Sleeping woes with a 9m old
August 19, 2011 5:24 AM   Subscribe

Failing at getting a nine month old to sleep. Help!

You might think this kind of thing would be easily Googleable - and whilst it kind of is, there's so much that's unique to every situation we're not finding the answers we so desperately need.

Our son, let's call him Ted, is a terrible sleeper and napper. Always has been. We made some headway when he was about 6 months with controlled crying. Letting him bawl but going up at 3,6and 9 minutes to comfort and put him down again in his cot. It worked for about two weeks and life improved no end. Then he got ill or something I can't remember what upset the balance and has been getting steadily worse again to the point that we're back at the place we were with him at 6 months - he's waking every 45mins at night for a feed which he doesn't need and won't nap during the day.

He climbs the side of his wooden cot and just stands and bawls and he knows that if he shouts for long enough he'll get food or we'll put him in the pram and out for a walk to get him to sleep.

This can't go on, it's driving us both crazy from sleep deprivation.

My worry is that how can he have a hope of sleep when he's stood up in his cot? That's the difference between the nine month Ted and the six month. At 6m, he wasn't able to sit up still less pull himself up to standing so crying himself to sleep was a real option for him. I worry that if did fall asleep he'd then fall and risk cutting himself or banging his head - hard - on the wood of his cot.

How do people do this humanely? We're constantly giving him the wrong message about sleep (by giving in) but he is naturally a poor and a light sleeper. His cousin couldn't be more different in this regard - seemingly perennially asleep!
posted by dance to Human Relations (36 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Is he a copycat? We've had huge problems getting our 1 year old to sleep until we realized that he'd copy us. So when he's fussy at bedtime, I make a big show of yawning and snuggling down on a blanket by his crib. He watches, cries some, then seems to think "If Dad's doing it.." and then plops himself down to sleep.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:37 AM on August 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Prioritize your goals.

Is your sleep paramount? If so cosleep.

Is training Ted paramount? If so get some sleep books and read 'em. (I liked No Cry Sleep Solution).
posted by k8t at 5:44 AM on August 19, 2011

And at 9 months are you taking teething into consideration?

PS 'a feeding he doesn't need' - how do you know he isn't hungry?
posted by k8t at 5:45 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is not my area of expertise but if your child is repeatedly waking, it indicates to me that they have not developed any/enough/sufficient self soothing methods. Sleep training is actually about well, making your child develop the skills to self-soothe for sleep.

Sleep training does work even with children who are standing; eventually he'll sit down, fall over and go to sleep. And it's going to be a lot easier to implement now than it will be when he can climb out. Then you have sleep training + rapid return, and that is very, very hard with a toddler. I think you're going to have to commit to trying it again. No feeding, no prams, just returning to the room silently to pat him and quietly say "it's time to sleep" before leaving again.

It is going to be hell, and nobody enjoys hearing their child wail, but there are two things to remember. One, he is fed, dry, and safe; being unhappy does not mean he is suffering. Two, he really needs this skill.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:46 AM on August 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

We tried everything with my 11 month old and he still woke 3 or 4 times a night. Finally the only thing that worked was just turning off the baby monitor and letting him yell all night long. We did it two nights in a row and on the third night he slept all night long and has ever since.

He would stand up in the crib and scream and bounce. Kids are resilient. Your child will eventually sit down and fall back to sleep. It seems harsh, but like DarlingBri said, kids NEED to learn how to do this. Also, you'll be a better parent with a full night's sleep.
posted by dbrown7042 at 5:56 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

The theory is that you can train your kids to sleep using method x, y, or z. Therefore if you're child has trouble sleeping, it's your fault and you should apply the correct method. There are many out there with books to sell you. There's no way to prove the underlying "theory" and children's temperaments vary just as those of adults do. It's not all cause and effect. People are unique. That said, try the methods of your choice but they just might all fail. If so, it's not (necessarily) your fault. My son had trouble sleeping for years. I would lie down next to him in bed some nights and that seemed to work (sometimes). Now, at 18, he has the sleep schedule of his peers--up all night, sleeps all day.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:05 AM on August 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Have you taken him to the pediatrician for a full work-up? Make sure in particular that his ears are clear and that he doesn't have reflux. Both of those things can make it very painful for kids to lie down, and both of those things are also soothed with nursing/eating.

Will he sleep in a swing? In a stroller? Are there any situations at all where you can consistently get him to go to sleep, even if he doesn't stay that way?

Hope you find some answers soon -- I never found any magic bullets, with both of mine sleep seemed to be mostly about personality and development. If there's a way for the two of you to trade off so you're sleeping at least every other night, do it. I used ear plugs.
posted by hms71 at 6:11 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

...he knows that if he shouts for long enough he'll get food or we'll put him in the pram and out for a walk to get him to sleep.

Stop doing these things. It may feel inhumane to hear him scream bloody murder, but if you've eliminated hunger, night terrors, illness and pain as causes for his fits then he's just plain ol' angry.

Establish a clear routine for bedtime - bath, PJs, storytime, and any other little rituals, lay him in bed, kiss him goodnight and walk out. Yes, it sucks listening to the shrieking, but it sucks worse not sleeping for 10 months or longer at a stretch. Everything gets magnified and everyone suffers for it. I promise you he'll survive being angry for a few nights.
posted by jquinby at 6:12 AM on August 19, 2011

Have you considered:
Teething? (as suggested by k8t)

Cluster Feeding? I found a reasonable explanation from this blog. It is for breastfeeding moms, but if you are using formula I am sure it is still applicable.

Is he getting too much sleep? Are you putting him to bed too early?

I would give my son 10 minutes before I would go in. Not 3,6,9.
posted by BuffaloChickenWing at 6:16 AM on August 19, 2011

Could he be teething or have an undiagnosed ear infection? My 13-month-old went through a period of screaming at the top of her lungs about 45 minutes after going to sleep and it turned out to be a ear infection. After a day of antibiotics, her sleep dramatically improved.

I've read (almost) all of the sleep books and my husband and I still found ourselves waking up a couple times a night until six months ago. What eventually worked was:
1) Picking a consistent time for going to bed and sticking to it. We try to put my daughter to bed at 7:15 pm each night.
2) Trying to have some consistency in terms of a nap time. This is a lot harder than 1).
3) Having a sleep routine. For example, you can read a story, go on a walk, sing a song, etc. in the same order every night.
4) Using our own version of cry it out. After putting her to sleep, we set a timer for 15 minutes. If she's still upset after those 15 minutes, we bring her downstairs for 45 minutes and try to do mellow, not super fun things. After those 45 minutes, we start up the sleep routine again (book, walk outside, nursing) and put her down again. Most of the time she falls asleep after 30 seconds to 7 minutes of crying. Sometimes she just rolls over and goes to sleep, which is amazing and I half expect fireworks to start outside when it happens.

I know that the books say to let babies cry for more than 15 minutes to learn self-soothing skills. My daughter seems to just get angrier and angrier after 15 minutes of crying. Similarly, going in at 3, 6, 10 minute intervals just seemed to make her mad. I guess that every baby is different.

When my daughter is sick, it usually takes a week or two afterwards to re-establish her sleep schedule.

Hang in there!
posted by JuliaKM at 6:22 AM on August 19, 2011

This sounds familiar. We had a rough first nine months with our boy. Naps were questionable, sleeping was a trial. At no point did trying to get him to self-soothe ever work. Even our soothing of him often did not work.

(In fact, I now look at mentions of "self-soothing" the same way I look at horoscopes and X-ray specs. It also strikes me as a deferral of parental responsibility: "Let's have the least intelligent person in the house figure this problem out!")

PS 'a feeding he doesn't need' - how do you know he isn't hungry?

This may be worth investigating. A nine-month-old might be ready for some serious solid food to get a lot more fat and protein in one meal than nursing or formula are providing. My son hit this stage at 10 months and it made a big difference when we realized it. If you're already doing solid food, increase the calories or the size of each meal.

I also heartily endorse co-sleeping, if you can make it work for you. I was kicked in the kidneys more times than I care to count, and it didn't always go perfectly, but it was a damned sight more pleasant on the whole for all three of us than it was trying to make him sleep by himself. And, frankly, a sleeping baby next to you is great to wake up to. I miss him most nights now that he sleeps mainly in his own bed (at four years we get the early morning visits and snuggles).

(When parents say that their children eventually gave up crying and everything is now fine, I think, rightly or wrongly, that those children must not have much fortitude and that there's now one more obedient sheep in the world ready to be controlled by others. )
posted by Mo Nickels at 6:23 AM on August 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

My sympathies. We also had a baby that had trouble sleeping. Every kid is different, every parent has a different philosophy - you have to figure out which set of techniques will work best for your family. Here's what worked for us (take it or leave it as you will): 1. Co-sleeping. I breastfeed, so this made things a million times easier. Also, our daughter is high-needs and does much better if she gets lots of body contact throughout the day AND night. 2. Prioritize naps. At 9 months our daughter was taking 2 naps - one around 9:30 and one around 1:30. Make sure no nap lasts past 4 pm. And if one of you is a SAH parent, nap with your baby. 3. Make the room your baby sleeps in very dark - this helps set their biological clock. In the same vein, try to get him outside for a few hours during the day. Once we started doing this with our daughter, she started sleeping MUCH better. 4. Wait. Because chances are, things will change soon.
posted by dirtmonster at 6:25 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

If he is not napping during the day, (which he should be, at least 2-3 naps at this point, I think) then he is definitely overtired. It seems counterintuitive, but the more tired you are, the harder it can be to fall asleep and that is doubly true for babies.

I really recommend checking out Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child by Weissbluth. It is sort of poorly organized but he has a lot of good data and information about how much sleep a child should be getting at a certain age, how many naps and that kind of thing. His big thing is "sleep begets sleep," which is much like I said above - the more tired he is, the harder it is for him to actually fall asleep.

If it were me I would work on establishing naps first and then work on bedtime once naps had become established but you could do the opposite - work on nighttime sleep and then naps.
posted by sutel at 6:25 AM on August 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Have a read of this article.

We decided that sleep was the priority for our family, so we cosleep. When he wakes up, I can roll over so he can nurse and we both go back to sleep very quickly.
posted by chiababe at 6:35 AM on August 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I recently looked at a one-month spreadsheet of my son's sleep patterns at 9mo old, and for about 10 days he was up four times between midnight and 5am. I also remember going through a period like that with my second. Here is my checklist of things you can try (this is long, but I literally wrote this list up last week for my brother who's having a similar schedule with his new 7mo). As with all parenting advice, take what you're comfortable with and disregard the rest.

- Pees, poops, and weight gain still normal? This would ease your minds about whether he's reacting to any new foods. But, food sensitivities tend to show up as bloody poops, green mucus-y loose poops, rashes, or sudden/intense discomfort within a couple of hours of eating. So don't knock yourselves out trying to diagnose some sensitivity if poor sleep is the only symptom. Also, healthy weight gain will reassure you that sleep training at night isn't going to erode any underlying weight issues.

- How much and how well is he napping during the day? One adage that seems true is "Sleep begets sleep." It's tempting to keep him awake longer in the day in the hopes of tiring him out for nighttime, but it seems more the case that sufficient daytime sleep sets babies up for good nighttime sleep. My experience has always been: whatever I can do to make naps better pays big dividends at night and in overall mood.

- Are his sleepy cues consistent and recognizable to you? If so, spend 3-6 days focusing on napping him 15-30 minutes earlier than those cues. That can set up really successful naps. Good sleep starts with good attitude. If baby can fall asleep while still in a good mood, it builds a positive association with sleeping.

- What's the light/temperature like in the room at night? If there's room for improvement there, you might try things like blackout shades and an air conditioner. In periods of ridiculous night-wakings like you're in now, I'd also focus on lots of bright light and fresh-air activity early in the day. (I say that as someone with New England winter weather, so this may be a non-issue for you.)

- Could sounds be waking him up? Talk to him before bedtime about all the sounds around the house. Really play them up as normal friendly things. This works immensely well with my 2.5yo even now. I think it's the repetitive language that does it ("Time for sleeping. Remember you'll hear those silly helicopters. They go whuh-whuh-whuh when we sleep. Whuh-whuh-whuh means it's sleeping time...") And then if he wakes when a helicopter goes by, just repeat: "It's those silly helicopters. Whuh-whuh-whuh means it's sleeping time."

- Is he waking up crying immediately? Are you putting him in bed already asleep? Is he waking up when you put him back in then crib? Or is he waking up, fussing, then starting whimpering/crying? If he's consistently waking with one of these patterns (or with some other, consistent pattern), that would help understand what's going on.

- Sleeping in different rooms and sleep cycles. Sometimes what's going on is that the baby is crying out during a change in sleep cycles and we hear it and are primed to respond. For me this was especially true (hardest to gauge) when my kids were transitioning out of waking at night to feed. Their own sleep cycles were changing but I was still in the mode of "Must wake and feed." When in reality, if I'd let them fuss they would have gotten back to sleep on their own. This was much more apparent with my second, when I was more relaxed. My gauge now is, Is the crying escalating or de-escalating? I don't intervene until it's obviously ramping up (or obviously distressed). So if baby gives a couple of big cries but then quiets down, I do nothing. You know that crying that has a fussy start and trails off, then starts again? It's not escalating. I just let that go. I see this now as crying-as-soothing. The crying is how he's soothing himself. It's not distress.

- Preventative ibuprofen. Is he teething? Maybe try a dose of ibuprofen when he goes to sleep or at his first night waking. Sometimes lying down without the distraction of daily activity can bring teething pain to the fore.

- Get super diligent about a bedtime routine: bath, breast/bottle, book, bed (or whatever order works for you). As the kids got older I moved eating earlier in the routine so that night-time wakings were less tied to breastfeeding as a signal to sleep.

- Move bedtime a half hour earlier. If he's getting to sleep when he's already overtired, that can reduce his chances of making it all the way to a deep sleep cycle.

- Tummy sleeping for naps. Can he dependably roll over? If so, have you tried naps on his tummy? This has to meet your comfort-levels related to SIDS, but with my second, I started naps on his tummy when he could roll himself well. (I think I waited until a year with my first.) With naps I knew I was nearby and attentive, vs. at night. Night sleep still always started on his back. But, my second slept a LOT better on his tummy, and never seemed to forfeit any later naps or nighttime sleep.

- If you do start formal sleep training, it's convenient to start it over a long weekend. Gives you an extra day to form the habits or catch up on sleep. Put everything on the back burner (food, errands, travel, socializing, etc.) and do a full court press on naps and nighttime habits and routines. Plan to nap during the day to stay fresh for the night-time stress. If necessary, Mom can leave the house (or put on headphones, earplugs, etc.) during the first sessions.

- Additionally, you can prime yourself for the sleep training weekend by starting sleep training at naps and bedtime only (not night wakings) in the week leading up to nighttime training. Naps and bedtime are when you're at your most rested and baby will be most "coherent" or psychologically "organized." For any other night wakings, you just get everyone back to sleep as fast as possible any way you can.

- "Mom's" Cry-It-Out: regular CIO asks that you lengthen the time the baby goes between comforting checks. I made up this version to send the same message (crying doesn't equal get up and play) while turning the "ignoring/abandoning" element of CIO on its head. What I did was go in every 30 seconds, without fail, and say the same thing. "Everything's ok. It's time for sleeping." No lights. No cuddles. No songs. Just my presence and comforting words. Leave. Breathe. Repeat. It's exhausting in its own way, but baby soon gets the message that crying isn't the end of the world, that Mom is really nearby and not going anywhere, and that he has his own ways of calming down. Another suggestion is to let mom be the one to do this approach at naptime, and dad be the one to handle night wakings (especially if you're still breastfeeding or closely associated with food).

- Reverse cycling - Have you heard of this? It happens most obviously with working moms who nurse, but not only with them, and sometimes to the extent to where baby will reject daytime food or activity, and then "stay up" at night to take advantage of mom's presence (to eat and/or to just be with). I don't know what your daily schedule is like but I bring it up as a possibility.

- "The two week rule" - eventually I've realized that most struggles (sleeping, eating, tantrums, etc.) seem to have a two-week life cycle, and then the kid pulls it together more-or-less on his own. So when things like this arise now, I kind of just dig in (acknowledge the struggle is happening), ride it out (more diligent about good habits, more take-out and frozen food, earlier bedtimes, less "me" time, etc.), and revisit where we are in two weeks.
posted by cocoagirl at 6:37 AM on August 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

He climbs the side of his wooden cot and just stands and bawls and he knows that if he shouts for long enough he'll get food or we'll put him in the pram and out for a walk to get him to sleep.

Uh oh. Well, you are sleep training him - to cry long enough and hard enough to make you give in.

Have you tried controlled crying again, or do you both just feel so discouraged that it didn't stick long to carry him through a sick spell?

The problem isn't just your sleep deprivation, and this is a huge, monumental facet when considering your recourse regarding sleep issues. Kids, especially babies, need plenty of sleep to effectively grow and learn properly. Sleep, more than food or toys or friends, a big big deal. There are plenty of other articles to back this up. And the worst part about having a poor sleeper is that the less they sleep right now, the less they sleep later in the day, and the less they sleep at night, until you have a really overtired, fussy crank pot.

This is what Dr. Michel Cohen says on the subject of babies who wake up to eat.

"Q: How do I know the baby isn't hungry?"
A: She is hungry. But she does not need to eat. After any three- or four-hour fasting period, she'll be hungry. You're hungry in the middle of the night, too; it's just that you learn not to eat because it's good for your belly to take a rest. Well, it's good for hers, too."

I'd start training him off of cluster feedings during the day when he's awake so he's already learning to wait a couple hours to eat, if he hasn't learned this already.

Then go back to that old routine that worked well until he got sick. This is basically the Ferber method, by the way, and my vast experience with sleep-deprived parents of fussy night wakers, this is generally the most effective method of handling a baby who keeps waking up to eat or be cuddled. So, when he wakes up, snuggle him for a minute or two and then put him back in the crib. Don't walk anywhere, don't sit down, just stand over the crib. It's okay that he can stand up and hold on the railing. If you're paranoid he'll climb out, get a crib tent. He'll be fine in there. And since you come back at intervals, he doesn't feel abandoned or unheard.

By the way, this is what Dr. Cohen says about crib paraphernalia, which is fairly relevant to your fears about him falling:

"Bumpers: By the time the baby moves around enough to bump her head on the crib, she'll also be old enough to know that bumping her head on the crib hurts. After a few bumps, she won't do it anymore. Because early knowledge is valuable, if slightly painful, I don't recommend bumpers."

In that vein, I wouldn't worry about your son hurting himself significantly. The crib tent is more than enough to keep him in the crib. It would really damn hard for the baby to hurt himself while zipped inside of the tent.
posted by zoomorphic at 6:47 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Definitely check the ears, nothing would make my son scream more during nighttime than an ear infection. Around 9 months was when we had had it with my son's bad sleeping too. He was a horrible napper, napping maybe a hour or two a day, and bad at sleeping through the night. We used "The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight” book and within a couple days, he was sleeping through the night. She offered a lot of variations to tailor the process to your kid and your parenting style. We had set backs. Basically, every time he'd be going through a mental spurt (about ready to learn a new skill), he's sleep would get all wonky, but we could go back to the book's techniques and get him back on track once the spurt was over. Consistency really is your best asset, don't give in, once you make a plan, stick with it, otherwise you are just training him to scream until you give in.
posted by katers890 at 6:56 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

By the way, I'm not a parent, but I'm a nanny with years of experience. My observation of parents who hate controlled crying and find it horrific is:

1) they lucked out and got good sleepers
2) they learned quickly to not pick up a young baby (not a newborn) who's making a couple fussy noises, and thus gradually eased the baby into learning how to self-soothe. The parents might not have even realized what they were doing! Or they did, and they had a leg up over the rest of us rubes.
3) one or both parents has the time, flexibility and/or money to deal with the inherent sleep deprivation of night waking, such as being a stay-at-home parent who can nap when baby does; or solvent enough to hire a baby nurse to train the baby to sleep

Most of the parents I know who used controlled crying do so because

1) they got a temperamental sleeper
2) they accidentally set up the baby early on to rely on sleep aides, like walks in the stroller, feeding to sleep, rocking to sleep, heavy usage of pacifiers, swings, etc. It seemed normal at the time that a 2 month old would need these aids, but eventually their now 9 month old still demands them all the time, cannot sleep without them, and lets the parents know this by hollering angrily any time the sleep aid disappears.
3) the parents both work, have older children who are also demanding their time, or are otherwise unable to work around night waking
4) the parents do not function well on lack of sleep. Case in point, I only need about 5-6 hours of sleep a night, but my boyfriend needs a solid 8-9. Guess who is super grumpy and groggy when we go out on a Thursday, crash into bed at 1AM and have to get up at 7AM to start the day? Guess who is humming in the kitchen making coffee. Sleep deprivation affects adults differently, too.

My point is, you're not bad parents for having a tricky sleeper. Many parents who blast the controlled crying method as inhumane are, 99% of the time, products of lucky circumstances. I have talked to so many distraught parents who never, ever thought they'd do something as beastly as controlled crying, but now they're at their wit's end, no one is sleeping well, and everyone is unhappy.

It's your job as a parent to teach your baby how to sleep. Sleep is absolutely crucial to your baby's development. If your baby stopped eating, you wouldn't just let him starve himself because that's what he's decided to do, would you? Don't feel bad that the added benefit of sleep training is that you parents also get some much-needed shut-eye. Sometimes it's as easy to a night light, sometimes it's as heart wrenching as listening to him cry. But stay strong! You're doing a good thing in the long run by not letting him decide when he sleeps. He's too little to know what his fundamental needs are, which by the way, is not protecting him from the soft padded crib or giving him a feeding when he ate 45 minutes earlier. His fundamental need is to sleep so that his brain can run on all cylinders. And this is why he has a mom and dad.
posted by zoomorphic at 7:00 AM on August 19, 2011 [13 favorites]

I agree with having the pediatrician check the ears and reflux issues. Lying down makes both pains much worse; my son had to deal with both as an infant and figuring that out made life easier for all of us.

He also had sensory issues. We kept him dressed very lightly, in keeping with the then-current research on SIDS. Warm jammies, we discovered by accident and mom behind on the laundry, made him able to nap. I don't know if it was the pressure on his skin soothing him (lack of air currents) or the extra warmth, but the legend of the "magic Pooh jammies) lives on in our home.

Additionally, he was afraid of his mobile. Seriously ... check your environment, too, in case something's bothering him that you can deal with easily. There's a small chance that could be doing it, but wouldn't it be great if it were that simple?
posted by theplotchickens at 7:21 AM on August 19, 2011

Going through the same thing right now, at the same age (well, actually, he's been in his room for the first time this week and that's going incredibly well; ending cosleeping definitely ended up with BETTER sleep on everyone's part in this house, but ymmv, of course). With the standing up, have you tried plopping him into the crib and hanging out with him when he's cheerful, so that the association with the crib isn't That Terrible Place Where I Constantly Scream Alone? We've done that a couple of times recently (semi-unintentionally, he wasn't quite as sleepy as we'd thought), and just let him crawl around, climb up the crib bars, chew on his blanket, etc. I sat next to the crib and read. He didn't fall asleep on his own, but he did lay down a few times--he does know what the place is for. I can't guarantee that was the key, but it seemed to be one of the things that magically came together in the past few days, knowing that it's okay to be awake in his crib. (And if you're anything like we were the week before last, anything is worth a shot.)

We haven't done any cry-it-out (we'll let him complain but as soon as it ramps up we go in), but we have done some I'm-sorry-you-can't-nurse-right-now cuddling, which also seems to be in the process of working. And I agree with everyone else on checking for outside factors; little dude was on a one tooth per week schedule for nearly two months and that was really miserable.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:49 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

kids NEED to learn how to do this
It's your job as a parent


There are not really non-abusive ways to force this; they do not need to be 'taught' to sleep any more than they need to be 'taught' to walk.

It sounds like you have fallen for bad advice from the get-go, made nights awful for all parties, and are trapped in that cycle. 'Wrong message' by 'giving in'...! You do not need to fight with your child.

As for "NEED to learn" and what you may've read from books trying to justify elaborate schemes... You have to remember that there are millions and millions of parents who simply do not buy into that, do not fight with their kids at night, and, yes, their children sleep. Small children are built to nurse to sleep so I'm not sure what the wisdom of fighting biology there is. Admittedly around 8-11mo, 9mo being the norm, I think, babies get distractible, more interested in the larger world, and fussy about going to bed, and hard to nurse. But this passes quite quickly.

There is a reason "Goodnight Moon" has a "quiet old lady whispering hush." The milk-cuddles-stories deal works. Humanely!

I co-slept with my daughter; still do, and never did anything to discourage night nursing. Waking steadily slowed, and around 2.5 it stopped. Any nighttime crying was a freakishly rare occurrence after the newborn period, and nightmares are a nearly unknown entity here.

4 yo's advice: "I would cuddle it with love. You should hug your baby. Don't leave your baby crying alone like that! Just hug the baby."
posted by kmennie at 7:54 AM on August 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

We're constantly giving him the wrong message about sleep (by giving in)

That's why he's a poor sleeper.

he knows that if he shouts for long enough he'll get food


My worry is that how can he have a hope of sleep when he's stood up in his cot?

He won't. He'll lie down eventually. He is not going to just spontaneously collapse of exhaustion while still standing and fall and cut his head.

You already know the answer. Stop doing what you're doing. What you're doing is not helping. Let him cry himself to sleep a couple times. He will eventually fall asleep. Do this often enough and the child will learn to sleep on his own. It really is just that simple. It'll be a rough few nights for all of you, and after that everything will be fine. You've already done it, you already know it works, so do it again and this time stick to it. (Popping into the room every three minutes seems way too often to me. You might have to start out there, since you've already let things go this far, but I'd ramp that down to every 15 or 30 minutes as soon as you can.)

It's not cruel, it's not "fighting with your child," and it's not going to damage him or teach him that you don't love him. It's not something you should feel bad about, and don't let anyone try to guilt you out of it by suggesting that it's "abusive" or "inhumane". All it is is giving him time and space to learn how to settle himself to sleep without your help. That's a pretty useful skill you can give your child.

Alternatively, you can go the co-sleeping route, let him learn to settle himself with someone who's sleeping in the bed with him, and wait until he's old enough to talk about it semi-rationally to move him back to his own room. That seems by all accounts to work fine too, if you don't mind having a child sleeping in your bed for a few years.
posted by ook at 9:00 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

In addition to having him checked for ear issues and reflux, have him checked for tonsil and adenoid issues. When kids have huge tonsils and/or adenoids that block the throat and nose, they can have trouble breathing when they're asleep - they fight for breath, constantly wake up, and because of this and associating sleep with not being able to breathe, they resist sleeping.

Does your son snore, choke, gasp, or fight for breath when he's asleep? Does he sweat heavily at night? Does he sleep in odd positions (especially with his head on top of a stuffed animal, or hanging over the pillow tilted way back)?

Sometimes resolving physical issues magically transforms a poor sleeper into a great one. A thorough checkup - with specialists, if necessary - is definitely in order.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:59 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

'Wrong message' by 'giving in'...! You do not need to fight with your child.

You're not fighting with your child if you put it in its room to cry itself out. What you're doing is removing all the stimuli that your child is (over)reacting to, and teaching the child that screaming and tussling are not effective bargaining tools -- they actually end the conversation instead.

You can hug your screaming child all you want as a temporary fix, but eventually they are going to have to behave around other adults who will not be interested in hugging their quarrels away or accommodating their whims. How is the child going to learn how to deal with that? It has to start at home.
posted by hermitosis at 10:07 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are not really non-abusive ways to force this

Here we go! Sleep training is not child abuse. It is recommended by world-renowned pediatricians who have degrees and specialized knowledge in infant sleeping patterns. It is often necessary with tricky sleepers, or any family dealing with a number of the issues that I discussed in the second half of my second comment, plus many more circumstantial factors that accumulate into a less than ideal scenario. Sleep training may not be your method of childrearing, but it doesn't make it wrong, abusive or unhealthy. My guess is that you're a lucky combination of the first set of parents, the ones with easy sleepers, the ones who have time, money and resources to deal with long nights of nursing and fussing, the ones who won the childrearing luck-of-the-draw.

As for "NEED to learn" and what you may've read from books trying to justify elaborate schemes...

Please cite. Don't forget to find some scientific evidence saying that a whole night's sleep plus consistent napping is non-crucial for infant neurological development.

There is a reason "Goodnight Moon" has a "quiet old lady whispering hush." The milk-cuddles-stories deal works. Humanely!.. I co-slept with my daughter....

That sounds really nice, and I'm glad you and your daughter had a nice bond early on and figured out a routine that worked for you. Some parents aren't so lucky for a number of different reasons that has nothing to do with the quality of parenting or their dedication to the tasks at hand. Trust me when I say that co-sleeping and breastfeeding doesn't work on every kid, or work for every family dynamic. I've seen dozens of parents in the OP's situation, totally sleep-deprived and on their last leg. And yes, they've tried the Goodnight Moon routine approach over and over and over again. They'd much rather have that work than use sleep training. And maybe if it had worked, they could be the parents shaming other families for not sharing a bed and breastfeeding all night.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:17 AM on August 19, 2011 [13 favorites]

Nthing checking for reflux. My daughter has always been a very light sleeper, but it was worst when she couldn't digest the formula at six weeks. It was bad for everyone involved, and sleep deprivation for months on end can do strange things to a person.

The only advice I have beyond that is letting him learn to go to sleep on his own. I have to do this with my daughter every six months or so, unfortunately. (She also was a very restless baby before she was born, a complete opposite from her brother.)
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 10:17 AM on August 19, 2011

Whether you co-sleep or sleep train (we did the co-sleeping for the first five months and then had to sleep train when we switched our daughter to her crib) the only thing I really believe matters is routine. I think having a consistent bed time every night and a set routine to get the child to bed is the first step towards a successful nights sleep.
posted by phelixshu at 11:17 AM on August 19, 2011

Just chiming in to ditto that you should consider reflux--especially if the pram is such that he has his torso elevated, that might be why he can sleep there. Reflux can also make babies act hungry when they are not, because eating temporarily helps with the pain.

Short-term advice:

If you're going to "give in" and take him around in the pram anyway, you might as well skip to that step before the crib crying drama. When it's bedtime, walk him around until he sleeps and let him sleep in there as long as possible while you take a nap. Do this until you're not all crazy sleep-needing zombies and then reevaluate.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:23 AM on August 19, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all of these fantastic responses. I've printed them off for my wife to read (I've read them here) and we'll make an effort to improve the situation.

Just quickly: we know he can't be hungry because he feeds A LOT. Both breast and solids. :-)
posted by dance at 1:04 PM on August 19, 2011

Oh, I sympathize so much. Kids are all so different that it's hard to find one right answer. It just has to be what works for your family. A few thoughts:

Teething. Sometimes babies think they want to nurse because their mouth hurts. Nursing feels good + mouth hurts = you can see the baby logic there.

New skills. Sometimes they wake up in the night to practice new skills like crawling or pulling up to a stand. That's developmentally normal. (But annoying.)

Regarding cosleeping- with my first baby, that was the only way we could get any sleep. She slept poorly on her own but soundly with body contact. So for baby #2, we planned cosleeping right away. Guess what? As long as I'm there, she stays awake and tries to get me to play. But if I leave the room for 5 minutes, she'll fuss a bit, cry a tiny little bit, and drop right off to sleep. Then I can sneak back in and curl up next to her. Kids are so different from one another.
posted by Knowyournuts at 2:30 PM on August 19, 2011

Yah, my son did this at 8 months and my daughter the same at 9 months. Standing up in the crib at 11 at night crying. Freaks you out after the warm bath, Raffi songs, stories, breastfeeding, kisses on the head from Daddy, nighty-night, sweetums.

BLAAAAAAAH! BLAAAAAAAH! OMG what am I going to do now? I am so tired, wtf did I do wrong? What is wrong with my baby? I'm a horrible mother if I don't go pick 'em up now! OMG I am so tired, help me.

My dad told me to stop and listen. Kids will scream the LOUDEST just before they are ready to knock off. Sure enough, my daughter would cry, then stop and listen (at 9 months). Then cry again a bit louder. Then stop and listen. Then REALLY LOUD. Then stop and listen. Then wah, wah, wah, and then...

Nothing. She'd go to sleep.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:58 PM on August 19, 2011

(this was after I had done the fever/diaper check/etc.) The only thing that eventually worked with my son was playing music, which resulted in the call of "MORE MUSIC!" when his tape player ran through one have of the tape and he got old enough to speak. Now he is in a rock band.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:19 PM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

they could be the parents shaming other families for...

There are all sorts of ways to deal with bedtime without just abandoning the whole idea of dealing with it. I don't come from a family of co-sleeping, let-the-kid-self-wean, types. But I am the oldest of four, and never had to deal with listening to a sibling sob away (what is the suggestion for the OP if a second kid arrives? I would've been deeply disturbed to find a sibling wailing and no parent coming); my mother's deal was simply 'After a certain point, I send Dad in. Dad doesn't have the milk, he's boring. So they stop asking, because they know they're just going to get Dad...'

Even pediatricians recant (surprisingly late in life, I thought, though it boosted my is-this-parenting-kosher metric of "How am I going to feel about this when I am a lonely senior citizen? Is this something I would want to go back and change?" Certainly a useful point to make with oneself when one is spending a sunny day ignoring a kid in favour of a teevee or something, anyway) and people who study infant sleep do not necessarily share some of the views mentioned above; see an anthropologist, here, a Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab, here.

Anyone genuinely curious about "Am I getting good advice on this issue?" here would do well to read about the history of "expert" advice given to parents; Rima Apple's books are very eye-opening.
posted by kmennie at 7:23 PM on August 19, 2011

My (now four-year-old) son was just as you describe. Turns out he had the most terrible silent reflux and when he lay down, his stomach acid was burning his oesophagus. Poor little guy. He breast feed constantly... Oh god, so often day and night. I gave up breast feeding him at 14 months because I was going crazy with it. When we swapped him over to formula, he would drink about 1.5 litres (about 8 bottles) a day, and it was like he needed it - not just wanted it - really, really needed it.

After a lot of tests and general gnashing of teeth, we eliminated wheat from his diet and it's been smooth sailing ever since.

Maybe a doctor's visit wouldn't hurt?
posted by RosiePosie at 8:00 PM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

he knows that if he shouts for long enough he'll get food or we'll put him in the pram and out for a walk to get him to sleep. I think he's learned something you didn't intend to teach him, and I would try ignoring the cries for increasing periods, up to 20 - 30 minutes, for 1 month. This method often works, and I don't think it harms the child. Little humans can and do learn, are adaptable, resilient, and at 9 mos., not as fragile as it might seem. Give him clear signals, that he's safe and loved, but his parents are unavailable.

I worry that if did fall asleep he'd then fall and risk cutting himself or banging his head - hard - on the wood of his cot. There are lots of dangers for babies, but I don't think this is a real problem.

I like cocoagirl's thorough answer. Investigate all the possibilities, make a plan, stick to it for a reasonable time.

Hunger. At 9 mos., make sure he has food right before bed, and as soon as he's up, in case he's hungry. You can leave him a bottle with water in it, for soothing. I don't remember when we stopped nighttime feedings, but my son had a water bottle for comfort at night.

You'll feel so much better when you get some sleep.
posted by theora55 at 10:37 AM on August 20, 2011

Our 10 month old has historically been a troubled sleeper, we have friends who casually mention getting 4-5 hours in a row and we see more than 4 hours at a stretch about once every 3 months...usually it's sleeps for 3-4 hours, then in to the bed with mom and dad and bouncing around through the night tag team cuddling or nursing.

This is an improvement over what it what worked for us to make our lives a bit more survivable in terms of the sleep thing was:

- No fruit or otherwise sugary foods (sweet potato/etc) for dinner, stick to pure vegetable type stuff.
- My wife feeds her on one boob at night and then pumps the other one out every morning and we save that to give her at bed time so she gets a full solid food meal, then a bottle and then all she can eat on the boob when it's sleep time.
- Bedtime routine - dinner, wiggle time, bath, stories, bottle, boob.
- If she's not settling down in the routine, hit the pause button and get more wiggle time out.

Being ok with her coming in to bed after that first wake up if she won't go back down without a struggle, and just not struggling because it doesn't need to be like that. We adjusted to having her in the bed with us for half the night and all around everyone is sleeping a bit more - mostly we're getting what we need to mostly survive.

For us some combination of the above got us through the really horrible up every 45 minute phase we were stuck in. We have had relapses when she's been cutting a tooth and the only thing that has helped was infant motrin. We keep telling ourselves that it has to get better eventually because otherwise society would have collapsed....right?

We have also, on occasion, when we knew she was just super over tired and angry, let her try and rage some of the energy off for a few minutes. Sometimes it works, sometimes it don't. I don't feel we're horrible parents for X or Y or Z, because kids are strange and different.
posted by iamabot at 9:03 AM on August 21, 2011

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