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Frequent night-waking & co-sleeping

Frequent night-waking & co-sleeping

Baby sleep problem

I was wondering if you could give me any advice for my nearly 7 month old son.

He has been co sleeping with us at night time as he is a frequent waker (for breast feeding) he eats solids during day and drinks water and has a midday and mid afternoon BF as well

He goes down in his cot easily during the day for naps but come night time there is all hell to pay and unfortunately we got into the habit of taking him to our bed otherwise he screams the house down!!!

I would appreciate any advice or help on getting our baby to sleep in his own cot.

Our recommended baby sleep solution

Thanks for all your extra information. I think you will be able to make a difference to your baby's sleeping quite quickly, but it is going to require real consistency and some changes to how you are doing things now. You may want to implement the suggestions gradually, or just go for it and make all the changes at once.

From your more detailed email, it sounds like the key issue to address is breaking the association your baby has between feeding and falling asleep. This means he thinks he needs a feed to fall asleep. Once he learns he can fall asleep during the night without a feed, he will be able to resettle himself and sleep through the night in his own cot.

There are several key areas that may help you with this:

  • Location of cot

  • Routine

  • Sleeping bag & movement in the cot

  • Self-settling techniques

  • Positive sleep associations

Location of cot

I recommend that you move your baby's cot into his own bedroom. Otherwise it is going to be much harder on him to learn to resettle while he can still see/hear/smell you are close by. He will expect you to get him up, feed him and tuck him into bed with you.

Also if you are going to use controlled crying or similar to teach him to self-settle (see below), this is going to be much easier on you if it’s not in the same room as you!

Parents and babies all wake lots of times in the night and also make a bit of noise while re-settling, not to mention snoring and other noises. Give all of you the chance to sleep in peace!


Routine is so essential for babies of his age when it comes to teaching them to sleep through the night. Babies of his age need to know what you expect and when you expect it. A good simple routine will also make your days much easier, as you can plan when to go out, know when to have him sleeping and ensures he is feeding/has solids at the times that are most helpful with sleeping. It will also ensure that you space out feeds from sleep times, which ensures you break the feeding association he has.

I recommend the routines from the excellent book ‘Save Our Sleep’, as are very simple and effective. They are also great when you have other children, as you can more easily plan when to go out, if baby needs to sleep when you get to your destination etc etc.

From your information I see you are doing a feed right before your baby's afternoon sleep. I would cut this out immediately and move it until after his sleep. Using the feed/play/sleep routine is so important to babies being able to settle themselves and not associating feeding with sleeping. I think this feed is probably one of the reasons he is waking so frequently in the night, along with continued night feeding reinforcing the idea that he needs a feed to go back to sleep.

I recommend that you don’t do ‘top-ups’ before he goes into bed, either during the day or at bedtime. This just confuses him and reinforces the association he has between needing a feed to fall asleep.

For a baby of his age, he should not need any feeds during the night. I would recommend however that until he is consistently sleeping through the night, you do a dreamfeed at about 10pm. This means a feed while he is asleep – get him gently out of bed, onto the breast, feed both sides, then back to bed still asleep. Don’t worry about nappy changes or burping. If he wakes during this feed, he needs to go back into bed awake. Doing this feed means you can rest assured he has had enough milk to last the night, then you can use the self settling techniques you choose (see below) to settle him for any waking in the night (which will quickly get less and then stop).

Sleeping bag & movement in the cot

Given that your baby isn’t swaddled in the day and sleeps well, I would look at getting rid of the swaddling at night too. Alternatively you need to wrap him so he stays wrapped all night. Click here for my swaddling instructions, and you will also need a large, stretch cotton wrap to keep the wrap secure. If he is interested in sucking his fingers, wrap with one arm out.

Either now or as you transition him from wrapping, I firmly recommend that you start using a baby sleeping bag. This is both a positive association for sleeping and ensures he stays warm all night. A sleeping bag means he is wearing his blankets, so he can’t kick them off. It also means he is less likely to move about in the cot.

Use it for all sleeps day and night, to reinforce the association. And always take it if you are traveling or need him to sleep in the pushchair when you are out.

Which sleeping bag to purchase depends on your budget, how long you want it to last for, and if you prefer natural fibres. I use a Woolbabe Bag with my Tom, as they are merino, and last up to 2 years old. They can also be used in the pushchair, which can be so handy (as it tells baby you expect them to sleep when they are put into it).

If your baby's movement in the cot is contributing to him waking or inability to sleep in the day, the BabyOK Babe Sleeper would be a great investment. This is a cotton sleeping bag attached to the base sheet – it prevents baby scooting up the cot, standing, crawling round etc. Tom has his Woolbabe Bag inside one of these, so he is warm, knows it’s sleep time and can’t go anywhere!

Positive sleep associations

You can start to build some positive associations for your baby, so when he sees/hears particular things, he knows it’s time to sleep (and stay asleep). It’s essential that anything you use for a sleep association will be there if he wakes in the night, which is the key difference from a sleep association with feeding (as this will always need you!).

Positive sleep associations can really help with night-waking, sleeping when you are out, away from home, in daycare etc.

The best ones are:

  • Sleep music –Try leaving a baby sleep CD on repeat quietly during the night. Over time you just turn the volume down slightly, so eventually you don’t use it. Music for Dreaming is a good one for babies of his age.

  • Comfort blankie – something small, that can smell like mum, and baby can find/hold during the night. You can get him attached to it by holding it when you are feeding or sleeping a couple of nights with it under your top, then only give it to him at sleep times. Another option is a T-shirt or something else you have been wearing! This will be essential for you, as you will need to replace ‘you’ from the falling asleep equation. My favourites Cuski.

  • Sleeping bags are also fabulous for sleep association – see above.

Self settling

It’s very unlikely that your baby is now going to willingly give up the night feeds unless you decide that you are going to teach him to settle himself without a feed. This will mean he can put himself back to sleep after he stirs or wakes in the night, and can go to sleep at bedtime without feeding to sleep or even feeding until drowsy.

The key is for you and your partner to decide on a plan of attack, and stick to it! You can’t confuse your baby by sometimes feeding him if he cries long enough or if it’s x number of hours since he was fed. It’s also really important to get your routine right and also replace his feeding association with some positive associations, or the program will be harder and take longer.

He is old enough now that you can use controlled crying or the Save Our Sleep approach with him, or the No Cry techniques are great if you can be really consistent and would prefer this approach to the crying. I think he a bit little for cry it out, and this isn’t generally the most effective technique for a baby staying sleeping through on a permanent basis.

  • No Cry Sleep Solution – no cry, gentle techniques to get baby to self settle and sleep through the night. They generally take longer than ‘controlled crying techniques’, but have the advantage of no crying! This also includes a good technique for weaning off needing a feed to fall asleep and tips for ending night feeding.

  • The Sleepeasy Solution DVD is an excellent DVD with a step-by-step guide, solutions and guidelines.

  • Save Our Sleep – also includes a self settling approach, which involves leaving your baby for 18 minutes (the time varies according to age), then return and pat baby until she goes to sleep.

You could also start to introduce your sleep associations over a few days while carrying on as you currently are. Eg Feed baby until drowsy, while in his new sleeping bag and holding his comfort blankie. So he will start to associate both things with you and with sleeping. Then once you are ready you can start the self-settling plan.

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