Help a Mama Out

Welcome to the April Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting advice!

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month we’re writing letters to ask our readers for help with a current parenting issue. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Dear Readers,

I fear I may be opening the proverbial can of worms. I’m about to ask you for advice on what I have come to believe is the most controversial topic of conversation when it comes to parenting little ones.


I wouldn’t ask unless we really needed the help. After all, I’ve found that it’s usually best to just slap on an extra thick coating of concealer and pretend that things are fine. “How’s he sleeping,” they ask. “Fine, just fine,” I reply through gritted teeth. But since this month’s natural parenting blog carnival is all about asking for parenting advice, I decided to wash the makeup off, stop pretending, and admit the truth.

We’re having trouble sleeping around here.

Some background Information

My babe is 13 months old. He was born at 35 weeks and after a short stint in the NICU he was exclusively breastfed for six months. Now he is an enthusiastic eater and loves a wide range of foods. We haven’t noticed any particular sensitivities to foods in his diet, aside from pineapple and, perhaps, hummus.

He visited the doctor last week and all his exams were clear. Medically speaking, he seems just as fine as can be. He doesn’t have any teeth yet, and there don’t seem to be any that are imminent.

His general demeanor is pleasant. He smiles a lot. Laughs some. He runs around and plays. He rarely cries or fusses.

He does not now, nor has he ever “slept through the night.” We accept that nighttime parenting and parenting our babe to sleep are part of the gig. We aren’t, necessarily, looking for those things to go away completely.

That being said, if all was well, I wouldn’t be writing for advice now, would I?

The problem

My little man’s nighttime sleeping habits have been getting worse with age, rather than better. While we have gotten our first 6-7 hour stretches of sleep in the past few weeks, we have also had some of our most difficult nights to date. Some nights he wakes more than 8 times. Some of those wakings require just a moments intervention. Some end up requiring more than an hour or two.

Naps aren’t all that different. Occasionally he will sleep an hour or so, but most of the time he sleeps about 30-40 minutes, wakes up crabby, and we sling or rock him for the remainder of his nap which can be anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour.

We’re exhausted, very little is getting done, and it is wearing on me, our home, and our little family.

What We’ve Tried

His Own Sleeping Space – Since December our babe has started the night in his own bed. Generally, he joins us when he wakes the first time, though we have tried to have him sleep in that space the whole night through. The location of his sleep doesn’t seem to impact when or how much he wakes.

Night Nursing – While it isn’t ideal, I’m pretty willing to be an all-night buffet if it means better sleep for the whole family. But at times the wakings are so frequent that my milk supply just can’t keep up. He nurses, gets frustrated at the lack of supply, and doesn’t drift back to sleep. Then he needs more help. Slinging, rocking, walking.

Wearing Him Down – We’ve tried to eliminate nursing as a sleep cue. When we tried, I would nurse and then my husband would settle him to bed by wearing him down (the same thing I do during the daytime). When that happens, my husband (usually) or I (sometimes) get out of bed, snuggle him up in the sling, and walk laps around our bedroom. This can take 10 minutes or an hour to get him into a deep sleep. But even that isn’t a guarantee. Often he wakes immediately when we try to transfer him back into the bed and the whole routine has to begin again.

Staying in Bed – We’ve tried rubbing his back, patting his tummy, singing songs softly. I’ve tried bringing him to lay on my chest. When we try to settle him back to sleep without getting out of bed, most of the time he escalates. A gently stirring babe can often be coaxed back into sleep, an awake and angry babe cannot.

Temperature Regulation – We live in an apartment with steam radiators that we have no control over. Generally it is hot. We’ve tried to cool it down by wrapping the radiators, cracking the windows, and wearing lighter pajamas.

Snack Before Bed – We’ve been giving him a snack before bed, usually something with protein, to help tide him over.

More Daytime Activity/Attention – We’ve significantly increased his daily activity level with (sometimes two or three) walks to the park, more physical play in the house, and more attention in general.

More Daytime Babywearing – We’ve tried to give him more mama and papa closeness time by putting him in the sling or in the Beco during daytime waking hours. We thought that maybe he was just trying to get more closeness or attention at night because it was lacking in the day. So far it hasn’t had much of an effect.

Sound Machine – We thought it might help him sleep more soundly if he wasn’t awoken by the noises of the city, us, or our neighbors. I think it helps, a bit, but it isn’t substantial.

Your Mission

I’m hoping that you, the readers of this natural parenting blog carnival (link), have some collective wisdom that you can share with us. What are we missing? What else could we try? What else should we be looking at or for? How can we help our babe, and us, get some better sleep? Or is this just something that we have to grin and bear, something that will pass with time?

Keep in mind, of course, that we are unwilling to entertain any suggestions of letting our precious babe “cry it out.” Please give us ideas that will fit within our cosleeping, breastfeeding, attachment parenting ideals.

Sleepless in Chicago


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by the end of the day April 13 with all the carnival links.)

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  • Cave Mother

    What can I say? You’ve tried everything. There is one magic ingredient that you have no control over: time. Honestly, he will sleep better eventually. It will just happen. You won’t have to do anything.

    Just so that you don’t think I’m one of those annoyingly smug mothers of babies who sleep through the night at 6 weeks, I’ll tell you that my 19 month old still wakes on average 2-3 times a night (unless she’s teething, when it’s more like 5 times). This is a situation I am pretty happy with because things were a lot worse until a couple of months ago. In the last 2 months she has really come on in leaps and bounds with her sleep. We have not done anything special. She still nurses to sleep (for naps and at night), she still co-sleeps with us and there has been no change in her daily routine.

    I am a firm believer in babies doing things when they are ready. If you already provide plenty of stimulation during the day and a comfortable sleeping environment at night then I don’t think there’s a lot else you can do.

    Good luck, and I wish you a good sleep tonight!


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  • michelle

    I agree with Cave Mother – time does have a way of curing sleep problems, but it is so tough to wait, especially when you’re not getting enough rest.

    One thing that I thought of when reading your post is those teeth – even when teeth aren’t obviously erupting they can still be moving up & down beneath the gums and causing pain. We used Camilia homeopathic drops with our first, and they worked well to calm her down when she was freaking out. Really serious pain needs Tylenol. I’m not a big supporter of medicating kids, but when my 2nd was teething I certainly hesitated less when it came to giving her Tylenol – she got more rest and so did we.

    Good luck and remember, “This too shall pass.”


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  • Lauren @ Hobo Mama

    I’m hoping it’s something like teething that goes away soon so you can get sleep again. It stinks that he wakes up so often and for such long stretches at a time. Sleep deprivation is no fun at all!

    It sounds like you’re trying lots of good things already and have been extremely resourceful and patient. My only thought is maybe he needs to pee. Could you put him on the potty when he wakes and see if that helps?

    And out of curiosity, does nursing him to sleep make things better or worse? Could you go back to that and see if it helps? It would take care of the snack and protein aspect.

    Do you think he’s transitioning from how much sleep he needs? Maybe he’s ready to cut his nap shorter, or go to sleep later at night. (Or maybe not — just a thought if you wanted to experiment.)

    Do you have black-out curtains? I sleep much better in total dark.

    The other suggestions of time are true, too. But it’s hard to wait, I know!


  • Dionna @ Code Name: Mama

    I hate to echo some of the above comments, but as the mama of a kiddo with perpetually horrid sleep habits, time has been the healer. Kieran has had problems with sleep from day one. We cosleep (always have), nurse on demand (always have), etc. He has just had a lot of trouble figuring out how to self-soothe at all. I’ve actually figured out that it’s a sleep cycle problem with him – he goes through the stages, and when he comes back to stage 1 (where we all typically rouse just a little bit before settling back in to sleep), he wakes fully. Every 45 minutes like clockwork. You really could set a watch by him. But when he was about 18 months old, I started seeing 1.5 hr stretches of sleep. By 24 months, 2 hrs. Now I sometimes even see 3 hrs – but that’s a rarity. Time has been my ally, my biggest problem is my own lack of patience.
    Many wishes for peaceful nights soon.


  • Sarah

    The times when our son wakes frequently is when he is either too hot, teething, or going through a growth spurt (which has happened in 10 months, or so.) He usually just sleeps in underwear and no other clothes, without a blanket next to us. (Or, a very thin sheet) Axel does nurse to sleep, though, and we haven’t tried to change that as of yet.

    Just keep loving your baby as much as possible, and I’m sure you’ll start getting more sleep soon!


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  • Alexandra

    he sounds so much like my son its scary!!!! We also had sleeping issues (which is how we discovered cosleeping). But as with your son ours seemed to get worse as he got older. Instead of giving any advice I will just tell you what we did with our son and what happened:

    At 9 months we moved him out of our bed into a crib next to us in hopes that his own space would help him sleep better. It did a little…the only sleeping an hour at a time turned into a few hours at a time.

    At a year we decided to move him to his room to see if maybe he was waking because my hubby or I was moving around and waking him. This again helped a little but not a lot. So we felt we were moving in the right direction.

    At 13 months I couldn’t take the night feedings anymore. They were starting to become every couple hours and I was barely making it through the day. And I was starting to resent my son which is not good. So we stopped night feedings altogether and my hubby went to him at night when he cried. It took about a week for our son to get used to not nursing in the night. But his need for another person was still being met by my hubby going in to rock him to sleep. We saw a huge improvment in his sleep after we stopped night nursing. After that initail week he only woke up once or twice and hubby went and rocked him back to sleep.

    He is almost three now and wakes up once a night. We go give him a hug and he is back to sleep. He never napped well at all and still doesn’t. But time does help a lot! I know its hard…I have been there.

    Hope this helps a little.


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  • BluebirdMama

    My daughter is 21 months and she’s still waking at least once a night. My son was nightweaned at about 16 months because he was just like your boy and I was back at work. I was going insane with the night wakings. Night weaning was incredibly difficult. There was a lot of crying in arms while he learned that nursing was for the daytime. He continued to wake and ask for a drink at least once a night until he was 3.

    I know from experience that being told it just takes time is the last thing an exhausted mom who is having trouble getting through the day wants to hear. But it’s true and it was a lot easier for me to accept the second time around than it was the first.

    It sounds like you’re trying everything and that you’re very aware. I was lucky that my babes would nurse to sleep quickly (even if it was 8 times a night). I don’t envy you having to go through the walking and wearing down in the middle of the night. That sounds really hard.

    I have to agree with the other commenters that the lack of teeth sounds like a potential culprit, but again, most of that is solved with time.

    I know it’s rough. I’ve been there right with you since 2005. I wish I had the magic answer for you.


  • Zoey @ Good Goog

    I agree. Time makes all the difference. In our case it wasn’t until our daughter was 14 months and weaned and in a toddler bed that she started sleeping through and not until she was 18 months that she was doing it with any reliability.

    Which has to be the worse advice imaginable because when you’re in it, the worst part is not knowing how much longer you’re going to have to put up with it!

    But basically, I’d suggest just keep thinking of things to try and eventually you might come across something that works like magic. For us, it was having daughter in a toddler bed and leaving the door ajar.


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  • Elizabeth

    No good advice, just solidarity. Our LO is 13 months, wakes every night. sleeps only 6-8 hrs total per 24 hrs. We’ve tried lots except cry it out. Somehow comforting to know we aren’t alone. Hope time helps improve…. Soon! Thanks for your post! EG


  • Sarah @ OneStarryNight

    I also am of the “time will make it better” group. DS2, when he DOES fall asleep is a hardcore sleeper for a good stretch of time, however GETTING him there is hard. Frequently he will wake up in the middle of the night (hence my being awake since before 4am today) and STAY up, totally alert going from hyper perkyness to crying/yelling/being pissed at life lol.

    Just know this too shall pass! Hopefully sooner rather than later!


  • Erin W. / Beatnik Momma

    I’m going through a very similar situation. Kairi is 12 months and still sleeps with us. She wakes to nurse 6-8 times a night and MOST of the time it only takes a few minutes to get her back to sleep. I’m lucky that she is easy in that, but I would just love to have one night to sleep all the way thought. It’s been over a year.

    I wish you the best of luck. I have no advice to give, but I appreciate what you’ve said so far because you’ve given me some ideas to try out myself!


  • the Grumbles

    I read a really interesting article once that described babies as two types of sleepers- the kind that will get upset for a few minutes, fuss it out, and fall asleep on their own and the kind that will get more and more upset and be unable to fall back asleep without assistance. Immediately when you said “escalate” that’s what I thought of, you’ve got a type #2. I have a type #1 so I don’t have a lot of great solutions, but time. Time and patience and girl, hang in there. As you described the cosleeping “all night buffet” has been a lifesaver (for us) vs. wearing him down which sounds very tiring and time consuming.


  • Kara

    I’m also in this situation, but my daughter is not quite 11 months old. As much as I want to just give her time, I am feeling completely exhausted and tapped out. My husband is in the military and is about to leave for about a year. I feel physically sick at the thought of never having a break, and still having a baby who wakes every 30-60 minutes through the night. I won’t let her cry it out, but I probably will be crying with her a lot. I hope I can keep my sanity AND my parenting ideals.


  • Holli

    Reading this with tears in my eyes, because I understand how HARD it is and the constant battle between my child’s needs, and my need for sleep to be a decent human being. My son is almost 2 and is usually up 8-10 times a night…and no signs of it getting better yet. (((hugs)))


  • Amber

    I don’t know how much help this will be, but here’s what we do.

    In the past I always nursed Alexa down to sleep. While that worked for the most part, it was hard to sneak away after she fell asleep. Sometimes I would have to nap with her. While it was nice for the first few months, after a while I just wanted some time back.

    Eventually I started to nurse her almost to sleep, then I would lay next to her till she fell asleep. Yes, she cried some in the beginning, but eventually she “learned” to fall asleep on her own.

    I am NOT a fan of sleep training. I guess we used something close to the No Cry Sleep Solution (which really isn’t “no cry” ha).

    Both of her naps we done in this way, and so was the first part of nightly bedtime. Then we started putting her in her crib. Just in time actually, because she started getting far more mobile and would crawl away if she woke (not something I wanted her to be able to do if she was sleeping alone, even if the mattress was on the floor).

    So now she naps in her crib and sleeps the first few hours at night in there. As it stands, she comes to be with me (I sleep on a mattress on the floor in the nursery with her) after she wakes around 1am. She will NOT be settled back down in her crib.

    The last few nights I’ve been trying to night-wean. I know (well really really think) she’s ready. I mean, she’s almost 14 months old. If her father takes her at night, she will take, at most, an ounce or 2 of milk and then sleep in his arms all night. With me, she’ll nurse ALLLLLLL night long. I can’t take it anymore. My boobs hurt, and I need sleep if I’m to return to work this summer.

    So, what I do is nurse her when she first wakes at night. Then I pull away when she starts to fuss. Because, she’s not hungry…she just doesn’t know how to sleep. It’s like she sleeps far better alone, but doesn’t want to be alone.

    So instead of letting her cry in her crib (even if I’m standing right there) I lay next to her. Basically, the same thing I did when I was trying to get her to nap without nursing. Though, to be honest, my babe is an escalator as well, and will not calm down on her own…so it’s hard. Sometimes I wish I was more mainstream and could deal with CIO :-/ But, I cannot…so I stay and pet, stroke, humm.

    Long story short, we’re starting to see some results. Last night she slept for 6 hours without me needing to intervene. Sure, she stirred…but I didn’t have to do more than pat her back. I *think* sleeping on her stomach helped a bit, which last night was the first time she’s done so.

    Good god that was a long story.
    Speaking of…she’s up. I swear she knows when I’m talking about her sleep patterns 😛


  • megan

    Have you ever tried Calms Forte for Kids. It is a homeopathic sleep aid and it works wonders. Valerian root is also a great herbal sleep aid that comes in a kids form. I have two really good sleepers and to really, really bad sleepers. My six year old is terrible and so is my 18 months old, who is co-sleeping and still night nursing. The other thing I have found is that if I can wake up enough to remember to change his diaper, he will go back to sleep and sleep another four hours in the morning(4 am to 8am) He does not like a wet diaper.


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