemie. He is now 20 months. The last three-four weeks he just won’t fall asleep routinely to nursing anymore. We spend time nursing, he ALMOST falls asleep and then wakes up and wants to roam the bed and find a comfy spot which instead just wakes him up more. I’ve tried just holding him down but we go through 20-120 minutes of crying and kicking and screaming, and then finally nursing for a few minutes to fall asleep. With naptime, he may fall asleep right away, but then, when he wakes up at the end of his sleep cycle he won’t nurse back to sleep. He has always woken up at the end of his sleep cycle during naps and at night and nursed back to sleep. So every 45-60 minutes I would have to go back in and nurse him to sleep. But now he’s not sleeping, which means I’m not sleeping. Mommy can’t handle this anymore. I am overtired and what was supposed to be gentle nurturing to sleep has become screaming and yelling and being distraught. I am shouting at him to just go to sleep and then we just leave the room and I just wait for him to play and maybe wear himself out enough to sleep. I spent time playing with him during the day, there is no change in his diet, he’s not teething, I I just don’t know what he can need that he’s not getting to just go to sleep! There is no more peace in my home. I don’t feel in my heart that he’s ready to just go to his own bed, but I don’t know what to do. I have scoured all the attachment parenting books I can find, and all the forums, to find nothing on what happens when they can’t fall asleep to nursing, but they are too young to be explained to about no more nursing to sleep. And all the weaning instructions say that nursing to sleep should be the last to go. I am so lost and confused. I need help. Please, even if you don’t know, can you help with who does? I need to sleep and I don’t want to yell at my baby anymore. I feel like I have broken trust with him and have really messed up our bonding relationship. Its affecting my daytime parenting and keeping my son awake for hours on end in the hopes of him crashing later I know isn’t right either. We are a mess. Do you have any ideas, or direction for me? Overtired Momma


Your bundle seems to have discovered the bridge between awake and asleep and is very excited with being awake. Chances are he’s quite bright. I understand he is not going to sleep even if you are with him for quite some time, and that you are getting very tired.

Run through a checklist of items to consider:

Is his accumulated nap time too much during the days?

Have you tried adjusting his bedtime?

Is he getting enough exercise and stimulation during the days?

Is he getting enough mom?

Has caffeine snuck its way into his day, through possibly chocolate, or in mom’s milk?

Is he or mom on antacids or antihistamines? (Both can cause wakefulness.)

Are you providing daylight during daytime naps, keeping lights dim as bedtime nears, and keeping bedroom very dark during the night?

Is he teething?

Are food sensitivities keeping him awake? (Signs include gas, diarrhea, spitting up, rashes, waking with screams.)

You may just need more support for yourself to help you make it through this transition stage. Possibly you can find another mom through a local playgroup, with whom you can take turns giving each other a break.

The only reason sources recommend losing the bedtime nursings last is that they are usually the most comforting, bonding, and sleep-inducing nursing periods. If these are not the most positive nursing times for your family, there’s no reason you can’t experiment with some night weaning. You can try having your son sleep next to dad instead, and you can visit the couch at times. He can try singing, back patting, or massage, in attempt to soothe baby without having to get up with him. It might take plenty of jiggling and floor pacing for the first couple of nights, or you might learn that it’s just too soon for night weaning.

Your son actually IS old enough to understand talk about nursing, if you keep explaining and repeating the message. Try telling him that the milk needs to sleep at night and that he should sleep too until there’s light coming in the window. Bring this up in fun tones at opportune times during the day. Maybe make up animal stories with this theme.