Prev Next
Is It Time to Stop Co-Sleeping?

Is It Time to Stop Co-Sleeping?

By Amalah

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.

 

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon

Comments

  • Claire

    My daughter was exactly as you described. With a 3yo too. It was hell. No exaggeration.

    We put her in her own room at 8 months. We weren’t disturbing her, she wasn’t disturbing us. The night wakings immediately dropped.

    However. She was a screaming, unsettled pain in the butt from any time after 3am. We had a bed set up next to her crib for shush patting. One night, when she was 11 months, I gave up and went for a wee while she was screaming and took a 5 minute breather. She settled herself and didn’t wake till morning. So the next night I fed her and then, when the unsettled started, ignored it. She cried for a minute or two and went back off. Little monkey likes to be on her own to sleep. She still occasionally cries out in the night (2 in July) but self settles quickly.

    Good luck, I remember how hard it was all too well.

  • Myriam

    I went through the exact same thing (without the illness run, that sucks). But around that age, my yougest did the “waking up all the time, not eating during the day thing. I did what Amy is suggesting and we decided to go with the http://www.sleepyplanet.com 5-10-15 method. I’d totally recommend a method (although I loved this one and still use it at 19 months, when necessary), The good thing with a book is that it outlines exactly how and when to do what, so you don’t second-guess yourself at 2AM. I’d say go witha method that feel ok with you. I prefer the short and intense method, rather than a prolongued “softer” method, as I find it easier for me to stay consistent. I didn’t night wean for another 7 months, but used “dreamfeeds” instead of feeding on demand during the night.

    • Myriam

      I should add that we also used the BLW method for feeding during the day, as she had no interest in purees. But she didn’t start eating (rather than playing/gumming) any of her food until 8 months old.  Her milk intake did increase at night. About that, if you simply put her on the breast and switch sides 2 or 3 times, it might be enough to stimulate your production and adjust to her needs. And don’t worry, she won’t suffer for malnutrition if she gets less milk for a couple of days/weeks!

  • A.L

    When my son was about that age, we would give him a ‘baby smoothie’ about an hour before bedtime to help fill his belly for sleep. We filled a sippy cup with a soft straw with formula and added a squished banana and a little baby cereal. He never really liked plain formula or plain baby cereal, but would drink those smoothies like a champ. Those smoothies helped keep him fuller longer which was really helped with night weening and sleep training.

  • Kerry

    I would add consider using the other parent (if the other parent is on board) to make cosleeping more clearly about sleeping than nursing. When my daughter was that age, I had to wake up several hours earlier in the morning than my husband, and it would drive me nuts that she would wake up every couple of hours to nurse while I was in bed and then sleep like a rock after I left….until I realized I could just go sleep in the guest room. 

    Pacifiers might also be helpful…but again, my daughter only finds them acceptable if I’m not in the room. 

  • Astrid

    I’m in the same boat here and I have a follow up question, regarding not nursing to sleep: what if your baby doesn’t have a “drowsy but awake” setting? I can’t even put this kid down once he’s fully asleep, much less when he’s still awake. My only hope is to side lying nurse him down in bed and then sneak away once he falls asleep. And sometimes even then he senses me leaving and screams bloody murder.

    • Myriam

      At at certain point, you can either use a method like Ferber or 5-10-15, or you stay with them but reassure them in a way other then breast (rocking, butt patting, etc.)

  • Ashley

    I went through this too and it was awful. We had done sleep training, she was sleeping in her own room, was going down awake, etc. The kid was just getting most of her calories IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT at 10 months old.  Maybe she couldn’t be bothered to eat during the day, I don’t know, but it was exhausting and annoying. 

    Anyway, the only thing that reversed the cycle was forcing her to go longer periods between night nursing (going in at intervals when she would wake up too soon) and timing the nursing sessions at night and then gradually reducing them. It caused her to start to gradually eat more during the day and I felt confident she wasn’t super hungry. Staring at the clock at 3 am wasn’t any fun either, but it did eventually do the trick. Good luck! 

  • MR

    So, I have a different take on it. It sounds like this is teething related. Test it by giving her some Tylenol before bed and see if that helps her sleep longer. Do you have an amber teething necklace? If not, you can find them on Amazon. I found out about them with my second (oh how I wish I had known about them with my first!!!) and they were like a miracle! They don’t work on every child apparently, but it worked wonders on mine, and is well worth the chance of it working. Made an instant difference for my kid. When she was teething, my youngest was waking up 6 times a night. It was horrible. Got the necklace in the mail, but it on her immediately and that night she only woke up once. The next night, not at all. It was AMAZING. So, I’d honestly try fixing that first before changing up your sleeping arrangement. The teething necklace is a much easier fix. Baltic Amber Teething necklace (if I remember correctly, lighter color is better). I got mine from the Art of the Cure or something like that on Amazon. Hth!

  • Sarah

    THIS SOUNDS EXACTLY LIKE ME AT 7 MONTHS! (except I’m still on leave so don’t have to go to work and there’s no 3 year old…)  Had a great sleeper until 4 month sleep regression, which lasted about a week, then a great sleeper until about 5.5 months when she did NOT react well to starting solids and had abdominal pain for months. By the time it went away, bad sleep habits ensued. 

    At 9 months, she has finally started to sleep longer periods again with only 1 (maybe 2 wake-ups), one of which is usually when we’re still up, so we don’t really count it as it’s not waking us up.

    I agree with all of Amy’s points above. I started offering the boob and solid food much more often during the day. Basically every hour, something was offered. Sometimes, she’d nibble a little bit, sometimes she’d eat a full meal, sometimes she’d refuse. 

    At night, we started enforcing a time limit in between feedings. If it was less than 3 hours, daddy went in and rocked her and she either went to sleep or fussed until that time was up (we haven’t moved on to the get yourself to sleep on your own yet…and I’m not comfortable letting her cry alone in her room for very long. We’ll sit in her room and wait with her).

    In full honesty though, by 3 am, we give up and plop her in the middle of our bed to do whatever the hell she wants while we go to sleep. For some reason, she can put herself to sleep as long as she’s in our bed. If we cosleep though, I turn my back to her, so she can’t access the boobs whenever she wants.  

    We’ll try full sleep training to get her to put herself to sleep in July when my husband’s done work (we’re both teachers) and have two months straight where it doesn’t matter as much if we’re sleep deprived.

  • Bethany

    I heard a pediatrician say once that cosleeping after baby doesn’t NEED calories in the middle of the night will often lead to sleep problems. Since babies can smell milk on their moms, she compared it to sleeping in the kitchen of your favorite restaurant. If you’re sleeping at home and wake up in the middle of the night, food isn’t the first thing on your mind unless you’re ravenous. But if you wake up in the middle of the night and your favorite lasagna is six inches from your nose, then hey! Midnight snack time!

  • Jennifer

    If you want to continue cosleeping (and I did as I work all day and treasure nights with my baby) I night weaned while co-sleeping (I googled “night wean cosleep” for advice).  It was like crying it out but with me there in an unopen-able shirt.  The crying back to sleep after wake-ups only lasted 4 nights.  

  • Colleen

    OP here (at least I think I’m using that term correctly? I’m not very up on ‘blog speak). Just wanted to say THANKS to Amalah for answering my question, and also to all the commenters, definitely nice to hear I’m not alone! Lots of great advice and I’m hopeful we will soon be sleeping like babies (haha) again! Oh and Bethany, what a great analogy, I would totally eat some lasagna if it was right next to me when I woke up!

  • Bridget

    We went through similar a couple months ago with my now almost-8-month-old.  Except I had to stop breast feeding at 5.5 months, because he developed some sort of gag reflex that made him vomit all over me when breastfeeding.  Weird, I know.  So, when we went 100% bottles, his night wakings started dropping off pretty quickly.  (not that I’m recommending stopping the breast – I would have kept going for another month or 2 if we had the option).  For a the first couple weeks, we’d do a dream feed bottle around 10 or 11 p.m. that my husband did while I pumped, then we’d have another bottle prepared for a potential middle of the night feeding.  But, after about 2 weeks, he started sleeping through past that 2nd bottle time and waking around 5 a.m.  Then it was 6 a.m.  Now, he’ll wake any time between 3 and 6 a.m. in his pack n play in our room, and I can pick him up,, bring him into bed with me, and he’ll just snuggle in with me and go back to sleep until 7 without needing any sort of feeding.
    We tried 2 nights of the Ferber method in his own room, and he’d wake up at 11:30 p.m. like clockwork and cry for an hour (with us checking in intervals).  We’d finally give in.  So, we tried the pack n play, and that seems to be working much better for now.  I know he’ll eventually need his own room, but one step at a time seems to be working best for us.  (I should note that we had to transition him out of his rock n play, where he’d be sleeping since we brought him home from the hospital until a month ago)