Baby sleep problems galore with generally-great baby! What to do?
September 15, 2014 11:16 AM   Subscribe

12.5-month-old Supercoolbaby was a very good sleeper from early on (she slept through the night at 2 months and carried on with that until about 10 months, but never more than 2 wakeups during the night), but recently some problems have developed. Would love your thoughts/advice. Many details within.

Hi! OK, so here's the full story. Our lovely baby has been good natured and delightful since the beginning, and at 2 months started sleeping through the night (she only sleeps 7-8 hours, with one or maybe two one-hour naps during the day. Not a huge sleeper but clearly a happy, healthy and normally-developing baby). We've mostly put her to sleep by nursing or having a bottle, because it worked really well, and while our friends with babies were suffering with lack of sleep we were mostly happily snoozing through the night. There have been some changes to this but we've never really gotten into the "leaving her to fall asleep on her own" thing (we've done it a little but it just didn't seem necessary, frankly.)

Since we brought her home from the hospital, she slept in a crib in our room (we did ZERO co-sleeping or even co-napping until she was almost a year). There have been some periods of disturbance but they've been very much in line with known developmental spurts, and have calmed down when those were over.

So there you go. BUT. A month ago, we moved to a new house in a new city, and for the first time put the baby in her own room. Since then, things have been mixed. Generally we can put her down in her room and she'll sleep until about 4 in the morning, at which point we bring her into our bed, I feed her, and then when she falls back asleep we put her back into the crib (there's been more unintentional co-sleeping here than I care to admit, but overall the crib has been the ultimate result.) BTW, we've also done what we can to make her room a nice space, and we play with her there during the day sometimes. We also leave a dim light on for her so it's not dark-n-scary.

OK, that's the background. Here's what's been happening for the last couple days, and here's where I'm wondering if you have any thoughts. She goes to sleep easily at about 9:00 (her usual bedtime since very young babyhood) and stays asleep until we go to bed at about 11:00. At that point, she wakes up and screams, and I bring her in, feed her, and attempt to put her back.

Whereas normally putting her back is no biggie, at this point, she won't go down, and any attempt to put her in her crib or in the pack'n'play we have in our room is met with screaming, arching of back, etc. On the (somewhat rare) occasions we've done the co-sleeping thing, she's slept like a happy little thing, but for the last two nights it's been rough. She's settling somewhat, but also wanting to nurse a lot and every couple hours she's kind of waking up (not fully awake but clearly disturbed) crying and moaning. She's only somewhat responsive to back rubbing, and cuddling seems to sometimes make her feel better, and sometimes freak her out. She sometimes sits up, and often will wrench her body around. She's fine during the day, but no one's getting much sleep at night, and it's kind of scary.

So what's going on with our baby, and how can we make her better and get more sleep ourselves?

Caveats and complicating factors: Neither of us seems to have the heart to do any kind of serious "cry it out" sleep training; and while we're aware that what we did with her wasn't what you're generally advised to do, it's worked for us until recently and we have a really good-humored and great baby (obvs. biased.) So advice not invoking the teachings of one Dr. Ferber would be particularly appreciated.

Also: She had her MMR vaccine last Tuesday, and I started taking Zoloft last Friday. Otherwise I don't think any major changes in the last few days.

posted by supercoollady to Human Relations (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Could she be teething?

She may need her room to be completely dark. When she slept in your room did you keep it totally dark?
posted by mareli at 11:48 AM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you tried something like a white noise generator? Speaking as a 32 year old, I basically can't get back to sleep at night if I don't have some sort of white noise (usually in the form of a fan on the floor beside my bed, but I have a machine as well.)
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:53 AM on September 15, 2014

Yeah, is it molars?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:06 PM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm on kid #2 and I have found that bad-sleep periods often precede/accompany major milestones in development. Is she on the verge of walking? I'd also suggest teething as a possibility, and if that seems likely at all I would consider dosing her just before bed with whatever your OTC pain reliever of choice is.

I know you don't want to do CIO, and I heard you. You might still be able to target the 11 pm wake-up. She likely doesn't need that feeding, and it might be doing more to rouse her out of sleep. I would consider rocking her in her room or sushing her without taking her out of the crib, then putting her down and giving her 5 minutes to try to settle before going back in. CIO is not about abandoning the child to self-soothe, but I see it as giving them a chance to settle down on their own. It's a skill set that they need to develop as part of growing and setting in to long-term sleep patterns, and it benefits the whole family.

Alternatively, if you want to keep the feeding, would you be able to get her up slightly before her usual wake up time and try to dream-feed her? That might not work so well on an older baby, but it might be worth a try. I read one very interesting bit online once (can't find it now of course) about someone who got rid of a late-night wakeup by basically interrupting the baby's sleep earlier in the night, right before the parents went to bed. This seemed to short-circuit the wakeup cycle and let the baby get into a deeper sleep for the rest of the night. I always felt like it made sense at some level and would be worth a shot.
posted by handful of rain at 12:09 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

PS - re the teething, even if she is okay during the day I find teething seems worse at night for the baby. Perhaps the pain takes her by surprise in her sleep or there isn't as much going on to distract her from it. She also wouldn't be eating/drinking/chewing on toys, which could help keep it at bay during the day. A frozen teether is also a good idea if you haven't already tried that.
posted by handful of rain at 12:11 PM on September 15, 2014

Neither of us seems to have the heart to do any kind of serious "cry it out" sleep training

Neither did my husband and I, until we couldn't take it anymore two weeks ago. Our son is 12 months. I always nursed him to sleep at bedtime, but he was awful about waking up at 11pm (and 2, 4, 6 on bad nights) and just wanted to quickly nurse back to sleep. I could have dealt with that, but his previously perfect nap schedule fell to pieces. He was an overtired wreck and it was just this terrible perpetuating cycle of never sleeping well because he was always overtired.

A couple weeks ago when he woke up at 11pm screaming, we just checked in every 5 minutes until he fell asleep. He was standing in his crib crying so I scooped him up, gave him a hug and a kiss, lay him down on his back, and said goodnight. It took about 45 minutes and felt like a year, but he slept most of the rest of the night after that. Throughout the week he got steadily better at settling himself, and the 11pm crying went from 45 mins to 30 to 10 to 5 to nothing. The last two nights he has slept 8:30-7:15 straight, which I thought was a myth.

Hearing him cry is horrible but I can't get over how much happier he is during the day now because he isn't so overtired; he's even napping longer during the daytime than he was previously. Extra bonus: I don't even have to nurse him to sleep anymore. I nurse him and just put him in the crib awake and he whines for minute but then goes to sleep.

I always hated the idea of CIO also, and I would never do it to a young baby. We got by for the last year much like you, and things worked great until they didn't. I really wish there was another way and I hope someone has some great non-CIO advice for you. I just want to say that if it doesn't work, the 5min check-in method was a good compromise for me between extinction (ugh) and going back to nursing.
posted by gatorae at 12:28 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Is she right on the cusp of walking? I know a few kids whose sleep got borked for a week or two around giant developmental milestones. Also with the moving, etc, maybe find a new routine in the new house. I sometimes get the feeling that when one thing changes, kids don't know what to expect on any axis anymore, and they lose their little minds until the new normal sets in.
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:47 PM on September 15, 2014

Let me see if I understand this correctly:

and I started taking Zoloft last Friday

As in like 3 days ago? Like the day before the drama started? And you are breastfeeding?

Or do you mean further back? Because if you started a drug the day before the drama began and you are breastfeeding, the drug you started would be my first suspicion.
posted by Michele in California at 12:50 PM on September 15, 2014

I have a 13.5 month old and sleep has been weird lately, too. We co-sleep/bedshare, though, so impacts have been mostly minimal.

But, anyway, there is a HUGE mental milestone around the 13 month mark. The Wonder Weeks say week 55. Usually these milestones coincide with a change in sleep because babies are suddenly perceiving their entire world differently. For my kid, he figured out how to walk this week and is now suddenly saying "meh" (milk), "uck" (truck), and "sss" (nice) and fetching specific books from the book shelf based on me saying a key word from it.

This too shall pass.

Are you opposed to bedsharing for a little bit? Get those late night baby snuggles in for a while while the kid really needs them and then broach the subject of staying in bed in a week or two?
posted by jillithd at 12:50 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd say earlier bedtime - sleep brings more sleep. 9 is fairly late for a baby with only one nap.
posted by barnone at 12:53 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

My first thought was also molars. Molars are much worse than the other teeth because they are so big and flat and blunt, so even if your baby hasn't had much difficulty with teeth in the past it could still be teething this time. My baby's sleep has been worse when molars were coming in than at any other time, including when she was a newborn. Infant tylenol at bedtime helped somewhat.
posted by insoluble uncertainty at 1:02 PM on September 15, 2014

Dad of a 3 year old, who is on the whole an awesome little guy, who had a similar disinterest in sleeping at this point. At 1 year, he went from being an easy sleeper (well, easy for us to sooth him to sleep), to a little pistol. I asked a similar question, and in the end, we dealt with a bit of crying, but not full CIO, as my wife found 2-4-6-8 worked well (bedtime routine, quite departure, let little guy cry for 2 minutes, return for a quick bit of soothing, leave for 4 minutes of crying, in and out for 6, in and out for 8, then back to 2 if necessary, and start the cycle again).

Suggestions for how much sleep babies need at night and during naps varies greatly, but by most counts, it sounds like your little one isn't getting enough sleep. Sleep begets sleep (or something like that) is often bandied about when talking about getting little kids to sleep. Keeping them up late doesn't mean they'll sleep late, as my son is a prime example. Instead, he'll fight sleep even harder, even at nap time after a (relatively) short night and an active day. And he'll seem drowsy all morning after a short night, then get a burst of energy when we try to get him to bed. This doesn't mean he's not tired, we've come to realize this means he is exhausted, and if he doesn't sleep soon and sleep well, he'll be a really grumpy, pushy little person in a few hours, and bed time will be even worse.

My recommendations are: 1) get away from soothing your daughter to sleep, because she is then reliant on external soothing to get her (back) to sleep; 2) start getting her to sleep earlier, because she can probably do with more sleep, and may even sleep longer; 3) get ready for some power struggle as she starts to exert independence by choosing to not sleep; and 4) be consistent, not just by yourself, but with your SO and anyone else who is involved in bedtime. Even at a year old, your little one will play people off each-other.

There are many ways you can go about it, split basically into tear-less methods and cry it out (either say goodnight and leave for good, or various in-and-out methods). Whatever you do, try it for a few nights, maybe even a week. The crying methods can be hard to endure as a parent, but if you change methods every night, there is no stability and no pattern to recognize. And if you cave and break your pattern, you'll just have to start again. Be firm, and know that this is just a phase, though one you may have to revisit. Our little guy is now 3, and some nights he goes to sleep without much of a fight, while others, we have to say good night and hear him cry for a few minutes.

And once your kid can talk, they'll really get conniving. Our son started asking for a drink, after the usual bedtime procedures were done. He wanted to get down the stairs himself, or he'd fuss even more, which added eve more time to the night time rituals, keeping him up even later. And now when we say we need to leave his room and do something, he'll say he wants to do that thing, also. Brushing your teeth? Sure, he should do that again! Going to the bathroom? He might have to go, too. Cleaning up toys? Sure, he'll help now. Little conniving stinker :)
posted by filthy light thief at 2:49 PM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I second the thought that this does not sound like enough sleep, I mean heck there are adults who need more sleep than that. Especially if she doesn't know how to put herself to sleep. It sounds like a stressful event brought on a sleep shake-up, which prompted a cycle in which waking up and making noise resulted in more attention and cosleeping - but being used to sleeping alone she may not be able to link sleep cycles while cosleeping, because being partially awake makes her realize you are right next to her, which is waking her up every couple of hours (length of a sleep cycle).

White noise, solid and consistent bedtime routine, trying OTC pain relief for possible teething all seem maybe worth a try. I used a dream feed at my own bedtime very successfully for a long time, like 6 to 14 months, but that was also with a baby who was sleep trained so ymmv - but I know non-sleep-trained babies who are used to being put to bed with feeds can do this too.

you can give it a little time to see if it seems developmental, but don't let it go too long. Having happy, well rested parents is as important as happy, well rested baby, and I can only imagine how little actual sleep you are getting...(fractured sleep from 11pm to 4 or 5am? even good sleep for that length of time doesn't seem enough) - it sounds crazymaking and possibly dangerous if you do much driving. best of luck! Consider checking out Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child - good book on baby sleep science. yes it does discuss extinction and Ferber type stuff but you don't have to do that stuff to find it interesting, I think... best of luck with getting some rest!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:35 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

So what's going on with our baby, and how can we make her better and get more sleep ourselves?

She sounds really overtired and like she probably needs more space because she's not really used to cosleeping.

At 1 year old, she has wants and needs and not only are they not the same, they often contradict each other (she wants you to sleep with her, but she needs more space in order to get good sleep).
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:37 PM on September 15, 2014

I have a 13-month-old, and I think at the 1-year MMR shot the doc said if he was going to have a reaction it would be a week. (I think the anticipated reaction was a rash, but I'm not sure, because he didn't have it.) Maybe your kid is having some kind of rash-less reaction? Or yeah, teeth. And yes, more sleep would probably help. Maybe ask your pediatrician for advice on how much sleep she needs, and how to make that happen.
posted by Ollie at 4:40 PM on September 15, 2014

Has she been checked for pinworms ?
posted by LiverOdor at 10:02 PM on September 15, 2014

Could she be teething?
Also as others have also said, milestones at 12 months. Plus a move, a new room, etc. Lots of changes.
One place i personally found very, very helpful while BF was the LLL forum. I am not in any way connected to them (so I assume it is ok to recommend them here) but found their mother to mother forum immensly (spell that??) helpful during those years. The forum is not only about BF but also sleep issues etc and how to find practical solutions without resorting to CIO.
posted by 15L06 at 1:52 PM on September 16, 2014

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