Is It Time to Stop Co-Sleeping?
Dear Baby Whisperer Amy,
I. Need. To. Sleep… DESPERATELY. I know you’ve answered many an infant sleep question in the past, I’m hoping you can help with this one. My lovely 7 month old was a great sleeper early on (6-7 hours from 3 weeks old), and experienced the usual 4 month sleep regression as expected and I was fine getting up again 1 or 2 times as needed. Then she got sick. It started with a cold, then the stomach flu followed immediately by a UTI, then another stomach flu, then another cold that turned into an ear infection. She is (finally) healthy, but needless to say the 2+ months of being sick has led to some bad habits. She woke frequently and nursing her back to sleep was the easiest thing to do, especially as she wasn’t feeling well.
Now though, she is 7 months old and I know she should be able to get most of her calories during the day and sleep through the night, or maybe just get up once. However, she is currently waking 3 (or more) times a night to feed and I am losing my will to function – I have a full-time job and a 3 year old to deal with so I cannot continue on with this much longer. If she were just getting up for comfort, that would be a somewhat easy fix. But when she wakes, she eats a LOT – to the point where she is now not feeding well during the day. Obviously she has things backwards and I’m not sure how to correct it.
The other issue is that my milk production is low in the early evenings before her 7:30 bedtime, and I’m totally fine with giving her a bottle of formula to fill her up, but she will pretty much flat-out refuse a bottle (formula or breast milk) unless she is starving. I should note she is at daycare at my work so I go down to nurse her 3 times a day (I have it pretty great, I know) and we have started her on solids but it has been slow going since she has been sick so she’s only eating a small amount of solids once a day. Oh yeah and she’s probably teething right now.
Do you have any suggestions as to how I can get her to eat more during the day, knowing my milk supply may necessitate a bottle or two that she currently does not want? We co-sleep, which helps to minimize the time spent up, but last night she was up at 9:00, 11:30, 1:30, and 3:00, then I got up to get ready for work at 6:00. Every once in a while she will go 4-5 hours, but guaranteed that’s the night my 3 year old will wake up because that is the way the universe works. At this point there are days I can barely remember my name. HELP!!
Time to move to a crib, I’d say.
So I am most definitely NOT anti-cosleeping. I co-slept with all of my babies when they were tiny and found it solved all sorts of early-on sleeping/nursing/general-new-baby-stress problems. However, at some point each time, it started to backfire on us — a baby that could and SHOULD be sleeping through the night (or only waking once) was instead treating our sleeping arrangement like an all-night buffet, demanding boob in mouth pretty much round the clock in order to stay asleep. I did not enjoy this, and personally had no desire to co-sleep for an extended period of time — it was a short-term sleep solution that was lovely and special when it worked. Once it stopped working for us, we focused our sleep efforts on a smooth transition to the crib and helping him learn to sleep independently.
It sounds like you’ve reached that point. She’s not going to switch her days and night eating habits when milk is so readily accessible, probably just a few inches from her face all night. I know getting up and out of bed sounds awful, but since you’re CLEARLY not getting enough sleep with her next to you ANYWAY, I’d definitely suggest moving her to the crib and trying some gentle, gradual extinction-based sleep training. Seven months is a very good age for this, and unfortunately it’s not something that gets any easier as she gets older and more set in her current bad habits.
In order to set her up for successful sleep training, first do your best to get her to eat a little more during the day. Offer her solids three times a day to encourage some curiosity. If she’s not super into spoon-feeding, she might do better with a baby-led weaning approach that allows her to self-feed in her high chair. (Basically any baby food in a soft but non-pureed form works: bananas, avocado slices, steamed sweet potatoes, etc.) Even if she doesn’t eat much of it, regular offerings of “meals” will send the signal that DAYTIME is when we eat, not nighttime. Up your water intake starting in the early afternoon to boost your evening breastmilk production, or take some fenugreek/mother’s milk tea every day around that time.
Before you make the move to the crib, you can also start enforcing some basics of sleep-training while co-sleeping. Do NOT let her fall asleep on your boob. That habit ends now. Unlatch her before that happens and lay her back down, away from you. I don’t know if you’re using a bedside co-sleeper…if not, maybe that would be a good stepping stone/training wheel move for her? Or you try a pack-n-play in your room at first, so you at least don’t have to walk very far to put some distance between her and the boobs. And look, if she wakes up hungry, it’s okay to feed her. Just don’t let her fall asleep while nursing anymore if you can possibly help it.
We moved our babies to their cribs around four/five months old. Sometime I did a half-assed thing where he’d start the night in the crib and then we’d co-sleep again after a waking, since at that age at least one night-feeding was to be expected. I had the rockiest transition with my youngest thanks to similar stuff you went through: regressions, teething, illness, a really weird/bad daytime sleep schedule that took forever to troubleshoot. So we ended up Ferberizing him (the book is Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, FYI) around eight months. It was a rough week, but it was 100% the best thing we did. He’s been an amazingly consistent sleeper ever since.
So if I had to outline a battle plan for you, I guess it would look something like this:
Step One: Offer solids more often during the day. Look into baby-led weaning if she seems disinterested in purees.
Step Two: Hydrate and try some OTC milk production products to get as much milk into her before bedtime. You could also try formula in a beginner sippy cup as an alternative to the bottle.
Step Three: Stop letting her fall asleep while nursing. Pull her off and put her down sleepy but awake.
Step Four: Start putting some physical distance between you at night. Have her start out the night in her crib or a pack-n-play.
Step Five: After a waking/feeding, put her back in the crib or pack-n-play.
Step Six: Once you feel comfortable that she’s eating better during the day, start sleep-training to eliminate the extra wakings. Comfort her with pats, your voice or a musical crib toy when she wakes up, but don’t pick her up and don’t offer the boobs. Leave and start the timer so she has a chance to settle down. If she amps up, go back in at increasingly longer time intervals. (One minute, five, 10, etc.) Be tough, be consistent. Swap out with your partner when needed.
Not going to lie. Step six will suck. It will probably suck worse than the night you describe with the four/five wakings, since you won’t be doing it in the warm comfort of your own bed. But HOPEFULLY it will work after a few nights, and be very much worth it. She needs to eat during the day and sleep during the night…and she needs to know how to self-soothe herself back to sleep without nursing. These are not lessons you’ll teach her because you’re being mean and selfish and only care about YOUR need to sleep. These are lessons you’ll teach her so she’ll have the foundation she needs for a lifetime of restful, consistent sleep. Which as you’ve learned, is a really crazy important thing that human beings need to function.
Published June 1, 2015. Last updated October 29, 2017.