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?