Breastfeeding and Interrupted Sleep

a question from Sarah:

Dear Catherine,

I have two beautiful daughters. I co-slept with my first, which went very well and she transitioned to a toddler bed very easily at about 18 months. She has always been fiercely independent and a good sleeper once she was over the age of 1. Now my littlest one, Clio, is 14 months old, stopped co-sleeping at about 9 months (because she is a thrasher-tosser-turner in the night) and is in her own crib and room at night and for naps. BUT, she is up about 2 hours after we put her down, then up again at least two more times through the night. My husband and I are perpetually sleep deprived. I exclusively breast fed her for about 6 months, then introduced real foods and kept nursing in the morning and evening until about 12 months, at which point – and now – I just nurse for comfort and bonding if she is wanting a cuddle in the morning. I have a feeling that since I breast fed ‘on demand’ that she is still in the habit of needing little meals through the 24 hour day. HELP! I need sleep. How do I get her to sleep more soundly, and/or eat more before bed instead of through the night?

Kind regards,

Sarah

Dear Sarah,

How familiar this scenario sounds to me. You had such a lovely time with your first daughter sleeping with you and making a smooth transition to the bed. Then your second daughter appears on the scene and what worked for one does not work for another. I too have been in such a situation. For now, the most important person in this drama is you. You are the leader and keeper of the flock. If you go down (or at least fall apart from lack of sleep), the entire family will suffer. Clio is 14 months and really not in need of nursing for food. I would wean her but if this seems unacceptable to you, I would refuse to nurse her at night. She has gotten into the habit of waking during the night and I’m afraid that there will not be any change in this unless you stop feeding her during the night. This may mean letting her “cry it out” for a few nights. I have been in the same predicament with our twins and Robb my husband insisted that they would be fine if I did not go in to their room when they cried. I had to go to another floor to sleep, as it was too disturbing for me to hear them cry. However, they eventually stopped waking during the night and when they started sleeping through, I thought something must be wrong.

Every child is a new experience and just when you think you have conquered one aspect of this complex practice of parenting it appears that you will have to start all over again. This certainly keeps us on our toes but I am confident that you will come out of this situation smiling. Again, remember that your health and sanity come first. Your husband also needs his sleep to be able to function through the day. Clio will not love you any less if she cannot nurse during the night or if you are not there to pick her up every time she cries. (The exception of course would be if she were ill or injured.)

I hope this is a help to you.

All the best in your days(and nights!) as a parent,

Catherine

About Catherine

Catherine is a mum who lives in Chesapeake, Virginia; she and her husband, Robb, have ten children, and have operated a family medical practice for thirty years. This blog is a place she shares thoughts and answers questions -- especially from other moms, but from anyone! -- about pregnancy and child-rearing, marriage, sickness and health, and lots of other things.
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