My now seven month old wakes often at night (usually to nurse). She slept through the night from seven weeks to about 4 3/4 months old then suddenly started waking. Now it is sometimes every hour. We now bedshare, as we used to co-sleep with a side car but it became easier for both of us to bedshare with her wakings. Now, I am to the point where I need sleep because my exaustion has started to effect everything in my life. Would putting her in her own crib next to my bed eventually improve her sleep? Are her constant wakings normal?
How wonderful that your daughter slept through the night at seven weeks! Her constant wakings are certainly normal, especially for a breast-fed baby, since breast milk is not designed to "hold" kids for long. And she may well be waking because she is hungry. BUT nursing every hour is certainly not necessary for a seven month old. So almost certainly, she is waking because she uses nursing to put herself back to sleep. As you probably know, when she gets to the light part of her sleep cycle, she can either wake up looking for you, or go back into a deeper sleep. If she has been nursed to sleep, then she is likely to need to nurse to get back into a deeper sleep when she wakes slightly.
You're asking if bedsharing might be waking her. It is certainly possible. But I suspect that moving her to a crib next to your bed will not really help, since it seems to me that her frequent waking is not being caused by the bedsharing, but preceded the bedsharing. It sounds more likely that she is waking every hour because she can't get herself to the next deeper sleep cycle without nursing.
My advice would be to help her to learn to fall asleep without nursing. You do this by nursing her before bed as usual, but popping the nipple out of her mouth before she is fully asleep. She will protest. You will give her back the nipple, and then before she falls asleep, pop it out again. This may take 50 tries, but eventually she will give up and just settle to sleep without he nipple in her mouth. As you repeat this daily over time, she will begin to just roll over and fall asleep without the nipple, of her own volition. You will remove the nipple earlier and earlier, so she is more and more conscious of simply settling down to sleep without the nipple.
This is a terrific habit to develop for many reasons. First, she won't wake up looking to nurse just to go back to sleep. If she does wake at night, it will be because she is hungry, so she won't wake as often. Over time, she won't wake at all. Second, you empower her so that she is not depending on something outside her as a sleep aid. Finally, as she gets older it will be harder for her to fall asleep nursing, so she is learning early how to fall asleep without depending on nursing.
Best of luck to you, and Sweet Dreams!
I was very grateful to have seen this question and subsequent response by Dr. Markham. I also have a 7 month old who bedshares with me and my husband, who is reliant on nursing to sleep. I'm a combo-feeder as I don't produce enough milk for him, so he does get formula as well as a supplement. I have suspected all along that his recent frequent night-wakings are more about needing to be soothed than being hungry.
The suggestion to remove the nipple during feeding before the baby falls asleep is a great one- I'm wondering, though, how can you tell exactly when is the right moment to do that? My son often suckles yet appears to be sleeping as well. I've even seen him suckling air in his sleep when he's in his co-sleeper (he usually starts off the night in the co-sleeper then ends up with us.)
And, as an addendum to this question, I have noticed frequent night-wakings, including one extended waking that has lasted 45min to an hour. I try to get him to play on his stomach or sitting up to tire him out. Is this normal/OK? Could it indicate that something is wrong? I'm worried he's not getting the developmental sleep he needs.
By the time they're seven months old, most babies know that night time is for sleeping. They still wake up at night, but most are willing to go back to sleep. If they are used to falling asleep being nursed, they usually need to nurse to go back to sleep, but they do go back to sleep, both because they know that's what you do at night, and because they're tired.
Some babies, though, get a little sleep, and then wake up ready to go. These kids seem to be re-charged from just a little sleep. Of course, they still do need the sleep, but at that moment, they actually feel rested enough to get up, at least for a little while. Your son seems to fit this description. It does not mean anything is wrong.
You don't, of course, want him to develop the habit of playing in the middle of the night. So be as boring as you can to help him fall back asleep. And if you can help him learn to fall asleep without a nipple in his mouth (as described above), he will probably be less likely to wake up at night.
How do you know the exact moment to pop the nipple out? You don't. Many babies just keep sucking. But as you notice that the sucking has slowed, and he seems to be asleep, gently try it. He will protest. Put the nipple back in for a minute. Then try again. This is a process, not a one-time thing. Over time, as described above, he will get used to this idea. Good luck!