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Oh the terrible sleep issues

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
DD, 18 months, has never slept well. I won't go into her history of bad sleep, but suffice it to say it has always been a struggle to get her to go to sleep and to stay asleep. She's slept through the night (seven hour stretch) only a few times. I had her night weaned two times and then she started teething and everything fell apart. Things are so bad now, it is 9:30 at night and she finally fell asleep. She wants to nurse many times at night, despite my repetition that "Ba Ba" (her word for nursing) sleeps at night when she sleeps. For the past month, I've given up on the nightweaning and nursed her. Here is where we are currently at:

We have a bedtime routine. Bedtime usually 7-7:30 . . . she sometimes falls asleep nursing. If she doesn't, she won't go to sleep without a battle. Like tonight, I stayed in bed with her for 1/2 hour with her rolling around, talking to the pooh bears on her blanket, talking to the kitties on her calendar, trying to get me to interact with her (I kept my eyes closed, made soothing shushing sounds when needed). After that I sat next to her bed because I couldn't lie down any longer (her bed is a mattress on the floor). She got out of bed multiple times, tried to get me to interact with her. She understands the concept of going to sleep and tried to sleep, but she didn't feel comfortable with me not being right next to her. Or it could have been something else. Who knows what I was doing wrong. In any event, at 8:30 when she still wasn't asleep, I put her in the Ergo so that I could take the trash to the end of the driveway and do some other quick chores (stuff I had to get done while there was still some daylight outside). By 9:00, I just took her to my bed. She finally fell asleep at 9:30.

She usually wakes every three hours and if I'm not beside her, she starts crying. Sleep is such a struggle for DD. And after 1.5 years of this, I'm tired. I want a full night of sleep. I want DD to have a full night of sleep. DH works all the time, so he isn't around to help except on the weekends. He's put DD to bed maybe fifteen times in her life.

Naps are another struggle, because it is so hard to get her to shut her mind down enough to sleep. She sleeps about an hour. At night, given the night wakings, she probably sleeps 10 to 10.5 hours.

I know 18 months is a time of change for kids. What else can I do to get her to stay asleep or to go to sleep without a battle? Please, I'm desperate.
post #2 of 9
My 18 month old doesn't sleep well so I don't have much advice, but I couldn't read without posting.

I just have to keep telling myself, "this too shall pass". I know it's hard and I've felt as desperate as you sound.

post #3 of 9

I could have written this post about my eldest. I remember how hard, how really hard it was.
It does get better!
It just may take awhile. Like you said, this is a tough time, with lots of changes, and the dreaded molars. My girls always had a hard time with molars, and we often had to use Motrin at bedtime. Watch your little one, because teething pain makes falling asleep very difficult, even if it doesn't bother her during the day. I know it is frowned on around here, but the only thing to worry about with motrin is 1) correct dosing and 2) something in the tummy - nursing is perfect, and sounds like you are doing that anyway.
My DD was a completely different child once all her molars were in; all our sleep issues changed after that.
(And just to really hold out the hope for you, she then gave up naps and was good for 12 hours at night!!! I never had to fight with her about bedtimes as she got older. Now, at 10, she sets her own bedtime and sleeps very well, although she has never been able to go back to sleep - once she wakes, she is up, even at 6 am.)

One thing I have learned is the "sleep window" - they have a short period of time where it is fairly easy for them to fall asleep (aside from teething pain...) and if you miss that window, it is then very hard for them to fall asleep! If she has yawned twice, she needs to be falling asleep - by the third yawn, you are in danger of missing the sleep window. Don't pay any attention to the clock, just watch your child. For instance, my nearly 3 yo still naps starting between 10-11 am, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours - nearly every other child I know, including my older two, take an afternoon nap at this age. But she is ready to sleep before lunch (hmm, maybe from waking at 5:30 am?) and if I miss it, she will be crabby, then nap just before supper, then be a bear to get to bed. So you have to really watch your DD, what are her patterns, what are her sleep cues that tell you she is getting drowsy? Really watch her, she will probably be ready to nap by 4 hours after waking. Getting a good nap is crucial to falling asleep well in the evening.

The night waking is developmental, sleep rhythms are about 3 hours. That will pass. I know how exhausting it is. What helped me was actually just adjusting my life, and my mindset, and not planning on getting things done once she was asleep. Since my DH worked nights, I shouldered bedtime too. In fact, I can probably count the nights I have been away from the house in the evening in the past 10 years. It is just a commitment I have made to my kids - but that doesn't mean I always like it! But anyway, instead of thinking "if she would just sleep, I could...." and just try to be very zen about being in the moment of going to sleep. Many times, I just made it "our" bedtime, and just got things done during the day. At least I got more sleep, even if it was broken.
Which, since you are doing so much parenting alone, it is really important that you get support and some time alone to recharge somehow, whatever fills you back up. I found it at La Leche Leage, which led to AP playgroups, and at MOPS. I also am blessed with family willing to help. Seek out those sorts of like-minded mamas or others you trust to spend time with your DD so you can have a break.
Book recs - E. Pantley books might be helpful, and I love Dr Sear's Nighttime Parenting too.

Hope this helps!
post #4 of 9
My daughter is sooo similar and is also 18 months. She has always been a not so good sleeper to put it mildly. She has NEVER slept through the night and still wakes about every 1-3 hours and whines/cries until she is nursed back to sleep. It is definitely tough (we are co-sleeping) and some days I do feel tired and frustrated. But as I keep saying to my DH, soon enough she will be a teenager who wants nothing to do with us! I'm trying my best to enjoy her baby/toddlerhood as much as possible despite her/our sleep issues. I have talked to our ped. about this and he basically said that MANY parents are dealing with the same thing and there is not too much you can do aside from attempting to help her to learn to self-soothe. It's tough for sure, but I guess my advice would be (for myself as well) is just to know that it will get better eventually and I think I may actually miss these days of spending close nursing/cuddling time with my baby. Best of luck to you and let me know if you get any more helpful suggestions!
-Katie
post #5 of 9
Given my experience with 1 21mo DD... That sounds pretty normal to me.

We don't try to put her to sleep until 9:30 or 10. Because it's just not worth the emotional energy before that. Until the last couple weeks - she would wake every 1.5 to 2 hours to nurse all night long.
post #6 of 9
I'm in the SAME boat with my 18 month old- and she's been this way her whole life. I really think the "this too shall pass" mindset is a good one to have, but it is hard to think that way some nights!! What we're doing right now is putting her to sleep in her toddler bed (I sit next to the bed and she plays w/ my hair until she falls asleep, she will NOT nurse to sleep, never has... making falling asleep a bit more difficult!!)... then if it's before I go to sleep and she wakes up (VERY likely as she goes to sleep around 8pm) I'll go in there and calm her back down, otherwise I'll get her and bring her to bed with me. I don't think she's ever slept through the night in her bed, she ALWAYS wakes up and just needs to know that someone is there.

You say that you're nursing to sleep- maybe nightweaning or finding a different method of comfort back to sleep would help?? Slowly of course. I've been trying to get DD interested in a stuffed animal or something so I can have my hair back lol. My hair (or DH or my mom's if they are putting her to sleep) really is her comfort like so many kids are w/ the boob.

I think too you just have to be flexible. For her entire life I've been rocking her to sleep or wearing her in a sling of some sort to sleep. Well, she decided a month or so ago that she did NOT want me to rock her to sleep... so we pretty much had to completely change the bedtime routine and it did take a while to figure it out that she wanted to snuggle for 2 songs and then be set down and relax in bed with me right there. It's still a struggle some nights. It varies from taking 5 minutes to taking an hour sometimes! I know they are going through sooooo much at this age so I try to be patient, but it is so hard, especially if you're DH isn't around to take a turn w/ the bedtime stuff (I understand!! Mine is a fulltime grad student in addition to work).

Good luck mama!! Like someone else mentioned, your LO will be a teenager before you know it
post #7 of 9
My DS is now over 3 yo, and maybe half the time will sleep a 5 hour stretch. Of course, he didn't start doing that until after he turned three. So yes, it does get better, but it depends on the child as to when that is. Developing sleep maturity isn't easy or quick for our kids. My DS has always been a light sleeper. His typical sleep cycle was around 45 mins (but sometimes it was 10 mins, sometimes an hour) around 18 mos. I remember the frustration and sleep deprivation. Not fun! Plus, at that age, he averaged 11 hours of sleep per day, total, including naps. Now, he still takes a nap (glorious 2-3 hour stretch during which he rarely wakes up), but his total daily sleep is around 10 hours. He's just never needed as much sleep as some other kids.

If he didn't fall asleep at the breast, I had to walk him. Back and forth, usually for a half hour or so. I counted it as part of my exercise. I would sing or hum softly (but he made me stop around 2yo). And he would only let me hold him upright--no cradle hold! These days sometimes he nurses to sleep; sometimes he'll finish nursing, roll over, and relax into sleep on his own; sometimes I still need to walk him (but it might only take 5 mins). Most nights I only have to walk him back to sleep once (he only nurses before/after nap/sleep, if then).

I agree w/ PP about the sleep window. Figure out your child's cues. My DS's were red rimmed eyes and yawning (and these days extreme crankiness--as soon as he loses it over something relatively minor, I decree it's naptime/bedtime). The real sleep window for him, though, was about five minutes after he fell asleep (he twitches)--then, and only then, could I put him down in bed and have him stay asleep. If I tried it too soon or waited too long, he'd wake right back up, and I'd have to start all over again. Oh, and my DS refused to be in a sling indoors, but I frequently got him to pass out for a nap by taking a walk outside. That made it a little tricky for getting him to stay asleep once we got home, so sometimes I just walked longer; other times I laid down in bed with him still in the sling on top of me.

Things that might help: white noise (we use a fan spring-fall, and a humidifier in winter); blackout curtains/turning off all lights/TVs/computers; figuring out a nighttime routine that works for both of you (some people do bath, books, lights out, back rubs; nowadays we do lights out, brush teeth, fan on, then walk, but I wait to start it until I know he's tired--but we've never had a set bedtime). And, as a PP indicated, the biggest change that's completely in your control (but not necessarily easy)--adjust your own expectations. Your frustration will drop dramatically if you can be in the moment and find a measure of peace by accepting that this is the DD you have, and that wishing she were any different will just cause you more anxiety and frustration (unmet expectations/disapointment); but dealing with the reality of the situation as it is (w/o the wishful/negative thinking) will let you parent her to sleep more calmly, and might even help her fall asleep more quickly if she's not picking up on your unhappy vibes.

Good luck! And the best part? Once you figure out a routine that works...it'll change and you'll have to figure out a new one. In the meantime, though, if you can nap when she does, I highly recommend taking advantage of that. My sleep schedule has been synched to my DS's from the beginning, and it's pretty much the only thing that's kept me from being a raving lunatic. Every now and then, when we have a busy weekend, he'll drop his nap entirely--and he's fine, but I'm super cranky! =)
post #8 of 9
I agree with the sleep window. My daughter usually goes to bed around 8:30 or 9pm, but it's not necessarily the clock that's telling me it's time. DD starts to get cranky, and will break down into tears for something totally minor when she's tired. (With my friends DD, the signal is rubbing her cheeks, nose, and eyes with the backside of her hands/wrists!)

My DD never ever slept through the night before 18mo. She was still waking to nurse every 1-3 hours (we were lucky to get a 5 hour stretch every few weeks). I was exhausted and miserable. We had co-slept until around a year, but at this point she was sleeping in her own room next door. Her night wakings were the same whether we were co-sleeping or not, but I found I got more sound sleep without her in the bed in between. So eventually my husband started going to her when she woke up. There was about a week and a half of her being upset, and he'd rock with her and hold her until she fell asleep. We started with 1 waking - he'd stay with her until she fell asleep, and then the rest of the times I'd get up and nurse her. After a few nights of that we decided to go to a 6 hour chunk - from midnight til 6am he'd go to her. After 6 I'd wake up, nurse her, and usually bring her back to bed with me. (If I didn't bring her back to bed, she couldn't fall back asleep and would be up for the day! Ouch!) It ended up working really well! She was night weaned within 2 weeks, and has pretty much slept through the night since then. We continued to nurse for another 4 months or so...I didn't notice a difference at all in her daytime nursing.

We were basically following Dr. Gordans night weaning plan, but adjusted it cause I could never remember (in the middle of the night) how many hours she was supposed to go that night! So we just made it 6 pretty quickly!

I understand some people may not be comfortable with this plan, as some people consider it CIO. My husband was always with her, even though she was crying. Yes, it was an adjustment. However, I still very much believe that nursing throughout the night was something she was *used to* but NOT something she *needed*. She got plenty of nourishment throughout the day to sustain a 6 hour stretch at night.

Good luck with whatever you choose!
post #9 of 9
Thread Starter 
Thanks to everyone for your encouraging and kind responses. We have no choice but to persevere and I think the best thing (which has been pointed out) is to put everything into perspective. It isn't important that I depend upon nights to get everything done that I need to get done. This is the tough part for me because I like to stay active and have so much that I would like to accomplish. Tonight was another tough night for DD. She was absolutely exhausted when I first tried to get her to bed. But I ended up giving up because she couldn't settle down. I just spent another 40 minutes getting her to go to sleep and she finally just fell asleep suddenly, like her tired brain seized hold of a momentary pause in her stream of thoughts and movements to shut off. We've already gone through two rounds of night-weaning and as long as she is teething, she needs the comfort of nursing. We'll make it through this. I'm feeling better about the situation.
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